Friday, October 17, 2008

All Good Things Must Come To An End, (and yes I borrowed the line from the Wildwood Weed song)

Food For Thought 10-17-08

Hi friends, this is Harry Blalock; General Manager for radio stations KZMI & KCNM. Typically this is the time you’ve become accustomed to tuning in for Food For Thought, and finding out what thoughts were rambling around inside my head. And I guess that’s what you’ll be getting once again today.

Every year on her birthday, my wife Kelli stops and takes time to re-evaluate her life and take a look at where she’s at, and where she is heading. It’s a good thing to do and when you do it on your birthday, you always have a built in reminder to do it every year. I have to admit that I haven’t always taken the time to do it like she has. But today is my 48th birthday and it seemed like a good time to stop and reflect and reassess. But for me the last several months have been a time to take a look at my life and figure out what I wanted to do and what was truly important to me.

I’m sure it will come as a surprise to no one that diving and everything underwater is not only important to me, but is something that I love sharing with as many people as I possibly can. I have literally taken hundreds and hundreds of people out on dives with me since I moved here 12 ½ years ago. For some, it was their first experience underwater, and it was their introduction to a magical world they had only seen pictures of previously. And for many others, like many of the officers and crewmembers of the various Navy ships that have visited Saipan over the years, it was a chance to let them experience the beauty of what Saipan has to offer underwater. I have had a ton of fun with it over the years, and even had a fictitious tour company sort of spring up as a result. I say it’s fictitious because it’s not listed in the phone book, and I’ve never charged anyone a penny to go diving with me, but it’s very real to the hundreds that I’ve taken out for a dive or two. I’ve had people discover my diving blog online and contact me from Japan, Ohio, Australia and various other locations asking if I’d be willing to take them out diving when they came to Saipan. The answer is always yes. And over the next several days I’ll have the privilege of taking some of the visiting White House staffers out diving as well. It has truly been an amazing life and I’ve been privileged to share my passion with many other people over the years.

A couple diving friends of mine have been talking to me for the last year or so about furthering my dive certifications so that I could actually teach diving and share my passion with that many more people, introducing them at the very basic level. Mike Tripp and Mike Ernest were very patient with me and all my arguments against it, and didn’t push too hard, but yet kept continually encouraging me to take this next step to be able to become even more involved in the diving community. But it was Mike Ernest who was eventually successful in convincing me to take the PADI Rescue Diver class and Divemaster. Once I did that, I realized that I was only one step away from becoming an instructor, so I went ahead and made plans to go to Guam to attend the Instructor’s course over there for the first two weeks of November. So I’ll be gone for a couple weeks as I take the course, but I will be returning to the airwaves November 17th.

The reason I’m taking this next step is because it will allow me to share my love of the underwater world with many more people and to help them experience the magic and wonder of it as well. It’s something that is that important to me and it’s a dream that I’m following. As I get older, I want to spend more time with the things I’m really passionate about and make as much of a difference as I can in them. I think its part of human nature to want to leave your mark and to leave a legacy you can be proud of.

At the same time, I have been thinking about whether the need continues to exist for Food For Thought or not. Food For Thought was never meant to solve all the islands problems or to answer all the questions. It was meant to get you thinking about the issues that confront us all. It didn’t matter whether you agreed with my point of view or not, what mattered is that you spent time thinking about the issues and talking about them with one another. Food For Thought asked a lot of questions, the point of the questions was to get you searching for answers so you could draw your own conclusions. I started Food For Thought 7 years ago because I didn’t see anyone speaking up about the issues and some of the abuses that were going on. I didn’t feel that the newspapers were addressing the issues in their editorials, they were either in bed with or afraid of the politicians.

