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Who is Mark Blackburn?

Making sense of the wealthy donor who pulled his support of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa art department

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Tyler Greenhill
What I don’t know and what I do know about Aleppo

A reflection on the current discussion surrounding tragedy and the politics of disbelief

Above: A bombed-out street in Aleppo / Wikimedia


My parents are both survivors of the Korean War. For me, the siege of Aleppo has been filtered through what I know about civil war, from family stories and graduate seminars about the Korean War. I don’t know if more “boots on the ground” would save lives or take lives.* I don’t know how much to blame Russia or the U.S. and geopolitical realpolitik.*

I do know that the images of families fleeing the rubble of their city have an emotional reality that has absolutely nothing to do with assigning blame and everything to do with empathy. My parents endured three years of civil war as children. My dad was orphaned at the age of 7. My mom was bundled up by my grandmother and put on a refugee boat to a southern island. A quarter of a million pounds of napalm was used to firebomb entire cities.

All of this is reality for the people of Aleppo and Syria too.** It’s a goddamn tragedy we have seen countless times before and in this case, it’s some next-level bullshit that people are trying to convince me to discount the suffering of Aleppo’s residents as propaganda. Seoul was taken by the North Korean military, retaken by the U.S. and South Korean armies, and then taken back yet again by the North Korean combined with Chinese military and then once again by the allied forces. And each time the city changed hands there were massacres and reprisals and targeted revenge killings on both sides. I suspect that accusations of atrocities and killings against the rebels as well as Assad’s troops and foreign fighters will be borne out.

But I cannot call a pox on both their houses, because in both houses are families and children and siblings and aunts and uncles. That rebel jihadist? That government stooge? They are people, in all of their heartbreaking complexity. My spouse’s grandfather went North before the war to help start what he believed would be a just society based on equality instead of a hierarchical system of exploitation. My grandfather stayed South and sought to improve understanding with the American military government. After that goddamn civil war, one was kidnapped with whereabouts unknown and the other was dead or alive on the other side of the most densely militarized border of the Cold War. So don’t tell me that I should only mourn the innocents, apportion out my caring and grief based on whether people deserve it or not. Sorting out the deserving or undeserving dead is ghoulish.


* I’m referring to both the war in Syria and the Korean War.

** 5 million people have fled Syria because of the six-year-long civil war. In total, the U.S. has accepted 100,000 Syrian refugees. Canada, with a population barely a tenth the size of the United States, has resettled three times more Syrian refugees since last fall. (source: Washington Post, Sept 2, 2016).

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Annie Koh
EPA complaint leveled against Syngenta for Kauai practices

Alleged farmworker safety violations in Syngenta's Kauai test fields have brought about a formal complaint from the Environmental Protection Agency just as councilmembers there prepare to discuss a repeal of the county buffer zones and pesticide disclosure ordinance.

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Will Caron
Hawaii electors call for CIA declassification

Hawaii’s four electors to the Electoral College have added their names to a growing list of electors and members of Congress who have called for declassification of a CIA report on Russian hacking during the election. This comes just five days before the Electoral College is set to pick the next president of the United States on Monday, Dec. 19. The electors sent the following statement out yesterday:

We the undersigned Electors from Hawaii are asking the President to release to electors the CIA report on Russia’s hacking of electronic devices related to the election. The information contained in the report is essential to carrying out our constitutional obligation of casting our vote in an election that is free from tampering from outside entities. Ten electors from other states and some members of Congress have already made this request.  We wish to add our names to the list.

John Bickel
Janice Bond
Marie (Dolly) Strazar
David Mulinix

It’s possible that information contained within the report could effect the decision of some electors on whether or not to vote for Donald Trump.

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Will Caron
A public trust – for private benefit?

The Land Board’s acquiescence to corporate control of Hawaiʻi's resources represents the state’s continuing failure to uphold its fiduciary duties.

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Will Caron
“Remember Pearl Harbor!” and forget all else

How a cult of American militarism continues to mobilize our society toward warmongering and imperialism.

