Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Under the wire


This one barely made it, but easily tops my favorites of the year.

And now the rest of the story. They say he borrowed the head from a motion-activated Santa. For a bonus "The headless dancing Santa now carries a knife and sings and dances on Conrad's front porch."

Previous winners? Well, after several hard drive crashes, this land is the only one I can get to offhand.

Recent fun:

My favorite until Santa came down the chimney: Talk about Christmas spirit(s).

I set a similar photo as our yuletime background. Who knew I was being
politically incorrect? Get a lighten up, please.

My dog ate it. My teachers never believed that one.

This site demanded a bookmark. Coat of many colors indeed.

Then there's
After years of staying put, her skin had literally become one with the sofa and had to be surgically removed. The link title is fair warning, I would think.

Send the kids to bed, because the
10 Most Bizarre Scientific Papers is next. A preview:

Hmmm. Nevermind. I was going to borrow the photo from Rectal Foreign Bodies: Case Reports and a Comprehensive Review of the World's Literature Look it up yourself. Needless to say, the site has been duly bookmarked.

Friday, December 21, 2007

How can I miss you if you won't go away?

One of my all-time favorite song titles... Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks.

The messages and emails were appreciated, but I hit a hiatus where my schedule was lousy. Plus, this blathering got old, and then I decided it wouldn't be wise to comment going into the election: I really didn't have anything positive to say and it seems the politicians I thought most egregious are friends. Did you get that Ron?

Kumhobaya

Glad to see they got their lease. The Japanese got tired of being ripped off, so it's back to Koreans. The uncharitable might say a small percentage of the lease payments saved would be a wise investment in legislative approval.


Housekeeping


Seedy Demesa got her wish. Hope the school works out.


Sigh, no La Fiesta Casino. Who cooked up those numbers they were throwing around? Especially when I read that it was not for locals. Who else would use it?


Cohen, Cohen gone. Best to avoid the rush when all the Bush appointees go job hunting.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The silly season

Now why on earth would I put Paul Wolfowitz in a blog about Saipan?

For starters, I've been saving his mosque picture for ages and he's about to become old news (until he gets his Medal of Freedom). I guess his girlfriend doesn't mend socks.

Indeed, a person who got his job because of connections and used that position to push his, umm, acquaintances into power. Bono was at least as qualified.

Reset
OK, that's not it. I've been thinking that maybe the anti-federalist, anti-imperialist, anti-activist crowd was right all along. Dump the U.S. Then we can go begging to the World Bank (which has nothing to do with the U.S.) for a bailout. They would then proceed to force our government into all of the painful cost-cutting steps it is unable and unwilling to take.

Because they just don't get it. The elections are the only thing on everyone's mind and the chance to make rational cuts has passed. The Legislature and the Judiciary are crying and refusing to take a hit. (In passing, why is it those branches pay higher salaries than the Executive for the same work?) The Mayor would rather cut services so his bloated staff can remain sitting in the office. This is not rocket science, folks. If three quarters of your budget goes for personnel, you have to downsize when the money runs out. Reduction in force 'if necessary' indeed.

Reset So let's step back in time to when the budget was a similar size and set the government workforce to a similar level. That's a surefire votegetter.

Island dreams I read the news today, oh boy. Actually, it was cable; who reads these days? A woman was saying the Senate should cut gas prices. Cute, but it's the silly season so she's bound to get a taker. Maybe the guy who thinks the solution is to go out and tax all of those businesses who are making too much money.

Now that's funny, I don't care who you are. -- Larry the Cable Guy

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Come-ons from the whores on Seventh Avenue

Does it really take a visitor to say that prostitutes are still overrunning Saipan? It seems so. That D. Martinson letter in the Tuesday Saipan Tribune doesn't say anything new: (I'd link to it, but there's a glitch in their archive.)
First, I can't tell you how many times I was propositioned in Garapan by prostitutes--you call them masseuses--for sex. Why is this permitted? Can anyone give me a good reason? Am I to understand that elected officials, business owners, and police department can't do a thing about it? I find that hard to believe. Tip No. 1: If you want Japanese tourists to return, clean up Garapan of prostitutes. Every single last one must go.

It's obvious on Cpl Derence Jack Road, where I'm writing this now. A fine memorial indeed. I guess the politicians have more important things to worry about. By the way, has the Zoning Board gotten anyone to sponsor their adult zoning legislation yet?

I've always been ambivalent about prostitution: a 'victimless' crime and all of that la-di-da. In an ideal world, maybe. In reality, and particularly Saipan's reality, no. Exploitation, abuse and drug use are rampant. The government has consistently shown that it is
institutionally incapable of controlling those abuses.

A few days after we moved I watched a Chinese man strolling down the street speaking on a cellphone. He kept stopping in various strategic locations, checking out the activity in front of the 'massage parlor' and other places. Naturally, I became curious, wondering if he was setting up a raid on a rival. No, he was evidently breaking in a new working girl. She came around the corner next to me and sauntered down the street getting constant instructions over her cellphone. Style points, I guess.

Now, I intentionally made it obvious that I was watching; I really don't think this activity is going to do much for our store. His response? He eventually entered the store, cellphone attached to his ear, and strolled up and down the aisles checking prices. Then he left without a word, cellphone still going. Maybe I'm too sensitive, but the message I received was that I was an interloper in an established territory.

Now, these Fujien gangs usually just extort, strong-arm and intimidate other Chinese, so I'm not worried about that. Maybe that's why they get away with running roughshod over the legitimate Chinese. I do think my idea about photographing the regular girls just to harass them into moving along would be ill-advised.

I mentioned the incident to a friend about a week later when the same man strolled by and was told he had been down in Chalan Kanoa recently. From all appearances, he was collecting protection money.

I picked the song lyric, of course, partly because of Corporal Jack and partly because another section of Seventh Avenue before it reaches Times Square is the garment district.

Thanks to the garment industry, Saipan now has a large Chinese community. It's not going to go away. Some of the businesses are very good; I deal regularly with half a dozen of them. But this government has never been able to control its small businesses. How many more beauty parlors, karaoke bars, poker parlors and auto repair shops are going to be touted as 'investment'? Gee, I almost forgot massage parlors.

When the Chinese horde first arrived, the usual sleaze you would expect piggybacked in. Take your pick, the government couldn't or wouldn't control it. About as much success as with the Yakuza earlier, I'd say. Given that track record, I'd suggest leaving the casino business to Tinian. They picked their poison.

A very bright man who recently sold his business just came back for a visit. We were talking about all of the new buildings going up while hundreds of old ones stand vacant and derelict. His concise summary: "Oh, you mean the Korean Green Cards?" Bingo. We'll probably need the space to house the Korean mafia.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Sunday morning coming down

I hope Ellery Chun was buried in a loud, vulgar Aloha shirt.

Let's give him credit: his invention is better than a suit and tie in the tropics. Faint praise, I know, but what else is there to say?

I was thinking about this the other day when I was putting on a button-down Hawaiian shirt. What's with that? Maybe it would look good with a bolo tie.

The things are disgusting, and I wear them all of the time. I'm trapped in a vicious cycle: my entire wardrobe seems to be printed so people think that's what I like. Guess what I got for Christmas? Hey, they can't give me ties, so how about something almost as good.

Years ago, I considered going around in linen suits, but that seems way too expat. It brings to mind the Hunter S. Thompson story about colonial Brits sipping gin on a veranda and lofting golf balls into the slum below.

At least the word is out: cotton only. Well, OK, maybe a little plastic thrown in so it doesn't wrinkle. Those synthetics don't breathe; it's like slipping into a rubber suit. S & M with flowers. Sometimes people forget. The world being what it is, the cotton wears out immediately and the dinosaur drippings last forever.

Of course brother Jas hunts for the strangest designs which results in a few that are almost acceptable. I like the subtle ones, the pattern you don't even notice until you suddenly have to ask: "Umm, are those snails on your shirt?"