But that has changed now; people are speaking up about the issues and are writing letters to the editor. They realize that they can speak out against their leaders and question them, and that they have rights as voters and citizens. The need for Food For Thought is not there like it once was. Much has happened in the past 7 years that I’ve been sharing my Food For Thought and I’ve made many predictions throughout the years about where we were heading and what we could expect to happen. I talked about the impending collapse of the garment industry, back when the Babauta administration was calling me an alarmist, saying I didn’t know what I was talking about. Now we’re down to the final 3 garment factories, and they probably won’t be around that much longer. I talked about how the Babauta administration lied to us about the budget and how much was being spent. They kept claiming they achieved a balanced budget, and yet when the audits were performed we learned they had racked up the biggest deficits in the CNMI’s history. I talked about Rota and the Global Country for World Peace. I talked about lawmakers who poached coconut crabs and smuggled in fruit bats. I talked about a previous Attorney General who protected her boss’s fishing buddies, refusing to prosecute them even when they were caught red handed fishing in a sanctuary. I’ve talked about this administration and the nepotism that continues. I’ve talked about the failure to follow through with prosecutions of former Marianas Public Land Authority officials who enriched themselves while in office. I’ve talked about the situation with Commonwealth Utilities Corporation and the folly of their plans. I’ve talked about the issues of the week nearly 400 times with you so far, but I believe this will be the last.

I know there will be many who will be making claims that they are the ones who got me to finally retire Food For Thought, but they will all just be spouting hot air. I’m not stopping because a few members of the legislature tried to formally censure me and have me voted persona non grata. Frankly I was a bit disappointed they didn’t have the guts and the votes to follow through on it. I’m not stopping my commentary because a legislator sent a letter to my boss. My boss got a good laugh out of it, but if you want to know his thoughts of that legislator, you’ll have to ask him yourself. I’m not stopping because I questioned the Drug Enforcement Agency’s timing in my commentary last week. Although I did get a visit from Resident Agent-In-Charge Antonio Marquez from Guam wanting to set the record straight, that had nothing to do with my decision. I’m not stopping my commentary because of any pressure from any politicians, and I’m not stopping it because I have decided to take up writing fairy tales for a living, although that one is very tempting. I am simply stopping because I think it’s time, and I’m passing the torch to others to speak out about the issues of the day. There may be more writing in my future, but it will likely be in the form of books.

When I return from getting my scuba instructor’s card in Guam, I will be continuing the talk show in the mornings, and I’m sure that there will continue to be hot topic issues and opinions expressed there by myself and guests alike, but that will have to suffice. To those of you who have found your public voice, keep speaking out and questioning your leaders. Demand answers! This is your life, your livelihood, your islands and your future, you have every right to expect and demand accountability of elected leaders. Make them answer for their past and their track records don’t just forgive and forget or you’ll be doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.

And if you’ve always thought about trying scuba diving but just never took the plunge, let me show you what I’m really passionate about, give me a call and I’ll introduce you to a whole new world.

Thanks for your listenership over the last 7 years and I’ll be expecting you to keep joining me on Island Issues.

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

Friday, October 10, 2008

Off To A Bad Start

Food For Thought 10-10-08

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

Today I want to talk about the incident that happened with the inaugural flight from Shanghai last week. From what I understand, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency decided they were going to do a random check for drugs and decided that they would do it to the passengers on that flight. I’ve been told that the DEA agents were supervising local Customs agents and had them do the body searches on the passengers. And I’ve received statements from various Chinese business people relaying to me what the passengers told them they went through. It seems that some of them who spoke English tried asking what was going on, and why they were conducting the searches, but they weren’t given any answer. And it’s not like the search of the passengers was only conducted on random passengers, but nearly everyone on the flight was subjected to the searches. Not only were all their suitcases and bags thoroughly searched, but many of them were also subjected to strip searches, and many complained that they thought the way the strip searches were carried out was not only unnecessary but also very humiliating and demeaning.

I think it is important to establish a few things before moving on to some of my concerns. Did the Customs agents have the right to go through the tourist’s luggage and make sure they weren’t bringing in any prohibited items to the CNMI? Yes, they not only had the right to search the luggage, but they had an obligation to search it to make sure that there was no meat, plants or any other prohibited item being brought in illegally, whether intentionally or ignorantly. And it should be pointed out here that they confiscated many items that are not allowed to be brought into the CNMI. To realize the importance of a Customs agent doing their job properly, we don’t have to look any farther than the problem we have with the scarlet gourd. If a Customs agent had caught that when it was being smuggled in and confiscated it the way they should have, we wouldn’t have the problem with this runaway vine all over the island right now.