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Pete Doktor
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe statement on USACE denial of DAPL easement

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) will not approve an easement that will allow the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe. The following statement was released by Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II after yesterday’s announcement:

Today, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it will not be granting the easement to cross Lake Oahe for the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline. Instead, the Corps will be undertaking an environmental impact statement to look at possible alternative routes. We wholeheartedly support the decision of the administration and commend with the utmost gratitude the courage it took on the part of President Obama, the Army Corps, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior to take steps to correct the course of history and to do the right thing.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and all of Indian Country will be forever grateful to the Obama Administration for this historic decision.

We want to thank everyone who played a role in advocating for this cause. We thank the tribal youth who initiated this movement. We thank the millions of people around the globe who expressed support for our cause. We thank the thousands of people who came to the camps to support us, and the tens of thousands who donated time, talent, and money to our efforts to stand against this pipeline in the name of protecting our water. We especially thank all of the other tribal nations and jurisdictions who stood in solidarity with us, and we stand ready to stand with you if and when your people are in need.

Throughout this effort I have stressed the importance of acting at all times in a peaceful and prayerful manner - and that is how we will respond to this decision. With this decision we look forward to being able to return home and spend the winter with our families and loved ones, many of whom have sacrificed as well. We look forward to celebrating in wopila, in thanks, in the coming days.

We hope that Kelcey Warren, Governor Dalrymple, and the incoming Trump administration respect this decision and understand the complex process that led us to this point. When it comes to infrastructure development in Indian Country and with respect to treaty lands, we must strive to work together to reach decisions that reflect the multifaceted considerations of tribes.

Treaties are paramount law and must be respected, and we welcome dialogue on how to continue to honor that moving forward. We are not opposed to energy independence, economic development, or national security concerns but we must ensure that these decisions are made with the considerations of our Indigenous peoples.

To our local law enforcement, I hope that we can work together to heal our relationship as we all work to protect the lives and safety of our people. I recognize the extreme stress that the situation caused and look forward to a future that reflects more mutual understanding and respect.

Again, we are deeply appreciative that the Obama Administration took the time and effort to genuinely consider the broad spectrum of tribal concerns. In a system that has continuously been stacked against us from every angle, it took tremendous courage to take a new approach to our nation-to-nation relationship, and we will be forever grateful.

Learn more about the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe at standwithstandingrock.net

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People’s Congress to mobilize statewide grassroots advocacy

The Hawaii People’s Congress, a coalition of organizations and individuals from across the islands working to end systemic barriers to justice in the islands, is holding its statewide convening this weekend in Honolulu.

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Severe injuries at Standing Rock reflect extreme level of police violence

An unarmed protester is in danger of losing her arm after injuries suffered at the hands of police in North Dakota; other injuries have been reported as well.

On Monday, November 21, as a direct result of the violent police response at Standing Rock towards unarmed people opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), a 21-year-old woman from New York City, Sophia Wilansky, was severely injured when a concussion grenade thrown by police hit her left arm and exploded. Other protesters were shot in the face and groin by police and at least one tribal elder is in serious conidition as a result.

According to members of The Standing Rock Medic Healer Council, Wilansky was heading to bring water to unarmed protesters who were suffering through several hours-worth of attacks by Morton County Sheriff department forces. The Morton County Sheriff’s Department has stated that she was injured by a purported propane explosion that the Sheriff’s Department claimed the unarmed people created. These statements are refuted by Wilansky’s testimony, by several eye-witnesses who watched police intentionally throw concussion grenades at unarmed people, by the lack of charring of flesh at the wound site and by the grenade pieces that have been removed from her arm in surgery and will be saved for legal proceedings.

Wilansky was safely taken out of North Dakota for emergency surgery and is currently in stable condition. Below is her statement as conveyed by her father, lawyer Wayne Wilansky, as well as images of the injury taken at the scene (warning: they are graphic).

At around 4:30 a.m., after the police hit the bridge with water cannons and rubber bullets and pepper spray, they lobbed a number of concussion grenades (which are not supposed to be thrown at people directly) at protesters or protectors, as they want to be called. A grenade exploded right as it hit Sophia in the left forearm, taking most of the undersurface of her left arm with it. Both her radial and ulnar artery were completely destroyed. Her radius was shattered and a large piece of it is missing. Her medial nerve is missing a large section as well.  All of the muscle and soft tissue between her elbow and wrist were blown away.

