Thursday, February 22, 2018

Dirty water

The Department of Health has identified a moderate nitrate contamination problem in the groundwater Upcountry.

Most of us Upcountry get our water from the county, and most of the county's water comes from surface streams or from wells outside the zone of suspected nitrates contamination, so the issue is not about drinking water but about real estate.

I attended the Kula Community Association chalk talk last night, and the presentation was clear, precise and useful. I was on the Mainland during the original presentation which was criticized for not being any of those things.

The questions were also useful for the first five or six questioners until the obnoxious hotheads took over and I left. (When I was paid to go to this sort of meeting I had to stay for all the jerks; it is kind of pleasant to be able to walk off when they spout off.)

So here's the deal and what it means to you:

If you look at a map, the habitations Upcountry run from Kula San almost directly north and all downhill. There are about 10,000 sources of sewage and about 7,400 are cesspools, with the rest septic tanks or better.

Nitrates do not degrade in groundwater in the presence of oxygen. (In anoxic conditions, they do, which is why the pineapple cannery had to install pipes to vent the methane that was the end product of the slightly sugary wash water that it used to inject into the ground.) Health concerns for nitrates in drinking water start at 12 mL per liter, and no well tested Upcountry comes close to that.

However the health department takes notice when tests top 5 mL, which indicates some sources above natural conditions. Two wells, one at Pukalani Golf Course and one at the long-gestating Baldwin Estates project just below Haliimaile, have been tested fairly thoroughly.

They show nitrates at nearly 9 mL. Modeling  and spotty data from around the area suggest that there's a nitrate buildup in groundwater gradually as more and more units are feeding into it as you drop in elevation.

Although the department says it is not prescribing anything and is open to other approaches, it is clear that it has concluded that it would be simple and effective to skim off about a quarter of the excess nitrates by way of universal septic systems Upcountry.

Cesspools discharge their liquids about 15 feet down, too low for vegetation to take them up. Septic tanks discharge their liquids around 3 feet below the surface where a fairly large portion of the nitrates become fertilizer. That's the source of Erma Bombeck's book title,"The Grass is Always Greener over the Septic Tank."

Converting 7,400 cesspools to septic systems at around $20,000 dollars and up per system is going to cost a great deal of money, although not as a percentage of the value of most of that real estate.

The problem is space. Although the department says it is not mandating changes, not yet anyway, about 25 years ago it mandated a huge change Upcountry when it designated most of the island is a Critical Wastewater Disposal Area. That meant new construction could not use cesspools. It did not require retrofitting. It effectively established the minimum lot size Upcountry at one-quarter acre, regardless of the county zoning which is not nearly as restrictive.

This hasn't created much indignation because virtually all the housing built over the past 25 years was luxury housing and none of that was on quarter-acre acre lots. It did affect a few older lots for people wanted to subdivide for their families but were prevented from doing so.

Septic tanks are easy if you have a quarter acre or better, but if you don't there is another alternative and that is waterless treatment of household sewage. There are numerous manufacturers.

It would take some getting used to for Americans to go back to waterless waste treatment but after all we didn't start having indoor plumbing until our great-grandparents' time for the most part. It could be done.

I have a long proposed that the county spend a couple hundred thousand dollars, buy four or five of these units from different manufacturers and install them in households in West Maui, Upcountry, Hana, Molokai and Lanai and see what happens.

The crucial area is not Upcountry but Wahikuli which is the real source of the degradation of water due to biosolids in West Maui and not the fabled injection wells which are not a problem. That's a myth flogged by the know-nothing environmentalists, and we are spending tens of millions of dollars to fix this nonexistent problem and $0 to fix the existing problem.

I've blamed Sen. Dan who spent a million federal dollars trying to get Wendy Wiltsie Ph.D. to convict injection wells back in the '90s. She couldn't do it because it wasn't happening and she was an honest enough scientist to put that in her report, although her public statements tried to obscure the facts.

The Upcountry nitrate situation seems genuine enough, and I was impressed by the solidity of the scientific study that was presented last night.

I happen to think that waterless systems will be easy, cheaper and hard to sell. I spoke briefly to Council Member Kelly King and it appears that there is a small, very small effort originating at the state level to perhaps do a demonstration.

She is attempting to get at the state money. I say pish. The county's operating budget is $900 million. We lose $200,000 in change in the sofa cushions in the County Council breakroom. Forget the state  demonstration.  We should just go.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Dirty secrets

There are 20 million pigs in Iowa, but you can drive through the state for hours without ever seeing one. Most live in big sheds called confinement units, bland, windowless metal warehouses that sometimes hold 2,000 or 3,000 hogs

Each shed is built over a pit with a slatted floor so that the waste falls down into what is called a manure lagoon. These are extremely dangerous places. Every year a few farmers fall into the pits. It may be considered fortunate that almost all of these die from suffocation from methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide and ammonia before they have a chance to drown in the sewage.