He gave me several just before I came to Saipan, purchased in a fire sale. The smoky smell wouldn't go away until he anchored them in the lagoon with a rock and let the tide work its wonders. Another happy result was massive fading. The company, long defunct, was owned by someone we'll call the Bad Luck Businessman. It seems like every business he owned eventually ended with a fire. Tragic. Oh, that's what made me think of the Gahan Wilson cartoon above. It's captioned "It's a good thing Effie likes these little funerals, she's had such awful luck with her pets."

Because I like football, my wife presented me with a couple of prints of football helmets. How tropical. What's worse, one was entirely filled with the Dallas Cowboys and they take up a distasteful amount of space on the other. Obviously, I can only wear them to gloat when the Cowboys have a Really Bad Year. Being polyester, they should last into the next century.

There's a glimmer of hope, though. My oversized son has taken to raiding my closet. I just hope he keeps his hands off of the cotton.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Incommunicado's number

OK. Part of it's my fault, but a couple of days...tops. No internet since the move and I've been fighting authority. Unfortunately, the last time I unplugged everything and reinstalled it again I moved a modem cable to the wrong slot. Of course they got prissy and said that was the problem all along, after the necessary 'at least one week' to switch the DSL of course.

Truck gardens So I was eating leftover potroast when a Chinese produce pickup drove under my window. Would you have thrown the cooked potato in with his raw potatoes?

It's just another pet peeve, but those guys bug me. One of them parked in front of our new location on Easter. What can you do when the government is organized like a union shop? Immigration can't check without probable cause, they need to bring along somebody from Commerce for licenses or Public Health for a permit.... I basically quit carrying fresh fruit or vegetables at the old location.

Cast a smell Tilapia comes next I think. Not because it's not selling as well (and it isn't) but because of that ditch across the road. It gets odiferous sometimes and I keep seeing guys fishing tilapia out. Yum. The tourists like it and they're always pointing at the 'local wildlife'.

Phase five Garapan revitalization is to get rid of the smell 'south of the Fiesta Hotel', I believe. Shucks, and I thought it was for me. Why not? We've got the money. I do wonder, however, if anybody ever checked upstream to see who isn't hooked up to the sewer.

Also, it could be worse. Before the Great Fire, Martin's little beach bar was insufferable some nights. I'm not just talking about the yups who hung out there. That pungent ammonia was better than smelling salts for waking you up, if you didn't lose your lunch, or worse, your libations. Some of the stalwarts were so used to it that they could stumble through it and go right back to the bar. Gasp, I hope that's not what's happened to me as I got used to living here.

Totally irrelevant For some strange reason, I've been pondering Amedeo Avogadro. "Not much is known about Avogadro's private life. He had six children and was reputed to be a religious man and also a discreet lady's man." (About: Chemistry) Those Italians.

Actually, it's his number (molecules in a mole), which is 6.023x10²³. What's with the 23's? I read a very 'literary' novel years ago that obsessed on the number and I believe there's a movie that does the same thing. By 'literary', of course, I mean it was experimental with not much story or plot. Interesting ideas but not that interesting, if you follow my drift. I just can't remember the author or title or I'd give some examples. I do remember running across the number of ingredients in Dr. Pepper shortly after reading it.

So... trolling for 23's....

Friday, March 30, 2007

Moving on

Ah, no blogging for awhile: we've been moving our little store over by the Wax Museum. It's worse than changing houses, I'd no idea so much stuff had settled onto the shelves.

On the plus side, mindless labor gives you plenty of time to think, and I've been noticing two approaches to the minimum wage tsunami warning. One group seems to be wringing its hands and wailing and... that's it. On the other hand, other businesses seem more proactive; I see a huge amount of painting and general tidying-up. Hmm, any bets on who has the best odds of surviving? Most textbooks could give you a clue, it's generally agreed that you deal with challenges by being aggressive. Things like promotions, advertising, employee training or even sloshing a coat of paint over everything.

And I'm waiting for the visitor numbers; there really do seem to be a lot of tourists on the streets.

Circus Minimus Just checked one of my newsfeeds, and Washington is as screwy as ever.
This story claims that the minimum wage was folded into the Iraq funding bill so the House and Senate could work out their differences on tax breaks.

According to the story, Congressman Rahm Emanuel says Memorial Day could be considered a deadline because "It's a promise to the American people and we're going to get that done." I get all tingly when they get noble like that.

No respect The Marianas Variety's
breaking news about a "Covenant consultant" is a little disappointing. Since they're talking about the old National Group contract they must mean our pal William Oldaker. Deja View all over again: I blogged about that three weeks ago.

I did have a nagging thought that the name was familiar so I looked up the CNMI's old lobbying and sure enough Oldaker consulted on
"Minimum Wage Legislation" in 2002 while affiliated with the National Group. This is a good opportunity to share that link.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Al dente

Just a greeting to my incantevole visitor from Parasacco. I noticed you dropped by again and thanks for the kind words. I'm sure the Blogger and the Writer would say the same thing.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Scurrilous rumor

Scurrilous? I think so. A Carolinian friend came in tonight and claimed the Carolinian Utt in Garapan was being sold to Japanese investors. He said it was in the newspaper. Well, I try to follow the news and told him it hadn't popped up yet. So he said it was going to be in the newspaper, but Carolinians had already been warned that it's coming.

He proceeded to go off on the Governor and the Tan family, which is developing a piece of property south of the Utt (I don't know the purpose of the development, or even the ownership definitely, other than that at one time it was their theater and then their barracks.)

Several things come to mind immediately. The main one being that the Covenants are trying to split the Republicans and they're both trying to split the Democrats and everybody wants to split any other party that might pop up this time. It goes without saying that the Covenant Party is a target also. So it's just a rumor.

Of course, the principle reason it's likely to be folderol is that there are only a few ways for a Carolinian Governor to alienate his base, and that's probably number one.

And again, the Constitution states that MPLC (or whatever it's called this year) "may prohibit the erection of any permanent structure, in public lands located within one hundred fifty feet of the high water mark of a sandy beach, except that the corporation may authorize construction of facilities for public purposes." So the property is too narrow, except for those squiggle words: "may" and "public purposes". There's a lot of room there; just look at any existing hotel. Tennis Court? No problem. Swimming Pool? Public porpoise. A bar? Not permanent.

Just by luck, my next customer worked at Public Lands, and he told me he had certainly heard nothing about any such deal. Probably just a rumor, we agreed.

And yet... that's what makes rumors so attractive. It's prime real estate and there aren't any new beaches being built. Nah, that's just too hard to believe; I'm glad I never listen to rumors.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Down in the dump

Once I started thinking about Saipan's old Puerto Rico dump, the memories kept coming back. Imagine being nostalgic about that blemish. On the lagoon, of course, with a great view of the hotels. I had a great telephoto picture of the Hyatt and a smouldering pile of something, it would be featured here if I hadn't had an unfortunate habit of storing my negatives with my photos...under a tin roof.

Dropping your own trash was risky at best; there should have been a tire repair shop at the entrance. Nails, glass, ragged ends of rebar all sticking out of the 'roads' that bulldozers ploughed on top of the 'covered' garbage.

The poor Public Works guys were always asking for hazardous pay, with good reason. The flies, the stench, the occasional fires. Some claimed they were set on purpose so there was less garbage to cover. It was even more hazardous for 'can pickers': one man had his head taken off by a shell. Scavengers were promptly banned, for their own safety. That lasted for about a month, I believe.

Those fires. Quite attractive actually, if you were on a dinner cruise. All of the tourists would crowd the rails, pointing and chattering. That's where I first announced Mt. Puerto Rico's eruptions.

The inevitable 'why that's a perfectly good' guys who came in with a full pickup and left with it half-full. The dump was almost invisible from the road, behind a stately line of tangan-tangan. Until the garment industry came in big time, that is. There was actually some benefit from that, because the reeking pile grew so large it could no longer be treated like an embarrassing relative and the new dump had to be developed.