Then we also need to realize that the Drug Enforcement Agency has the right to try intercepting drugs before they come into the country. And they have also told us that they believe most of the crystal methamphetamine, or “ice” is being brought into the CNMI from China. But I believe there are a couple questions that would be prudent to ask here, such as, does the DEA have the right and authorization to strip search the majority of passengers on a flight coming from a country that they believe to be the primary supplier of ice to the CNMI? Was this truly just a “random” search and was it just a coincidence that this happened to be the inaugural flight from Shanghai?

Governor Fitial believes that the feds are just trying to hurt our tourism in retaliation for his lawsuit over extending federalization to our immigration system. Is it possible that there’s any truth to that theory, or is it just paranoia? Let’s just say I wouldn’t take it quite as far as he has, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t at least a bit of truth to it. Could it be that the federal government isn’t worried about messing with our image with Chinese tourists because they have no intention of giving visa waivers to Chinese tourists once they take over immigration? Could this be one of the first demonstrations of the federal government showing us how things will be once they have installed Homeland Security here and taken over immigration? Could the federal government be retaliating for the lawsuit that Governor Fitial filed against them for taking over our immigration? I honestly don’t have the answers to any of these questions, and I wouldn’t even know which way to guess about the truth at this point. I would certainly hope that the federal government wouldn’t be so petty, and I would hope that they would look at the big picture and what the consequences of such an action might be.

So will there be any consequences of this action? Was it handled as well as it could have been, or should have been? Yes, I believe there will be some very serious consequences. Let me ask you, if you had just traveled to a new place, and had to wait for 3 ½ - 4 hours in the middle of the night to get through the airport because you and most of the people you were traveling with had been strip searched, how would you feel? Would it put a damper on the rest of your vacation? What would you tell people when you got home about your vacation? And would you ever go back there and risk having the same thing happen again? Would you recommend the place as a good destination or would you warn people to not go there unless they wanted to be harassed and humiliated, and not be told what was going on? And do you think this is the kind of treatment China was expecting when they gave us Approved Destination Status? Do you think that status may be in jeopardy now as a result of this incident? When you are trying to grow a tourism market you need positive feedback and responses from the visitors, something like this can kill it for a long time to come if word gets around about what happened. And yes, the story has already been carried in the news in Shanghai and is quickly making the rounds of tour operators in Shanghai as well.

So where do we go from here, how do we keep from getting a reputation as a destination that no tourist wants to have to put up with? Can we sit down and talk with the Drug Enforcement Agency and make sure that when they do “random” searches in the future, it isn’t a case where it happens to something as important as an inaugural flight with several dignitaries on board? Would it be asking too much to have them have translators there explaining what is going on and putting the tourists minds at ease? Is there a standard for how many passengers get randomly strip searched? Shouldn’t there be some kind of good reason to go as far as a strip search? Should our government be meeting right now with Homeland Security to see what kind of requirements they are going to have when they have more of a presence here and start calling the shots? Are any of these departments even willing to meet with our government since our Governor has filed a lawsuit against the federal government?

There may have been some valid reasons for doing the searches, but the timing was horrible. You don’t start off with an inaugural flight like that from a new destination making an example of the passengers. You don’t delay the passengers by 3 ½ to 4 hours to leave the airport after arrival. And you don’t strip search the passengers without at least telling them what is going on and why they are being put through something like that. That is you don’t do things like that if you expect to have more tourists from that destination. We desperately need to have our government sit down with the federal government and work some of these issues out so that we don’t lose the last leg of our economy.

