Friday, May 30, 2008

Lucky or Blessed?

Food For Thought 5-30-08

Hi friends, this is Harry Blalock; General Manager for radio stations KZMI & KCNM. It’s that time once again to take a look at the issues of the week, and to offer some Food For Thought.

I’ve been told many times and in many different ways over the years that I’m truly a lucky bum. My co-worker Lewie has commented many times on how lucky he thinks I am, and yet if you asked my daughter, she would tell you I’m one of the unluckiest people she knows. It’s all a matter of perspective, how you look at things and evaluate them.

Some of the reasons Lewie has come to this conclusion are because I've found a nearly new digital camera in an underwater housing while diving in the Grotto before, and yes, it still worked just fine. There have been several times that I was diving the Grotto picking up trash people had thrown in it and I've found $20 bills. Not just once or twice mind you, but several times now. I had someone come out to Saipan a little less than a year ago, who just happened to want something I had. It was something I hadn't spent any money on, but he wanted, and I wound up with a brand new Canon EOS Rebel XTi Digital camera with 5 lenses, a carrying case, tripods and a bunch of other gear in exchange for my item which I didn't really even want any longer. I had a health insurance company trying to tell me recently that I owed them $250 for items that weren't covered when I went to Hong Kong for a heart catheterization a couple years ago. In the end, instead of me having to pay them $250, they wound up sending me a check for nearly $1,000. And then last weekend while diving at Lau Lau, I jumped in the water right where you start your dive, and when I got to the bottom I found an Aladin Pro dive computer, which was still working just fine! So even though I've already got a dive computer, and I just ordered Kelli new dive gear, thanks to the check from that insurance company, now I've got a dive computer for other people I take diving to wear. Very cool! So am I just extraordinarily lucky? I don't think so, I mean when you figure how many hours I spend underwater every week, odds are good that I'm going to find some things that other divers have lost. Some people would still say that I’ve been very lucky.

But then if you asked my daughter about my luck, she would point out my lack of luck when it comes to buying Red Cross Club 200 tickets every year. There have only been a couple years in the last 12 that I have not bought a ticket and gone. I always tell her every year that I’m feeling lucky and I think this will be the one. She always laughs and scoffs at me and says, sure Dad, you say that every year. And it’s true, I do. I have probably gone 10 out of the past 12 years, I’m guessing they have given away well over 400 prizes during that time, and yet I still have never won anything, not even a one night stay at a hotel or a cell phone. Nada, Zip, Nothing! I have to admit, my record for the Club 200 has been perfect, but I’m feeling lucky this year. I can hear my daughter groaning and laughing at me already.

Since I’m a member of the Rotary Club of Saipan, I’m always tasked with selling $400 worth of tickets every time we hold a Las Vegas night. Typically I would sell most of the tickets and buy a few myself, in the hopes that I might strike it lucky and win one of the big prizes. I have won assorted raffle prizes over the years with my Las Vegas Night tickets, but I’ve never won one of the big cash prizes. But for several years I have watched as some of the Rotarians who have just bought their entire $400 allotment of tickets themselves have won vehicles and some of the top cash prizes. So last year I got a brainstorm, I decided I just needed to increase my odds, I decided to go into a pool with 3 other people for my allotment of tickets. We would each kick in $100 and we would equally share any prizes that were won with any of our tickets. I figured this increased my odds of winning something greatly. So somehow I managed to talk my daughter into buying $100 worth of the tickets with me, of course her boyfriend got pulled into the scheme as well, and a guy who happened to be renting a room from me also got in on the action. Except for Sarah, I think we were all kind of excited about our chances. I talked about my grand scheme to hit it big on my talk show the morning before the event. Some employees of another Rotarian who hadn’t sold any of his tickets yet were listening to my idea, and they decided they would do the same thing with their boss. Yup, you can almost guess where this is going, can’t you? We managed to win a few raffle prizes, but the other group who copied my plan hit it big, they won $5,000 I believe. You can just imagine the lecture I got from my daughter over that one.

And by the way, there is another Las Vegas night coming up, and I plan on doing the same thing with my tickets again this year. I’m thinking my daughter will be less than enthusiastic about entering into a partnership with her “unlucky” father, so that means there will be a couple open slots if you’re feeling “lucky”. First come, first serve!