The police did not do this by accident. It was an intentional act of throwing it directly at her. Additionally police were shooting people in face and groin intending to do the most possible damage. Sophia will have surgery again tomorrow as, bit by bit, they try to rebuild a somewhat functioning arm and hand. The first surgery took a vein from her leg which they have implanted in her arm to take the place of the missing arteries. She will need multiple surgeries to try to gain some functional use of the arm and hand. She will be, every day for the foreseeable future, fearful of losing her arm and hand.

There are no words to describe the pain of watching my daughter cry and say she was sorry for the pain she caused me and my wife. I died a thousand deaths today and will continue to do so for quite some time. I am left without the right words to describe the anguish of watching her look at her now alien arm and hand.

A fund verified fund has been set up by friends to help with Sophia’s recovery: https://www.gofundme.com/30aezxs

“The Standing Rock Medic Healer Council deplores the ongoing use of violence by the state of North Dakota in addressing the concerns of the thousands of people peacefully assembled at Standing Rock to insist on the right to clean healthy drinking water,” wrote the group in a statement after the incident.

The members of the council include:
Linda Black Elk, PhD, Ethnobotanist, Sitting Bull College
Michael Knudsen, MPH candidate, Standing Rock Medic & Healer Council
Noah Morris, EMT
Amelia Massucco, RN
John Andrews, RN
Kristina Golden, EMT, herbalist
Sebastian Rodriguez, RN
Rosemary Fister, RN, MNPHN, DNP Candidate
Rupa Marya, MD, DoNoHarm Coalition, University of California – San Francisco
David Kingfisher, MD, JD, Wichita State University
Jesse Lopez, MD, Heartland Surgical Care
Kalama O Ka Aina Niheu, MD, Aha Aloha Aina
Howard Ehrman, MD, MPH, University of Illinois - Chicago
Geeta Maker-Clark, MD, University of Chicago
Elizabeth Friedman, MD
Vanessa Bolin, ALS Paramedic

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State House names Tom “Sledgehammer” Brower as Housing chair

Rep. Brower attracted national attention for his sledgehammer-wielding vigilantism (and for getting punched in the face while filming homeless encampments without permission)

The State House has named Rep. Tom Brower as the new chair of the Housing committee in the lower house of the legislature. Houseless activists reacted to Brower’s appointment with mixed feelings at best, but some expressed hope that he will work with stakeholders to implement best-practice solutions to houselessness and affordable housing.

“Tom ‘Sledgehammer’ Brower as chair of the Housing Committee for low income folks? Sounds like putting a fox in charge of the hen house to me,” said David Mulinix of DeOccupy Honolulu. “We had our DeOccupy Honolulu camp at Thomas Square for two full years, engaging with the houseless on a daily basis, and we’ve been feeding the houseless at Thomas Square every Sunday for five years but, as far as I know, Tom Brower has never come by to ask us our insight and experience on what’s going on for the houseless.”

“Selecting Rep. Brower as the Committee Chair for Housing signifies a surprising lapse of judgment on the part of House Leadership,” said Kathy Xian of the Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery (PASS). “Brower’s personal and professional conduct toward the houseless is clearly unbecoming and alarming. He shows a crude lack of compassion for those less fortunate, has publicly destroyed property that wasn’t his in his attempt to bring attention, not to housing solutions, but only to himself during a failed publicity stunt, and has lied to advocates by claiming responsibility for past bills drafted to protect the houseless from unconstitutional raids. This is not the type of candidate ideal for this position, nor any position in the House that requires compassion, rationality, and jurisprudence.”

“Brower must realize that he can’t take a sledgehammer to the state’s housing crisis,” said Kris Coffield of IMUAlliance. “He must work with all stakeholders to create truly affordable housing and stem gentrification, while also ensuring that new development plans consider community needs, like increased school capacity. One of Brower’s first priorities should be to increase the state renters’ credit to $150 for households making up to $60,000, giving long overdue relief to working class residents who are barely scraping by.”

Brower voted twice in favor of HB2580 in 2014, incrementally raising the minimum wage in Hawaii.

