Friday, June 27, 2008

Handguns Soon In The CNMI

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.

With the passage of the minimum wage law which included the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the passage of the recent law which extends U.S. Federal Immigration control over the CNMI, we are quickly learning that we are a part of the United States. I don’t think a lot of people really believed that up until just recently. Oh sure, they were right there to get their blue passport, cash their economic stimulus check and take all the money the federal government wanted to throw our way, but I think a lot of people were under the mistaken impression that it was a one way street, only benefits for us with none of the duties or obligations to go along with it. They didn’t really think we had to abide by the U.S. Constitution or the federal laws; after all, we were the only U.S. area that was given the right to restrict land ownership to the indigenous Chamorros & Carolinians. And the U.S. let us control our own minimum wage and take care of our own Immigration, and we couldn’t vote for the president, so obviously they really didn’t care what we did out here, we could just do whatever we wanted, and nobody could do anything about it. I can understand why some people may have gotten the impression that the U.S. laws and constitution might not apply to them because of those other exceptions, but they were mistaken in that belief and are now learning that if you fly the U.S. flag, it means you’re a U.S. citizen and have all the rights, privileges, duties and obligations that go along with that as well.

Now we have one of our crackpot congressmen once again trying to look into changing our status and affiliation with the United States. He’s being a crybaby because he’s all the sudden being expected to follow the U.S. constitution and laws like all other U.S. citizens. I don’t think he’s thought ahead to just how this place would survive without all the federal handouts we get currently. I think he expects those would continue, but we just wouldn’t have to let the U.S. tell us what to do anymore. Frankly, I think he should renounce his U.S. citizenship and burn his blue passport, if he’s serious this time and not just shooting off his mouth once again, then let him prove it with his actions. Burning his passport and not getting another one and giving his economic stimulus check back would be a good place to start. If he doesn’t want to be a U.S. citizen, then let him try finding out what it is like in this world when you’re not a U.S. citizen. And to all those who agree with him, I think maybe they should all be sent to Farallon De Mendeniza and allowed to start their own banana republic up there. It would be taking Survivor to a whole new level; maybe they could even get their own TV series out of it.

And while most people don’t realize it yet and haven’t even heard the news, we are now in violation of the U.S. constitution in another area as well. The U.S. Supreme Court in a 5 to 4 ruling struck down the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns. The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Americans can keep handguns at home for self-defense in their first-ever pronouncement on the meaning of gun rights under the second amendment. The Supreme Court has not conclusively interpreted the Second Amendment since it’s ratification in 1791. The amendment states “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed”.

The main issues the Supreme Court was deciding on were whether the amendment protects an individual’s right to own guns no matter what, and whether that right is somehow tied to service in a state militia.
According to a story written by the Associated Press, “Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said that an individual right to bear arms is supported by "the historical narrative" both before and after the Second Amendment was adopted.
The Constitution does not permit "the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home," Scalia said. The court also struck down Washington's requirement that firearms be equipped with trigger locks or kept disassembled, but left intact the licensing of guns.
Scalia noted that the handgun is Americans' preferred weapon of self-defense in part because "it can be pointed at a burglar with one hand while the other hand dials the police."
Scalia's opinion dealt almost exclusively with self-defense in the home, acknowledging only briefly in his lengthy historical analysis that early Americans also valued gun rights because of hunting.”
What this means is that the CNMI’s prohibition against handgun ownership by individuals is clearly violating the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and that we are now faced with a choice. We can either willingly follow U.S. law and this decision by the U.S. Supreme Court & change our laws so that we are in compliance with the U.S. Constitution, or we can wait until someone files a lawsuit against the CNMI for violating their basic rights under the constitution. And I can guarantee that our local law prohibiting handgun ownership will be challenged almost immediately. So the question is, will we realize that we need to step into compliance with U.S. Constitutional law and change our laws accordingly, or will we once again try asserting our independence and claim that those laws don’t apply to us?
I can already hear some of the liberals among us screaming that this will now put guns in the hands of the criminal element and it will make it that much more dangerous to live here. The truth of the matter is that any criminal here who wishes to have a handgun, probably already has one. In case they haven’t noticed, criminals don’t usually check whether the law gives them the right to have a handgun or not, that would kind of go against their whole criminal persona. But this will give U.S. citizens the right to bear arms and be prepared to protect themselves in their own homes. That was the original intent of the Second Amendment in the first place; it was one of the most elementary rights of citizenship. Over the years though, various locations have decided that they could restrict the ownership of handguns, ignoring or challenging the U.S. Constitution on the issue. This is a fight that has been many years in the making and just needed to be challenged all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court to let them make a final decision on the issue once and for all. They made the decision and now it’s time for all locations that have laws which contradict the U.S. Constitution to come into compliance, places like Washington D.C., Chicago, San Francisco and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

