Friday, August 29, 2008

What Was Tina Thinking?

Food For Thought 8-29-08

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.

What was she thinking? How could she possibly expect them to do such a thing? Didn’t she realize the consequences that could be in store if they actually followed through and did what she was asking? I’m referring to Representative Tina Sablan’s suggestion that the House actually entertain impeachment proceedings against Governor Ben Fitial and Lt. Governor Timothy Villagomez. Her colleagues couldn’t believe she was actually considering such a thing, not to mention bringing it up publicly during a House session. They quickly scrambled to dust off the Constitution and see just what exactly the grounds for impeachment were. They showed her that they had no proof that they had broken any laws, therefore they couldn’t do anything. They said it was up to the FBI, or the Attorney General’s office or the Department of Public Safety to bring them proof that laws had been violated, and then, and only then would they even begin to consider such a thing. I guess we are just supposed to pretend that the Attorney General isn’t appointed by the Governor and serves at his pleasure, and that the Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety also isn’t appointed by the Governor and serves at his pleasure. And as 3 other Commissioners of D.P.S. have already found out during this administration, it doesn’t take much to fall out of pleasure with the Governor and to wind up out of a job.

Yes, there is that pesky little phrase about dereliction of duty in the grounds for impeachment in the Constitution, but what exactly does that mean anyway, and after all, which of them couldn’t be accused of dereliction of duty as well? Just because the Governor made some outrageous promises about getting rid of the fuel surcharge on your CUC bill before he took office, should we really hold that against him? Just because he abolished the board that was ultimately responsible for all decisions made by CUC, and then placed the government utility company directly under his own office, and has since completely run the utility company right into the ground, was that really dereliction of duty? Hardly, gross incompetence maybe, but they couldn’t figure out how that could possibly be construed as dereliction of duty, come on Tina, work with us here.

Just because the Governor proposed coming up with a Public Utilities Commission to oversee the utility company and set rates for it, and then submitted names himself for those who would sit on this board, and then when they actually wanted to do their jobs and look over questionable contracts, the Governor did away with the PUC board and declared another state of emergency for the failing power company and gave himself total authority to award sole sourced contracts and do away with all procurement procedures, well surely she couldn’t expect them to use that as grounds for dereliction of duty, could she? She couldn’t possibly be expecting them to entertain impeachment against the Governor for allowing corruption at the utility company involving his own Lt. Governor, the Lt. Governor’s sister and a member of his cabinet, who also happened to be the Lt. Governor’s brother in law, all while the utility company was directly under the Governor’s office could she?

Obviously this young, inexperienced lawmaker hasn’t been around long enough to know how things really work here. If they entertained impeachment proceedings against the Governor or Lt. Governor, they would risk them exposing all the skeletons in their own closets, after all, they would undoubtedly not go quietly. The Governor has been involved in politics for a very long time, and has no doubt at least witnessed many of their questionable little schemes as well. She couldn’t possibly be expecting them to take a chance of having that happen, could she? And the Lt. Governor’s family is one of the biggest, and most power political families on the island, wouldn’t it be the kiss of death if any of them decided to try holding the Lt. Governor responsible for his actions? How would they ever win re-election?

After all, had she forgotten that under the American justice system, you are innocent until proven guilty? Although, anyone with an ounce of common sense realizes that you are not really considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, if you were, then why can you be jailed after being charged with a crime? After all, you haven’t been convicted yet, so you are supposed to be considered innocent, right? And if the court truly considered you innocent, then why would they have the right to impose bail on you before they let you out of jail pending your trial, you haven’t been convicted yet, have you? And if they really considered you innocent, why would they have the right to confiscate your passport before the trial, have you been convicted yet? It is glaringly obvious that law enforcement agencies and the court system consider you guilty once you have been arrested, as you will all the sudden find a lot of your freedoms being stripped away. They have no problem at all arresting you, handcuffing you, locking you up in jail, and bringing you before the court in handcuffs all before you’ve been convicted of anything. So are they assuming you’re innocent up until you’re actually convicted of a crime? They are saying they not only believe you are guilty, but they have proof to back up their claim that you are guilty, and they are going to start treating you as a criminal from the point they take you into custody. A grand jury has already heard the facts of the case, and they found there was sufficient evidence to move forward with a trial, so they obviously don’t think you’re innocent either. And the court also believes there is a very good chance you’re guilty of the crimes you’ve been charged with, otherwise they wouldn’t bother with bail or taking your passport. So let’s stop with this charade of pretending that people are really innocent until proven guilty, our entire system functions on the premise that they are guilty once they’ve been arrested, and then it’s just a matter of whether some slick lawyer can find a way to get them off through a technicality.