But the reason I bring all this up is because I want to talk about what some people look at as luck, I look at as being blessed. This was kind of brought home to me the other day as I was reading some of the comments from people on Link Referral who have read my blog and looked at the pictures on my Smugmug site. Let me share their comments with you so you know what I mean.

-"Incredible. I'm not usually the the jealous type, but I have to honestly say that I envy you. What an awesome site. I loved watching that curious little turtle come up and bump your camera. You could almost see his mind working as he looked at you in curiosity. I've never went on a dive before but I would love to when I can save up enough. Thank you so much..."

-"Awesome awesome website. The photos are lovely. The map is beuatiful - i love maps. My Picks are great, actually everythng I clicked was stunning! I could lose myself in there for hours. You are one very lucky man! Fantabulous job!.."

Yes, I'll admit, I'm getting the chance to live most people's dream. Most people scrimp and save all year for the chance to go somewhere like this for a week or two on vacation, it's what keeps them going all year until the next vacation. But I'm living the vacation, I get to dive every weekend of the year and combine two of my passions, scuba diving and photography. It just doesn't get much better than that.

But again, getting back to the being "lucky" thing. I truly believe it's not just blind luck, I believe that God has for His own reasons decided to just bless me abundantly, far beyond anything I could have ever imagined or asked for, and certainly far beyond anything I deserve.He has blessed me with the most amazing wife I could have ever asked for. There is no doubt in my mind that Kelli loves me unconditionally and is completely and totally devoted to me. I know that she has spent thousands of hours praying for me and asking for God's blessings on us, I believe those prayers have been, and are continuing to be answered. I have seen the bible promise of "Seek and ye shall find, ask and it shall be given to you" answered over and over during our life together.

I will never be a rich man, as far as monetary wealth goes. I have too much fun giving it away to others. When I am blessed, I have fun passing those blessings on to others. When I found the underwater digital camera and housing, I gave it to a friend of mine who had just given her digital camera to her sister in the Philippines. I knew she would get much more use and enjoyment out of it than I possibly could. Yes, I had people offering to buy it from me, but that would have just given me some money which would have disappeared and I'd have forgotten what I bought with it. But this way I have the satisfaction of knowing that she has a camera she will use to capture memories and special moments while she's going to college that she will continue to share with her mother and family back in the Philippines. One option would add toward your monetary wealth, the other is absolutely priceless! I've tried to follow that principle throughout my life, and truly share with others what I have been given. You might say that I'm unbelievably lucky; I say that I am extraordinarily blessed. When my time on this earth is gone and it's time for those left behind to say goodbye, I won't have to worry about them fighting over my riches, there won't be any. But hopefully there will be an interesting assortment of people left behind who will all have their own little story of their brushes with this eccentric old dive bum, and hopefully they will incorporate the principle of sharing the wealth, and passing along what has been given to you to make a difference in someone else's life. It’s called the “Pay It Forward” principle, and there was actually a very cute and moving movie made about it a few years ago. If there was one principle I would impart to you it would be this, get out of the rat race and get into the giving race. It's a decision you'll never regret, and you will truly leave a lasting impression on those whose lives you've touched. Perspective can truly make all the difference in the world, and can turn someone who was feeling sorry for themselves over not striking it rich, to someone who is thankful and rejoicing over the many blessings that they have been given. I know I’m not the only one who has been extraordinarily blessed, have you taken the time to be thankful for your blessings lately? I don’t think you have to wait for Thanksgiving to do it, in fact I would hope that you would take the time to say thanks on a regular basis for the things you’ve been blessed with.

Food For Thought is now available online at and if you want it by e-mail distribution please send me an e-mail at

I’m Harry Blalock, thanking you once again for giving me a generous slice of your valuable time, and allowing me to share my Food For Thought.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Saipan Chamber of Commerce - Striving to Make A Difference!

Food For Thought 5-23-08

Hi friends, this is Harry Blalock; General Manager for radio stations KZMI & KCNM. It’s that time once again to take a look at the issues of the week, and to offer some Food For Thought.

For the last several years I’ve been a member of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce’s Education Committee that interviews college-bound high school seniors and then awards some of them scholarships. I’ve got to say that it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve been involved in for a very long time. We get to meet and talk to the cream of the crop as far as that year’s high school seniors go. We get to find out what they think about things, and what issues are important to them. I’ve found it very interesting getting things from a different perspective.