I can completely understand how the federal government might not be happy with the CNMI government, both the Executive and Legislative branches, but now is not the time to be getting in turf wars and letting tourism suffer as a result. The Chinese and Russian markets have been the brightest spots for the CNMI in the past year or two, but it won’t take many more incidents like this to destroy everything that has been gained in no time at all.

I really don’t have many answers in this particular situation, but have plenty of questions. These are questions we can’t afford to ignore, and that we’d better take very seriously if we value our Chinese tourists. As is always the case, it doesn’t matter whether you agree with me or not, what matters is that you think about the situation and then discuss it, seeing how it can be improved upon, and how we can learn from our mistakes in the past.

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, October 3, 2008

The Legislature's Grand Plan

Food For Thought 10-2-08

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

I’ve had some people criticize me recently for never looking at the positive side of things, and just pointing out the negative. Well, I’ve decided to remedy that today and share some good news with you. I’m sure you will be thrilled to know that our legislature has come up with a plan for Commonwealth Utilities Corporation. And I think I can say with a certain amount of certainty that they must have done their homework ahead of time and spent a lot of time putting together a fool proof plan. Now you may be thinking that I’ve finally lost it, or that I went too deep while diving a few too many times, or maybe that I was in a car accident and got thrown through the windshield head first into a taotaomona tree. But before you draw any hasty conclusions, hear me out here and see if you don’t have to agree with my logic.

Our legislature came up with a bill to privatize CUC, and they managed to do it without any outside help, advice, expertise or public hearings. Now it’s not that they didn’t have people coming to them offering to help. It is my understanding that Simon Sanchez from Guam and some of his colleagues from Guam Power Authority came over to talk to them, and share what they did on Guam, and even offered to help them with putting together a plan and helping out in the bidding process. They even offered some input on the privatization bill that the legislature was considering, telling them how to avoid certain pitfalls that were obvious in the legislation, like the $250 million price tag. Our legislative geniuses said “thanks, but no thanks”. Well, I’m assuming they said thanks first, but maybe not, maybe they just said no thanks.

One of the things I found most interesting in Simon Sanchez’s talk to the Chamber of Commerce last Wednesday was the comment that if we switched over to generators that burned heavy oil, or RFO, residual fuel oil, we would save enough money in one year to not only pay for all the new generators, but that we’d even have a savings of $30 million in the first year alone. Could I possibly have heard that right? We would save enough money to buy brand new generators, and pay for them in the first year through fuel savings over what we are spending now, and still have an additional savings of $30 million? Did you know that even with the escalating price of fuel, Guam is still only paying .25 cents a kilowatt hour? I don’t know about you, but this information makes me really excited to see just how amazing our legislatures plan must be! I mean it’s got to be much better than what Guam is doing right? Otherwise it would be a no brainer to not go with their recommendation and save $30 million the first year and have brand spanking new generators. And evidently, our legislature has a better plan than burning heavy oil, as there was no stipulation that whatever company won the bid would convert to burning heavy oil to save us money. I sure hope that part of their plan wasn’t based on geckos farting out money – that was just a fairy tale, did they not get that?

The Governor didn’t like this privatization bill, and vetoed it claiming that the $250 million purchase price would simply be passed along to consumers, and would result in even higher power rates than we’re currently experiencing. He also didn’t like the fact that it reinstated another autonomous board to oversee the utility company. But the legislature, this bunch of financial and power generation experts decided they knew better than the Governor, and overrode his veto. They didn’t care that the $250 million dollar purchase price would raise your rates; all they cared about was getting some money to be able to appropriate to such things as fishing derbies, additional baseball fields they could name after relatives, and countless other projects that would ensure their re-election once again. So obviously there must be something that we’re all missing here and that only the legislature is privy to, that’s the only thing that makes any sense. Surely they wouldn’t sell us all out and make us all pay higher rates just so they’d have more money to play with, would they? No, I have to believe that’s simply not possible, they were elected to represent us, and I’m sure that is primarily what motivates them and dictates their decisions.