I’m hoping that we will tackle this issue with intelligence and planning, rather than just try to avoid and ignore it until is it forced through legal action. Since we now know that we are legally entitled to own handguns, there will be the need of some accompanying legislation about who would be restricted from owning them, such as felons, about how you can legally transport them, where you can legally fire them, and whether they have to be registered or not. If we do this properly, we will be prepared and it won’t cause a lot of problems and confusion, but if we stick our heads in the sand and try to pretend it doesn’t apply to us, we will wind up losing the court challenge and then will be totally unprepared to deal with the issue.

I think it’s high time that we realize what being an American citizen is about. I believe that when many of our lawmakers were going to school, there was no such thing as a civics course and probably nothing about U.S. history, laws or responsibility, since at that point we were not even a U.S. Commonwealth. But whether we like it or not, we are learning those lessons now very quickly, and we need to realize that as long as we fly the U.S. flag, have blue passports and continue to accept federal dollars that we have to live under the U.S. Constitution and federal laws.

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, June 20, 2008

State of Disaster at CUC

Food For Thought 6-20-08

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.

How much is too much? At what point will you finally be at your breaking point and admit that our system has failed us miserably and just continues to perpetuate itself? Our utility company is sinking to new all time lows, even though they keep trying to tell us that we’re almost at the end of rolling blackouts. I think it’s clearer than ever that they really just don’t have a clue. A group of over 200 people met this past week because they are sick and tired of what is going on at Commonwealth Utilities Corporation. They are demanding action, demanding that the legislature take their jobs seriously and provide real oversight over the government owned utility. They are also demanding that we finally break down and actually hire a professional who has the skills, education and experience to actually properly and effectively run a utility company. These seem like pretty reasonable demands to me.

And yet our Governor continues to beg the federal government for money to fix our worn out and poorly maintained generators. The real question is, why would anyone in the federal government want to listen to anything he has to say? After all, isn’t it our own fault that our generators were not maintained and were left to just fall apart believing that a sweetheart privatization deal was just around the corner? Isn’t it our fault that we continue to put political appointees in charge of running and charting the course for this very technical corporation? Isn’t it our fault that in spite of gross negligence, mismanagement and corruption we still haven’t seen any of the people ultimately responsible for the mess put behind bars or held responsible?

Is the federal government supposed to just ignore the fact that our Governor has done nothing but fight them at every turn recently with regards to the minimum wage increases and the federalization of our immigration system, and now that it has all passed and been signed into law, he is threatening to sue the federal government and drag the whole mess into court? Are they just supposed to pretend that none of that has happened and throw more money at our messes, believing that we will actually use the money properly this time and not squander and waste it? I’m afraid our track record wouldn’t give them much reason to trust us or believe that we would actually do it right this time.

Has our government given the federal government any reason to believe that we can really properly manage our own affairs and that we’ll be responsible this time around? Do you recall the whole mess with Marianas Public Lands Authority? Do you remember how much money was squandered through frivolous travel by their board members and the exorbitant per diem fees they voted to give themselves? Do you remember how a certain lawyer that was hired by MPLA wound up cashing checks that were supposed to go to MPLA, but somehow wound up going to him personally? Have you ever seen charges brought against any of them? It’s been 2 ½ years, does this administration really expect us to believe they can’t build a case in that much time? And now one of our senators is actually recommending that the Governor appoint this same lawyer with the questionable background at MPLA to serve as a judge?

