Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Abramoff's jail choir

They convicted one of Jack Abramoff's cronies and the media didn't even mention Saipan or the Marianas! What a relief, because the same paragraphs about the CNMI, obviously cut-and-pasted from story to story, keep popping up every time there's a Jack attack.

This time it was
Robert E. Coughlin II, one-time Deputy Chief of Staff of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, which is handling the Abramoff probe. Or was. Justice's Office of the Inspector General has jumped in. They prosecuted him out of Baltimore because of his Washington ties.

I really expected a local connection, either the firing of U.S. Attorney Fred Black in Guam or the leak and hush-up of the Justice Department report on CNMI security. It might still come. As part of his deal he's agreed to join the growing prison choir chronicling this sad chapter in American history.

Roll your own

I'm sopping up all of the convictions, that's my old-school, Old Testament hellfire and retribution attitude toward public corruption. Throw the rascals out? It doesn't work, they just retool as lobbyists themselves or find a
golden parachute. (Check out the positions of the 'no comment' fellows in this article) More and more, their crimes seem like ancient history to voters.

And the punishments have been New Testament: white collar crime terms. Six months here, a year or two there. Fines. Even Abramoff –so far-- has only gotten seventy months. I don't think he's in a cell with The Brute. I mean, it's not like they smoked pot or anything.

Commentators have groused about the investigations' glacial pace—Coughlin's work? It's surprising more wasn't made of this in the stories I've read about him.

But the wheels of Justice keep turning, and these guys are turning on each other like rabid dogs.

Oh, that's okay then

On the campaign trail: "TITUSVILLE, Fla. -- In an April 26 story about the re-election campaign of U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Fla., The Associated Press erroneously reported that Feeney and former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, were on the same golf trip to Scotland with lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Ney traveled to Scotland with Abramoff in 2002 and Feeney's trip with Abramoff was in 2003."

Postscript: Some of these guys sold out for a pittance. Crooks have a long history in our system, but cheap crooks even disgust their pals.

PPS: Coughlin's payoffs included tickets to U2 and Dave Matthews Band concerts. So much for Rock The Vote.

PPPS: Alex Gibney's
Casino Jack, soon to be a major motion picture.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Brew-it-yourself fuel

A backyard ethanol still will be out by the end of the year, according to The New York Times. Fill 'er up honey.

"It’s going to cause havoc in the market and cause great financial stress in the oil industry," says Thomas J. Quinn, one of the partners in E-fuel Corporation.

Too good to be true?

I suspect it is, at least coming out of the gate. The E-Fuel 100 MicroFueler is expected to cost $9,995, use sugar as feedstock and run on electricity.

Don't forget the Revenuers at the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. A still's a still. Get your permit and promise to do your cooking outdoors. I almost forgot, you've got to own land, so Northern Marianas Descent only locally.

And don't sample the merchandise.

Read a good book lately?

My son just finished reading The Red Badge of Courage. He mentions it several times a day, even tried to get me to read it. I grumbled that it was indeed good but I was familiar with it.

Regroup here: this is what I've wanted for several years, but he's not interested in my choices. So I'm halfway through, it's a quick read after all.

Does anybody have a suggestion for his next book? He (currently) says he likes war stories.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Guess worker

I heard a rumor today that S.2739 had passed the House, bringing us one step closer to the wonderful world of U.S. Immigration and Labor laws. Not true, of course, but it made me decide to tie a string around my blog with the box in the upper left of this page. We won't be fooled again.

A salesman friend told me the story; we've been having a running conversation about the feds for about 18 months and he hears some hilarious hokum on the coconut telegraph. My view: he was hearing tales from liars or dreamers. Wishful thinking.

He'd even heard that illegal ('Out of Status' in U.S. newspeak) workers would get a break as soon as the bill was signed. That was my chance to be boring at great length about existing contracts, transition periods and the arcana of proposing and finally promulgating regulations. I predicted a complicated and uncertain time for legal workers. When his eyes unglazed, I said the others had no chance: it wasn't in the bill and the No Amnesty crowd in the mainland would crucify anyone who added it to the regulations.

The only prediction I would make at this point is that nobody will like what INS, Labor and their pals come up with. Not enough for guest workers, too much for large businesses and a paperwork blizzard for small businesses. Large processing fees. Residents will have to wait a year, or five, for things to settle down. More pocket money, sure, but energy costs are forcing businesses to raise prices and higher labor costs just add a percentage to that percentage. Expect to run if you want to stay even.

Think of it as methadone, weaning the CNMI from its addiction to unlimited cheap labor.

