2009 The Year that Got Old in a Hurry
December 24, 2009
Despite a cratering financial crisis, two open-ended foreign occupations and the looming spectre of global climate change, the year begins with one overwhelming reason for optimism: in 20 days, someone other than George W. Bush will be President of the United States. The fact that that someone is a charismatic, eloquent Hawaii-born Senator riding a wave of "hope" and "change" is merely icing on the long-overdue cake…. On Maui, where the prevailing spirit of change didn't impact the local election, the new County Council is sworn in, led by Chairman Danny Mateo. Among the new/old members is Wayne Nishiki, lugging his elephant-sized loan from developer Everett Dowling up to the eighth floor…. As layoffs and gloomy forecasts cast a pall over the company, outgoing Maui Land & Pineapple CEO David Cole drops close to 30,000 shares of stock, for a total haul of nearly $400,000. Not bad for a day's "work"…. Prior to his swearing-in, President-elect Obama jets to Oahu with his family, but avoids a meet-and-greet with Gov. Linda Lingle (a vocal and active McCain/Palin supporter) saying through a spokesperson he'd rather "spend his vacation with family and friends."… Maui Lani Partners, LLC's Central Maui development becomes the latest project to uncover ancient Hawaiian burial sites, revealing yet again the always-roiling tension between modern business interests and Native Hawaiian advocates…. The National Fisheries Service gives the Navy permission to test sonar equipment in Hawaii's waters, despite overwhelming evidence that sonar is harmful and sometimes fatal to whales and other ocean life. Considering the agency claims to be "dedicated to the stewardship of living marine resources…and the promotion of healthy ecosystems," the decision is rather ironic, if wholly unsurprising…. More than a month after the death of Rep. Bob Nakasone, Gov. Lingle selects his replacement, Wailuku attorney Gil Keith-Agaran, from a group of three that also includes activist/realtor Lance Holter and Native Hawaiian advocate Kehau Filimoe'atu. Few quibble with the choice, but some take issue with the fact that Lingle didn't even bother to speak with the other two candidates…. Obama takes the oath of office, but the real story is the exit of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who leaves Washington in positively Strangelovian fashion: scowling, slumped in a wheelchair and decked out in black gloves and matching trench coat. All that's missing is the white cat….
Staff Writer Kate Bradshaw's story on the Northern Pacific Gyre garbage swirl (the patch of plastic roughly twice the size of Texas that's floating between Hawaii and the Mainland), written months before most major news outlets picked up the scoop, sparks a small tsunami of reader feedback. Mostly it's an understandable mix of shock, outrage and befuddlement…. As the Michael Phelps bong saga drags on (and late night comedians scrape the bottom of the lung capacity-joke barrel), Maui Police Chief Tom Phillips weighs in on Hawaii's medical marijuana mess by citing a familiar cast of boogeymen—assault, murder, etc.—apparently forgetting (or choosing to ignore) that those crimes only go along with illegal marijuana. Meanwhile, the University of Hawaii releases a report saying the state could save and gain more than $30 million annually by decriminalizing and taxing pot. But come on—it's not like we need money or anything…. A 9,600-ton warship, the USS Port Royal, runs aground on Oahu, damaging a large section of coral reef. Between that and the sonar, Hawaii's ocean creatures might want to consider filing a restraining order against the U.S. military…. Mayor Charmaine Tavares delivers her State of the County address, offering up a plateful of platitudes, some backward-looking horn tooting, a Tibetan proverb and even a shout-out to our old pals in the LC, but not much in the way of concrete policy statements or, you know, actual ideas…. The state House of Representatives passes HB444, a bill that would legalize same sex civil unions. Angus McKelvey is the lone Maui rep to side with the "nays."… Less than a month after trumpeting its maiden flight from Kahului to Honolulu, Mokulele Airlines finds itself flying through some serious financial turbulence, with Mainland-based Republic Airway Holdings threatening to step in and seize Mokulele's assets if the airline doesn't make good on a maxed-out $8 million credit line. Heaving up a hail Mary, Mokulele puts out a call for angel investors. Because who doesn't want to throw money at a foundering airline?… The United States Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the ceded Hawaiian lands case. The highlight: Gen. Mark J. Bennett, arguing on behalf of the state, is forced to admit that Gov. Lingle's promise not to sell the land if she's granted the right to do so is, shall we say, non-binding….