But the legislature can keep hiding behind the whole innocent until proven guilty thing, and stall for time right up until the end of the trial. That way they can’t be blamed for taking any action against the Lt. Governor, that way they don’t risk having him uncovering any of their dirty deeds as retaliation for impeaching him. And if they’re really lucky, this whole thing will drag on beyond the end of his term anyway, and then they’re completely off the hook. After all, why should they be the ones to have to take a stand and to put themselves on the line? This isn’t what they got into politics for, is it?
So why is this young upstart lawmaker trying to shake things up? Doesn’t she realize this will all blow over just like everything else out here always has? Doesn’t she know the island attitude is to forgive and forget, after all, we never really hold anyone responsible for anything? It’s always been that way, and as long as this good old boy network can keep it’s stranglehold on power, it will always be that way.

Then they figured if they start lecturing her about being a team player and throwing a bunch of stupid clich├ęs at her, maybe she would finally shut up and just go along with the flow. After all, the people don’t really expect her to do the right thing anymore than they expect them to do the right thing. If they did, they wouldn’t keep re-electing them over and over and over, and letting them keep getting away with the same stuff year after year. She obviously doesn’t understand how politics works; it’s all about building consensus, give and take, compromising on your principles so that you can call in the favors when you need them. It’s not about doing the right things for the right reasons; it’s about working your way into positions of more power and influence. It’s about chinchuli. Chinchuli is the local custom of when you give money at a funeral or rosary, or bring food; the family that you helped now owes you the same amount that you just helped them, whether in cash or food. Things aren’t just given out of generosity or out of the goodness of their hearts; it’s done so that favors can be called in later. And this is taken so seriously that most families actually keep ledger books of not only what they owe other families, but what the other families owe them as well. Now the polite thing is to just go ahead and offer the same thing in return when it is the other family’s turn, but if favors need to be called in and repaid, that is certainly an option.

But chinchuli has made the jump from rosaries and funerals to politics. Lawmakers regard their votes the same way, if you vote for my bill, then I owe you, and I’ll vote for your bill next time. Most of them even keep track of votes and favors owed. So when they are up there on the hill, they are not really representing you, they probably could care less what you happen to think about a certain bill, it’s all about chinchuli and banking favors so that you can call them in at a later date. It’s all about earning favors and paying back favors, it has nothing to do with the issues. It’s all about special interest projects, like lawmakers voting to give outrageous amounts to fishing derbies when several of them compete in those derbies and actually win big prizes in them. Is that like the conflict of interest they claim doesn’t exist in the legislature, and which is the biggest reason they say the legislature should not be changed to a part time legislature?

That silly Tina, here she thought she was being elected to represent the people and do what was in their best interest. The truth of the matter is that every other member of the legislature is up there playing the chinchuli game, and protecting those who have protected them in the past. Which kind of legislator will you be voting for next time?

Food For Thought is now available online at www.fftsaipan.blogspot.com and if you want it by e-mail distribution please send me an e-mail at harryblalock@gmail.com

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, August 22, 2008

The Cost of Freedom

Food For Thought 8-22-08

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 a little bit about freedom, and the fact that it really isn’t free at all, it’s usually quite costly. I think most of us have heard about the staggering cost of freedom when it comes to war. And there are few places that have seen the cost paid out right in front of their very eyes like Saipan and Tinian have during World War II. The cost of having a free country where you have the right to worship as you please, vote for your candidate of choice and openly speak your mind can be counted not only in dollars spent on a military, but also in the blood of the thousands of soldiers who have given their lives for their country. Whether you agree with the United States policies on Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea, and the list goes on, is not really the point. The point is the cost of having a free country is very expensive, and that’s something that no one can argue.

Then there is the freedom to choose where you want to live within the United States or its associated Territories and Commonwealths. That is really a huge blessing; you can come and go as you please, you can choose to live here, or choose to live in any of the states. Even though you weren’t born there, you still have the freedom with your blue passport to live and work anywhere within the U.S. I’m sure we all know dozens or hundreds of contract workers that would give anything to have that freedom and privilege. You have the right to drive on any of the roads that connect the states, to benefit from the infrastructure that has been put into place. If you live in the United States, that isn’t really free either, because you pay federal taxes that help to fund all those things.

As an American, I also had the freedom to choose to move to Saipan, and to live a life that many of my friends back there would have been truly jealous of 8 to 10 years ago. I wasn’t able to come here and buy property, so I’ve rented the whole time I’ve been on Saipan, but I’ve had the freedom to stay here as long as I wanted. But now there seems to be quite a price associated with living here. There is the fact that we are paying the highest utility rates anywhere in the country. We are also paying more for most goods we purchase here as well, including food, clothing, electronics and pretty much anything else we buy. That means that you have less disposable income at the end of the day because more of your income is eaten up because of the higher cost of living and the lower wages. So even though many of us have the freedom to live here, we now have to ask ourselves whether the cost is worth it anymore. For many it is, because this is home, it’s where your family is, where your roots are. For others, the beauty of the tropics and the ocean is enough to keep them here and it makes up for the additional cost to live here.