You hear some amazing stories of determination and perseverance, and overcoming long odds to wind up where they are today. I also find it interesting to find out who the most influential person has been for some of them. Obviously in some cases it’s one of their parents, but then there are others who tell us about a certain teacher who really opened their eyes and their minds to a whole new world. I was truly impressed as one of our candidates told us that one of her teachers had the most profound impact on her. I was impressed that she acknowledged what a difference he had made in her life and was more than happy to share that with us, and I was also impressed that this teacher takes his job so seriously and really strives to make an impact in his student’s lives.

With the ways things are in the CNMI lately, it’s easy to get discouraged and only concentrate on the negative things that are happening, like the almost daily increases in the price of gasoline, and the ever upwardly spiraling cost of electricity. And I’m not saying that these are not important issues, or are not destroying many families quality of life, but in spite of all these things happening to us and around us, there are still some bright spots and things we can take encouragement from.

The Saipan Chamber of Commerce has come under a lot of fire this past year for their perceived positions on some of the issues, and for their stands on others. Some of the criticism was even coming from members of the Chamber at the time, who for their own reasons didn’t appreciate the stand the Chamber was taking at the time. The Chamber has also come under criticism in the past for charging admission to go to the Senate and Gubernatorial debates it has sponsored in the past. However, this criticism almost always comes from those who have never gotten involved, and have never participated. The money raised from those debates and the various fundraisers is where the money comes from that we give out to the scholarship recipients. It is also where the money comes from to put on the workshops the Chamber did for the schools recently.

The title of the workshops was, “I’m about to graduate from high school, now what?” The purpose of the workshops was to prepare our students for life after high school and give them some advice and tips that will hopefully help them to be more successful in their interviews and jobs. The workshops were the brainchild of Chamber President Jim Arenovski and Education Committee Chair Kathryn Barry. They came up with a 4 hour program that taught the students everything from how to conduct themselves in an interview, and what the interviewers would be looking for, to how to balance a checkbook, how to make a budget to help you live within your income, how to balance family expectations and work obligations, and how to effectively communicate. Various Chamber of Commerce members donated 5 hours each Saturday morning for a month to put on these workshops for any interested students in both the public and private schools. Jay Santos of Triple J Enterprises & Hertz Rent a Car, Steve Jang of Rainbow Color and Kanae Quinn of PIC were all part of the team that shared their knowledge and experience with the students to help them to be better prepared for what lies ahead for them. Nobody was forcing them to do this and to volunteer their time, nobody was paying them for it, and they weren’t getting anything out of it other than the satisfaction of investing in the youth of today, and the leaders of tomorrow.

You may not always understand or agree with all the positions or stands taken by the Chamber of Commerce, but that’s ok, not all the members always agree, and there are even disagreements in direction at the board level from time to time. But like with any other organization, you do the best you can, try to get the majority consensus and then proceed accordingly. But one thing I don’t think anyone can disagree with is the importance of helping our students financially by offering these scholarships, and the importance of putting on the workshops to help prepare our students for the next step in life. Detractors are always very vocal and usually very biased in their point of view and perspective. And unfortunately sometimes they are the only points of view you ever hear, because they are always demanding to be heard and writing letters to the editor. But I thought you needed to hear a little bit about the other side of the story, the one that doesn’t always get that much press or coverage. The other side that is striving to make a tangible difference in our students lives. I would encourage you to ask some of the students who attended those seminars what they thought of them. Ask them what they learned, whether they thought they were beneficial or not. And I would also encourage you to attend the next Saipan Chamber of Commerce General Membership meeting that will be held Wednesday, June 4th at the World Resort. That is when the Chamber will be awarding scholarships to 6 of the 33 applicants they had this year. You will meet some of the best and brightest students our schools have produced. Not all of them, because unfortunately we didn’t have enough money to reward all the deserving students a scholarship, and trying to make some of those decisions is gut wrenching. But you will hear a little about them and from them, and you will also hear from some of the past recipients of the Chamber of Commerce scholarships. You’ll hear how the money they received helped them to pursue their college degree, where they are now in their education, and what their next step is. I hope to see many of you there!