Jumping from one beleaguered, cash-strapped arena to another, Mike McCartney steps down as director of the state Teacher's Association to take the reins of the Hawaii Tourism Authority. He replaces Rex Johnson, whose fate was sealed when he was caught forwarding racist and sexist e-mails on the company computer. But don't feel too sorry for Rex: he walks away with a $290,000 "resignation payment."… Contributor Rob Parsons writes a "progress report" for the Hawaii Superferry, giving it low-to-failing marks across the board. Less than a week later, the state Supreme Court rules that Act 2, the special law that allowed the Superferry to be launched without a completed Environmental Impact Statement, was unconstitutional. The decision proves to be a fatal blow for the troubled inter-island vessel, which is sent to Mobile, Alalbama to be "position[ed] for future employment." Later in the month, addressing accusations that the boat was built for clandestine military purposes, Superferry CEO Tom Fargo gives one of those spit-take quotes you have to rewind and listen to again: "[If that were the case] we certainly wouldn't have gone to the trouble to paint the Alakai the way we did."… After weeks of stalling, the Senate kills HB444, voting 18-6 to leave the bill in committee. Most Senators hide behind "respect for the committee process," though it's possible the mass of red shirted protestors who descended on the Capitol to protest against civil unions played a role…. The U.S. Supreme Court rules in the ceded lands case, finding that the Apology Resolution was, well, just an apology and doesn't affect the right of the state to sell or transfer some 1.2 million acres of land owned by the Hawaiian monarchy at the time of the 1893 overthrow….
Judge Joseph Cardoza shoots down the latest attempt by Maui Dance Advocates (MDA) to challenge the Department of Liquor Control's Footloose-esque dancing rules, and we take the opportunity to cast LC Director Frank Silva as the lead in another movie: Saturday Night Fever. Meanwhile, despite continued indifference from the County and the courts, the MDA boys, Anthony Simmons and the wheelchair-bound Ramoda Anand, and their pro bono attorney, Lance Collins, pledge to keep up the fight…. In honor (if that's the right word) of tax day, Mauians stage "Tea Party" protests. The rallies happen nationwide and get a lot of attention, especially from FOX News, which also, coincidentally, was instrumental in organizing and promoting them…. A localized outbreak of swine flu in Mexico leads to dire headlines and ripples of panic. Of course, with flu season six months away, surely we'll all be calm and prepared by the time it's a serious threat…. Pacific Radio Group's X92.5 switches formats from modern rock to island sounds, leaving Maui rock fans (yes, they exist) with one less option on the dial. And they had precious few to begin with….
Gov. Lingle invites the Tea Partiers to a gathering on the steps of the Capitol, where she vetoes bills that would raise taxes on the state's highest earners and would also bump up taxes on hotel rooms and the sale of real estate worth more than $2 million. Blatant political theater, meet frothing, scattershot outrage. What's that? You two have already met? Oh, I'll leave you alone then…. After less than five months on the job—during which time the company lost more than $13 million, sold its Plantation Golf Course and fired 100 workers—Maui Land & Pineapple CEO Rob Webber calls it quits. Hard to imagine why…. The Hawaii Republican Party picks its new chairman: ultra-religious Jonah Kaauwai, who, along with Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona, signals a clear right-religious shift for the party. Accepting his new post on the Big Island, Kaauwai ominously compares the GOP to a hurricane. You know, those things that blow a lot of hot air and leave a trail of difficult-to-repair damage in their wake.… To help close the budget gap, Gov. Lingle orders sweeping work furloughs for all state employees. The unions and legislature immediately praise the decision and everyone gathers on the beach to join hands and sing a rousing rendition of "Kumbaya." Just making sure you were still paying attention….