But lately there is another cost that needs to be factored in, that is the cost of not having reliable 24 hour power. If you don’t have any appliances or electronics that are susceptible to being destroyed by brownouts or power fluctuations, it probably isn’t as big a concern. We have fallen below the acceptable minimum standards of most third world countries, and instead of it getting better, it’s only gotten worse for the last 2 years now. Part of the freedom of living here now includes sleeping without air conditioning because most places lose power for at least a couple hours every night now in addition to several daily outages as well.

Then we also have freedom of speech here, but as most people who have actually exercised their freedom of speech can tell you, that’s not free either, and usually carries a very steep price. Sure, you can say whatever you want, criticize whomever you like, but if you have the guts to actually put your name to whatever you say, there will be a price you will pay, and it will usually be staggering, especially if you’re very vocal about your criticism. If you’re in business and you openly and vocally criticize the government, you can expect them to retaliate in any number of ways. And one of the things you may or may not recognize or identify right away is the fact that the relationships between politicians and their family members in other businesses are like spider webs, they seem to be everywhere and can be very difficult to avoid.

When you’re a part of the media, this can be a very difficult line to try walking. On the one hand, supposedly you have a social responsibility and obligation to be a voice for the people, to speak out about problems and abuses you see. Many people look to you as a sort of social conscience and expect you to say things that they wish they could say themselves, but realize they can’t for any number of reasons. They expect you to expose corruption and to ask the hard questions, they want you to put your neck on the line and be ready to take the heat. But when the heat comes, and you turn around to see those who have been prodding you on and encouraging you, they are nowhere to be found, you’re standing there by yourself, and you’re the sole target of those wanting to retaliate.

The cost comes in politicians that refuse to advertise for their re-election bid, they take their business elsewhere. The cost comes in federally funded government advertising campaigns that you no longer get because you spoke out about something. The cost comes when you lose contracts because you criticized policies or decisions made by certain politicians who have the wife of the person you’re doing business with working for them. The cost comes when you have friends who have to pretend to not know you when certain people are around or are looking. The cost comes to your children when they participate in school competitions and they don’t stand a chance just because of their last name. The cost may come to your spouse who is applying for a new job, but doesn’t stand a chance because she is your wife. Freedom of speech is far from free, and the more you exercise it, the more costly it will become. In a perfect world it wouldn’t be that way, you would be able to speak your mind without fear of repercussion or reprisals, but unfortunately that’s not reality, and this isn’t a perfect world.

The easy and safe thing to do is to just lay low, not ruffle any feathers, always be politically correct and never speak out about anything. There are those who have chosen that path, it is the path of least resistance, and it is the path that has been the most widely taken out here in years past. And honestly, after doing this for over 12 years out here now, I have to ask myself if that wouldn’t have been the smarter path to choose. The costs to my family, my friends, my employer and me would have been so much less.

It is because of the high cost of speaking your mind and exercising freedom of speech that there are so many anonymous blogs out there. They have determined that the cost of identifying themselves while speaking their mind is just way too high and they’re not willing to pay it. I can’t say as I blame them, I totally understand the price of speaking your mind. The only problem with that is you then have no track record, no history and no credibility. Nobody knows who you are, what the motivating factors are behind what you are saying or what your personal or political affiliations are. You can slander anyone you want to without fear of reprisal, because no one knows who you are. It’s quite convenient and allows you to say things you would never dream of if people knew it was you saying them. I suppose it does allow people to have a voice without fear of reprisal, but I’m not sure that’s an entirely good thing. It encourages irresponsibility and recklessness. You don’t need to check your facts before saying anything; gossip or hearsay works just as well as the facts, especially if you can never be held accountable for it. I think it also allows people be much meaner than they would ever dream of being personally or if people knew who was behind it. I gave up reading anything from anyone I don’t know or can’t identify long ago. I just don’t want to be sucked into listening to anything from anyone who isn’t willing to stand behind their own words; it makes them suspect right off the bat. So even being an anonymous blogger isn’t free because the cost is your credibility and your history. You may have some great points of view and concerns to share, but without the credibility and history, they then become suspect and lose their value. I gladly read things from people with whom I know are on the opposite side of an issue, but I know where they’re coming from and can look into their history if I need to. Credibility and reputation aren’t free, they require you to take ownership and stand behind what you say.

All freedoms come with a price, and it’s usually a fairly steep one. The question you need to ask yourself is when those freedoms are no longer worth the price you have to pay to exercise or enjoy them. You may still have the right to exercise your freedoms, but the price of doing so may outweigh the benefits of exercising those freedoms. It’s usually a good idea to stop and reevaluate your situation, take inventory of the price you’re paying and then make an educated decision whether it’s still worth it or not.