Nobody's Fault But Mine

Oh, I ran across John Bowe's website while I was checking on the bill. You might remember him as the author of Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy. I recommend the book, the Saipan section is pretty good. If you haven't bought or borrowed it you can get a pretty good synopsis by puttering around in the stories and links. update: over on Unheard No More there's a link that says there will be a vote on S.2739 next Tuesday (Wednesday afternoon here).


Isn't this your second stupid Letter to the Editor this week? Okay, put it in the box.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Fed up

Let's blame the feds. “Federalization” is the Marianas' new code word for everybody's dreams and fears. A bastardized modifier that is usually made meaningless by being used as a subject.

Everything will get better if we federalize. Or worse. Federalize what? The Commonwealth Utilities Corporation? Some people are so confused by the constant demagoguery that they actually expect that to happen. Okay, the real subject, when opportunists and obfuscators aren't trying to score points, is U.S. control of local labor and immigration laws.

Sure, I expect this to work about as well as the pacification of Iraq. But who's to blame?

The feds didn't chase Japan Airlines away, they didn't let Continental Airlines abandon us for Guam. They didn't mortgage Saipan's (and the CNMI's) future for the notoriously fly-by-night garment industry.

Look a little closer to home. It's popular to blame the factories, and I wouldn't even attempt to explain their well-documented abuses away. But they're businesses. They buy cheap (including malleable politicians) and sell dear (the bag we're left holding). They use loopholes like Headnote 3(a) and they push laws and regulations to the limit—some beyond the limit if there's no enforcement. They lobby to keep wages low.

The federal government noticed. So we trundled off to Washington and said, look we know the wage is low, but we fixed it ourselves. No need for “federalization”. The law was unpassed as soon as the immediate crisis was over. We lied to the U.S. Congress.

Plan B was a doozy too. Let's abandon our bipartisan support in Washington and hook up with the sleaziest lobbyist we can find. As a reward, we can read about Saipan sweatshops every time we Google Jack Abramoff. Trips, cash and skyboxes for a few well-connected now-discredited panderers thwarted the will of Congress.

A dangerous game, and they play hardball in the big leagues. Like my beloved San Francisco Giants, our steroidal superstar is gone, with nothing left but swelled heads and shrunken gonads. Oh, and Grand Juries.

So there was an election, the roadblocks disappeared and the legislators who were played and blocked re-introduced their bills. They don't believe our promises and they don't trust our lobbyists. They certainly don't expect our politicians to do anything.

Who can blame them?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Radio, radio

Remember Radio Free Europe? There's a paean to the Cold War survivor from, of all people, the raffish prima donnas at Slate. One of the better opinion pieces I've read lately.

Their main point is that it's being slowly throttled: shrinking budgets, ballooning energy costs and the flaccid Bush Dollar.

Where are you going to get more bang for your buck? Endless military adventures? I feel another rant about politician's priorities coming on.

There's a local connection, of course. The International Broadcasting Bureau sister agency serves Asia from Saipan's Agingan point and Tinian's North Field.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hats off

Now we're getting somewhere: Scientists decode brain farts.

They're talking about mind-reading hats to give us warning. Might I suggest tin foil?

More important, who gets the first hats?

Wage pages

The U.S. Department of Labor finally got around to posting its report on the effect of the minimum wage increase on the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa.

I'm not sure when they released it, but it's been on my list of Things to Follow-up since I first read the draft.

I thought the report was basically worthless because it wasn't based on facts, but there was language on page four that gave me hope:
This report is comprised of three subsequent sections. Section Two includes: (a) a summary of the economic situation of American Samoa prior to the initial scheduled minimum wage increase; (b) a discussion of possible impacts observed since the implementation of the initial fifty-centincrease in the minimum wages since July 24, 2007 in American Samoa; and (c) a discussion of projections of possible future impacts. Section Three comprises a similar discussion regarding the CNMI. Section Four presents concluding observations regarding data needs to support future investigations of the impact of minimum wage increases affecting the subject erritories.
But there was no Section IV.

Okay, surely the most important--maybe the only important-- part would be completed in the final version. Nope, the sentence I bolded was dropped.

What's going on? I remember stories (thought I bookmarked, sorry) saying the U.S. Congress wanted more information, a better study. Also on page four (emphasis added again):

It was not feasible to conduct field investigations in connection with this study. Had there been time and resources to conduct survey data collection in the field, travel by the research team to the islands could have been useful. However, meaningful field observations would have required data collection from both employers and households over many successive months in order to discern effects of the initial and subsequently scheduled minimum wage increases. In addition, a systematic data collection effort would have required approval of a survey under the terms of the Paperwork Reduction Act. Given the short reporting timeframe, design and implementation of field surveys were not practical.
Just so we get this straight: they couldn't, or wouldn't, even travel to the islands or do surveys. But they did interview 26 people by telephone and email. They won't tell the Congress how they're going to do it better.

