The Privatization of Hawai'i: Some Things Should Be Free

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The Garden Island (Kauai, Hawaii)

The Privatization of Hawai'i: Some Things Should Be Free

by
Juan Wilson

Americans have always been interested in making a buck. But today, even in essential public services, administrators look at everything as either a profit center or burdensome overhead - and overhead is bad.

Not much is truly "free," but there are services that should appear to be free to the end user.

When I first moved to Kaua'i, I was shocked to discover that children (obliged by law to attend school) had to pay money to ride the school bus. That was unheard of along the Eastern Seaboard where I went to school.

I grew up thinking that there are some things that would always be "free." The list certainly included fire and police protection, public libraries, schools and parks.

But that is not the way it is anymore. In many communities, public schools and prisons are operated as for-profit businesses. Even fire and police protection services are becoming privatized in some places.

Bush Business Model

There is a coherent business model that the Bush administration has used to run the federal government for the last seven years. It has two main components that tend to funnel money to its corporate cronies: deregulate and plunder.

This strategy has worked brilliantly. Since 2001 it took only a few years to turn a projected $1 trillion federal surplus into the great sucking black hole of our current debt.

The Bush philosophy has turned public resources and facilities into mining operations, clear-cut forests and private monopoly operations (National Mining Association, Wackenhut Corporation).

Bush has waged the war in Iraq using mercenary armies managed by private corporations for access to foreign natural resources (Blackwater, Halliburten).

The Bush administration has sold off public airwaves to telecommunication companies for chump change. They have allowed the consolidation of corporate control over newspapers, radio, television, telephone and the Internet. (Verizon, News Corp).

Without regulations, Bush has permitted the utilities and lending industries to "stick it" to the public while betting against their futures (Enron, CitiBank).

The Bush business model has been an unsavory mix of military, private and public resources coordinated by multinational corporations and subsidized by the public.

We are now willing to spend billions on SWAT team gear for every small town in America while our parks, roads and bridges fall into ruins. We are willing to subsidize billions for impractical ethanol production at the cost of food production. Looking back, 9/11 appears less the reason for this madness than an excuse for it.

Lingle's Corporate Style

There has been a trickle down of the Bush way of doing business right here in Hawai'i. Under the administration of Gov. Linda Lingle, we have seen a microcosm of Bush business techniques applied through agencies such as the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Hawaii Agribusiness Development Corp., the Department of Transportation and the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. With pressure on the legislature and courts, the Lingle administration has been able to circumvent laws restricting many of its schemes.

Perhaps the most controversial and widely known example is the collusion of the Lingle administration (through the transportation department) with the Hawaii Superferry Corp. and U.S. military interests to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds to get the companies operating in the state.

The money included Maritime Administration loan guarantees, state funded harbor and barge-ramp improvements, as well as a new, six-year harbor improvement plan totaling $842 million. Of that, $345 million would go to Kahului Harbor, at least in part to make room for the Superferry and foreign tour ship operations.

It seems to me that whether the Superferry ever makes a dime is not too important as long as the public funds get spent to jump-start a multi-billion-dollar ship-building project for the military.

Austal USA, builder of the "Alakai," now has a contract to go ahead with a design proposal for a Joint High Speed Vessel based to some degree on the Superferry design. This was announced the day the Superferry was taken out of service because of a leaky hull due to "rudder problems."

In addition to the privatization of public resources, public infrastructure has been eroding without replacement or repair. The state and county have tax surpluses, so what is going on? Do they calculate a tax surplus as a corporate profit? Is it that the less they do, the better they are doing?

An Arranged Marriage

The DLNR "manages" the entire 6,000-plus acres of state land comprising the Mana Plain. The two major activities on the Mana Plain are the research, development, testing and oversight of military systems, and the experimental growing of genetically modified organisms and the production of patented seeds.

Incidentally, there is also a third entity, Polihale State Park, which is inconveniently located at the far end of the Mana Plain.

A marriage was proposed between the two big players.

The groom, the Pacific Missile Range Facility, oversees the military experiments. PMRF is a Navy base that acts as a military industrial park for Raytheon, Verizon, Textron Systems and other defense contractors. Surprisingly, the Navy does not provide base security. That core function is contracted out to ITT Services Corp. Much goes on there, and much more is coming.

The bride, Agribusiness Development Corp., oversees the agricultural experiments. The ADC is a quasi-private state corporation whose mission is to "provide leadership and advocacy for the conversion of agribusiness into a dynamic growth industry." The ADC has facilitated the use of vast tracks of Mana by Syngenta, Dupont, Monsanto and other chemical giants to do genetic experiments.

The name the Navy coined for this proposal was the Agricultural Protection Initiative. There was a public outcry when the details of the agreement were revealed.

Three is a crowd, and many predicted the state park would be the odd man out in this relationship. It was suspected that access to Polihale State Park would be compromised by this marriage of convenience.

The marriage of PMRF and ADC was conducted by the DLNR in 2004, when a 25-year "non-exclusive easement" was arranged for the Navy. This deal allows PMRF to set the rules of conduct on the Mana Plain until 2029 and requires ag companies to communicate operations to PMRF.

Polihale Park Closed!

Few remember, but the Navy promised to maintain access to Polihale State Park during public negotiations with the DLNR. This promise was made by Capt. R. J. Connely, who commanded the base in 2004.

At the time, Rear Adm. Michael Vitale, commander of the Navy Region Hawai'i, said, "The state will continue to own the land and control all access. The Navy does not intend to impose any restrictions that would impede access to Polihale State Park. In fact, the Navy recently graded the dirt road leading to Polihale, improving access for the public."

What has followed has not been a reasonable maintenance of the access road.

Hundreds of millions of dollars flow to the corporations doing big business on the Mana Plain, yet the state park is closed. The pavilions are wrecked. There is no water to drink or toilets to flush. The road to the park is in such a state that the DLNR felt compelled to close the road in December last year.

For DLNR, the park is simply a drain on resources.

Fixing the DLNR Conflict

PMRF's Agricultural Protection Initiative has been bad for Kaua'i. Convenience of access to our state parks and beaches should not be traded for military operations or agricultural experiments.

DLNR is not a private development corporation, but a public institution. Its primary role is the preservation of Hawai'i's publicly owned natural resources. Today, DLNR is not fulfilling its mission.

Former state Rep. Brian Schatz recently wrote, "Under our state's Constitution, DLNR is supposed to preserve land but also open it up for development, conserve fish while it enables access for fishing, preserve water as it governs is distribution. These conflicting mandates almost guarantee that when the department succeeds it one arena, it will fail in the other.

"The Legislature can begin to fix this, but a constitutional amendment would be necessary to sort out this self-inflicted mess. Some DLNR divisions probably belong in other departments. Moving them will allow the agency to focus on its main job: the preservation of Hawai'i's natural resources."

Under the recent chairmanship of Peter Young, and now of Laura Thielen, the DLNR has been run as a for-profit business operation with the goal of adding money to the general fund of the Lingle administration.

That policy should end. Some things should be free.

Juan Wilson is a resident of Hanapepe and writes a bi-weekly column for The Garden Island. Juan is an architect-planner and the editor of www.IslandBreath.org

The Garden Island - Copyright © 2007

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