Many people in the CNMI are doing a personal cost analysis right now, and you will be seeing their decisions played out as they either decide to stay here and keep speaking their minds, or as they decide the cost has gotten too great, and it far outweighs any perceived benefits or results. Even though the price for free speech can be very costly, I can’t imagine living anywhere that I wasn’t able to exercise it.

Food For Thought is now available online at www.fftsaipan.blogspot.com and if you want it by e-mail distribution please send me an e-mail at harryblalock@gmail.com

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, August 15, 2008

Federal Charges & Solutions

Food For Thought 8-15-08

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.

It finally happened this week; something that many of us had heard was coming for at least a month. That was the arrest and arraignment in federal court of Lt. Governor Timothy P. Villagomez, his sister Joaquina V. Santos and her husband, Commerce Secretary James Santos. Former Commonwealth Utilities Executive Director Anthony Guerrero was also arrested but accepted a plea agreement to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy in exchange for his testimony against the others. They each face 3 counts: conspiracy to defraud the federal government, wire fraud and theft of federal funds.

For those of you not familiar with what led to this, let me give you the Reader’s Digest version of the story. Back in 1998, when Tim Villagomez was the Executive Director of Commonwealth Utilities Corporation, he used some federal funds to purchase thousands of gallons of Rydlyme. The problem was that he ignored CNMI procurement regulations and sole sourced the contract out to a company owned by his brother in law, James Santos. Santos had formed the company shortly before the purchase of the Rydlyme. There are also laws against doing business with family members when acting as an agent of the government. They very quickly found that using the chemical caused more problems with the equipment than it solved, so they stopped using it, and CUC still has 8,175 gallons of Rydlyme that remain unused. But according to the indictments, this was a very lucrative transaction for the James Santos as he marked up the cost of the chemical by 400%. If this was a legitimate purchase and the chemical was really needed, why didn’t CUC test the product first to make sure that it worked and didn’t have any adverse effects before buying such a huge quantity of it, the purchase price was $280,000? The fact that procurement policies were ignored, and the fact that it was a sole sourced contract through a family member makes this a very questionable, if not outright illegal transaction.

Now if it weren’t for the fact that procurement policies were ignored and that it was sole sourced to a family member, I could almost swallow the explanation that they erroneously bought a chemical that just didn’t work out. We all know that sometimes you just make mistakes when buying things, although one would hope that if they were spending that kind of money they would make sure they knew what they were doing and buying.

But the thing that really makes this whole thing stink even worse is that they didn’t stop at that one transaction back in 1998. Evidently they all made so much money out of this little scheme that they decided to bring it back for another round in 2006-2007. This time Tim Villagomez was no longer the Executive Director of CUC, but was the Lt. Governor. Since Governor Fitial has gotten rid of the Board of Directors for CUC shortly after coming into office, he had appointed the Lt. Governor in charge of the troubled power company, since he was after all a former Executive Director of CUC. So even though CUC was in the middle of the worst financial mess they’ve ever had to face, the Lt. Governor decided to launch their little plan one more time, only this time his sister set up the company that would sell the Rydlyme to CUC. So even though they already knew the Rydlyme wouldn’t work, and would just cause more problems if it was actually used, they went ahead and bought another $120,000 worth of it through the company set up by his sister. Since there was another Executive Director of CUC now, he had to be instructed to go ahead and approve the purchase of the Rydlyme, even though we already still had a bunch sitting around. According to the indictments, the Lt. Governor in his capacity as the boss of CUC Executive Director Anthony Guerrero, included him in this scheme and had him sign off on the purchase, again without going through proper procurement procedures. They didn’t even have the creativity to use a different chemical this time, they didn’t figure they would ever get caught, and even if they did, they didn’t figure anybody would do anything about it anyway. After all, that’s just the way things work here in the islands. So at a time when we were already experiencing rolling blackouts as a result of not being able to pay for fuel, and we didn’t have the money needed to do the proper maintenance and repair of the engines, the Lt. Governor went ahead with this little plan to buy more of the useless chemical to the tune of $120,000 and route it through his sisters newly formed company.

There are so many things that bother me about this whole thing that I almost don’t know where to start. First of all, how dare they enrich themselves at a time when the rest of the Commonwealth is suffering through constant rolling blackouts? Did they not care that the money was needed for things that might help alleviate our rolling blackouts? Did they not care about the effect this would have on you as they sat in their generator powered air conditioned homes? I know that this kind of thing happens all the time here, and has been done numerous times in the past, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it or tolerate it.