Food For Thought is now available online at and if you want it by e-mail distribution please send me an e-mail at

I’m Harry Blalock, thanking you once again for giving me a generous slice of your valuable time, and allowing me to share my Food For Thought.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Punishment for Illegal Fishing

Food For Thought 5-16-08

Hi friends, this is Harry Blalock; General Manager for radio stations KZMI & KCNM. It’s that time once again to take a look at the issues of the week, and to offer some Food For Thought.

Today I want to talk about an issue that has been on my mind for some time now, that’s the illegal fishing that has been going on at the Grotto. I have been diving the Grotto for the past 12 years and have logged in close to 1,000 dives in the Grotto during that time. During the last year I have noticed a big increase in the amount of fishing line that is tangled in the coral outside of the Grotto and stretched across the openings to the Grotto. I typically spend a couple hours every weekend of my diving time untangling the fishing line and collecting it, trying to make the Grotto a pristine and attractive dive location for the hundreds of tourists who dive there every week. There are some dives that I have so much cut up rebar, spark plugs, and homemade molded weights in my pockets that it’s tough to keep my swimsuit on. The Grotto is supposed to be a sanctuary, which means that it’s illegal to fish there; however, it has been fished very heavily for the past year. Obviously with all the fishing going on, the fish aren’t being protected there at all, but my concern is more about all the fishing line they leave behind, and what it may mean to the tourists who come there to dive. Not only is it ugly to see the fishing line tangled in all the coral, but it is also a safety hazard when you have heavy duty monofilament line stretched across the openings that are used to come in and go out of the Grotto. If a tourist gets tangled in one of those lines and panics, it could easily lead to a drowning and a very bad situation.

A few months ago, Fish & Wildlife officers caught two Chinese contract workers illegally fishing at the Grotto. They were arrested and charged with violating a sanctuary. They spent a few days in jail while waiting to be processed and post their bail. Before the case went to trial, the Attorney General’s Office offered them a plea bargain, if they would plead guilty to the lesser of the charges; they would recommend only that they be given probation and a minimal fine. So when the case came before Judge Mona Manglona, she accepted the plea agreement and gave them 6 months in jail, all suspended except for the few days already served, and a $25 fine. I was outraged when I heard about it; I thought what a mockery of justice. Why bother even having these laws in the first place if that’s all we’re going to do to those who are caught? It was my understanding that the judge said something about it being a rarely committed offense when she handed down the light sentence. She obviously hasn’t been diving in the Grotto for the past year or she’d know better.

Then I had a discussion with a friend of mine, who happens to be a lawyer about the situation. He told me I shouldn’t be so hard on Judge Manglona, because if it was a plea agreement, she really could only go on the evidence and facts as provided by the Attorney General’s Office, and if they didn’t bring in expert testimony or present facts about the frequency of the problem or the magnitude of it, then the Judge wouldn’t have that information to base her decision on. He also told me that the Judge only has two options at that point, to either accept or reject the plea bargain as presented by the Attorney General’s Office. He said the bulk of the blame should be placed on the Attorney General’s Office for not recommending a stiffer penalty, and doing a better job of researching the facts in the case about the problem of illegal fishing in the Grotto.

A few days after that conversation, I happened to run into Matt Gregory, the Attorney General, so I had a discussion with him about it. He said he had just learned about the situation a couple days before, but planned on looking into it. He did say though that his office has to make decisions about where to allocate their time and funds though. Should they assign prosecutors to the more serious crimes like white collar crime, sex abuse cases and domestic violence, or should they make crimes like this one the priority and assign the personnel to them to be able to actually take them to trial and prosecute them? He said it is very expensive and time consuming to take a case to trial, and like every other agency, his agency is short on personnel and funds, so they have to make judgment calls about which cases to take to trial and which ones to offer plea bargains in. And sometimes in the big scheme of things, crimes like this one aren’t looked at as being serious enough to merit the time and expense required to properly prosecute it. And the defense attorneys know that the Attorney General’s Office doesn’t have the money or personnel to take cases like that to court, so they insist on ridiculously low plea bargains which let their clients off scott free basically. I had to admit, as much as I didn’t like it, I could understand where he was coming from and his logic. And yes, I’d hate to think that a child molester got a plea bargain instead of an illegal fisherman. But that wasn’t going to help the problem at hand, stopping the illegal fishing taking place at the Grotto. For a $25 fine, I’m thinking that most of the people who are fishing there aren’t going to think twice about whether it’s worth the risk or not, they could easily sell a couple fish to make up the cost of the fine and still have plenty left in their pocket.