If I was in my cynical/paranoid mode... but I'm not, so I'll let it lie for now

Oh, the map. It's from DOL, showing states/jurisdictions that have laws above the minimum, below the minimum and no laws. What's wrong with this picture?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Gang of fours?

So I was looking for more news about Colorado Senate hopeful Bob Schaffer. I know, I know. Boring, old news-- but it's droll that he's the one that brought out his Marianas connection by saying we would be a model for a national guest worker program. Still, a timewaster until it brought me some Real Important News.

On an island like Saipan, we have many families with mixed marriages: religions, races, nationalities, you name it. How do we raise our kids?

Which gang should they join? Yep, the Denver media cover real problems too.

Seems this couple can't agree whether their four year old will join the Westside Ballers or the Crips. And you thought you had problems.

I suppose it's possible: Fujien, Yakuza... is the Russian mafia around?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Ticket please

I've always thought we should cut Gov. Benigno R. Fitial some slack. It's hard to see how anybody could have done better with the horrendous economy he inherited. There have even been stabs at streamlining the government.

Sure, I don't like his tendency to sell the farm to anybody who slides down the pike. 'Never met an investor he didn't like'. His Top Secret privatization scheme for the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation raised more red flags than the Division of Environmental Quality on a Saipan beach.

Now I'm wondering if the pressure is getting to him. Case in point: his reaction to the closure of Hollywood Theaters. Just raise the ticket prices, says the Governor who bills himself as the man who understands business. Who's he hanging out with?

For a minimum wage earner, it's a day's wages to take his kid to the theater and buy some snacks. Evidently customers are staying away in droves. That's not going to be fixed by charging more. Movies are a luxury, one that people are showing they can do without when they have a hard time putting gas in their cars and paying CUC.

Spokesman and Press Secretary Charles Reyes Jr's response to Rep. Stanley "Old Faithful" Torres about gasoline prices is more what I'd expect. "We understand markets and choose to focus on market economics rather than Huey Long politics." It would be my Quote of the Week if I had one.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Sarcasm is its own reward

Well, the response to my State of the Commonwealth Sarcasm Contest was underwhelming. Maybe I needed better prizes, but after the walkathon and some class's trip to Petaluma, businesses just weren't in a giving mood.

Quality we got, albeit anonymously. Drumroll please:

First Ever Sarcasm winner is "No need to waste money on a meeting. Have everybody turn on their government cell phones and make it a Conference Call."

Which is only a winner because the Legislature was not eligible (I didn't tell you all of the rules). According to the Saipan Tribune, "As a compromise, the House included a provision in its resolution that no public funds should be spent to pay for excess power consumption, equipment rentals, and transportation, as well as personnel costs, before, during and after the event." Kind of like CUC, I guess. Passing a Resolution will Make It So.

Second Ever "Sarcasm" Award winner: "Have the State of the Commonwealth in the Fiesta Mall. We can have the boys from Tanapag throw rolls of quarters at Legislative cars instead of throwing rocks at tour buses."

Special Merit Award to Glen who placed the magic ""s wherever there was a "you". "It's all about them isn't it?"

Another argument against evolution: The Old Testament is written with a vocabulary of about 5,800 words. The New Testament, about 4,800.

Power failure

Tomorrow's Saipan Tribune says Commonwealth Utilities Corporation outages have damaged five compressors in the new prison's air conditioners.

Score one for common sense. From the story:
Department of Corrections Commissioner Lino Tenorio disclosed that three air-conditioning compressors broke down in the past three months due to power fluctuations.

Tenorio said another compressor broke down last month, while the fifth one happened just two days ago.

Somebody there is not a one-trial learner. Whenever there is an outage I immediately shut off all air-cons and coolers. I know from experience that there will be surges and massive fluctuations when the power comes back. It's best to wait ten or fifteen minutes until the load settles in. If it's 4 am, so be it, I go to the businesses.

I lost a compressor. Once, because I was lazy that day. If it happened five times I'd fire myself.

But the prison's units are still in the warranty period, you might say. Maybe they're covered, if we're lucky, but it's not the manufacturer's fault.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bitter times

Not original, I know. Everybody's made fun of the Governor's Better Times campaign slogan by now, but I'm not talking locally. Yet. (A little foreshadowing, folks)

Nope, it's the foot Barak H. Obama planted firmly in his mouth when talking about the working class:

It's not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to express their frustrations.
Hillary Clinton called the remarks “elitist and arrogant”. A strong indictment indeed, coming from her. The usual suspects crowded print, airwaves and the internet with reaction.