Then I am also dismayed that the Lt. Governor has not voluntarily stepped down pending the outcome of his trial. Does he not realize that having him continue in his capacity as Lt. Governor as he faces these charges in federal court once again makes us a laughingstock to any and all potential investors and business people? Does he not care about the image of the CNMI and our already badly bruised reputation? I am also disappointed that the judge didn’t issue a prohibition against him having anything to do with CUC pending the outcome of the trial. Do you realize that the Lt. Governor is still in charge of CUC since there is still no board to oversee the corporation? And now that the Governor has declared another state of emergency for CUC, will that just open the door to numerous other sweetheart deals and scams that we’ll all wind up paying for? How much access does Tim Villagomez have to CUC documents and records right now? Can he go through and destroy other documents that that could possibly be used against him in other deals he was involved with? I think you can see how this is not only a very unhealthy situation, but a disaster just waiting to happen.

I was extremely disappointed by statements made by the Senate President in the newspaper about the situation regarding the Lt. Governor on Thursday. He went out of his way to say that he was confident that the Lt. Governor would be found not guilty and that he was very, very close family. Shouldn’t he be waiting to see what a jury has to say before declaring his belief that the Lt. Governor is not guilty? And was it really appropriate for him to point out his close family ties at the same time? Does this mean we can’t count on him to be unbiased and to look out for the best interests of the citizens of the Commonwealth? Does this mean that he won’t take his responsibility to consider impeachment proceedings against the Lt. Governor seriously?

And what about the responsibility of the Governor, he is after all the one who put the Lt. Governor in charge of CUC and let him oversee its operations. The Governor also just lost a cabinet member as James Santos was the Secretary of the Department of Commerce. Does this show that the Governor hasn’t used the best judgment in choosing not only his running mate, but also in the top people he surrounds himself with? Is the Governor the final authority? Does the buck stop with him? Since he is the one who abolished the CUC Board of Directors, does that make him ultimately responsible for what happens at the utility company since it is now under the control of the Executive branch?

I believe there is more than enough reason for both the House and Senate to look into impeachment proceedings against both the Governor and the Lt. Governor, but of course we all know that won’t happen, because as the Senate President so succinctly pointed out, they are dealing with very, very close family. So will our House and Senate put family ties ahead of their sworn duty to protect and safeguard the people of the CNMI? The Lt. Governor has also reportedly rejoined the Republican Party, who happens to be in control in the House of Representatives right now, and was reportedly getting ready to run with a very prominent member of the Republican Party and the House of Representatives in the next gubernatorial election. So because of all these connections and the close family ties that seem to permeate nearly everywhere, I’m fairly certain that we can’t count on the House or the Senate to do their jobs.

So will the Governor and Lt. Governor do the honorable thing and voluntarily step down as a result of all of this? I don’t believe they will, even though they should, because as this whole thing has shown us, they are far more concerned with their own well being and enrichment than they are of the feelings of the people and the needs of the Commonwealth. We have seen and even heard from various politicians’ mouths in the past that when they get in office, it’s their turn to enrich themselves in any way they can. It’s considered an inalienable right.

I don’t think this upcoming trial in federal court will be as much about guilt or innocence as much as it will be about getting family members on the jury and on trying to get an acquittal through technicalities. I think it is very important to remember that even though you may be found not guilty in a court of law, it doesn’t mean that you didn’t do what you were accused of; it just means that your lawyer figured out a way to get you off. So should the removal of the Lt. Governor be dependent on the outcome of the trial or should it be decided based on what has happened? The facts of the case seem pretty clear and straightforward, but sadly as the Senate President pointed out, they aren’t nearly as concerned with facts as they are with family ties.

I know that I have expressed my frustration with CUC many times and in many different ways over the past couple of years. It should be pointed out though that much of what has happened at CUC is not the fault of the line crews, or the mechanics or the rank and file CUC employees. They do their jobs and follow orders given to them by the administration of CUC, which has been taking their orders from the Governors during the previous two administrations. The frustrations should be directed at those responsible for the messes we are currently experiencing. They deserve your rath and your frustration, but remember that the CUC linemen, mechanics and rank and file employees can only do what they are allowed to, they don’t make the decisions, they simply follow orders. So during these days and nights of extended power outages, if you want to know who to blame for the current mess we’re in, you could start by thanking former Governor Juan Babauta, the CUC Executive Director under his watch, Lorraine Babauta, Lt. Governor and former CUC Executive Director Tim Villagomez, former CUC Executive Director Ramon Guerrero, numerous former CUC board members, and yes our current Governor, Ben Fitial also has to accept his role for what has happened not only when he was Speaker of the House but also now while he is Governor. There is plenty of blame to go around, but it belongs to these people, not the rank and file CUC employees. Keep that in mind the next time you see a CUC line crew out looking to isolate the problem at 3 am on a rainy morning.

Food For Thought is now available online at www.fftsaipan.blogspot.com and if you want it by e-mail distribution please send me an e-mail at harryblalock@gmail.com

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, August 8, 2008

A Few Questions

Food For Thought 8-8-08

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.