So then the only logical place to find a solution to the problem would be the legislature. They have the ability to change the law. They could make it a felony instead of a misdemeanor, which would make it an immediately deportable offense if committed by a contract worker. That way you wouldn’t have to worry about repeat offenders. Or they could change the minimum penalty guidelines for violating that particular law. In most states, if you violate their hunting and fishing laws, you not only face a several thousand dollar fine, but you also forfeit all equipment in your possession at the time, which would include all fishing equipment, and would even include the vehicle you drove to get there. The state takes possession of those things and can then sell them at auction. If we don’t have the resources to properly prosecute our laws when they are broken, we can change the minimum sentencing and fine guidelines to make it extremely prohibitive and risky to violate the laws.

But if we don’t have the will or the stomach to impose serious minimum fines to deter these types of crimes, then why have the laws in the first place? That really has to be the question you ask yourself at this point. Because it’s not worth Fish & Wildlife’s time or effort to go to the Grotto and conduct a stake out, having to pay overtime if the offender is only going to get a $25 fine in the end anyway. So if we’re not going to raise the minimum penalty and really hit the offenders hard by imposing staggering fines and confiscating all their equipment, including vehicles, then what are we really accomplishing by setting these areas aside as sanctuaries? Are we just turning it into a private fishing club for those who don’t care about our laws? Because the law abiding citizens will actually pay attention to the signs and the laws and won’t fish there, but those who don’t care about our laws and who just want the biggest fish because they are in a sanctuary will be the only ones really benefitting from having these laws. Is that what we really want to accomplish? Rewarding those who don’t care about our laws and giving them the biggest fish because the rest of us honor the laws? Does that make sense on any planet?

I was diving at the Grotto last Saturday night, and there was an old 20 passenger mini bus there, it looked like one of the old ones that used to be used by the garment factories. The registration had expired a couple years ago and had never been renewed. I knew it meant that we had some illegal fishermen at the Grotto again. During the dive, I went outside of the Grotto and while I was out there I had a chunk of rebar tied to fishing line go floating past my mask, they were fishing right above me. After the dive we called Fish & Wildlife and reported the situation to them. They responded promptly and thanked us for the call and had someone come out to check out the situation. I understand they finally found the fisherman hiding behind the pavilion. He claimed he spoke no English, so they followed him home to get his information, but they did confiscate all of his fishing line and chunks of rebar he used for sinkers. Again, if we were serious about enforcing our laws, we would have given Fish & Wildlife the authority to seize his vehicle right then and there. But that’s not their fault – that would be the legislature’s fault.

As I see it, the legislature at this point really has two choices, unless they just want to keep making a mockery of the system and rewarding those who flagrantly abuse our laws. They can either do away with the sanctuary laws saying we can’t really afford to enforce or prosecute them anyway, and let everybody fish there instead of just the criminals, or they can raise the minimum fines to make a real impact when someone violates the laws. But if they think anything is being accomplished or that justice is being served the way things are set up and operating right now, they are fooling themselves. This is a system that is broken down and completely malfunctioning at every level, and yet we continue to pretend that it’s working and accomplishing something. I do believe that we have some lawmakers who want to do the right thing and enact laws that actually protect our natural resources and our people. Here is a chance for them to fix and improve a system that according to everyone in the loop, is simply not working. I can’t imagine why they would want to make it easy on those who disregard our laws and let them get away with plundering our natural resources, can you?

Food For Thought is now available online at and if you want it by e-mail distribution please send me an e-mail at

I’m Harry Blalock, thanking you once again for giving me a generous slice of your valuable time, and allowing me to share my Food For Thought.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Mandatory Driver's Training - Finally!

Food For Thought 5-9-08

Hi friends, this is Harry Blalock; General Manager for radio stations KZMI & KCNM. It’s that time once again to take a look at the issues of the week, and to offer some Food For Thought.

