Is Emily Dissing Colleen? Aloun Farm Owner Prosecution Set for Trial; 30-year Battle Saves Native Plant

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Colleen Hanabusa

EMILY’s List announced its endorsement of Congresswoman Mazie Hirono in her bid next year for the United States Senate. The liberal organization, that typically supports Democratic women candidates who are pro-choice, announced its endorsement more than a year before the September 2012 primary.

“Receiving important endorsements from EMILY’s List as well as the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) and Laborers’ Local 386 so early on in a contested primary gives us a huge momentum boost on the eve of our first quarterly fundraising deadline,” Hirono said in a letter to supporters.


Stephanie Schriock, President of EMILY’s List, also was enthusiastic: “Mazie Hirono has consistently championed the rights of women and families in Hawaii and we need her strong voice in the Senate holding the line against the Republican war on women.”

Mazie Hirono

The early endorsement brings up a host of questions, which Emily’s List did not respond to.

Is the support of Hirono, who is in her third term representing Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, dissing other Democratic women candidates who might enter that race?

Is Emily’s List trying to dissuade Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa, D-HI, a former Emily’s List candidate, from entering the race for the open Senate seat?

Or is there something Emily’s List knows that Hawaii voters about Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa’s plan to run for Senate? Maybe she has already made up her mind not to run.

No doubt, the Emily’s List endorsement is a coup for Hirono. In the 2009-2010 cycle, the group boasts raising more than $38.5 million and working to elect “85 pro-choice Democratic women to the U.S. House, 16 to the U.S. Senate, nine governors, and hundreds of women to the state legislatures, state constitutional offices, and other key local offices.”

Thai Trafficking Case Set for Trial

Mike and Alec Sou at their Kapolei-based vegetable farm Aloun

Defense lawyers for Aloun Farm owners Alec Souphone Sou and Mike Mankone Sou and U.S. Department of Justice attorney Kevonne Small agreed to Judge Barry M. Kurren’s plan announced Tuesday in U.S. District Court to set aside a month for their criminal trial that starts July 27, 2011.

The Sous were originally indicted in August 2009 on three counts including conspiracy to commit forced labor, visa fraud and document servitude related to 44 workers they brought from Thailand to work on their farm in 2004.

They are facing additional charges relating to the allegation that they confiscated the passports of the workers to restrict their movement when they first arrived in Hawaii. The Justice Department also charged the Sous with visa fraud conspiracy for knowingly presenting the federal government with documents that contain false statements.

Two additional allegations added after the original indictment include “harboring for financial gain” or harboring an “alien” from March 1, 2005, to October 27, 2010, “for the purpose of commercial advantage and private financial gain.”

Another charge relates to a fraud allegedly perpetrated in court through a unique video presentation that the Sous’ attorneys presented in court during their sentencing negotiations (sentencing that never occurred since their plea was thrown out).

The Justice department will argue that brothers participated in a scheme with Thai recruiters to create a “cheap” and “compliant” workforce through false promises that enticed impoverished rural farmers to pay high recruitment fees upfront – fees they had to borrow through high interest loans at banks they were directed to by the recruitment agencies.

They are accused of leaving workers with minimal pay – $5 to $6 an hour when they were promised $9.60 an hour – through illegal deductions from their wages – and threatening the workers with deportation before they could earn back their recruitment fees, if they did not comply.

Several workers interviewed by Hawaii Reporter says they were forced to live either in overcrowded conditions (44 workers in 1 5-bedroom home in Waianae) or in storage containers that had no bathrooms, showers, or utilities. They are now on the verge of leaving their families homeless and destitute in Thailand because the banks they were directed to borrow money from by the Thai recruiters are about to foreclose on their loans.

While the prosecution said its case will take two to two-and-a-half weeks, and the defense believes it will need one week to respond, all parties understand that delays may come because many of the witnesses don’t speak English and need a translator.
Rare Hawaiian Orchid on the Road to Recovery: A 30-year battle saves native plant on the brink of extinction

Platathera holochila growing in the wild at Kamakou Preserve on Moloka’i. Photo © Hank Oppenheimer

More than 30 years of research has led to a major victory in protecting one of Hawaii’s rarest plants—a native orchid of the Islands’ high forests and bogs that was down to fewer than 50 known individuals. A Mainland plant physiologist, Dr. Lawrence Zettler of Illinois College, solved two key mysteries that have allowed botanists to grow and outplant the orchid.