As I sat at my desk contemplating the numerous issues that I could talk about in today’s commentary, I guess confusion is the word that best describes my state of mind at the moment. I have a bunch of questions swirling around in my head again with no apparent answers anywhere in sight. Sometimes it helps to go ahead and ask some of the obvious questions, because when other people express the same questions and concerns, you realize that you’re not the only who is wondering, “what the heck?”

One of the first things that made me scratch my shaved head was a letter to the editor in Friday’s paper praising Governor Fitial. It used some lame symbolism about Governor Fitial being a great swimmer and swimming into the eye of the storm, and told about how he had confidence that Governor Fitial was the best swimmer and how many people had admired him for his great swimming skills. Some of the questions this letter brought to mind were: Is this guy trying to get a job in government and what does he want from the Governor? Is he related to the Governor, or was he being paid to help the Governor’s Press Secretary try putting a positive spin on the Governor? Was he just in a car accident where he experienced severe head trauma? Has he been treated for hallucinations? Is he on mind altering medication? Did he happen to find another package washed up on Managaha and did he sample the contents? There were a few other questions that came to mind, but I don’t think those should be shared publicly.

Then there were some of the statements for one of the candidates running for the Washington delegate position. He stated he was the best candidate because he is a Carolinian from Rota, and that he would appoint Rota students to the military academies. If you know anything at all about this guy, you can just imagine the long list of questions that came flooding into my mind when I heard he was first running and then when I heard about some of his statements. Obviously I can’t list all of the questions; I don’t want this commentary to last over 2 hours today. But there are a few questions that I felt should probably be asked. The first question that came to mind was, shouldn’t you be representing all the people on all of the islands in the CNMI, not just the Carolinians on Rota? Do you realize that this is a CNMI delegate position, and not just a Rota delegate position? Do you think other people should be represented as well? Do you believe that under the U.S. Constitution all men are created equal? How much time did you spend on you exhaustive platform? Would you care to tell us what it is like being charged with a crime, convicted of a crime, while arriving at a plea bargain to have a bunch of other charges against you dismissed, and what it is like to serve a sentence in the CNMI jail? Can you remind us once again of what it was that you were charged with and convicted of? With those things in your background, do you really feel that anyone would ever take you seriously if you were to actually be elected? Do you feel that having those things in your background would add fuel to the fire in the criticism of the CNMI? Do you think you have successfully put that kind of behavior in your past, or is it something that may reappear at any time without warning? Do you think there should be any moral or ethical standards applied to someone seeking to represent the CNMI in the U.S. Congress? Now I’m not really expecting that he will bother to answer any of my questions, but since he is running for such a high position, I would think that we should all be demanding answers to each and every one of these questions before giving him our vote. Although I’ll admit, some of the questions were purely to satisfy my own curiosity.

Then while we’re on the topic of the race for Washington delegate, I wonder why not all of the candidates have taken advantage of my offer of free air time to tell the public why they are running for that position, and to answer a few questions? So far only 2 of the candidates have come in to talk about their candidacy on the air, they are Pete A. Tenorio, who is running as a Republican, and John Davis who is running as an independent. I have heard from Greg “Kilili” Sablan that he wants to come in as well, and from John Oliver Gonzales who said he wants to go over possible questions and answers with his people before going on the air – fair enough. But that still leaves 5 candidates who have not contacted me about the offer of going on the morning talk show to discuss their candidacy. They are Senator Luis Crisostimo, who is still a senator and doesn’t want to give up his sure thing quite yet, David Cing – a former senator from Tinian who is representing the Democrats, former Judge Lizama, who could use the opportunity to explain how the 180 day prohibition against him running for office from the time of his retirement doesn’t apply to him, Chong Won – a former CNMI police officer and now businessman, and Felipe Atalig who I should probably refrain from trying to describe to you. Yes, there is plenty of time before the election, and I would hope that they would all want to avail of the offer to get some free publicity and to explain to the public why they are running for this position. Could it be that some of them may not be thrilled about the questions I would come up with for them? The offer will continue to be on the table up until the election, but its first come, first serve of course.

And then I’ve got a bunch of questions regarding the proposed Marine Monument and the opposition to it. First off, why do the opponents keep calling it the Pew Monument? Don’t they realize that the Pew Foundation really wouldn’t have anything to do with it after it was designated as a monument; they simply came up with the proposal, that’s all. Is this really about indigenous rights, or has it simply become a pissing contest? Do some of our politicians have their noses out of joint all because this wasn’t their idea and they weren’t consulted about it early enough? Do the opponents realize that this has nothing to do with the land on the islands at all, but that it is protecting the waters around the islands? Do they realize that they don’t have any rights to those waters anyway according to the U.S. Supreme Court? I see some of them are claiming that they already practice ancient conservation methods, so they don’t need any help from the federal government in protecting the waters. How many of them have ever fished up there? How many of them have ever been there period? I read where they say they hope to eventually repopulate those islands. Do they realize that would be illegal under our current laws because the islands are already sanctuaries? Do they realize these islands would be nearly impossible to live on because of the terrain? What do they think their fishing practices here have to do with conserving the environment up there? Do they really want to allow illegal fishing boats go up there and get away with whatever they can take anytime they want? Who is financing the stickers I’ve seen that have a red circle and a line through it with the words Pew Monument in it? Is it Westpac? Why is Westpac so opposed to this? Is it because they lose money or control? I can understand why the politicians are opposed to it; typically they are always opposed to anything that is good for the CNMI if they don’t get their cut off the top. I just wonder why we can’t have a discussion about this based on the facts and not on misinformation, and a smoke screen instead of the real issues.