Hidden treasures But most of all, I remember the incredible folk tales connected with the dump. One man maintained there was another atomic bomb and since it wasn't needed it just got buried. He claimed to have proof, just not with him.

An entrepreneur bragged about documents showing at least 100 tanks were buried there, waiting to be salvaged. Of course he couldn't show them to just anyone, only his trusted investors.

And, since we're in the Twiflight Zone, the inevitable assurance that Amelia Earhart's plane was at the bottom. There actually have been allegations that a white couple was held at the Japanese Jail at about that time. I tried to track the rumors for several years as a hobby. It was always a friend of a friend or an auntie, and Tun Maria would say 'oh, yes, I heard about it from a friend's cousin'.

This should not be confused with the man who claimed to have found an Electra while diving off of Saipan. Now, he couldn't give assurances that it was her plane, but with more resources, he could...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

En Vog

Well, that's the group I think the Arts Council should bring in if this vog (volcanic-plus-Asian smog) keeps up.

This time it's
Southeast Asia, I guess. I thought I'd read about Drought, caused by little rainfall during the dry season.*

It makes me snarly. I got a headache last night and was circling the building to see which neighbor was burning. Just being safe. A whiff of that old latrine smell on the second trip outside and I knew it was Anatahan. (I don't want to hear about sulfurous emissions from the legislature)

Actually, our neighbor to the north isn't that bad. Maybe you've already forgotten about the periodic eruptions of Mt. Puerto Rico** we used to endure. Now that was nasty, especially when the foul-smelling plume chased squadrons of flies toward the Garapan hotels. It did have the makings of a grade-b horror movie.

Not so good for the tourists, though my business did fine, thank you. By the luck of the draw, our old bar was just outside of the stanky area so the happy hour crowd was huge... and they all had stories to tell.

It's actually nice outside now, but I'm not fooled. I still have that headache and my voice is something like a voghorn. The NWS says one more day.

* If you're paying attention, I cheated. Couldn't find the story about farmers burning forests to prepare for rainy season, so I pulled this one out of an old shoebox of bookmarks.
** For our off-island friends, the WWII era dump which has since been closed was located in Puerto Rico.

Minimum wage (the remix)

From their website: "Today the House Appropriations Committee approved the Emergency Wartime Supplemental. Floor consideration is expected next week."

That's beltway-speak for a closed 'mark-up session' on
THE SUPPORTING OUR TROOPS AND VETERANS’ HEALTH CARE ACT (pdf).

I have no clue how this will play in Washington. Evidently the bill includes extra funding for Iraq and Afghanistan but adds a shopping/wish list of Democratic proposals. So it's needed, but another title could be 'How many ways can we piss off the President?'

Tucked way in the bottom, under "OTHER ITEMS" is this:
Minimum Wage: Includes the increase to the minimum wage and related small business tax cuts passed by the House earlier this year.

It looks like we've all got the weekend plus the time difference to figure out what that means.

A few hours later... Radio New Zealand International is reporting that the new legislation
includes American Samoa. That can't be good for the chances of a wage board here.

Congressman Faleomavaega Eni Hunkin reportedly says "the House Committee on Education and Labor and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, or HELP, still have control, or jurisdiction, over the minimum wage portion of the Emergency Supplemental Bill."

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Tailor-made cut

What took you so long? As expected, both houses of the Legislature now agree on cutting the garment user fee. The analysis of the cut's effect will be released any day now, it's probably in the Committee Report.

Meanwhile "The downsizing of the garment industry employees and the closure of numerous garment factories have impacted a large number of nonresident workers and some local resident workers." I'm glad we got that straight.

Not to worry, it's just temporary: "The bill would be effective until Headnote 3(a) of the U.S. Harmonized Tariff Schedule is amended by the U.S. Congress." Or until the cows come home, whichever comes first.

Passport please It's not just a Saipan problem, the State Department is being
swamped with passport requests. They say they are getting more than a million per month.

Tarred with the same baby OK, nothing much to do with Saipan, but exactly how is the term 'tar baby'
considered by some a racial epithet? It's a cute Uncle Remus story, told in what is purported to be a nineteenth-century dialect (the experts would have to weigh in on whether that's true, I couldn't find any examples on You Tube). Very useful for describing a bad situation that keeps getting worse and people immediately know what you're saying.

For me it's Iraq, for McCain it was federal involvement in custody cases. This is just a character in a story. If you want to chew on McCain call him a weathervane, start swift-boating him like some wackos in his own party or just (gasp) concentrate on the issues.

Bananas taste like blood That was the title of a flyer that was stuffed into my hand almost forty years ago. Nothing special, I always felt like Robert Stack fighting his way past the panhandlers in the movie Airplane when I tried to get a cup of coffee at the Student Union. Most of the "literature" was forgotten by the time I finished reading it, but that one stuck in my mind. It was about
The United Fruit Company in Guatemala.

I'm glad to say they've changed their ways. Now Chiquita (nee United Fruit) isn't just on the side of oppressive governments, evidently they can work with
thugs of all political persuasions. Here's Chiquita's side of the story.

Wet pet food recall The Food and Drug Administration monitors pet food? It just never occurred to me, until
this story popped up. Now that's a wealthy country. I always talk about dry food, but never really thought about what to call the stuff in the can. Still, I refuse to have a 'wet food' section in my store.

The
Menu Foods website was down when I tried to check, but
The company said it manufacturers for 17 of the top 20 North American retailers. It is also a contract manufacturer for the top branded pet food companies, including Procter & Gamble Co.

P&G announced Friday the recall of specific 3 oz., 5.5 oz., 6 oz. and 13.2 oz. canned and 3 oz. and 5.3 oz. foil pouch cat and dog wet food products made by Menu Foods but sold under the Iams and Eukanuba brands. The recalled products bear the code dates of 6339 through 7073 followed by the plant code 4197, P&G said.

Burned Meat flavored biscuits are available, though. The saleslady says it's barbecue, but something got changed in the translation from Chinese. Actually, they're pretty tasty, and strangely familiar.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Going south

The recent news out of Guam makes Governor Fitial look pretty good. Politicians down south are running around in circles like Guam Rails released from a cage after Standard and Poor's put them on a credit watch list.

Now the latest: according to the
Marianas Variety, without an amended budget 2,222 employees must be furloughed by April 1. (Don't you wish they could have picked a better day.) Oh, and a thirty-four million dollar line of credit will still be needed, the proposed borrowing that set off S&P to begin with.

Maybe they borrowed the idea: Governor Fitial had to threaten to
furlough government employees to get any results. And now, asking for more cuts during an election year is a bigger test. Some legislators just can't pay attention when they've got visions of skateparks and renamed streets dancing in their heads.

Still, Guam facing the same problems adds some perspective to the view from Saipan, and the administration comes off pretty well by comparison.

The furlough story in the
Pacific Daily News is also good. I particularly like the 'Storychat' feature following the article. All those comments look pretty familiar, don't they? Just read them this week before they go into the vending-machine (archive).

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A tale of whoa

There's a tale I used to tell. A friend came in one day, shaking his head. He'd just bought zoris and, after thinking about how things run out on Saipan, went back for another pair. The store was out, of course, and the sales clerk told him they probably wouldn't reorder because they couldn't keep the shelves stocked.

I recently saw the story on the Saipan sucks website.*

Now, I repeated the anecdote, a lot, because of what it said about human nature. What struck me was that it was now being used as a putdown of the entire island. It's been a lot of years, but I don't think the clerk was even local. Doesn't matter anyway, the joke was never ethnic to me.

I don't think the staunchest defender will deny that the Commonwealth has serious problems. There are a lot of disagreements about what they are, how to fix them and even about who can fix them.

It's obvious that whoever runs that site had horrible, even life-changing, experiences here. I check it once or twice a year to see what's new. It's articulate, well-written and scores some points. But overall, it's just a black hole of negativity. No suggestions, except to write the place off.

