by Andrew Walden
It was such a simple question. Debating earmarks on the Senate floor, John McCain demanded of Dan Inouye: "We're going to spend $2 million for the promotion of astronomy in Hawaii….Why do we need $2 million to promote astronomy in Hawaii when unemployment is going up and the stock market is tanking?"
Reporters soon determined the $2 million was for the Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo, Hawaii. But the usual liberally deficient commentators have proven completely unable to answer the question “why”? Instead Discover Magazine opined: “ Apparently Astronomy is Un-American”. Sasha Issenberg of the Boston Globe mocked: “Don't care much about astronomy”. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post called McCain, Agape With Wrath.”
Lacking votes, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled the $410 billion “son of Porkulus” discretionary budget from the Senate floor Thursday night. Then returning Monday morning, Reid won a vote on the earmarks by 63-32. He is now in search of enough votes to pass and the massive spending bill –including $7 billion of ‘earmarks’—but John McCain’s question still has not been answered.
Hawaii Democrats are proud of their pork, but not much is said about Imiloa. Perhaps that is because the promotion of astronomy in Hawaii is accomplished almost exclusively by hiring the opponents of astronomy. Why do we need $2 million for the promotion of astronomy in Hawaii? To buy off anti-telescope activists backed by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
Imiloa is a shiny new Hawaiian cultural museum with a planetarium in it with conical stainless steel peaks which make a striking appearance above the University of Hawaii-Hilo. It was built with $28 million of Dan Inouye’s pork in order to provide salaried positions, for anti-telescope activists who had suddenly discovered how “rewarding” astronomy can be. About the time they began designing Imiloa they stopped demanding an end to the University of Hawaii telescopes on Mauna Kea--reputedly the best site for astronomy on Earth. Ironically, their backer--the State Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA)--is another big recipient of Dan Inouye’s pork.
The scheme only partly worked. There was a split in the membership of the Royal Order of Kamehameha I -- the former knights of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Those who bought into Imiloa tried to protect their control of the Royal Order by incorporating the once secret society in 2005. In January, 2006 somebody went to the top of Mauna Kea and demolished the Hawaiian altar erected on the summit. Then in February 18, 2006 a stone ahu at Iolani Palace in Honolulu was dismantled and scattered across the lawn. Said one observer, “it may be some sort of retaliation”.
Ignoring the spite felt by those who weren’t cut in on the deal, work on Imiloa began with the always fractious ex-activists in control of designing the displays. The experience was torture for the non-activist administrators, though none will admit it on the record.
Now complete, Imiloa visitors are treated to a presentation of the Hawaiian ancestral chant, the Kumulipo, followed by photo images of Hawaiians both modern and ancient. Passing this display one comes upon a Polynesian double-hulled sailing canoe suspended from the ceiling. There is also the planetarium.
OHA’s protesters claimed telescopes should not be built on Mauna Kea because the mountain is sacred to Hawaiians. Anti-American war protesters also use this as an excuse to oppose military training at Pohakuloa, located between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. But the old definition of sacredness allowed for construction and use of adze quarries in a 7.5 square mile area on the upper flanks of Mauna Kea. The rocks there annealed quickly because they emerged as lava under the glacier which covered Mauna Kea until global warming began about 10,000 years ago.
Highly valued for their sharpness and edge-holding capabilities, the Mauna Kea rocks were necessary for construction of dug-out sailing canoes such as the one hanging from the ceiling of Imiloa. They were traded throughout Polynesia. Today canoe builders use a chainsaw to get started, which may explain Dan Inouye’s other infamous (outside of Hawaii) earmark--$238,000 for Honolulu’s Polynesian Voyaging Society.
Parallel to this, Dan Inouye is trying to bring a taxpayer-funded $1.2 billion 30-meter Telescope to Mauna Kea. It would be the largest and most powerful terrestrial telescope ever built. Even after the Imiloa deal, with that giant bag of money proposed for the mountaintop a new batch of protesters backed by the taxpayer funded Office of Hawaiian Affairs are demanding $50 million in annual “rent” to be paid OHA.
It is not clear how $50 million can buy ’sacredness’ but the Democrat-controlled Hawaii State Legislature is finally getting tired of OHA‘s grasping ways and is considering legislation to put the top of Mauna Kea under the jurisdiction of the University of Hawaii system in an effort to bypass the purposefully impossible permitting process which creates opportunities for OHA’s greenmail.
Also undermining OHA’s claim, the State’s appeal, heard February 20 before the US Supreme Court, of Office of Hawaiian Affairs v. Housing and Community Dev. Corp. of Hawaii, in which SCOTUS will likely overturn a Hawaii Supreme Court decision and reestablish that the ceded lands--including the mountaintop--are owned 100% by the State of Hawaii and OHA has no legal claim.
With the Supreme Court on the verge of gutting OHA’s claim to the land and the Legislature on the verge of snatching Mauna Kea away from the State and giving it to UH--and the $1.2 billion telescope in the balance--the $2M will keep the activists fat and happy until the deal is done.
That is why Hawaii needs $2 million "for the promotion of astronomy."