IS OSHER A COMMISSIONER OR A REPORTER?
It’s always sad when a firefighter dies, especially when he dies on duty. Maui Fire Department Firefighter III Duane Ibarra, 50, died just after 6pm on Wednesday, Jan. 18, according to a county statement sent out late the next day. The cause of death remains unknown at press time.
Within minutes of the county release going out, Wendy Osher of Maui Now had a brief write-up on Ibarra. Her story came straight from the news release, with one small addition, which came after a quote about county officials offering their condolences: “Friends and co-workers expressed similar sentiment upon learning of Ibarra’s passing.”
Osher didn’t have to go far to confirm that, because she herself was one of Ibarra’s colleagues. Since 2007, Osher has been a county Fire and Public Safety Commissioner. According to the commission’s website, Osher and her eight colleagues “review the operations of the Department of Fire and Public Safety and the Civil Defense Agency [and] make recommendations for changes which may be desirable to improve performance of emergency functions and the provision of public safety services.” They also investigate public complaints against Fire Department personnel.
Osher didn’t disclose her position with the Fire Commission in her Jan. 19 story on Ibarra, and to my knowledge has never made such a disclosure on Maui Now. Osher also reacted with some hostility when I asked her back in 2007 how she could ethically juggle an official county position with her journalistic responsibilities. She denied that anything she was doing was unethical and insisted that my concern was no big deal because on a small island like Maui “conflicts perceived or otherwise are bound to occur.”
The problem is that journalism is an absolute. A person is a journalist–an outsider in society, free of entanglements and official ties–or a person isn’t. There is no straddling of the roles. Most people would think it laughable if a newspaper employed the city’s mayor to report on city council hearings, but where Maui County’s fire department is concerned, that’s exactly what Maui Now has done.
In any case, Osher’s term of office at the Fire and Public Safety Commission ends on the last day of March.
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BASICALLY, WE’RE SCREWED
It’s easy to say that public safety on Maui is a quaint matter, and that when you get to the federal level, the people in Washington really know what they’re doing and how to protect us, but even that is probably a wild overstatement.
The other day I was perusing the many safety brochures in the lobby of the Kalana O Maui building–the county’s main hall of administration–and found “Preparing Makes Sense. Get Ready Now,” a little fold-out put together by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
On the subject of protecting ourselves from biological or chemical attack, the geniuses at Homeland Security offered this bit of wisdom:
“Some potential terrorist attacks could send tiny microscopic ‘junk’ into the air,” states the brochure. “Many of these materials can only hurt you if they get into your body, so think about creating a barrier between yourself and any contamination… Also, including duct tape and heavyweight garbage bags or plastic sheeting that can be used to seal windows and doors if you need to create a barrier between yourself and any potential contamination outside.”
“Junk?” Could Homeland Security be any more condescending?
Also, if you remember clear back to February 2003, our-then brand new Homeland Security department first made the asinine duct tape recommendation, which led to a run on duct tape at Home Depot, innumerable “Duct and Cover” jokes and, in Israel, three people suffocating in their home.
Most of us had thought the Fed dispensed with the duct tape nonsense–as though mere tape could stop a small pox virus–but apparently we were naive and foolish.
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LEGALIZE HEMP RESEARCH!
Ramoda Anand, a local activist who crusades for stuff like public access for disabled people and loosening up county Liquor Control rules prohibiting dancing in clubs is adding legalizing industrial hemp research to his list of things to get done. With the help of state Representatives Joe Souki (D-Wailuku), Cynthia Thielen (R-Kailua), Barbara Marumoto (R-Waialae) and Jerry Chang (D-South Hilo), Anand is pushing for passage of HB 1727, which would “allow privately funded industrial hemp research to be conducted in Hawaii under certain conditions,” according to the bill text.
“It would be the first in the country to say in the act that it has to be organic and non GMO,” Ramoda Anand emailed me this week. “The other acts in California do not say this. That’s why it would be incredible, in my opinion. It has to be on more than two acres of land, as well.”
The bill text states that hemp has often found its way into “paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, construction and fuel.” As everyone who’s watched Dazed and Confused knows, George Washington grew hemp (though historians say he probably didn’t smoke cannabis), but the federal government’s Drug War over the last few decades has pushed hemp into the shadows. This bill hopes to drag hemp back into the light, which scientists tell us provides life-giving nourishment to plants.
Get it? Plants need light? Come on–can’t a guy crack a little photosynthesis joke?
Anyway, there’s no hearing scheduled for HB 1727. And unless one is scheduled by Feb. 7, the bill dies.
“We need to have people call or email their respective representative, and make this happen,” Anand said in his email.