I used to drive a horrible beater that gave me constant problems. On two different occasions people went out of their way to get me back on the road, once in the middle of the night halfway up Capitol Hill. They both had reputations as haole-haters. Hate's a bit strong, but yeah. That's the Saipan I know. (I even thought about voting for them when they later ran for office)

This story kick got started because I was enjoying
The relationship between moral health & a blind wife over at marianaseye.blogspot.com From a stray comment, I suspect the Lone Arranger and sidekick Roboto put him up to blogging.

* I'll mention them, but no live link. My troth is pledged to
We Love Saipan.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Toys R U

Coming Soon! Special Industry Wage Board inaction figures*. Now being molded in a country near you. These authentic toys feature our patented Talking Head technology with individualized Talking Points. Get the complete set including:

Hardline Harry, a self-certified pundit, not to be confused with;
Free Lunch Larry representing Non-Governmental Organizations;
Boring Bureaucrat;
Barely Bureaucrat, his twin and just-as-qualified brother;
A Political Posturer;

Percival Carpe ('Per') Diem, Department of Interior;
Petri Dish, representing the Garment Industry (fabulous in lustrous spandex);
The Lambasting Liberal, representing;
The Compassionate Conservative, emeritus member;
The Industry Illusionist; and
Hiram Redstate ('Hi Red') Gunn, Jr., the economist.

WARNING: Electrical shlock hazard from vocal units, do not expose to direct sunlight, choking hazard for industries less than three years old.

* Some assembly on Saipan required, Five Star playhouse sold separately. Batteries must be chargeable.

Long Shell Life


Now this is a company that needs a new PR firm. ConAgra is now recalling Peter Pan peanut butter going back to 2004.

If you don't, ahem, recall the history, first it was Peter Pan going back to December 2005, then it was other products using the peanut butter. Is the Food and Drug Administration going to force them to do another recall next week?

Friday, March 9, 2007

Let's call the whole thing off

We Manage Calls may be in trouble before it starts, according to the Marianas Variety.

The newspaper quotes part-owner Erick Van Der Moss as saying "We can only afford a $4.5 to $5.5 per hour rate at the call center and beyond that number, the decision will have to be made by my partner in the U.S. as 90 percent of our clientele are from there."

I'd like to say I told you so, but I never finished that blog. Just another case of trying to compete with low wage labor overseas. How did that go the last time it was tried in Saipan? Sounds like a job for Captain Wage Review Board.

Or not. Here's
Call Center Magazine in 2002:
"That Puerto Rico is part of the US is a major contributing factor in companies considering it since 9/11," says John Boyd, site selection consultant with the Boyd Company.

Puerto Rico's minimum wage is the same as in the US: $5.15/hour. That's more than Mexico's $3.50/hour, but less than the reported $7/hour in US border towns, such as Laredo, TX.

Proponents say that more agents are willing to work at levels closer to the minimum in Puerto Rico - $6 per hour for customer service agents - than in the rest of the US. Puerto Ricans do not pay income tax; so they keep more of their earnings.


That was five years ago, things may change dramatically in that time. Yep, they have, says the Arizona Republic in an excellent article:
But with the Valley's 3 percent unemployment rate, a growing number of centers are offering record starting wages, robust benefits and perks in a desperate bid to find and keep qualified workers.

As a result, small and midsized operations, especially those refusing to pay more than the $10.71 per hour industry average, could be forced to drastically downsize or shut their doors.

Firms hoping to set up shop in metropolitan Phoenix and pay $8 to $9 per hour likely cannot compete for labor and may consider locating elsewhere, said James Trobaugh, senior vice president of CB Richard Ellis' Call Center Solutions Group.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Deja View

Somebody was asking about Saipan's new lobbyist. Before you flagellate me in your comments, I know I said 'Saipan' instead of 'The CNMI'.

So the winner was William Oldaker. Who? Well, we only stalled the feds with all of those Republican lobbyists. In fact it just made the Democrats mad. So the obvious fix is to
find a Democrat.

Not just any Democrat either. How about a former Treasurer for Edward Kennedy, Joseph Biden Jr. and Harry Reid, to name a few. Partner R. Hunter Biden, Senator Joe's son, doesn't hurt either.

Obviously plan b is the flip side of Jack Abramoff, et al ( Actually, he kind of knew Jack.) Who knows? It might work; those Senate staffers were sure waffling as they jetted out of town. More studies? Why not?

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Papa Doo Run Run

I see the House of Representatives is looking into runoff elections for Governor. Nobody worried too much when the winning candidate got forty-some percent, but a lot of people got upset about the 2005 election.

So, how about an
instant runoff if there are more than two candidates? This site is just an overview, but there's a lot of information out there. It would save the expense of another election. The downside, or upside if you're that type, is that people could write in NO and still have a vote in the second round. Don't want to embarrass anyone, do we?

Where can I get a copy? That Pandemic Influenza
Table Top Game looks intriguing. I've always thought learning should be fun.

As long as you don't
get carried away: "The Traditional Medicine Conference aimed to strengthen, promote, and preserve traditional medicine knowledge; and to advocate protection of herbal plants, especially those that are near extinction through education..." I'm teasing, I've always thought traditional medicine should be preserved, American Indians using salicylic acid and all of that. Almost 300 participants they said. I believe it, there were almost that many in the credits at the end of the story.

Hours of fun I've already got a new toy, though. I call it Degrees of Separation. You just find your
favorite subject, and find out which lobbyist was in favor for the year of your choice. It's addictive. Most people can't help looking at the other clients of that lobbyist, who they lobbied and the members of the firm. It's a great family game, my 11 year-old was fascinated once I showed him what I was doing.

Just remember: CONTENTS UNDER PRESSURE - EXTREMELY FLAMMABLE. IN CASE OF FIRE OR LEAKAGE, DO NOT STORE ABOVE 110 DEGREES FAHRENHEIT

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Foreboden Island

Wasn't that a nice Forbidden Island photo in the Monday Saipan Tribune? I'd call and ask to use it, but I doubt if Jacqueline Hernandez or the Editor is in the office at four a.m. Check out HIDDEN AND FORBIDDEN in their Fotogalleria.

It looked better on paper. I'm usually pretty impressed by the Tribune's layout, even though I've never really gone for USA Today-type front pages. All of those colored boxes and other graphics are too busy and confusing for my taste, especially crowded onto a tabloid. But the Editor knows how to use good pictures and Hernandez delivers them pretty consistently. That's not as easy as it seems.

Haven't been down there in years, I never seem to have the energy or time. Oh well, maybe when the monorail is put in.

Of course, no monorail will ever function for more than a month, unless they can construct it without copper wire. Before copper was the fad, the boys used to round up stray dogs for beer money. I don't want to name the Korean businesses, because they've stopped buying. I think. Not to single out Koreans, dogs are meat on the hoof throughout Micronesia and Asia.

I was circling my bar about ten years ago, monitoring the guys finishing their road beers. One of my employees had a puppy tied up on the second floor yapping wildly. "What's its name?" a man called out. "Lunch," I replied, knowing it was going to be guest of honor at a christening.

My Bangladeshi neighbor just got a phone call. His ring tone is "The Can-can". I hope he turns it off when he goes to morning prayers. That would be too much of a culture clash.

That's better than a few months ago, when a couple of guys were waiting for the shower. They were just part of the background, like the birds, dogs and kids in the neighborhood. After all, I couldn't understand a word they were saying. They weren't really there, until one of them said "jihad" and and they both laughed.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Peter Pan take off


That peanut butter recall is spreading. "In a new media advisory released Friday evening, DPH said it was found that Peter Pan peanut butter was used in various ice cream, sundae, and shake toppings", according to the Saipan Tribune. Here's the FDA

I hope the recall is smooth this time. DPH had to
go to the wholesaler last time, and kudos for doing that. But didn't the wholesaler read the newspaper stories? Didn't the manufacturer or their distributor notify them? I thought that was standard practice. Oh.