Progress tends to come very slowly in the islands, there are many contributing factors, but today I am happy to report on some progress that I’ve been fighting for for the last 10 years. When I first moved out here 12 years ago I was shocked to learn that there was no drivers education program and no laws requiring one. When our children turned 16 years old, you would just take them in to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, have them take the written and road test, pay their fee and they would then walk away with a driver’s license that allowed them to drive on the roads by themselves. If the parent gave them some instruction and practice, that would be the extent of their formal drivers training and education. We didn’t mandate that they took a course teaching them the laws, or require that they spent so many hours driving with a parent or guardian before being allowed to drive by themselves. And we also didn’t require anyone coming here from another country to take a course teaching them about our laws, they just had to take a test, which they could easily buy the answers from and get their license. It was absolute insanity and was no wonder why we had the kind of drivers on our roads we did.

I’ve been talking about the need for a Driver’s Training school for the past 10 years. Everyone always said, yes, that’s a great idea, someone should do something about that, but for years nothing ever happened. About 4 years ago, Representative Heinz Hofschneider introduced a bill that would have made driver’s training mandatory for anyone turning 16 or for anyone coming in from another country. The governor at the time vetoed it because he knew I was behind the bill and had been pushing it, and because it was being introduced by Heinz Hofschneider, who the governor didn’t like at all either. So politics got in the way of moving forward with a good idea and a good bill, and that was the end of it for a while.

In the next legislature, Congressman Arnold Palacios agreed to sponsor the bill and introduce it once again. We had a different governor this time around, and he had promised to support the bill if it passed both houses and got to his desk. The senate decided to sit on the bill for quite a while, as they have a habit of doing, but they did eventually pass it, and the Governor, true to his word, signed it into law. The law gave the Department of Public Safety 6 months to implement rules & regulations for the new law, and set up standards which would govern Driver’s Training schools. It was evidently not a priority for the Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety at the time, and she just ignored the mandate in the law to promulgate rules and regulations within 6 months.

In the meantime, a local teacher, who had been a driving instructor back in the states, decided he would open a Driver’s Training school, since the law had mandated drivers education now. But the 6 months came and went, then it was over a year and still no rules or regulations from the Department of Public Safety. Obviously he wasn’t getting many students since the Bureau of Motor Vehicles wasn’t forcing people to take the mandatory drivers training class before getting their license. They weren’t forcing people to take the course because the Department of Public Safety still had not come out with any rules & regulations yet. So we finally had a law on the books mandating drivers training, and now we even had a school, but we still weren’t getting anywhere and very few students were actually being trained.

Recently the Governor appointed former congressman and former police officer Clyde Norita as the new Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety. Clyde came in for the morning talk show, Island Issues, just a day or two after being appointed. I asked him what he planned on doing about the drivers training law that had never been implemented. He assured me that he would be looking into it immediately and would be meeting with the gentleman who had started the Driver’s Training school to see if everything was ready. Clyde honored that promise and started digging into it immediately. The result is that we now have rules and regulations promulgated for the drivers training program, and it is set to take effect on June 2, 2008. From that point forward all first time drivers license applicants will have to take a certified drivers training course and log in a certain number of hours driving with a parent or guardian in the vehicle. Also anyone coming from any country other than the U.S. or Canada will also have to take the drivers training course. If someone applies for a license before June 2, 2008, they will not have to take the course, but if they are applying for their first CNMI driver’s license after that date, they will be required to take the course before getting their license.

So finally, after years and years of talking about the need for a driver’s training program, it is about to become a reality. I’m hoping that this will greatly improve the safety on our roads, and that it will cut down on some of the needless traffic related deaths we have witnessed in the last couple decades. I realize there are those who will not like this law and grumble because the government is forcing them to spend more money in order to get a driver’s license for their children. But if you talk to any parent who has lost a child in a traffic accident out here, I’m sure they would tell you it would be money well spent if it makes them better and more defensive drivers. Drivers who have gotten a certain number of driving citations will also be required to take this course in order to keep their license. So even though there are a lot of people who have slipped through the cracks and never had any drivers training or education, if the police department starts cracking down, they may be required to take the course after all.

