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Ian Lind • Online daily from Kaaawa, Hawaii

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Bananas illustrate corporate agriculture & GMO politics

April 22nd, 2014 · Business, History, Media, Politics

I was driving to Manoa to pick up Meda yesterday afternoon and got hooked on an episode of Public Radio International’s program, Living on Earth.

Top Banana” originally aired back in 2004. It’s a short history of the banana industry in Central America. It’s also a tale of industrial mono crop agriculture, corporate imperialism (for lack of a better word), and the appeal, as well as the limits, of genetic modification.

The problem is that the Cavendish variety of bananas, the kind we see most often in our supermarkets, is facing the threat of a new mutation of an old disease that could wipe it out, at least as a commercial crop.

There are companies researching a GMO solution, creating a disease resistant banana that tastes like the bananas we’re used to.

But, as the story notes, there are major problems with this approach. First, the global anti-GMO sentiment would likely mean GMO bananas would have difficulty in the marketplace. And, second, small farmers will never be able to afford the patented genetically modified varieties.

So in Honduras, they are hard at work trying to achieve the same result through traditional plant breeding.

At the Honduran Agricultural Research Institute Adolfo Martinez likes to show off rows and rows of banana plants that are all different.

MARTINEZ: This is our future we think. Some are big, some are tall – they all have different properties, they have resistance to disease, different flavors.
CARTY: Adolfo has 368 varieties of bananas here (out of about 1000 species that are known around the world by the way). For four decades Adolfo’s institute has been trying to get different varieties to mate with each other – and Adolfo gives them a helping hand. Literally. His workers put ladders up into banana plants and scrape the pollen off the male flowers of some varieties … then, walk over to a field with a different variety of banana, and, by hand, pollinate the female flowers. A few months later they harvest the fruit. They peel and squish the bananas and go through that mush to look for seeds. And they find a few – not many – maybe three in 100 bananas. But those are the seeds of brand new banana varieties. Like the one that Adolfo shows off with the pride of a new daddy.

CLIP: This is the best. It has a huge bunch. It is a plant that is practically immune to Sigatoka, immune to disease, very resistant. They have slightly different flavour than the Cavendish and that is why the company has not accepted it yet. But even if Panama disease comes here we have some alternatives right now.

CARTY: Aldofo believes his breeding program will save the banana and also help the small farmers of the world who would never be able to afford a patented, genetically modified banana anyway. Adolfo’s new breed is already being used in more than 50 countries. Cuba is growing them because they don’t need pesticides.

CARTY: But are North American consumers ready for a new banana? The banana companies have spent so much money promoting just one kind of banana that they’re loathe to tackle the huge job of changing public attitudes about what a banana looks and tastes like. So instead of six kinds of apples, and five kinds of pears – we’re offered usually just one kind of banana.

In any case, it’s a very rich program.

And as I was searching online for a link to the program, I ran across a couple of other tellings of the banana’s story, “Poisoned by profit: how the banana trade shaped history” and “Bananas: The Uncertain Future Of A Favorite Fruit.”

The story of bananas also links back to Hawaii. Castle & Cooke, one of the original Big Five factors that controlled Hawaii’s economy and politics through much of the 20th century, began in sugar, expanded by taking over the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (later named Dole), and then later took over Standard Fruit Company, which became the largest supplier of bananas to the U.S. market. In the process, though, the “banana boys” from Standard Fruit, steeled in the rough & tumble politics of Central America, prevailed in an internal corporate power struggle and captured wrested control of the company from its local management that had a missionary heritage and a more genteel, although paternalistic, approach.

But that’s a story for another day.

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Moyers & Company: Fighting for the Four Freedoms

April 21st, 2014 · History, Media, Politics

Here’s something to kick start your brain for the week. It’s Bill Moyers’ recent interview with historian Harvey J. Kaye, author of the new book, The Fight for the Four Freedoms: What Made FDR and the Greatest Generation Truly Great.

A friend who recommended it calls the program “24 minutes worth of idealism.”

Here’s how the interview is introduced:

If you believe America desperately needs a great surge of democracy in the face of fierce opposition from reactionary and corporate forces, then remembering and reviving the spirit of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who died 69 years ago this week, is in order….

In January 1941, FDR’s State of the Union address made it clear that a fight was inevitable, a fight to preserve, protect and defend four essential freedoms: freedom from fear and want and freedom of speech and religion.

Kaye says the president was able to mobilize Americans who created “the strongest and most prosperous country in human history.” How did they do it? By working toward the Four Freedoms and making America “freer, more equal and more democratic.”