Actually, you'd think the stores should already know. Maybe DPH could issue the advisory in multiple languages next time...

I was concerned to read that "Peter Pan peanut butter will no longer be found on the shelves of stores on island." All of it, not just the '2111' batch? Maybe the reporter didn't make it clear.

I'd hate to think of the panic in the streets if there was a recall of Spam or Budweiser.

Sorry if this post is rushed, I have to beat the line as Shell raises prices up to 8 cents/gallon.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Now we can talk

Those pesky Washington folks are gone, so the spinmeisters can get back to business as usual.

Govt, biz sector united on immigration issue(Saipan Tribune), for instance. Sed who? Said the SEDC*, I think. It's co-chairpersons are the only sources quoted in the Front Page article press release, but the only attribution is a teeny PR at the very bottom of the jump page.

"In a meeting with the Strategic Economic Development Council Tuesday, Gov. Benigno R. Fitial agreed with the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, and other business organizations to develop a joint position that will press for continued use of the economic tools provided under the Covenant." Sed who? OK, you get the point.

In case you're just a local or alien worker, don't worry, your concerns are being addressed too. After all, "continued use of the economic tools" couldn't be about anyone else.

Let's flip over to the Marianas Variety and see if we can solve this mystery. Sure enough,
Administration: No to wage, immigration federalization, and this from Press Secretary Charles P. Reyes Jr. Helpfully, the Variety also has the same quotes as the Tribune and says they're from a SEDC* statement.

Reyes went on to mention "a fear that local people would be disenfranchised". Wow. How could I have missed that? You mean the feds are planning to take away the vote, or U.S. citizenship? How does enfranchising one group disfranchise another? Maybe he means their vote will be diluted.

That's a troubling idea, and I think the Chamber of Commerce should look into it. After all, it's the Saipan CoC, and foreign investors should pay dues for ten or twenty years before they're allowed to vote. We wouldn't want to disfranchise local businesses.

*
SEDC, the Strategic Economic Development Council. Everybody knows what it is: a group of local businesspersons, according to the Marianas Variety.

Well, that's not quite right. It's
The Office of the Governor’s Strategic Economic Development Council, according to the Saipan Garment Factory Association, and they really seem insistent about that.

It's obviously important because DUE TO LACK OF QUORUM SNILD cancels session again (Saipan Tribune).

Let's go to the source. A Front Page Press Release printed in the Saipan Tribune, says that
SEDC is comprised of private sector industry leaders and top government officials working toward CNMI economic development. I'm glad we got that cleared up.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

A kilowatt in every pot

Over the years I've written dozens of letters to the Editor and promptly tore them up. I just don't want to get into an Opinion-page war.

Then I saw
Power for the future CNMI (Saipan Tribune) and broke my rule. The letter went something like this:

A kilowatt in every pot (Hoot, Hoot: The Saipan Tribune decided that the headline Privatizing CUC is not such a good idea was better. I still like mine. What do you think?)

I normally find letters to the Editor interesting and provocative. Often I agree with them, but not in the case of privatizing CUC.

I don't think anyone would disagree that "There is already in existence tidal power, wind power, water turbines, wave power and a host of other fuels that can be used to run the motors for the generators." How are we going to pay for these new sources? I don't think the central government has any loose change in its pockets.

Try putting solar panels or a windmill on your roof and you'll get an idea of how expensive these technologies are to install. Sure, they'll save money in the long run, but where's the money coming from now?

Maybe CUC could float a bond. With its finances, the bond rating would be low and the payments enormous. Well, I guess they could just raise rates again so those nasty underwriters could get a return on their investment. That's the problem with businesses, they just don't like to give money away. Why can't everybody be like the U.S. DOE?

Yep, a private company would want to make a return on its investment. It would also want to make money on any capital improvements. The world is just so unfair.

Unfortunately, the energy party is over, and you and I are going to have to pay to catch up. Fortunately, the LIHEAP program is available for low-income households. I don't want you to think I'm against all socialist ideas.

Monopolies always have to be watched; that's why a Public Utilities Commission is needed to monitor rates. I'm just concerned that the PUC would have the same anti-business attitude prevalent throughout the Commonwealth, which a recent letter writer represents so ably. (Well, I'd like to know what the privatization proposal actually says, too.) Any company would have to think twice about risking its money where it's a sin to make a profit.

Then again, maybe Hugo Chavez will give us the money, or send fuel. He likes to tweak Uncle Sam's nose. Heck, he might even help us buy back the telephone system. I miss the days of aboveground wires and four-digit phone numbers.

I could go on, but this is already too long. I'd be happy to chat about it if anyone wants to drop by sosaipan.blogspot.com


PS That's blatant self-promotion, in case you SEO buffs are watching. Let's see if they leave it in

PPS Holani Smith call home. I didn't get a phone call or email to confirm the letter. Sure it was sent from sosaipan@yahoo.com, but it took me less than five minutes to set up that account.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Lay off Anatahan

Anatahan has been getting all of the blame for our poor visibility, but let's give the volcano a break. Or, as the National Weather Service put it:
THE MAJOR CAUSE OF THE HAZE CAN BE TRACED TO A PERSISTENT WIND FLOW PATTERN ACROSS THE NORTH PACIFIC WHICH HAS BEEN FAVORABLE IN BRINGING ASIAN SMOG ACROSS NORTHERN JAPAN AND SOUTHWARD INTO THE MARIANA ISLANDS. THE COMBINATION OF WINTER-TIME SOOT FROM ASIA...HIGH PRESSURE OVER KOREA AND JAPAN...AND A DEEP LOW PRESSURE SYSTEM EAST OF JAPAN CREATED A PERSISTENT NORTH TO SOUTH FLOW THAT TYPICALLY AFFECTS THE LOCAL AREA ONCE OR TWICE A YEAR IN THE LATE WINTER AND EARLY SPRING. LOCALLY...A TEMPERATURE INVERSION...WHICH HELPS TRAP POLLUTION CLOSE TO THE GROUND...AND LIGHT WINDS FOR THE PAST FEW DAYS HAS KEPT THE SMOG AND LOCALLY-PRODUCED POLLUTION OVER THE ISLANDS.

TO ADD TO THE MISERY...NORTHERLY WINDS ARE BRINGING SOME VOG...OR VOLCANIC SMOG..FROM THE ANATAHAN VOLCANO. IN ADDITION...SEA SPRAY FROM THE HEAVY SURF CONDITIONS IS ADDING TO THE MIX.

Oh, winter-time soot from Asia "that typically affects the local area once or twice a year in the late winter and early spring." Just our normal weather folks, pollution from China following their gewgaws our way, or maybe the Indonesians and Malaysians are still burning their forests. At least nobody's found a reason to do that on Saipan yet... except for a few places where they want to hunt our toy deer.

Probably not Indonesia now, though, their problem has been flooding, and deforestation has nothing to do with that.

The kids were cute this morning, trying to say they shouldn't go to school until EMO
updated its website. Clever. They were in the room last night when I was saying there wouldn't be word until eight or nine in the morning--the working stiffs arriving at 7:30, fixing coffee and working on recommendations for when the decision-makers showed up. They were shattered when I said 'the sky looks blue' and herded them toward the car.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Decena redux

Here's what I don't understand.

As far as I can determine, Ms. Sedy Demesa first popped up locally in the
Saipan Tribune as President of Willis Management, Inc. Reporter Aldwin Fajardo (soon-to-be Editor of the Pacific Times), quoted Demesa as saying "NMC and Willis Management have joined forces to “recruit, educate, graduate and assimilate” individuals into the nursing profession". Remember the "Global Education Strategic Initiatives"?