They should lighten up a little. Sure, it's the usual pop-psychology pap we all use to explain how other people can Get It Wrong. It ignores the fact that people can honestly disagree. Saying it in San Francisco? Well...

Really, though, that argument gets a lot of mileage because it's got an element of truth. In hard times it's human nature to cast about for a villain, and we sometimes (usually?) get it wrong. There are always profiteering pundits to egg us on.

On the home affront

I see that on Saipan every day. Blame the contract workers, blame the locals, blame the airlines. Heck, let's all blame Washington. There's a nasty undercurrent lately.

Let's back up. Contract workers come for jobs. They don't control anything. If there's a path to naturalization, well, why not?

Local leaders? Well, who elected them? After all of these years, a lot of voters are the children of aliens. There's a large group of other Micronesians and people from the states. With so many elections decided by a handful of votes those are blocks that could make a difference, and they don't.

I constantly hear 'outsiders' say I didn't know what anybody stands for so I voted for so-and-so. I know him and he's a nice guy. Sorry, they're all Nice Guys; that's how they get elected. Do some digging, or don't waste your vote. Oh, and shut up about the fine mess we're in.

Report card day

Ah, that's too serious, so I'll have to end with something light WARNING: I'm being facetious here. After all, nobody in his right mind would suggest having a recall vote on every single elected official

It would be fun. We could combine it with the non-voting delegate vote to save money. Even the Judiciary? Why not, especially if you've read the self-serving I've-got-mine-Jack folderol they're peddling. Now that's why they need a PIO.

They'd all be retained, of course, but it would be interesting to see how many would get a B plus from voters.

Poop for Peace

I've been following this for awhile. Couldn't hurt, especially if I watch my diet.

Poop for Peace

Reminds me of Isaac Asimov's story about one of the atom bomb guys. He had a horseshoe on the wall and Asimov couldn't believe a Man of Science could be so superstitious. The answer went something like "I've been informed it will work whether I believe in it or not."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Just another talking point

I was amazed to see something from Talking Points Memo in the Marianas Variety. Okay, it's about the Marianas and Jack Abramoff. For good measure it takes a shot at the Saipan Tribune, but I thought they got their news from Townhall. TPM is at the other end of the spectrum.

This is just more unraveling of the Abramoff web. Now it's former Representative and Senate candidate Bob Schaffer with his hand in the cookie jar.

I've followed TPM for quite awhile now. They're very good at digging and bulldog tenacious. And they're very irritating.

I can feel their glee as they kick rocks so I can watch the millipedes and bloodworms scurry for cover. Juiceee information.

Then they editorialize.

Don't believe me? Check out the following video. I can't argue with the facts. It's the spin, the hyperbole, that makes me cringe and want to shout 'you were doing so well, why do you have to go overboard?'

That's just me. What do you think?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Capitol letter

Well, then. This started out as an email to the Marianas Variety and Saipan Tribune-- the first three sentences anyway. I was debating whether to send it when the power went out for six of the last seven hours. That's a long stew on the slow cooker; now it's best in an obscure blog. I think you'll agree.

Dear Leaders:

We already know the State of the Commonwealth. Show us the Legislature does by having your ceremony on a public lawn. You've already got the tables and tents.

Just think, your names will be plastered all over the place. There might be some disagreement about who gets featured at the head tables that will be in all of the pictures, but statesmen like you can solve petty problems like that.

You might need a generator if there's no power, or if the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation cuts you off. Otherwise it costs nothing. Don't worry about pupus, we can eat cake.

In your invitation, please ask the Governor to have all of his Department and Agency Heads and Board Members stand so the crowd can acknowledge them. Your tribute could be a moment of silence.


Bonus feature

Because we're blogged down and not in the newspaper, we can have the First Ever Sarcasm Contest. The letter got choked up with all of the “”'s I put around words to show I was Just Kidding. So I pulled them. Now you can earn fame and glory by putting them back.

Just “list” the words in this piece that should have “” around them. With all of the pilfering going around these days, your comments will surely be plagiarized (and why not), so feel free to drop an email to If you wish to remain anonymous, the Subject of your email should be the Secret Code 'nonynonynony'. No Nigerian bank clerks, please.

All finalists will offered a job When I Get Elected. As a tiebreaker, include your very own Sarcastic Suggestion. The good ones from the emails will be featured, unless they're so disgusting I won't even cut-and-paste them.