He believes Americans have not forgotten the Four Freedoms as goals, but have “forgotten what it takes to realize them, that we must defend, sustain and secure democracy by enhancing it. That’s what Roosevelt knew. That’s what Jefferson knew. And no one seems to remember that today. That’s what we have to remind people of.”

Moyers’ website includes a transcript (you can use the link at the top of this page), or just watch the video here.

Fighting for the Four Freedoms from BillMoyers.com on Vimeo.

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Ige on the spot in Turtle Bay deal

April 20th, 2014 · Campaigns

Will the deal to shield 665-acres at the Turtle Bay Resort from future development inevitably become a political football?

That’s certainly one possibility as the legislature tries to wrap up its work on the state budget by the end of this week.

Governor Abercrombie just dropped a deal in the legislature’s lap that requires $40 million in state funding to pull off.

KHON reported yesterday:

“What’s your message to the legislators?” KHON2 asked.

“My message to the legislature is very, very simple. We made a promise we would try, in good faith, to bring that Turtle Bay settlement to a conclusion after years and years of failure and frustration. And we’ve come through. And so we’re asking the legislature to come through, too,” Gov. Abercrombie said.

“This isn’t a surprise. The governor put the $40 million marker in his budget, so it’s not as if it’s a shock that legislators hadn’t anticipated,” said Sen. Clayton Hee (D) Waialua, Haleiwa, Laie, Kaaawa, Ahuimanu.

With the end of the legislative session less than two weeks away, lawmakers must act fast.

“Let’s hope and work to see to it now that the remaining days of the legislature, their top priority is seeing to it that the settlement that we all achieved together is gonna be fulfilled. Thank you, North Shore,” Gov. Abercrombie said.

But the key to the funding is Abercrombie’s opponent in the Democratic primary, Sen. David Ige, who also happens to chair the Senate’s Ways & Means committee. In that position, Ige will pretty much be able to control whether or not the funding will be included in the final budget, and whether or not Abercrombie will be handed an environmental banner to carry through the rest of the campaign.

Ige doesn’t seem to have much leeway here. The senator has been critical of Abercrombie’s positive assessment of the state’s economy, has positioned himself as the fiscal conservative who is protecting the public interest. He can say the $40 million is best spent elsewhere, or should be saved for a rainier day. But that sets him up to have to campaign as the guy who pulled the plug on a long-sought settlement in a bitter battle to preserve a prize coastline from development. It seems like Ige’s choices are limited. How he decides to play this out will tell us a lot about how this campaign will unfold.

Top quotes of the weekend:

“…Waikiki is becoming an overpriced Beverly Hills slum of the Pacific… [Honolulu Star-Advertiser, "Down & out in Waikiki," 4-20-2014]

“My word is my documentation.”
[State Sen. Sam Slom, quoted in Honolulu Star-Advertiser, "Agency contradicts Slom, says Connector probe isn't done deal," 4-19-2014.]

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A gray Easter morning in Kaaawa: Ocean and mountains

April 20th, 2014 · Kaaawa, Photographs

There wasn’t much of a sunrise on this Easter morning, just a gradual shift from darkness to shades of gray. It started raining mid-way through our walk, and continued on and off as we walked home.

So here are a couple of views of Easter morning, 2014, here in Kaaawa, Hawaii.

the ocean

the mountains

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1st Congressional District race shifting out of low gear

April 19th, 2014 · Campaigns, Politics

With the appearance of television ads touting the Congressional campaign of Rep. Mark Takai, the race for 1st Congressional District seat being vacated by Colleen Hanabusa shifts out of low gear.

Time to take a peak at the contributor lists of the top contenders, Takai and State Senate President Donna Mercado Kim.

The candidates’ reports to the Federal Election Commission covering the period from January 1 to March 31, 2014, were recently filed. Here are links to the lists of recent contributions to Takai and Kim.

To see contributors prior to January 1, use the FEC’s “Candidate and Committee Viewer.”

Kim’s recent contributors are heavier on the “usual suspects,” the lawyers, contractors, lobbyists, etc., who are frequent campaign donors, but given her position as Senate President, that shouldn’t be much of a surprise.

Takai’s supporters appear much more eclectic. I was somewhat surprised to see a $500 contribution to Takai by UH Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple, who has to tread lightly as the UH budget is still awaiting final approval at the legislature. Other UH contributors include athletic director Ben Jay ($500) and assistant AD Marilyn Moniz-Kahoohanohano ($250).

Kim has her own short list of UH contributors, including the UH system’s top lawyer, Darolyn Lendio Heim ($250), former UH football coach June Jones ($1,000), and associate v-p Michael Unebasami ($1,000), who has also given the same amount to Takai.

More on this race later.

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