His stated position on his website when it comes to creating affordable housing is: “To better stabilize market conditions, provide more tax incentives, reduce tax and building costs, and require developers to provide affordable, market rate and rented units in residential projects. Encourage renovation funding incentives for vacant public and private housing sites.”

In 2013, after he agreed to stop smashing the shopping carts houseless folks use to transport belongings, we examined Brower’s voting record from that year as it related to housing. You can read about the bills here.

The following is an op-ed written by Brower and published by the Hawaii Reporter in 2010, outlining his position on the homeless issue in Honolulu. Although it’s possible his feelings toward the houseless population has changed since 2010, this op-ed indicates that Brower considers Honolulu’s houseless population to be a nuisance, an attitude reinforced by his decision to smash the shopping carts of houseless people and his harassment of houseless families in Kakaako. He does not address solving any of the socio-economic problems that cause many people to become houseless.

When a natural disaster strikes and people become homeless, government reacts quickly to provide them shelter. Why should the response be any different during an economic crisis that gives rise to homelessness?

In the past three years, I have traveled outside Honolulu to New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Hong Kong. Guess whose popular tourism spots have the worst homeless problem?

The reality is we will never be able to build enough shelters to house the State’s 4,000-plus homeless and it is inhumane to keep shuffling them around. “No loitering” laws only work when people have a place to go.

On the flip side, government needs to remove the homeless from areas of aesthetic, cultural and economic importance for the enjoyment of residents and visitors.

Hawaii residents are frustrated with government’s lack of response to this issue. Yet, whenever I talk to city and state officials, they always tell me they are doing a great deal. Perhaps they are only helping a certain type of homeless and not the more challenging and visible type, the chronically homeless, who refuse to go into shelters.

Our homeless problem has evolved; so too must government’s response. It is time for the Mayor’s and Governor’s Administration—the latter of which established the Kakaako Next Step homeless shelter—to take another step.

How can government continue using the same failed strategies to address homelessness? How is this different from the definition of “insanity’ (keep doing the same thing with the expectation of different results)?

As a legislator I understand first-hand that chronic homelessness does not offer easy solutions. The best place to start is often the simplest. I propose safe zones as a short-term, reasonable and do-able solution until things change and the number of homeless decrease. While not a new idea, I explored the feasibility of this solution this past legislative session, after speaking with advocates and service providers to address residents’ complaints about homelessness.

With the adoption of H.R. No. 62 (2010) by the House of Representatives—and continued community-sponsored discussions—homeless safe zones are being recognized as a cost-effective, compassionate alternative to homelessness.

I cannot force the State or City Administrations to follow my plan; I can only hope they see its value.

We know where we don’t want the homeless to be because they are already “camping” there, illegally. We can either designate areas where the homeless can be—or do nothing and let them continue to be everywhere.

If enough safe zones are created, the homeless cannot say they have “no place to go” and continue monopolizing our parks and sidewalks. They will now have a place to go. Should they choose not to go there, the homeless must understand, from this point forward, they will not have unlimited access for “camping” at popular spots. Being homeless should mean fewer options on where you can stay, not more.

For homeless service providers, safe zones would make it easier to track/ care for their clients and control the spread of infectious diseases, like hepatitis. For law enforcement, the homeless would be easier to remove from unauthorized spaces.

We have the manpower. Experienced and knowledgeable people—such as service providers, church groups and other volunteers—stand ready to help implement the safe zones.

All we need is the land. A pilot program could be implemented and tailored to whatever area is first identified to gauge the level of success before expanding to other parts of the State. Rules would be established to restrict “camping” to certain times and provide safety for safe zone residents as well as the community housing them. A minimum of amenities could be provided, such as ‘reasonable’ night security and bathroom facilities.

Whatever shape the solutions take will be no worse than what we have today. Democracy is at its best when challenges are embraced instead of avoided as has been the case with chronic homelessness. In reality, it takes just as much energy to put up with or avoid problems as it does to fix them. I encourage the community to keep sharing their concerns with government officials until better results are achieved. Elected and appointed government officials, who have endless energy to campaign, need to maintain that energy level once in office to seek better solutions to our community problems.

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Will Caron