I would like to thank and congratulate those who had a hand in making this a reality, Representative Heinz Hofschneider for drafting and sponsoring the bill in the first place, Representative Arnold Palacios for sponsoring it in the next legislature, Governor Fitial for signing the bill into law, and to DPS Commissioner Clyde Norita for taking control of the situation and promulgating rules and regulations so that it could finally be implemented. Yes, sometimes progress here can be painfully slow, but that doesn’t mean that you should give up and stop trying or that you should throw up your hands and quit after the first setback or obstacle.
For those wondering just what exactly this will mean and how it will work, DPS Commissioner Clyde Norita will be in my studio Tuesday morning at 7 am to talk about the law, the rules and regulations and about what you would have to do if you wanted to open another driver’s training school. This will also open up new business opportunities, job opportunities, and it will bring in additional revenues to the government through taxes and permit fees. So while there may be some students out there not happy about the prospect of having to take a driver’s training course now, I am thrilled that they will be equipped to be better and safer drivers now as a result. Of course we will still have accidents, but I’ve got to believe that it can only help to educate our students before letting them loose behind the wheel, and by having them log in so many hours driving under the watchful eye of a parent or guardian first.

Food For Thought is now available online at and if you want it by e-mail distribution please send me an e-mail at

I’m Harry Blalock, thanking you once again for giving me a generous slice of your valuable time, and allowing me to share my Food For Thought.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The State of the Commonwealth

Food For Thought 5-2-08

Hi friends, this is Harry Blalock; General Manager for radio stations KZMI & KCNM. It’s that time once again to take a look at the issues of the week, and to offer some Food For Thought.

I guess I’ll start this week with a few of my thoughts from the Governor’s State of the Commonwealth speech and the address by the Washington Representative. Yes, I did go and sit through both of the addresses. I was actually there at 8:30 because I thought it started at 9 am for some reason, but when there were only 3 of us in the audience at 9 am, one of us got the bright idea to go and find out what was up (I wasn’t the bright one, just in case you were wondering). That’s when we found out it didn’t start until 10, but by that point, we had frostbite in most of our limbs because of the ridiculously cold air conditioning, so we just sat tight and waited.

There were no surprises in the Governor’s address; he was touting the fact that the Kumho investment at Lau Lau, the increased flights from Asiana and Northwest, and the new casino developments on Tinian were all signs that there is hope. He did not indicate that he thought things would be improving anytime soon, and indicated that more cuts needed to be made in the government so that we can live within our means. He did announce that the CNMI government has reached an agreement with the U.S. government over the release of $16.1 million dollars for the federal stimulus program. He said we should be receiving that money within the next couple of weeks and the government would then start the distribution of it toward the end of the month. It is $600 per person, or $1,200 for a couple and an additional $300 per child living at home. It’s certainly not the answer to all of our problems, but it may pay for one month’s CUC bill, or 2 months of your gasoline bill. I know that I’m personally happy to hear about it, and think I can probably find a good use for at least a little bit of my $600 allotment.

The Governor also talked a bit about the impending federalization of our immigration system, and the fact that he isn’t hopeful that we will be able to avoid the next .50 cent per hour minimum wage increase set to take effect later this month. While talking about the federalization of our immigration system, he went out of his way to say that many of the congressmen and congressional staffers they had talked to in Washington had never heard of the CNMI or our situation. He said that we have not been effectively represented in Washington DC, and hoped that situation would be changing in the future. It has been no secret that the Governor and Pete A. Tenorio, the Washington Representative have been polar opposites on most of the issues revolving around the federalization of our minimum wage and immigration, and the Governor was using this opportunity to bash the Washington Rep. for it.

The Governor did show a slide that indicated the progress of the repair work on the CUC engines. He said that within 6 months we would be at 90% of our operating capacity at CUC, our megawatt capacity would go from roughly 28 to over 80 megawatts. He didn’t say whether our generators would be improved from operating at 40% efficiency to over 90% where they should be operating though. If that were to happen, we would be using half as much fuel and lube oil, and obviously we could lower prices accordingly. Because he didn’t mention it, I’m guessing that the efficiency of the engines isn’t being worked on, we’re just simply getting them up and running, but it’s probably still at about 40%.