What Sherlock Holmes called the smiling face of the countryside

You could live in Iowa for a long time without being aware of these houses of horror, although every now and then an infectious disease that farmers call the scours rages through a barn; and then you might notice truckloads of putrefying hogs being transported to the National Byproducts Company’s rendering factory just outside the capital of Des Moines.

Just so, you could live surrounded by Republicans for a long time without noticing what goes on behind their bland exteriors. But then along comes an event that is the social equivalent of the scours, and then we see that what appeared to be humans were really just human-shaped sacks of putrid filth.

Such an excoriating event happened last week, and CNN provided a coast to coast roundup of disgusting Republicans. Even the Washington Times, which seldom finds anything that happens among the rightwing to be objectionable, noticed.

Just as the Tea Party convicted itself of racism when its leaders sent out email blasts of racist cartoons, the reaction to the Parkland massacre convicted the Republicans.

You don't send out an email blast unless you expect all the recipients to get the joke. It doesn't just happen that Republicans from coast-to-coast accused high school students of being paid actors, fake victims, and stooges unless that was an idea that was already festering under the MAGA caps.


Margaret Sullivan of The Washington Post  calls out the rightwingers.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

By all means, let's end interference in other people's elections

While I share every decent Americans disgust with Russian meddling in our elections, let's stop pretending that we are opposed to meddling in elections, generally. The United States meddles in other peoples' selections routinely, and has done so since 1892.

Democrats do it, Republicans do it, liberals do it, rightwing fascists do it. It is the Hokey Pokey of American foreign policy, everybody sticks his foot in.

Do Americans believe in democracy? You would have to say no, not at all.
Kingdom of Hawaii, Mexico, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Panama, Colombia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Egypt, Greece, Italy, France, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Japan, South Korea, China, the Philippines, all of the Federated States of Micronesia, Indonesia, South Vietnam, North Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Ethiopia, South Africa, Congo, Mali, Nigeria.

Those are just a few of the places where we know the United States interfered profoundly in the government processes of the local people. We didn't always interfere in elections in those places; not all those places have elections. But we interfered all right and, if we knew more about the deep state than we do know, the list probably could be extended to every nation on earth.

So by every method that we could imagine, let us forestall interference in our own government by outsiders, but forget the moral preening. The United States government has done far far worse than any Russian trolls operating out of St. Petersburg, than any Macedonian teenagers, than anybody.

It is the goal of Restating the Obvious to restate what others have already said elsewhere. I believe  this post says something you will not find, or at least not easily find stated by any American.

But guess what? The people that we interfere with know about it.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Can't get this hedline right






Tuesday, February 13, 2018

2 things that I cannot understand

1. Interim security clearance.

The whole concept of security clearances is a dog’s breakfast. To be any good at all, this system has to be close to 100% effective. That security clearances are nowhere near that effective is proven by the names Bradley Manning, Aldrich Ames, Klaus Fuchs etc.

However that may be, the concept of the interim security clearance is like giving Willie Sutton the keys to the bank vault. You'll remember Willie Sutton. He was the Depression era robber who, when asked why he robbed banks, said, "That's where the money is.”

Rob Porter’s interim clearance is akin to a bank manager’s saying to Willie Sutton: "Well Mr. Sutton, you dress well and appear to have good manners. I'm sure you are a fine fellow. We do not just give the keys to our vault to anyone but I feel confident in leaving these with you. I know you won't betray me.”

2. Temporary protected status that is permanent.

Again, the concept itself is something of a dog’s breakfast, at least as it relates to Haiti.

When a big earthquake hit that country Haitians who happened to be in the United States, just visiting, were told they could stay.

Why they would want to stay is a question. Most people, when their property is at risk, cannot wait to get back to it to protect or perhaps to rebuild it. We have seen, following fires in California and floods in Texas, that sheriff’s deputies had to be stationed outside the destroyed areas to keep people from going back too soon.

You would think that the Haitians would want to go back to protect their property.

Some years ago I was talking with a friend who had been a missionary in Bolivia, and he was saying that a wealthy acquaintance of his who collected antique airplanes had asked him if, while he was traveling about the back roads of Bolivia, he would keep an eye open for any 1930s era Aeronca or similar plane that perhaps had been left in a barn and was untouched. My friend the missionary said that his wealthy friend did not understand what it means to be poor.

“If anyone had left an airplane in a barn, the local people would've dismantled it and used the pieces to put roofs on their houses."

It has been many years since Haitians who have temporary protected status in the United States have been back to their homes, presumably; but if they do go back they are not likely to find anything.

I suppose that's an argument for allowing them to continue to stay in the United States, but it looks more like a misstep by our government, setting up these people to lose their property to squatters or local government authorities or whoever will end up in possession of it down there.