And then I am wondering why a certain member of the legislature recently introduced a bill seeking to punish government employees if they don’t provide information to the legislators fast enough, while they continue to block applying the Open Government Act to themselves? Isn’t that pretty much the height of hypocrisy? Does this lawmaker really think that they are all in a class by themselves and aren’t answerable or accountable to anyone, and that everyone else should jump whenever they want something? And why did this lawmaker accompany the Senate President and the Speaker of the House to Washington? What was their purpose of going there? Wasn’t our Washington Representative doing his job, did they feel they needed to do it for him? Did they go with the blessings of the administration, or to tell whoever would listen that they disagreed with the Governor and weren’t on the same page with him on any number of issues? Wouldn’t you like to know what was so important that these 3 felt the need to spend all that money? And aren’t our local lawmakers supposed to be concerned with making laws here? Did they need to do some research? Were their frequent flyer accounts getting low?

And finally just a few random questions that are rambling around in my head, can we really believe anything at all we’re told by anyone at CUC? Did the Attorney General’s Office decide to drop all prosecutions of former MPLA board members, attorneys and employees and just not bother to tell anyone? Is there anything at all about this administration that could be considered transparent by any stretch of the imagination? What was the result of the subpoenas that were served on people connected with CUC? Will we see any results of that? Will it hopefully be handled in federal court if we do? How will things change at the Department of Public Safety with Clyde out and Santiago in? Why don’t police officers direct traffic when power is out at the lights anymore?

Some days you don’t have many answers, just a bunch of questions that you’d like to get some answers to. These days, there are more and more questions and fewer and fewer answers.

Food For Thought is now available online at www.fftsaipan.blogspot.com and if you want it by e-mail distribution please send me an e-mail at harryblalock@gmail.com

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, August 1, 2008

What Is Your Breaking Point?

Food For Thought 8-1-08

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.

We all have things that are breaking points for us, things that once they are taken away or violated cross a line in our mind, whether we are conscious of it or not, mean that it is no longer worth it to us. Let’s take a look at living in the Northern Mariana Islands and take a look at where some of our breaking points may be. People have different reasons for wanting to live here, assuming that they do actually want to live here. There are those of course who were born here, their family has always lived here, and had no real choice in where they lived. Most of them will most likely stay here just because they really don’t know anything else and have never had any other options or experiences. Then there are those who were born here, but have been to the United States or traveled around Asia, but they still want to live here because this is home for them. They have a sense of belonging and identity by living here. And then there are those who have come from different places and actually chose to move to Saipan or one of the other Northern Mariana Islands.

Those who were born here, have all their family here, and they haven’t ever been anywhere else are the most likely to stay here no matter what, since it’s all they know. It doesn’t matter how bad it gets or whether they pass their breaking point or not, they will most likely stay because it seems like the only option to them. They will just do whatever it takes to survive, have more people all live in the same house, turn off the electricity, whatever they have to do. Even though their quality of life is horrible, they have nothing to compare it to, no point of reference so they will just keep putting up with this situation, no matter how bad it gets.

Those who have been to the states for college, or who have traveled quite a bit realize just how far behind we are on so many things and how there is a definite price you have to pay for living somewhere like this. The breaking point that determines whether they stay here or seek greener pastures elsewhere could be anything from losing our movie theater, losing Price Costco, gasoline going to $7 a gallon, utilities costing more per month than their rent or house payment to the constant and unscheduled power outages. They might get tired of hearing all the hollow promises from the administration about how they are going to fix things but never really do. They might determine that their children can’t get a quality education out here, or that they can’t afford to put their children in a private school. The amount they have to settle for as a salary out here might be so out of line with everywhere else in the world that they simply aren’t willing to short sell themselves anymore. It could be that the rest of their family is moving away and they want to move to be close to them. It could be that the price of goods rises so high that they can’t afford things that they normally wouldn’t even have to think about twice in the states. But more and more of them have reached their breaking point and they are moving away from the CNMI in droves. I think we’re going to see an even bigger exodus of this group within the next year or two.

