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 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.

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