M.R.C. Greenwood is named the new president of the University of Hawaii, despite the fact that she was forced to resign from a high-ranking position in the University of California system amid charges of nepotism. Really—nepotism in Hawaii? Unheard of!… The County Board of Ethics completes its review of the Wayne Nishiki case, but its findings are initially kept secret to all but Nishiki and the board. (Eventually the review is unsealed and found to contain—gasp!—not much.)… Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann throws his hat into the gubernatorial ring, and less than 24 hours later his Democratic opponent, Rep. Neil Abercrombie, fires the first shot, accusing Hannemann of leaving the Oahu rail project "leaderless." At this rate, both men will be mostly mud by the time the election actually happens…. We celebrate our 500th issue with a big self-congratulatory retrospective (sound familiar?).… North Korea announces plans to launch a missile in Hawaii's general direction, apparently Kim Jong Il's version of "you show me yours, I'll show you mine."… State officials push to move liquidation proceedings in the Superferry case to Delaware, also known as America's corporate tax haven. Because what better place to decide the fate of a Hawaii ferry service than a tiny East Coast state 5,000 miles away?… Hawaii records its first swine flu-related death. But hey, it's still summer. Plenty of time to get it together…. Longtime Maui activist and educator Uncle Ed Lindsey passes away; Rob Parsons remembers him as "a friend and hero to many, and a spirited warrior for the 'aina."…
The Democratic-controlled legislature overrides 34 of Gov. Lingle's vetoes, crushing the previous state record of 19. In a nominee for understatement of the year, House Minority Leader and lonely Republican Lynn Finnegan (who opposed the overrides) is quoted as saying her fellow lawmakers "were kind of flexing their muscle."…. The Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association jumps into the grim economic news clusterhump and reports that new vehicle registrations on Maui fell 46 percent in the second quarter…. The Hawaii Department of Health again affirms the validity of Obama's birth certificate, but the "birthers" press on, undaunted by reality…. Sarah Palin abruptly resigns as Governor of Alaska. In her desultory, at times barely coherent farewell speech, she takes a shot at "lame duck" leaders who serve out their terms, which would seem to include her good buddy Gov. Lingle. Naturally, we seize the opportunity to Photoshop Lingle's head onto a duck, and stick a rifle-toting Palin in the background….
MauiTime bids a fond and misty-eyed farewell to Calendar Editor/Staff Writer Kate Bradshaw and Art Director Brittany Shaw (who both land in Florida, of all places), and welcomes their respective replacements, Anu Yagi and Chris Skiles…. A report from the National Transportation Safety Board reveals disturbing details about the two go! Airline pilots who fell asleep at the wheel in February and overshot the Hilo airport by 26 nautical miles. The incident is dubiously blamed on an undiagnosed case of sleep apnea…. Our two-part report, "Revisiting the Visitor Industry," by contributors Doug Levin and Mark Sheehan, examines Maui and Hawaii's dependence on tourism and (possible) solutions, some of them radical. Thought-provoking stuff, but we're not holding our breath…. Hawaii celebrates 50 years of statehood, though "celebrate" may be too strong a word. Official ceremonies are generally subdued, while most of the passion is reserved for the concurrent Native Hawaiian protests…. Folks at Little Beach mark Go Topless Day by doing what they always do, and we stand with them in solidarity, supporting the right of women to doff their shirts in public. Seriously. Quit snickering… The funding for Everett Dowling's Makena development dries up, leaving the controversial project in ruins. The Councilmembers who touted the development's economic benefits and helped push it through are curiously silent…. Gov. Lingle announces plans to lay off some 50 agricultural inspectors. Critics point out that if invasive species slip though, containment and eradication would more than negate the short-term savings. Once again, logic and the Governor prove to be ships (ferries?) in the night….
Us media types score a rare victory, when the state Supreme Court upholds Hawaii's Media Shield Law, affirming the right of journalists (including the Kauai filmmaker who was the center of the case) to protect sources…. Participants in the Maui County Energy Expo emerge with cautious optimism, which is certainly better than unbridled pessimism. Still it's clear that, despite abundant alternative sources, we're a long way from energy independence…. The long-delayed Kealia Pond Boardwalk in South Maui opens after 15 years of planning and construction. To be fair, that's only five years more than it took to dig the Panama Canal…. The Hawaii Teachers Union agrees to a new contract that includes 17 "Furlough Fridays," where schools will be closed and parents and kids will be left to fend for themselves. Gov. Lingle initially praises the agreement as an example of "shared sacrifice," but the whole thing quickly dissolves into acrimony, with each side blaming the other. The silver lining? Our students learn a valuable lesson about compromise and effective conflict resolution—namely, how not to achieve either…. Gay & Robinson officially ends sugar cane processing operations on Kauai, leaving Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar (HC&S) as the state's last remaining sugar plantation…. Speaking of HC&S, an effort by enviros and Native Hawaiians to restore water to the island's streams is met by predictable resistance from the plantation, which would rather keep right on diverting, thank you very much. To defend its longstanding water monopoly, HC&S and parent company Alexander & Baldwin call in some big public and private guns, including the Governor. They may be the last of a dying breed, but they've still got plenty of clout….