It is not obvious why being a wife beater would mean an applicant could not get a security clearance. Thinking over all of the incidents, going back to the Dreyfus affair, when people were exposed for having revealed government secrets, I cannot recall any where wifebeating was an issue.

Wifebeating is bad but it is not the sort of thing that signals that a person will likely or possibly steal secrets. Money, sexual entitlements, ideology, carelessness, resentment about not getting promoted -– these are all things that have led men and women to betray their country's secrets.

Wifebeating is a character defect that probably disqualifies anyone from a position that requires judgment, but that is not my understanding of what a security clearance is about. It is not about judgment but about the likelihood that someone would willingly or under the duress of blackmail spill the beans.

UPDATE Wednesday

Politico now reports that another White House staffer has been told he cannot get a security clearance.

 George David Banks, who had served since February 2017 as special assistant to the president for international energy and environmental policy, told POLITICO that he was informed by the White House counsel’s office Tuesday that his application for a permanent clearance would not be granted over his past marijuana use.

This confirms for me that the security clearance review system is nonsense.

It has failed spectacularly in the past as in the case of Aldrich Ames. There is no reason to believe that previous marijuana use is a predictor of future leaking of secrets. I think it is time to dust off Voltaire's old battle cry and apply it to the process of security clearances: Ecrasez l'infame!

Monday, February 5, 2018

Not nearly good enough

The serious press -- Times, Post, LA Times, Bloomberg -- is calling the "sanctions" against Wells Fargo a stunning example of serious repercussions for criminality at Wells Fargo.

Stunning is right, as I didn't expect anything, but serious, no. (As I write this, Todd Zwillich on "The Takeaway" is calling it calling "rare and remarkable.") You'd get more time for stealing hubcaps.

Let us be clear about this. Wells Fargo is a thief. As Woody Guthrie said about Pretty Boy Floyd,                          
                                     "Some will rob you with a six-gun,
                                     And some with a fountain pen."

When hubcap stealers come before a judge for sentencing, they often offer a statement of remorse. Most judges, if they think the remorse real and/or sufficient, will sentence more lightly because of that.

If the Times' background report is accurate, the Wells leaders showed no remorse at all. Not even any sense that what they had done was wrong.

 Executives had convinced themselves last year that they were out of the woods, according to the people familiar with their thinking, who were not authorized to speak publicly about interactions with regulators. But that illusion was shattered in September, when Ms. Yellen said the bank remained under investigation.In early January, Wells officials heard from the Fed that the central bank planned to impose stiff new penalties.

Executives were furious that the proposed sanctions seemed more draconian than those imposed on banks that nearly cratered the global economy a decade earlier, according to people familiar with the thinking of top bank executives.
And, of course, as RtO has explained many times, from their point of view, they hadn't done anything wrong. What they had done was merely what had to be done to compete with other banks, which were (and remain) equally thievish.

The government caved.

After an opening round of talks, Wells concluded that the Fed was not likely to budge on its central demand: that the bank put the brakes on any growth until it proved that its governance was substantially improved. That meant the bank would not be able to increase the assets — like loans or investments — it was holding above its current level of about $2 trillion.

Wells wanted wiggle room. Executives negotiated to have the assets calculated over a rolling two-quarter average. That meant they could swell above $2 trillion at times, as long as they dropped lower at other times.

With a bank as big and as multifaceted as Wells, that means no cap at all. Wells will be able to conceal growth over a 6-month window. 

The replacement of directors punishes nobody.

So, window-dressing but nothing more.

Watch this space. There will be more Wells scandals.

After my earlier post where I suggested Wells have its charter revoked, I sent a copy to Sen. Schatz. After a time, he replied:

Thank you for contacting me about the revelations that Wells Fargo unlawfully created millions of unauthorized accounts under the names of customers without their knowledge and consent.  I agree that Wells Fargo's actions are deeply troubling, and I appreciate your sharing your blog post with me.

On October 3, 2017, I had the opportunity to question Wells Fargo CEO Timothy Sloan when he came before the Senate Banking Committee.  During that hearing, I asked whether the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency should review and possibly revoke Wells Fargo's banking charter in light of its many consumer abuses and violations of U.S. banking law.  I was extremely disappointed that Mr. Sloan's answer was essentially that Wells Fargo was too big to punish.  I remain very concerned that the size and concentration of our banking system makes it difficult to enforce important laws and regulations that protect consumers.  I am also not convinced that Wells Fargo has done enough to address problems with its corporate culture and internal governance.  To view my questioning of Mr. Sloan, please click here. 

I will remain vigilant to ensure adequate rules and oversight are in place to protect consumers.  As the Senate conducts its legislative and oversight duties to address unscrupulous banking practices, I will keep your thoughts in mind.  Mahalo again for contacting me.

I consider this a satisfactory response, for a senator.  The Senate is not where action should be taken.