You might also be interested in this story (I couldn't reach into their archives):
CNMI: Health Care Firm Willing To Provide Scholarships
By Ulysses Torres Sabuco Variety News Staff
(Marianas Variety, 2/21/2005)

A California-based health care industry executive says her company is willing to provide scholarships for qualified local students. Sedy Demesa, the vice chairwoman of Willis Management Group Inc., is also proposing a partnership with Northern Marianas College through a “Global Education Strategic Initiatives Nursing Program.” Willis Management wants to recruit students from Asia for NMC’s nursing department. Gov. Juan N. Babauta said NMC should “take advantage” of this proposal from Willis Management which, he added, is in line with his administration’s plan to make the CNMI an “education hub” through the Pacific Gateway Project. “NMC should get moving because there are a lot of opportunities knocking at their door. They have to take that opportunity,” Babauta told Variety. Demesa said under their proposed partnership with NMC, one scholarship for a local student will be made available for every 10 international students enrolled in the Global Education Strategic Initiatives Nursing Program. Demesa said they can start the “accelerated” nursing program in the fall semester this year. She said they are also in the process of finalizing the criteria for their proposed local scholarship program. NMC President Deleon Guerrero was unavailable for comment when reached by Variety last week. Press Secretary Pete A. Callaghan said the proposed Global Education Strategic Initiatives Nursing Program is an “indirect result” of the Los Angeles business conference that the Department of the Interior hosted for the insular areas. Over 50 Filipino doctors who want to work as nurses in the U.S. have already expressed a strong interest in signing up for the accelerated nursing program this fall, Demesa said. “We have shifted our marketing efforts to a higher gear in order to spread the word around Asia, particularly China, Korea and the Philippines, that American education is now only about three hours away,” she said, citing the “very strong demand” for licensed nurses in the U.S. and Europe. Financial assistance will also be made available to local students wanting to pursue a career in nursing under Willis Management’s proposed program, Demesa said.

Decena then pops up in the road show (pdf) "Department of the Interior’s first Business Opportunities Mission to Palau, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands" from May 12-20 1995. Within a week, we had Volume 01, Issue 01 of the Pacific Times. The Top Story, "Commerce Chief: The best is yet to come" featured this New Outlook: "Taken in the light of the Secretary's words, any entity or individual that is quick to weave negative spins against Governor Juan Babauta ought to first go back to his primary school Arithmetic that he may, at least, be fair with his judgments." Note that these are the reporter's words.

Now if her Pleasant Care Corporation is the $224 million behemoth it's advertised to be, why would she start up a newspaper in California to mix into CNMI politics? Hmm, also in Issue 01: GOP reveals 2005 candidates.

Ooh, this just in: I had only begun googling
Pleasant Care. During a break from that arduous duty, I found one answer on Middle Road. Well, you know, people die in any nursing home. They're old.

Ah, well, I'm getting there too, time for bed and this was just getting interesting.

Smoker's lament

Not many stars
Can you smell the air tonight
Anatahan cough

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Mean sheets

Okay, so I like to make fun of the Pacific Times. After all, nobody really takes that dreck seriously, do they? Hmm, maybe I'm wrong.

I was meandering through
The Saipan Blog and noticed the uproar caused by Libra Mae Sparks' monorant and decided to pay more attention. So I asked my wife to grab a copy when she went by Winchell's. They didn't have it and told her to check the next day, when they said the same thing. Now I'm wondering if it's actually widely distributed. Maybe because it's so hugely popular, and free, copies just fly off of the shelves as the CNMI spreads economic wings (Pacific Times)*.

That's the Top Story this week, in case you weren't able to pick up a precious copy. Strangely, the article says absolutely nothing, but says it pretty well if you've got the proper attitude. Well, actually it does say that Praxedes Sedy Demesa is working to have the Board of Regents approve Emmanuel College in the CNMI. That's not really news, though; that story is in every edition of the Pacific Times. Okay, then, "Another California-based investor, the Loyola Medical College Foundation, Inc., has decided to revisit its previous plan to establish a medical/nursing school in the Northern Marianas." Strangely, I thought the Foundation was based in the Philippines, and I vaguely remember their plan involving government funds, not investment.

Emmanuel College is obviously the burning issue here, because there's another story saying Over 30 students on waiting list for new nursing program(Pacific Times)*. It's advertised as a sister school of Xavier College in Stockton, California, which just
graduated its first class. It looks like we'll have to wait a few months to see how it did on the exams.

But the Times can't wait, and neither can we darn it: Higher ed body proposed(Saipan Times)*. According to the Times "This is in line with the Fitial Administration's plan to centralize government operation as a way to eradicate bureaucratic processes for businesses and investments." OK, I can see that adding a new office would do that.

But hey, we can't blame Demesa for touting
one of her companies, can we? Actually Aidem, the publisher of the Times, is a clever joke: media backwards.

Ah well, let's save the rest for another blog. I've got to reheat a potroast and do some real work.


*I've given up on linking to their stories individually; it's a lost cause. For future reference, the stories are in Vol 02 Issue 40 Feb 2007

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Posturepolitic dreams

Movers and shakers in the Capitol probably scan the headlines in the Washington Post and that Moonie newspaper, maybe a hometown paper or two. It's not likely they devote the same attention to the Marianas Variety and the Saipan Tribune, so I wish our movers and shakers would worry less about Messages to Washington.

I noticed two today, so they're just examples; I don't mean to cut anyone out of the herd.

Senate president urges feds to see CNMI with fresh eyes (Saipan Tribune) is pretty obvious. So two of the guys who actually do follow the Commonwealth are going to be convinced by your plea instead of the testimony they've heard and their upcoming meetings? And he's not even up for election this time.

The Governor was much more subtle; he just couldn't resist slipping "I hope that the federal government is looking at the sacrifices that our boys are committing to fight for freedom and democracy" into the reception ceremony for Corporal Lee Roy A. Camacho. I'll check again, but I don't remember the Vice-President mentioning it when he was on Guam.

PS: I'd agree with the Senate President on one thing at least if he'd let me add one little word: "...the CNMI's economic problems do not (only) stem from labor and immigration policies.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Policy

The Saipan Tribune had an interesting article suggesting differences between Washington Representative Pete A. Tenorio and Saipan Chamber of Commerce President Juan T. Guerrero on labor and immigration policies.

For some reason, it reminded me of when former Governor Juan N. Babauta was Washington Rep. While everybody on Saipan was being defensive and doing their best Sergeant Schultz ("I see nothing"), Babauta said it was time to admit we had problems and to do something about them. That doesn't sound very radical now, does it?

Why would an elected official serving in the nation's capitol have a different view than Saipan-based officials? Could the Washington Representative be:

1. out of touch with the islands, or
2. more realistic about the political reality in Washington D.C. and our ability to affect it, or
3. trying to stall the Washington politicos until they move on to other issues, or
4. some or all of the above?

I'd try a fun little poll, but there's no time to install a voting widget on the website.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Headliners

I've got this fixation on bad writing. I think it's curable, and I hear there's a vacancy in Brittney Spears'* rehabilitation center. Meanwhile:

The Saipan Tribune probably can't be blamed for
Size of govt on the decline. It's obvious that some rogues from the PSS Central Office hacked into their computer and substituted education-speak for Government getting smaller.

Note to file: Unless you're talking about a streaker, your mind is in neutral when you use bared in a headline:
Names of candidates for NMC presidency bared

Of course educators in the classroom have to worry about communicating. While it's always great to use local papers, I wouldn't recommend using the Tribune with students learning English as a second language without screening its headlines:

Scarlet gourd-chomping insect now number a million on Rota Insects or numbers please. I'm just glad I didn't have to count them.

We've got a double in
2 former tour boat crews sue ex-employers! Do you really have to put former and ex-employers in the same sentence? Was each man a crew? I don't even want to get into the story. "Employees of a tour boat" indeed. At least the paper tried to talk to them, but it was speechless, I guess.