MauiTime rolls out a new look, with a comprehensive cover-to-back page redesign and drops the word "weekly" from the masthead. But don't worry—the print edition still comes out every week…. Digging for the source of the biodiesel Kahului-based Maui Petroleum has been contracted to provide the County, Rob Parsons is met with a suspiciously vehement "no comment."… Contributor Ynez Tongson lands an exclusive interview with Lahaina's Florence Hasegawa, who, at age 101, is active on the microblogging site Twitter. Though, as Florence makes clear, she really couldn't care less: "People can do whatever they want."… President Obama wins a Nobel Peace Prize. That means he'll end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, right?… Councilman Joe Pontanilla introduces a bill to ban the use of hand-held electronic devices while driving in Maui County. We point out that there's already a law on the books (Section 291-12 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes) that broadly outlaws driving "without due care," which could also include things like eating while driving, reading, fiddling with the radio, etc. Of course, enforcing existing laws isn't nearly as sexy or headline-grabbing as passing new, trendy ones…. The Obama Justice Department releases a memo announcing it will honor state medical marijuana laws. Perhaps having smoked a little of the good stuff herself, Gov. Lingle continues to use federal prohibition to justify her opposition to the will of Hawaii voters…. As Maui boy Shane Victorino and his Philadelphia Phillies make a second consecutive run for the World Series, the independent Golden Baseball League announces plans to bring professional baseball back to Maui for the first time in more than a decade…. Our Halloween cover, featuring a caricature of Mayor Tavares as a brain-chomping zombie, sets off a First Amendment controversy when County employees confiscate copies of the paper from a public building (the same one that houses the Mayor's office, in fact) and are caught in the act. A heated debate about censorship, journalistic ethics and the boundaries of good taste ensues. Really, we just thought it was a funny picture…. Speaking of Halloween, another year on Front Street comes and goes with no centralized organization. Concerns about public safety prove overblown, and in the end it's mostly a non-event. Which, for bar and restaurant owners and people who used to flock to the party, is the problem….
On the heels of news that October was the bloodiest month in the eight-year history of the war in Afghanistan comes President Obama's announcement that he'll send 30,000 additional troops to the country early next year. Wait, didn't he win some prize or something?… Staff Writer Anu Yagi is diagnosed with leukemia and writes a poignant, searingly honest cover feature about her experience, weaving in an interview with bestselling writer David Sedaris…. Hey remember swine flu? Well, turns out we didn't get it together after all. Maui's public health official Dr. Lorrin Pang tells MauiTime that miscommunication from federal officials is rampant and that there's so little of the vaccine, health care workers are "fighting amongst [themselves]."…. Former Planning Director Chris Hart adds his name to the list of confirmed challengers to Mayor Tavares, joining former Mayor Alan Ararkawa…. Obama picks Islam Siddiqui, a lobbyist for big ag, as his Chief Agricultural Negotiator, and the back-scratching merry-go-round keeps spinning…. Our report on Maui's exploding feral cat population uncovers some disturbing statistics (there could be as many as 400,000 feral cats on-island) and comes to some even more disturbing conclusions (there's probably nothing we can do about it)…. Gov. Lingle jets over to China to grip, grin and tap a growing tourist market. She's there at the same time as the President, but somehow their paths don't cross…. Speaking of China, Lt. Gov. Aiona presides over a mass Chinese wedding on Oahu that's filmed for a reality TV show. But gay people getting married? [Shudder]….
Contributor Greg Mebel looks at how cuts in the Maui Public Defender's Office are undermining justice at all levels…. Monster waves hit Maui's north shore and the ballsy pro surfers follow…. The Department of Land & Natural Resources damages a section of South Maui reef while sinking large concrete pieces meant to serve as an artificial reef. Unfortunately, fish enjoy a functioning habitat more than irony…. Rep. Neil Abercrombie resigns from Congress to focus full time on his run for governor, and we compare his farewell speech to Sarah Palin's…. The National Science Foundation officially selects Haleakala as the site of its Advanced Technology Solar Telescope. Native Hawaiians vow to keep up their opposition…. The much-ballyhooed climate summit in Copenhagen kicks off, but early indications are there will be no radical or binding agreements to seriously curb C02 emissions…. And so the year limps toward the finish line much the way it started the race: with a still-cratering financial crisis, two open-ended foreign occupations (one winding down, the other ramping up) and the looming spectre of global climate change. It's tempting—and easy—to predict 2010 will be equally bleak, that we'll be back here next year doing the same song and dance. But hey—hope springs eternal, right?
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