Our leaders have made us the punch line to a bad joke; they have made us a laughingstock because of their rampant greed, corruption, mismanagement and nepotism. We have come to just think of this as the way things are; sadly we don’t expect anything else from them because it’s all we’ve ever experienced. But now the chickens are finally coming home to roost, each and every one of us are paying for their incompetence through outrageous electricity costs and frequent power outages. Families are getting sick of it and are leaving the islands for good. Businesses can no longer survive because of the double whammy from CUC, exorbitant utility costs and unreliable power.

If you added up the total amount of destroyed equipment as a result of the rolling blackouts and brownouts, I’m sure the figure would be astronomical. I have heard people talk about the possibility of a class action lawsuit against the government and CUC for all the losses they have incurred as a result of the failure to provide constant, reliable power. Frankly, it’s probably long overdue. Something has got to give and wake our leaders up, they need to realize that they are responsible for the mess we are in, and they need to do something about it. We either need to get serious about privatizing the utility company, but doing it right this time, or we need to hire experienced professionals with a proven track record to run and manage our utility company who can get it back on track and stop wasting over 60% of the fuel they put into the engines.

I’ve heard Tony Muna tell us over and over that he is only basing the rates CUC is charging us on “cost recovery”, but the problem is the costs are far higher than they need to be because of mismanagement within the power company. We are currently burning 60% more fuel than we need to be because our engines and generators are inefficient and not working properly. When you figure out how much all that wasted fuel is costing us, you all the sudden realize we could probably buy new generators and completely pay for them in a fairly short amount of time if you applied the money used to pay for all that wasted fuel. But instead of doing that, we just continue the band-aid approach and try repairing and patching up the old engines and just dealing with their inefficiencies. Hiring an experienced Executive Director and then having him come up with a cost effective plan would get us away from this never ending destructive cycle, but we keep avoiding that. Instead the Governor appoints an accountant as Executive Director of the utility company, someone with absolutely no experience or expertise in power management or systems. Sure he can crunch the numbers, but does he have the background and experience to show us how to stop wasting so much money on inefficient engines? What is he doing about the 25% line losses we continue to experience? That means that 25% of the electricity being produced is not being run through any meters, it’s just disappearing. But it is being paid for; you and I are being forced to pay for these losses. Our utility company isn’t just recovering costs, they are in squandering mode, and they’re turning it into an art form.

What if the federal government came in right now and said they would be willing to give us money to buy new generators which would be efficient, and would lower the cost we’re currently paying for electricity, but the catch was that they would hire and place the people here to run the corporation. Do you have more confidence in our own politicians to actually fix the mess properly, or do you think the federal government might be a little more reliable in this regard? I don’t know of any offers from the federal government in this regard, I was just wondering whether our leaders would still get your vote of confidence, or whether you’ve had about enough of their lies and empty promises.

While CUC continues with their load shedding schedule and frequent breakdown occurrences that aren’t scheduled, there may be some times that our radio stations will be off the air in the evening hours as a result. Because of the rolling blackouts and brownouts, we have had several automatic transfer switches burn out at our generator location on Mt. Tapochou. The cost to replace it is about $3,000, but since we can’t count on CUC to not repeat the same problem that burned the last switch out last time, we can’t afford to just keep replacing it. That means that every time there is a power outage on Mt. Tapochou, one of us has to drive up there and manually start the generator and switch power over. Then when CUC restores power we have to drive back up again, turn the generator off and switch power back. Some days recently we have had to make the trip up and down as many as 6 times in one day. We will continue making the trips during the day, but we cannot continue driving up at night, not knowing how long the outage will last or when CUC will finally bring island power back.

