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Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Telescope: The Shakedown begins
By Andrew Walden @ 8:14 PM :: 10392 Views :: Hawaii County , Greenmail, Higher Education, OHA

by Andrew Walden

Who is going to get the money?

Some may have thought this problem was settled when activists were given plum jobs at Hilo’s shiny new Imiloa Astronomy center, but shakedown is the foundation of Hawai`i’s so-called economy and when Dan Inouye plops a $1.2 billion money bag on the top of Mauna Kea, the grasping begins.

On one side are the so-called supporters of the telescope project. Dwight Takamine crony Richard Ha leads the “30-meter Telescope Subcommittee of the Hawai`i Island Economic Board.” In an October Honolulu Magazine feature Ha writes: “We’ve made it very clear that the TMT (telescope) can only happen if … our people clearly benefit from it.”

On the other side: the Sierra Club. In the same Honolulu Magazine feature, Deborah Ward, Nelson Ho, and Kealoha Piscotta—a former Keck Telescope employee--demand rent and jobs for their people. They write: “Inouye should urge DLNR to follow the law and write a comprehensive conservation management plan. He could also urge them to follow state law and impose fair market lease rents on existing telescopes, which now pay only one dollar a year. Lease rent would give DLNR the funds to effectively manage Mauna Kea….”

Why are opponents of the telescope demanding rent? Because they are not really opponents. The Sierra Club’s power comes from its ability to use the courts to slow or stop a project. By posturing as opponents of the telescope, they create the maximum leverage to extract “rent” and force the DLNR to use that “rent” to hire even more activists to “effectively manage Mauna Kea.” This is just a variation on the Hokuli`a scam.

Some of the arguments made against the telescope need to be refuted. Piscotta, in a letter to the editor of the Tribune-Herald September 26, claims that the telescopes are operated on a for-profit basis. This is nonsense. Piscotta confuses revenues with profits and writes: “(it is) not correct however, in claiming the foreign governments and corporations operating on Mauna Kea are nonprofit organizations. Not even the University of Hawaii operates as a nonprofit, since it leases technology patents for millions of dollars to corporations such as Raytheon, MIT Lincoln Labs, and Lockheed Martin. The foreign observatories are funded via their national science budgets and/or corporate monies.” This is simply a claim that since money is being spent that some of the money should be sluiced off to fund the Sierra Club’s DLNR “management” role—which in turn would provide leverage to extract even more money from future projects.

Another argument is the general claim that since the mountaintop is “sacred” no construction should be allowed. This is a falsification of the old Hawaiian beliefs. The pre-contact Hawaiians operated a rock quarry near the top of Mauna Kea. These lava rocks had annealed quickly under the Mauna Kea glacier thus making the sharpest adze heads in Polynesia—necessary for canoe construction. They were prized as tools for woodworking and canoe building. Today quarrying requires industrial zoning, but the telescopes have been able to operate under conservation zoning. The idea that “sacred” means “do not change” is a Western idea, not a Hawaiian idea.

A third false argument implies that astronomy does little to advance technology. Piscotta writes September 26: “Given the billions of public dollars spent, astronomy in context, is not finding the cure for cancer or HIV/AIDS. We have always supported astronomy, and simply argue good science should support protecting the environment, conservation and the cultural traditions of the people of Hawai`i.”

Wrong. Astronomy and physics are at the foundation of all modern communications. With microwave technology we use cell phones and extend the reach of land lines. With communications satellites we enable radio and television broadcasts worldwide. Fiber optics accelerate the internet, itself developed as part of a military-scientific research project. These communications systems enable medical researchers seeking a cure for HIV/AIDS to exchange ideas and advance their research. Electron microscopes allow them to see the HIV virus. Without such technologies it is quite likely that modern medicine would not even be able to detect AIDS, much less look for a cure.

Astronomy also was a foundation of Polynesian navigation. Hawai`i’s natural advantages could place the islands at the center of technological progress improving everybody’s quality of life. Instead shakedown artists discourage development and steer the economy to further dependence on tourism. But now the “navigation” is moving in a different direction. Seeking opportunity denied at home, nearly half of native Hawaiians have left Hawai`i. Meanwhile the shakedown artists whose activity blocks opportunity claim to be operating on behalf of native Hawaiians. Amazing.

Absent from the discussion is any idea that the telescope itself is a benefit to the community. It is an educational and scientific resource of planetary proportions. It helps diversify the economy away from dependence on tourism while at the same time enhancing the appeal of visiting the Big Island. And in the natural course of its construction and operation it creates jobs and business on the island, in the state, and for the University of Hawai`i.

Instead the telescope project becomes the latest spectacle as the two competing gangs attempt to extract as much as possible in exchange the magnanimous act of finally kissing the papers to approve the project.

See PDF of $50M demand letter

RELATED: Thirty Meter Telescope Selects Mauna Kea -- Let the looting begin!

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