And then there is the last group, that’s the one I belong to. For any of us that have been here at least 5 years, we’re an odd bunch. We have lived in other areas where we’ve had many more conveniences, prices have been lower, you’ve had much better selection of everything, and yet we willingly gave all that up and moved here. The reasons are different for every person, and the reasons they stay are different as well, but I think all of us have a breaking point too. At some point the quality of life will have deteriorated to such a point that even the beauty of the tropics that most likely drew us here in the first place won’t be enough to keep us here any longer. But it will most likely be different things for each of us that pushes us to our breaking point. I have seen many friends leave in the last year, and the reasons for the departures are as wide and varied as the people themselves. Many have just watched things continuing to slide down hill over the last 5 years and they want to leave before we hit rock bottom. They love what Saipan used to be, but realize it is not that anymore, and most likely never will be again.

There are those that have left because with the escalating price of electricity and gasoline, they don’t have any extra money for anything anymore. It has wiped out their ability to save up to travel. There are those who are sick and tired of the constant power outages, and losing their electronic equipment repeatedly because of the low line voltage or the power surges and spikes. Some are tired of having crowded classrooms, no supplies, no janitorial service and threats of payless paydays. There are those who have worked at the hospital who are sick and tired of the political interference in them trying to do their jobs. They are tired of being overworked and underpaid. They are tied of having to try practicing third world medicine, realizing that they don’t have the proper tools and support here in order to properly do their jobs.

And then there are those of us who have watched all of these problems materialize and we have continued to put up with them all. It’s usually because there is something else that holds us here, something that we would have a hard time finding most other places. In my case, it’s been the diving and my underwater photography. I can put up with a lot of inconveniences as long as I have those. It doesn’t mean I like the problems or am happy about them, but they haven’t quite pushed me to my breaking point yet, or at least they hadn’t pushed me there up until Monday night. I had a friend from Hawaii here this past week and ask if I could take him out night diving, of course I never turn down those requests if I can possibly help it. We went diving in the Grotto Monday night, and of course I had my underwater camera and was getting some pretty cool pictures down there.

When we got back up to the truck it was pretty dark, and somehow I forgot to put my camera in the backseat of the truck and left it in the bed of the truck. We stopped at a local hangout after our dive for a drink or two and some tacos. While we were in there, some punk came along and stole my underwater camera from the back of my truck. I’m sure that it wasn’t something they needed themselves, as no decent diver would do that to another diver, this was some scumbag who was looking for a few bucks and probably took it straight to a pawnshop. Idiots like that one will ultimately be the complete demise of Saipan, they will have driven everyone out who is working to improve this place and who genuinely cares about it. They don’t care about anyone else, they don’t care about the good of the community, I’m fairly certain they never volunteer their time to help anyone out or to improve our islands. They are morally bankrupt individuals who only think about themselves and really don’t care about the consequences of their actions, the entire world revolves around them. They don’t care if their actions might chase yet another person out of the Commonwealth, one who is a contributing member to society. They don’t think past their next high. And they know they really have nothing to fear by stealing. The pawnshops make it very easy for them to convert their stolen items to cash, they don’t ask for any receipts or proof of ownership. Our pawnshops are a thief’s dream. Why we continue to allow them and make a market for thieves, I have never quite figured out. It’s not like the thieves have to worry about cops on patrol spotting them or arresting them, there is a better chance of them being struck by a falling meteor. And even if by some fluke of nature they are caught, they all know they have nothing to worry about in our courts. They may have to listen to a lecture and get a slap on the wrists, but it’s not like they’ll get any serious jail time or have to reimburse the person they stole from. There are no consequences for crime here, nothing to make a thief think twice before stealing something.

Some people are willing to tolerate a lot of things, but very few people are willing to tolerate thieves. There is something very personal and disturbing when your privacy is violated and someone takes your things. Personally I like the Saudi’s way of dealing with thieves, on their first offense they cut off one of their hands in the town square, so that everyone can see what happens to thieves. Second offense they lose their heads. I know there are those who will be screaming that it is barbaric and we need to be patient and rehabilitate the thieves, but one thing you need to realize, Saudi Arabia doesn’t have many repeat offenders. Forget the three strikes and out rule, you never make it that far. We will continue putting up with the juvenile delinquents, with the scumbags that are too lazy to work for a living and with those with no respect for anything or anyone. And pretty soon, that’s all we’ll have left, because everyone with the means of leaving will have done so, they will be tired of being ripped off every time they turn around.

Taking control of our island means stopping the rampant theft, not tolerating thieves in our families any longer, turning them over to the police and then demanding that the justice system actually does something about the crimes. I realize there is about as much chance of that actually happening as a snowball fight in hell, but if something doesn’t change fairly soon, they will have nobody to steal from but each other and you. Don’t cry when you’re next if you don’t do anything about the problem now!

Food For Thought is now available online at www.fftsaipan.blogspot.com and if you want it by e-mail distribution please send me an e-mail at harryblalock@gmail.com

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.