Since the 1970s, Kaua‘i researcher Steve Perlman has monitored the decline of this rarest of Hawaii’s three native orchids, Platanthera holochila. The plant has tiny greenish blossoms but a large flowering shaft that can be a yard tall.

All that time, Perlman, through his work at the National Tropical Botanical Garden, had been patiently collecting seeds and sending them off to horticulturists, hoping someone could solve the mystery of how to propagate them. “Nobody could grow them,” Perlman said.

Each year there were fewer plants, until recently there was just one left in a Kaua‘i bog, 24 on Moloka‘i and seven on West Maui. “This orchid couldn’t wait. We were down to so few of them,” Zettler said.

In the 1980s, the Moloka‘i population, inside The Nature Conservancy’s Kamakou Preserve, was protected with a fence, said Ed Misaki, Conservancy Director of Moloka‘i Programs. “The orchid was already listed as an endangered species and this was the only occurrence within the preserve that we knew of.  The population needed protection from wild pigs, which are a real threat, and the fence kept them at bay,” he said.

Because it is so vanishingly rare, the plant fell under the auspices of the state’s Plant Extinction Prevention (PEP) Program, which gathers all the available information on plants that have dropped to 50 individuals or fewer in number, and tries to identify ways to improve their survival.

Hank Oppenheimer, Maui Nui PEP Coordinator, said neither of the other two Hawaiian orchids is as critically rare as the Platanthera, which was probably never common and is now found only on three islands. Populations of the Platanthera orchids have steadily declined or disappeared on several islands. “It hasn’t been seen on O‘ahu since 1938,” Oppenheimer said.

The Hawaiian species is closely related to Platanthera orchids from Alaska and the Aleutians, and Perlman said he believes the seeds of their ancestors may have arrived stuck to the feet or feathers of migratory birds like the Pacific golden plover, which winter in Hawai‘i and summer in the Arctic.

Perlman said that several years ago he learned of Dr. Zettler, who specialized in the genus Platanthera. Zettler was excited by the challenge of the fading Hawaiian orchid.  In one of their early meetings on Moloka‘i, Zettler placed packets of seeds in the soil around existing plants, and some of them grew. But he still could not get them to grow in the nursery.

After considerable work, he found that seeds would only germinate in complete darkness. But germination was only the first challenge. Once sprouted, they did not thrive. His second discovery was that to grow well they require a symbiotic microscopic native soil fungus. These mycorrhizae derive energy from the orchids, while also providing nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus to the plants.

In March of this year, Zettler and three of his undergraduate students flew to Hawai‘i with trays of tiny Platanthera holochila plantlets, grown from Moloka‘i and Kaua‘i seed in sterile conditions. They were alive, but without their needed mycorrhizae, they would not thrive.

Perlman and Zettler, with Kaua‘i PEP Coordinator Wendy Kishida, outplanted the Kaua‘i seedlings in the Alaka‘i Swamp and, with Oppenheimer, the Moloka‘i seedlings in the Kamakou Preserve—near enough to their parent plants that they were likely to link up with the mycorrhizae they needed. Zettler also has seedlings from the Maui population, and the team anticipates planting some of them in West Maui in the future.

Initial checks indicate that most of the little transplanted orchids are doing fine, but it is not yet clear that they have located the mycorrhizae they need. “The plants are looking good. We can see growth on six plants,” Perlman said. But Zettler added: “If they hook up with the right fungus, you’re going to see an explosion of growth. I’ve told them to expect some mortality as well. These orchids can have mortality of up to 90 percent from outplanting.”

“The good news is that we have a recipe that grows them now. We’ve already got a batch of 100 more,” Zettler said.

And the team is deciding whether to try to re-establish Platanthera holochila on O‘ahu, using either Kaua‘i or Moloka‘i plants, which appear nearly identical to the early descriptions of the now-extinct O‘ahu populations.

Submitted by The Nature Conservancy, National Tropical Botanical Garden, Hawaii Plant Extinction Prevention Program