And another thing that convinces me that the legislature must have a very good plan and not need anybody else’s help is the fact that when Nick Pula, from the Office of Insular Affairs was here last week, he told the legislature that they should probably rethink their override of the Governor’s veto if they really wanted financial assistance from the Interior Department to pay for the overhauls of engines 7 & 5. Now it is my understanding that he didn’t come right out and say, if you override the Governor’s veto of that bill, you can kiss any money from us to overhaul those engines goodbye. He was trying to be diplomatically correct and drop hints, letting them know that they needed to read between the lines, and that time was running out, and they’d better have a very good, plausible plan if they wanted any financial help. So I guess we have to either assume that these guys are not so good at reading between the lines, if they can indeed read at all, or that they got the message, but were sending a message of their own back to Washington. That message would be, “keep your money, we don’t need it anyway, we’ve got a better plan!” So again, while some might be worried about sending that kind of a message to Washington, I’m not worried at all, I know it means that our legislators must have a much better plan, and we truly don’t need any financial help from Washington. I sure hope that they’ve told Tony Muna their plan though, because last I knew, he was still counting on that money from the Department of the Interior to overhaul engines 7&5. I hope their plan isn’t really counting on mouse powered power generation plants, that was just a fairy tale. It wasn’t meant to be used as the new blueprint for privatization of CUC; surely they knew that, right? So thanks for the trip out here Mr. Pula, and thanks for patting us all on the back and congratulating us, but we don’t need your money, really. Well, at least we don’t think we need your money. Wait, should someone go and check with Tony Muna first? Nah, what am I thinking, our financial wizards and power plant experts in the legislature have things completely under control, they know exactly what they’re doing.

Well, this privatization plan must be an impressive one if it means we can finally stand on our own two feet and thumb our noses at the federal government. And one of the most impressive aspects of it is that we can count on it being not only bid out and awarded with no objections filed, but that we can count on the new company coming in and having new generators to replace the Aggreko generators in less than one year, when the Aggreko contract expires. That’s definitely an ambitious and impressive time line, but surely these guys wouldn’t play games when we are under a time deadline like that, would they? You don’t think they took that part of the fairy tale seriously about gecko powered generators do you? Wait, that couldn’t be why that old white haired guy was running around chasing geckos with a butterfly net the other day, could it? No, now that I think about it, I think they were chasing him with a butterfly net and a white jacket, never mind.

I think it’s become quite clear that there are many of us who have been too hard on this legislature, and harshly judged them for not listening to outside experts, for not holding public hearings regarding the privatization of CUC, for telling the Department of the Interior that we don’t need their money, and for not knowing what they were doing. So let me be the first to say, I’m sorry if I jumped to any wrong conclusions, I’m sorry if I’m not smart enough to follow the logic in your flawless plan, and I’m sorry that I didn’t have the faith to believe that you guys finally got your act together and are truly acting in the best interest of the people of the CNMI. I am very excited to watch this plan come together and to put a stop to all the nay-Sayers, myself included. I am so glad that you have a plan that will save us more than $30 million in the next year in fuel costs and still have paid for all new generators. I am thrilled that we can tell the feds we don’t need or want your money; we have a plan of our own, so thanks but no thanks. And most of all, I’m thankful that you have once again given us a reason to respect you and to accord you all the honor that is due you. But of course this would not apply to the 3 legislators that did not vote for the override, Representatives Tina Sablan, Ed Salas and Francisco Dela Cruz.

Now there may be some that hear or read this and might accuse me of sarcasm. But the only ones who could possibly think such a thing would be those who don’t believe all the things I’ve just praised the majority of our legislature for. And surely none of the legislators would, with a few possible exceptions. So bring on the plan I say, show all of us that you truly do know better than everyone else. I can’t think of a better time to prove me wrong and put me in my place once and for all. So thank you legislature for ignoring everyone else and for sticking to your guns, I know it couldn’t have been easy to ignore that many people. Thank you for taking the time to come up with a superior plan that blows all the others out of the water. And thank you for restoring honor and respect to your body. I know that I for one plan on giving you all the honor and respect you have earned from this point forward. I’ve learned my lesson!

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.