We are sorry for any inconvenience this might cause, however I believe you can understand that we also have to limit the amount of time we spend driving up and down Mt. Tapochou because of CUC. Many businesses have had to cut back on their hours, some have had to close periodically, and others are now assessing whether they can even afford to continue doing business in the CNMI as a result of our power situation. This situation could have been avoided if the administration and management of CUC had brought in auxiliary generators to help make up for the lack of capacity while repairs were ongoing, but they didn’t. They didn’t care about the effect it would have on you, on businesses or on the quality of life in general. And now they are telling us they are just recovering costs when they charge us the highest electricity rates around, even though they waste 60% of their fuel, and they lose 25% of their electricity through line losses. They may be recovering their costs, but the problem is their costs are absurd because of the waste and mismanagement taking place. Are you willing to keep buying the line of crap they’re feeding you, or have you had enough? Honestly I don’t know what the fix to this problem is going to be, but I do know that those responsible for this mess need to be held accountable and never given the chance to do it to us again.

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, June 6, 2008

My State of the Commonwealth Assessment

Food For Thought 6-6-08

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 quite a while I took flack for my criticism of the government, their lack of efficiency, their utter lack of professionalism, the blatant nepotism, cronyism, mismanagement, illegal deeds, and the list just goes on and on and on. I have been warning about this “perfect storm” meltdown for the past 8 years. It really wasn’t hard to see it coming, it didn’t take a Wharton School of Business economist to predict it, and in fact it was pretty hard to imagine anything else happening actually. But I was called an alarmist, a meddling haole, an outspoken outsider, and a whole host of other names. I was accused of bashing the last Governor as a political favor to his opponents; I have been accused of going easy on this Governor, for whatever reason. But now I’m far from the only one who is outraged at what is going on and who is speaking out on it.

Just so everyone understands and we’re all on the same page here, yes, I believe this administration inherited a horrible mess, in almost every single aspect. And yes, I’m still shocked that no one from the previous administration is in jail right now for their misdeeds while in office. But this administration has had 2 ½ years to give us the “Better Times” they promised. They claimed they had a plan, they claimed they were going to end the fuel surcharge that the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation was charging us. At this point it is painfully obvious, they had no real plan, and they just flat out lied to us about what they were going to do with the CUC rates.

I realize that the engines and generators had not been properly maintained at all during the previous administration, but it’s been 2 ½ years. They knew the engines would be breaking down, and yet they didn’t come up with a contingency plan while they would be rehabbing the engines. A private company offered to bring one of their excess generators over to provide extra power so we wouldn’t have to go through rolling blackouts, but the government never entertained their offer. I guess they thought we would be happier having numerous rolling blackouts every day. They must have thought we had an endless supply of money to continue repairing and replacing our burned up air conditioners, computers, appliances and other electronic equipment, because they didn’t have the utility company own up to its responsibility for all the destruction and reimburse people for their damages. The government must have thought business would want to be forced to close because they didn’t have enough power to stay open. They must have thought that you didn’t care if you had to put up with numerous outages every day at home, which caused food to spoil in your refrigerator and freezer. They must have thought we wouldn’t care that a supplemental engine would be running at over 90% efficiency and not wasting over 60% of our fuel and lube oil as our current engines do. Yes, we might have had to pay a bit extra to have those engines brought in temporarily, but couldn’t they figure out that we would have easily saved that money several times over by running more efficient engines? It’s really not rocket science!
And then we’ve been lied to more times than I can count about the duration of the power outages and rolling blackouts. We’ve been given more false deadlines as to when the rolling blackouts would stop than we can count. Instead of publishing a power outage schedule that we can all depend on and follow, they have now started publishing what they call a contingency outage schedule. That means that is the schedule they will follow if they need to shut down certain feeders for whatever reason. So you really never know if they will be shutting off power or not. So if you run around your home or office shutting off all the electronics, you’re never really sure if they’re actually going to turn off the power or not. And then they seem to have trouble telling the time. If the schedule says 10 am, it means 9:30 or maybe 10:15, you really never know.

I haven’t talked to a single person that actually believes the government knows what it’s doing with CUC, or who thinks they are actually improving the situation. There is zero confidence in this administration’s ability to fix the problems at CUC or to actually move us toward renewable energy sources. People are disgusted, fed up and ready to revolt over the power situation. I don’t know what will be happening in the coming days, but I’m fairly certain that you will see more and more people completely losing any and all trust that this administration can or will make any positive difference whatsoever.