The Governor did come out and criticize the legislature rather harshly for their bill lowering the rate that CUC can charge to residential customers, and I’m not saying they didn’t deserve it. He said that the utility is experiencing a huge cash shortage as a result, and that the government can no longer afford to subsidize the utility. It was rather obvious that the Governor was more than a little frustrated with the actions of the legislature, and didn’t mind pointing fingers and laying the blame where he believed it belonged. You could see legislators rolling their eyes and looking at each other, which makes me question whether anybody will really be trying to work together or cooperate to address our problems, or whether they’ll just be too busy pointing fingers and playing political games.

For his part of the address, Pete A. Tenorio told how he had testified in favor of the minimum wage increase up to $4.05 an hour and how he was supporting the federalization of our immigration system. He said he wasn’t happy about the fact that they put the non-voting delegate in congress in the same bill as the immigration federalization, but that he felt as long as they were federalizing our immigration, it was vitally important that we have representation in Congress. He also seemed intent on convincing the audience that he has indeed been busy in Washington working with the powers that be on the federalization bill, getting concessions for us. He started off definitely on the defensive from the lambasting he took from the Governor, but he didn’t seem to deviate from his speech much to respond to any of the accusations or to make any accusations of his own.

The reaction of the crowd was the thing that I think was the biggest difference this year. A couple times you could hear one person start to clap in the middle of the speech, but then when they realized no one else was going to join them, they quickly stopped. There was no applause or encouragement whatsoever during the body of either of the speeches, and the response afterward could only be described as lukewarm at best. Even though at least half of the crowd seemed to be various cabinet secretaries, department heads and government employees, none of them seemed to be leading the cheering section or to be that enthusiastic in their applause. To me, the reaction of the crowd seemed to speak volumes and was probably more of an indicator of the state of the Commonwealth than the speech itself.

I think one of the biggest challenges we currently face is that our people are losing hope. They are losing hope that our leaders are capable of doing anything about the myriad of problems we are currently facing. They are losing hope that anyone has a plan that will actually make any difference. They are losing hope that our leaders will finally put politics behind them and just all roll up their sleeves together to get serious about planning where we want to head as a Commonwealth, and then implementing that plan without all looking for their own reward or kickback. They are losing hope that anyone we elect as Governor will truly be any different from all the rest. They are losing hope that they will be able to provide an adequate standard of living for their families if they continue living in the islands.

I have talked to numerous people recently, who are either in the process of moving away or are taking a very hard look at whether the time has come for them to leave as well. None of the ones I’ve talked to have only been here a year or two, most of them have been here for at least a decade, and some of them have lived here their entire lives. None of the people I’ve talked to want to leave, this has become their home and they had planned on staying here for a very long time. But if your quality of life erodes to the point where you’re having to make major sacrifices just to stay, you have to ask yourself whether it is really worth it or not.

Some of the problems that we are currently facing are global and not specific to just us. We can’t do anything about the cost of gasoline, and the point may be coming very quickly where it simply is no longer economically viable to drive our cars to work. That will mean that a public transportation system will be a necessity for many people’s survival. However, we don’t have a public transportation system, and to my knowledge no one is looking into the feasibility of creating one.

With the price of oil, renewable energy has become more important than ever to our long term survival and to the ability of businesses to remain profitable. But what are we doing about it? Sure we passed a law mandating that we have to have a certain percentage of renewable energy each year, but we really aren’t doing anything about making that happen. Our government has said that it’s not in the business of research and development and our utility can’t even afford to pay for fuel, not to mention invest in alternative energy. So where does that leave us? Can we really expect a business to want to just come in and invest tens of millions of dollars into renewable energy plants and have to hope for the best when dealing with our government? Our track record would scare away even the most adventurous and risk taking companies.

Is it any reason that more and more people are losing hope and are moving away? When will enough finally be enough for you? What will your breaking point be? When will your quality of life have slipped to an intolerable level that you’re no longer willing to put up with? Are you willing to live in a cave with no power or running water, and to eat fish and drink coconut milk every day? I was really hoping that there might be a splinter of hope in the Governor’s State of the Commonwealth address for people who need something to help them hang on for just a little longer, but if it was there, I totally missed it. There is plenty of blame to go around, but sadly no solutions anywhere in sight.

Food For Thought is now available online at and if you want it by e-mail distribution please send me an e-mail at

I’m Harry Blalock, thanking you once again for giving me a generous slice of your valuable time, and allowing me to share my Food For Thought.