We can't neglect
Wiseman finds probable cause vs 4 men in copper wire theft". Now, abbreviations should be avoided when possible anyway, but especially when you don't know what they mean. It's possible Judge Wiseman has already made up his mind and a trial really isn't necessary, but I don't think so. After all, the paper did say that the men "were charged for cutting and stealing the Commonwealth Utilities Corp.'s power lines on Jan. 17, 2007." Sounds like a slam-dunk to me. Or, there's a new Attorney General named Probable Cause who filed the charges.

* Lawdy, somebody has got to keep razors away from that girl. Why first she shaved... Well, don't mind me. There I go carrying on again.

Sign of the time


Ah, spring is coming. New birds passing through, petitions budding and renaming of everything that doesn't move. It must be an election year.

Representative Attao was a fine man, and he did many wonderful things. This isn't about him. Everyone else is nuts.

Sure he was always a top vote getter, and the demagods on Mt. Olympus can't agree on much else, but I feel like I'm lecturing the kids about My Space: 'Haven't you got anything better to do?'

Let's see, there's never been a budget for the Mayor to maintain the street signs we've got, so naturally many are missing after a few years. We'll just start replacing the ones that are left. It shouldn't cost more than a few thousand dollars and maps are easy to rewrite.

I've got it! Keep a list of the streets with the most signs missing and rename them first. No arguing about the 'parking order' of who gets a prime route.

It's going to be a sad day when we run out of streets, but that's somebody else's problem. The road in front of my business is only a block long, suitable for former Liberation Day Queen candidates or Municipal Council members.

This money thing is darn inconvenient, though. Hmm. We could try the
Hungarian solution, and just auction names off. That's pretty much a one-shot deal, but we wouldn't have to do it until they're dead and we could always change our mind.

It's probably better to run a street-naming lottery. Just write the name on a ticket and enter as many times as you wish. There could be a Saipanda Street! Every year we throw a big party on November 4 and gather the finalists around a bonfire. There have to be finalists, of course, because some of the names will be umm, inappropriate.

And that requires appointing a permanent street-naming Commission. They'd have to have an office and a director to ensure continuity. An assistant to be the acting director during his/her absence. An administrative assistant for phones and filing, but that's it, tops... unless you need street-naming enforcement, but that can be dealt with later.

The whole thing probably wouldn't go much over $250,000 in start-up money, but after a year money will be pouring in for shiny new signs and fresh paint. Just think about it. There could be a surplus going to the general fund.

The Legislature doesn't have to be cut out of the picture. We could always keep one Billboard Boulevard for the most popular idea of the year. It could be approved directly or referred to the voters.

You're going to tell me that isn't practical, and you're right. Nobody uses street names anyway. We still say turn left past the big mango tree, or the pink house, or the Mobil Station.

I wrote a press release when the signs were new and proudly gave the location as Asusena Avenue and Lester Street. Nobody laughed at my joke, but a few people did ask where the heck that was. So I told them "turn left at the Mobil Station..."

We need the names anyway, the U.S. Postal Service said that would get us home delivery. Didn't they?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Fill in the blanks

Let's have a little fun with names: "The (edited) has "a culture replete with a lack of accountability" and at least a half-dozen major management problems that have festered for years, federal officials testified Friday.

Those officials were Inspector General Earl Devaney and Robin Nazzaro, natural resources and environment director at the Government Accountability Office at an oversight hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee.
Throughout the (edited), the appearance of preferential treatment in awarding contracts and procurements has come to our attention far too frequently, and the failure of (edited) officials to remain at arm's length from prohibited sources is pervasive," Devaney said.

The article I'm quoting says that "Devaney's office still has 10 of its employees dedicated to the investigation of jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff." If he pops up, can Rep. George Miller be far behind?
"Something's very, very wrong in this (edited)," he said.

Some more from Nazarro and we'll know the answer, unless you've skipped ahead.
She noted that GAO officials testified at a similar broad oversight hearing in 1993 that (edited) faced serious challenges. "Unfortunately, almost 15 years later, my testimony today is very similar... And (edited) lacks adequate controls over management of grants and contracts, so it cannot ensure that millions of dollars were used appropriately, she said.

So who are we talking about? The CNMI or some other island government? Nope, as you probably guessed by now, it's the Department of Interior.

So were they asleep at the wheel or more actively involved in our current mess? Stay tuned. The quotes came from
House panel hears of management mess (The Casper Star-Tribune).

Interior urged to do more in assisting insular areas (Marianas Variety) also gives good coverage, but the Star-Tribune is more rambunctious.

Nisei for a new century?

Somebody please tell me I'm wrong.

I just pulled up the Pacific Times on the internet, realizing I keep forgetting it's around. It's easy to do, because I can't take that rag very seriously. You know, the people who thought things were Pretty Darn Good before the gubernatorial election and let the voters convince them that they were Pretty Darn Better instead. It seems a broadsheet can make an excellent weathervane.

But if you want to know the Covenant Party Line there's probably no better place in print.

The headline
'America will be just'* caught my eye. Normally I don't pay much attention to politicians' speeches at a soldier's funeral. They're meant to be a comfort to the family, and I hope they are. And, of course, no one is cynical enough to try scoring political points:
"Our boys will continue to fight and die for American policy objectives in Iraq and around the world, wherever they may be called into action. And I do know that our local community will continue to support our troops as loyal and patriotic Americans, in much the same way that second generation Japanese-Americans served during World War II," Gov. Benigno R. Fitial said in a speech during a solemn mass held at the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Cathedral.

The emphasis, of course, is mine. Did the U.S. declare war on the Commonwealth? Maybe I'm reading too much into that. Or maybe not:
He added, "And in the end, I believe America will be just and that the sacrifice of our boys will not have been in vain."

Is this where the administration is headed on labor and immigration issues?

*Sorry, you have to navigate to it through the Local News tab, none of the stories link. Well, Maybe they do. One of my browsers helpfully shows a choice of titles like 'most read story' with an identifying number, but that looks like the sort of thing that's temporary.

Monday, February 19, 2007

All the news that fits

It seemed like old times when I plopped down in front of the Saipan Tribune and read "GOP meeting ends in shouting match As leadership railroads proposed amendments".

I had to glance at the masthead to be sure I wasn't reading the late lamented Commonwealth Examiner. (I also checked for JJ Cruz in the letters to the Editor, but couldn't even find Holani Smith.)

The story, headline included, was so slanted I'm surprised the words didn't slide off of the page.

Now, from the little I know, I'm inclined to sympathize with the Precinct IV club (club? nevermind), but my BS detector went off so loudly that dogs a block away started barking.

So, some questions for someone, anyone, who was there: Was former House Speaker Rasa given as much time as the other speakers? Were there other people waiting for a chance to speak? How and why did Mr. Pangelinan "cut Rasa short"? What did Mr. Camacho say when he "spoke in defense of the amendments". "Several others" spoke, but what did they say?"

Enquiring minds want to know.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

An unpacific truth

The U.S. policy toward Micronesia is driven by military and strategic concerns.

Nothing new there, but it's never stated so baldly. Let's don our red-white-and-blue glasses and peer at labor and immigration issues in the Commonwealth, particularly Saipan.

A mid-level garment executive was a fellow guest at a dinner. Somebody, it could have been me, asked him if he was a member of the Communist Party. "Of course," he said. He was surprised at the question, and I had been naive. How else would you get ahead in China Inc.?

It's no secret that prostitutes rode in on the wave of Chinese immigration. They're working class, of course, and unlikely to be card-carrying members. But they're vulnerable, trying to make money illegally in a foreign country, and they have family members back home. Those are pressure points, and cause concern to anyone planning a military buildup. As they say, "loose lips sink ships".

There are thousands of Filipinos, some of them Muslim. Hundreds of Bangladeshis, and those that I know are Muslim. To the best of my knowledge, these are fine God-fearing, hard-working people who have caused no trouble. They also come from poor countries, the sort of places that breed radical Islamists. This should trouble military planners and State Department policy wonks.

They wouldn't be doing their jobs if they weren't looking hard at all of those facts. They're not the folks running with the election cycle. These are career civil servants, military officers and Congressional staffers whose stay in Washington is longer than most Congressmen. The people who make up the government's institutional memory.