And then there is the mess involving the Federal economic stimulus checks. Some people got their full checks, others got nothing, and some seemed to get partial checks. The Department of Finance tells us that if there were deficiencies in your 2007 tax return that it will delay you receiving your economic stimulus checks. What they didn’t tell us is that even if the deficiency was their fault, it would still delay them giving you your economic stimulus check. I read an example this week about someone who received a letter from Revenue & Tax about a $10.50 discrepancy in their tax return, therefore they would not be receiving their check until the discrepancy was cleared up. They had their accountant go over their taxes again, and were told that the discrepancy was due to an error in calculation by the Division of Revenue & Tax. But of course they didn’t bother notifying them right away after they filed their taxes; they waited until now, when they could use it as an excuse to not give them their economic stimulus checks right away. So because of a $10.50 mistake, which was the fault of Revenue & Tax, they were withholding over $2,000 of economic stimulus money from this family. And that’s just one example; there are numerous people out there with similar stories.

Why would the government be doing this? Are they using some of the money from the federal government for the economic stimulus checks to help float them financially while they sort out their “messes”? Are they trying to hang onto some of it for as long as they can to earn interest on it? Or are they really just that inefficient and unorganized? I sent an e-mail to the Governor’s Press Secretary early this week telling him that it would be nice if they could have Eloy Inos or someone else from the Department of Finance come in and answer all the questions created by this mess. I told them I’d welcome them any day they could make it. I was told that was a great idea and they would welcome the opportunity to come in and clarify the situation, but yet they still have not contacted me with a day they would be willing to come in and answer questions. Why is that? Do they not have answers for the questions they know I will be asking? What happened to the promise of this administration to be open and accountable to the people, what happened to the transparency?

I said before the last gubernatorial election that whoever won was going to be inheriting the biggest mess the CNMI has ever seen, and it would be a thankless task. I said that there was going to have to be a lot of pain as corrective measures were taken and things rectified from the debacle left by the last administration. That was true then, and it’s still true today. And it’s one thing if you’re experiencing the pain as you see the light at the end of the tunnel and realize it’s being done for your own good. I don’t believe that’s the case right now. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, and we have learned we can’t believe anything we’re told. Things have continued on a very steep downward spiral and there are no signs that we will pull out of it anytime soon. Family after family is packing their bags and heading out in search of a new start and a new life somewhere else, anywhere else. They have come to the conclusion that things couldn’t possibly be any worse anywhere else.

2 ½ years into their term, this administration is looking like it will go down in history as the worst administration in the history of the CNMI. Yes, they inherited a huge mess, but instead of tackling the problems with a plan and minimizing the pain and problems, they disregarded the cost of their actions and just blindly plowed ahead, driving families and business out of the islands as a result. And then when presented with an opportunity to make a positive impact, distributing the federal economic stimulus checks, they couldn’t even get that one right, and made a lot of people very mad in the process. This was a chance to pump some much needed dollars into a starving local economy, but they only managed to get part of the money where it belonged, the rest of it is still sitting in their bank account, accruing interest for them, while they try to fix their own mistakes so they can finally give people what the federal government wanted them to have much earlier. And instead of coming in on the air and explaining what is going on and offering some answers to the questions, they are still tucked away in their offices, trying to avoid the angry masses out in the hallways.

If I had to give the present administration a midterm grade on their performance so far, I’m afraid it would have to be a D-. The only thing that keeps them from getting a failing grade is that they have slowed down the spending and slashed the budgets, which is something their predecessor was unwilling to do or admit there was a need for. However, the nepotism and cronyism has been as entrenched in this administration as any other, I detected no difference at all. They have utterly and miserably failed in their handling of the entire CUC situation. They have failed to attract the new investors they promised when running for office. They have failed in their relations with the U.S. government. And they have failed to give people hope or a reason to stay here, the most stinging indictment of all.

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.