You might earn a persona non grata unless you're anonymous. That's your problem, and probably a disqualification anyway. No worries, mate. You'd still qualify for the Second Ever “Sarcasm” Award as soon as I figure out who to name it after.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

No Absoluts

Did you catch this one? It's been all over the internet for a few days. It even ran in the Saipan Tribune.

An Absolut Vodka ad, in Mexico, showed North America as it was in 1848. "In an Absolut world..." The Red State set went bonkers, claiming a liberal conspiracy backing the reconquista at La Raza. Nuts were ponging off of my eyes and ears like hailstones on a tin roof. Fox News of course, a bit subdued and chagrined because Michelle Malkin got there first.

There were calls for boycotts. San Francisco's Skyy Vodka* donned a U.S. flag cape and sycophantically flew into battle.

Absolut caved, of course.

What's the big deal?

In a few minutes I could come up with a hundred places where people think they're on the wrong side of a boundary. Maybe in an Absolut World Saipan, Tinian, Rota and Guam would be the Chamoru Nation. This is advertising, folks. Nobody is trying to rewrite history-- and it doesn't do any good to get defensive when your sordid past is mentioned.

Some Mexicans don't even want the territory. One man said he wanted to go to Los Angeles to earn dollars, not pesos.

Their government hasn't been terrific over the years. It's dominated by those of European descent. Does it even matter to most indios which oligarchy is in charge? Who asked them? Most probably don't want to go back to the good old days anyway, those Aztecs were pretty nasty conquerors.

Malkin alert

Absolut's not done, of course. They've moved on to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual,transgender) community. You might have to explain this ad to your kids. Or not.

Shot or a mix O'Reilly?

* I'm pretty neutral about Absolut; don't even think about it much. The ads are cute, sometimes, and it's better than Skyy's dishwater.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Who pays?

There's a proposal to have the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation waive the power reconnection fee for low income households. You could even get the tight-cheeked, reactionary, I've-got-mine-Jack misbegotten progeny of Ayn Rand to agree with that one.

Poor people don't have extra cash, pretty much by definition. That's sixty dollars taken away from food, or the next power bill. Heart illnesses and invalids too. Who could be that cold?

Who's going to pay?

We can quibble about the amount, but it takes a trip to disconnect, a trip to reconnect and the paperwork has to be duly shuffled in the office. How much does PTI charge just to flip a virtual switch in their office?

Let CUC pay for it? CUC doesn't have jack, Jack. They collect money, from you or from governments. Somebody, somewhere is going to subsidize these exemptions.

There's history here. For as long as I can remember, the Legislature has been adding new retirement benefits (with the Board always asking who's going to pay) or government benefits without funding. It's most common every two years at election time. (Public Law 8-31, one of the worst, has never been fully funded.) That's hard to do these days, but old habits die hard and now it's CUC.

I really don't want to single out the bill's author. He means well. I even think it's a good idea—don't want to be one of those nasty people I described, after all.

Except... the habit's got to be broken. If it costs money, the revenue source should be identified, in the bill and in the committee report.

Don't make 'somebody' figure it out. The Legislature is filled with somebodies.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Best headline of the year?

And the nominee is: Artillery training on Tinian eyed (Saipan Tribune)*

Not two meanings, but three.

Are they teaching artillery its ABC's?

Aiming artillery at Tinian? or,

Teaching troops to use artillery?

*Sorry, couldn't link to it and only had five minutes. I'll try again this pm.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Local food

U.S. Senate aides have asked the Government Accounting Office to sit on their Immigration report for 30 days, according to Gov. Benigno R. Fitial (Saipan Tribune, Marianas Variety)

I don't doubt it for a second, though I wonder why. The Senators, Representatives and staff members behind this bill have fast-tracked federal control of CNMI immigration since day one. No beltway opposition has popped up in public.

We should be surprised that it hasn't passed yet. I've read that the earlier bill was sailing through until Okie Sen. Tom Coburn got a wild hair about guns in National Parks. From the comments I've seen out of Washington, last year's Minimum Wage bill was and is more controversial.

So S.2739 looks like a done deal, but these staffers don't want to take any chances. Who's going to read it anyway? A lot of people in the CNMI, of course, because we're directly affected. U.S. Senators? Not bloody likely unless it's their bill. Try to imagine how many reports they get in one year. They'll read a summary or get a briefing from someone in their office.

Still, we can complain. In the Saipan Tribune or Marianas Variety. That will be read locally and by the Office of Insular Affairs, which drafted the bill. Oh yeah, and probably by some Senate staffers, likely the ones that wanted the report 'suppressed'.

So I guess this is for local consumption. Bota, bota.