They work behind the scenes, don't make speeches and seldom make the headlines, unless it's through something leaked to a reporter. I wonder what they're doing now.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

It's been brought to my attention that my comments may be too negative. That's not my intention, but I understand someone could think that.

Let me explain. I like Saipan, and I like the people of the Commonwealth, or I wouldn't have stayed here all of these years. A few folks are a little, er, insular. You know, suspicious of outsiders. That's understandable and much like the small towns where I grew up.

The islands are beautiful. I burned countless rolls of film when I first came here. Now I have a tendency to shrug and think 'oh, another gorgeous sunset'.

I'm wary of government, any government. They were invented to help us, to control us, to do things to us. I don't like that, even though it's necessary. So I criticize (you might say mouth off) sometimes. It's not the people, it's the system I'm criticizing.

I like Governor Fitial. He's smart and capable, and has always been charming and funny when I've seen him in small groups.

The Administration is reducing the size of the government. Some news reports show that the process is not perfect, but the trend is in the right direction. The current problems are not all of his making, they have just come to a head now. I say not all because he is a former Speaker of the House.

Many of these problems were evident when Governor Babauta was elected. I remember telling friends that the CNMI was headed for disaster unless the governor began a Reduction in Force or took other steps. The usual reply was that he couldn't because he didn't want to be a one-term governor. I guess there's always a danger of that happening.

It appears
CUC will be privatized. I think that's a good thing, and overdue.

I'm following a lot of Jack Abramoff's doings, and not just concerning the Commonwealth. That sort of thing fascinates me, but I'm not on the sidelines cheering for any particular outcome.

I'll even try to be positive about the garment industry: though I think it should never have come here, I have to admit that our shipping has gotten better.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Don't look behind the curtain

Thanx to the Marianas Variety for my laugh of the day.

Evidently the governor's Press Secretary responded to a question about the FBI coming here to follow the trail of Jack Abramoff by saying "Why not investigate how they can help Gov. Benigno R. Fitial save this small and fragile economy for the 70,000 people that live here?"

So we change the name to Federal Bureau of Invigoration?

I get the impression he thinks the 'federal government' is a person who can't walk and chew gum at the same time.

An arm of the Justice Department is investigating, well, something. They haven't told me, but the newspaper says it's Abramoff.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress is revisiting labor and immigration provisions of the Covenant between the CNMI and the U.S. The tree is the same, but different branches are addressing different issues.

Note: When saying Abramoff is not important, past history and nobody cares, try not to mention his name a half-dozen times. You don't want to draw too much attention to such a nonissue.

What do I know, but a simple 'we see nothing wrong with Mr. Abramoff's efforts on behalf of the CNMI and will cooperate with any investigation' would seem to dispose of the matter. Then again, if he hadn't mounted the soapbox I'd probably still be in a bad mood.

The dearth of the middle class

Saipan really doesn't have a middle class. Have you noticed?

It's less true on Tinian and Rota, but still true.

The incredible success of the United States has been credited to abundant resources, to the political system, to the economic system, to the mix of people, or to all of those. Whatever the reason, it has led to a huge middle class compared to the rest of the world.

That's something I look for whenever I'm studying a country. It's a pretty good indicator of a lot of things including whether an oligarchy runs the place and the degree of social and economic mobility. I think of it as a sort of flywheel keeping a society running straight.

It seems to me that countries without a strong middle class are more unstable, more unfair and generally less developed. In Lebanon and Iraq you read that things are so bad the middle class is packing up and leaving. Uh, oh.

It's easy to get bogged down in definitions. They vary from country to country. You could say it's only shopkeepers, professionals, clerics and white collar workers. I say I know it when I see it. To me, carpenters, plumbers and other skilled workers are now part of the middle class. That's in the mainland; it would be a joke to say that here, and that's why I'm thinking about the subject.

Walk down a street and enter the next ten shops you pass. Please note, who is the owner? That's who runs the economy. I'm not attacking the Koreans, the Filipinos, the Chinese, ah whatever, it's a long list. They were allowed to start businesses and they did it. If they were hyphenated Americans, e.g. Korean-American, I would say no problem. But where are the local companies?

I'll bet that you were listing off local businesses while you read that, and some of them are very successful. There are also a lot of middle class workers in the private sector. I'll also bet that the lists aren't that long.

Look at the problems Fiji has had in recent years, and look at the cause. From my reading, Fijians felt that they had lost control of their economy, and many couldn't deal with the idea that the Indians would also control the government.

But some local businesses have prices set too high, or are run poorly. That's simple, they'll fail, as most new businesses do. The owners will learn some lessons, pick themselves up, and many will try again. Read some books by successful entrepreneurs and you'll usually see stories of early failures.

You may have noticed I haven't mentioned government workers. There's a reason: they don't have any economic mobility. Nobody's going to quit Finance tomorrow and find an equivalent mid-level private sector job. Sure, they're middle class by income, but realistically they're working class like every contract worker.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Bota?



I hate to be an enabler, but I can sense the desperation behind his plea for votes. I refuse to get involved in the sordid details, but if you're interested, go to his website

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Left holding the (garment) bag

Here's news. Cohen: Most CNMI bonding firms are insolvent(Saipan Tribune)

Except that, as the enterprising reporter reminded us, the Washington Representative flagged this problem two years ago and last year the Secretary of Commerce said the industry was a joke.

I wonder if our local spokespeople came right after him in the hearing when they explained that labor and immigration was under control, thank you very much for asking... and if they kept straight faces while doing so.

I also wonder what it would cost to bond a garment worker. It seems to me it would be something like trying to get workmen's compensation insurance for a 7-11 clerk: possible, but with a high premium.

Well, if the bonding companies can't pay, the government will have to step in. Since money is tight, maybe the parking meter revenue could be tapped.

BTW, do any of those factories have unresolved billing disputes with CUC? What about the companies that have already left? It sure would be hard to collect once they've moved to Vietnam or China.

Let the market decide

A proposal for those who are against raising the CNMI's minimum wage:

Don't have a minimum wage, and

No transfers, no renewals, no new contract workers.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Following our lead?

"I don't want my 17-year-old son to have to pick tomatoes or make beds in Las Vegas."

That's Karl Rove talking about immigration reform, according to
The National Review. Whew.

OK, the CNMI is not mentioned directly. But in giving Rove the slam he deserves for that one, Mark Krikorian did say "It would do all that, of course, but most importantly it would change the very nature of our society for the worse, creating whole occupations deemed to be unfit for respectable Americans, for which little brown people have to be imported from abroad."

Bad choice of words, but the sentiments are good and that's what's happened here.

I accepted employment applications at the CNMI Personnel Office a few times, just helping out because I worked in the same office.

One young man told me that what he really wanted was a supervisory position. This with a high school diploma and no experience. It immediately became one of my favorite jokes. The second time that happened I stopped telling the story. I tried to provide them with a reality check, because obviously no one had told them about the working world.

There may have been changes in recent years, but a percentage of labor fees used to be earmarked for vocational education at Northern Marianas College. On paper, using those fees to develop local skilled labor is a great idea.

In practice, the majority of students were aliens. Any local student who did graduate was dumped into the marketplace to compete with a practically endless line of more experienced foreign workers willing to work for the bare minimum wage.

The choices became: line up for government work, do something else, join the military, or go to one of the states. Most people I talked to chose one of the last two options.

We've had several maids over the years, and let them all go for basically the same reason. The kids acted like bosses, and they didn't know the difference between a maid and a servant. 'Make me a sandwich' and 'get me a glass of water' drive me crazy when they come from a healthy person. Most normal people can at least find their way from the table to the sink with a dirty plate.

BTW: I picked fruit at that age, and Rove pissed me off. Of course, even back 'in the day' I was working alongside Chicanos and Mexicans, Cholos and Indios. (Be very careful how you say cholo)