Saturday, August 30, 2008

And how absurd is it?

I've been having a hard time writing about Saipan lately.

It's just that things have gotten so absurd that it isn't funny. Except that it is. I can picture some late-night comedian saying "it's so ridiculous that...."

The Governor proclaims a State of Emergency because the Power Plant may blow up.

The U.S. Congress adds a special 'CNMI only' labor category because the local government says existing rules will Osterize our economy-- and the Governor wants to sue because no other U.S. jurisdiction has to put up with these onerous requirements.

The closed-door meeting to push for his suit has to be postponed because of a power outage.

The public is brought into the discussion when the Governor posts his talking points on You Tube.

My son asks me if it's true that the (new) Public Utility Commission is to blame for our power problems as the Governor claims.

The Commonwealth Utilities Corporation has more liabilities than assets but the Legislature wants to require a minimum bid for privatization.

Questionable hiring practices have plagued CUC, but the Legislature wants to ensure jobs are "protected" during privatization.

There's no money in the budget for retirement contributions but the Retirement Fund is being asked to risk its dwindling reserves investing in CUC.

The government is bloated (also see retirement contributions) but is trying to argue that there just aren't enough local workers to staff private businesses.

CUC keeps promising to train local workers this time if they just get another extension to hire contract workers.

The Northern Marianas College's director for institutional advancement moves over to shaky private Emmanuel College.

That's just off the top of my head. Now, what did I miss?

Odds and ends

Good for John McCain.

Running mate (we may have to change our vocabulary here) Sarah Palin brings us one step closer to the day it won't be a big thing when a woman runs for public office. Closer, but it will be awhile: every story about Barack Obama still has to adjectivally note that he's half-white; it's been 24 years since Geraldine Ferraro was number two for the Democrats.

I just wish I'd bet on Alaska's Governor a year ago, when some pundits were pushing her as a solid second to counteract then-favorite Hillary Clinton. Yes, I do check the internet odds; following the money is at least as useful as this poll-a-day nonsense we get.

A new deck

McCain is gambling here too: he's thrown in his callow and shallow cards; Palin is younger and less-experienced than Obama. That undercuts one of his main attack points.

But apparently his pollsters have told him he has a good chance to pry away a chunk of the Hillary horde and Palin connects solidly with the Bush base, particularly the coathanger crowd.

The spin begins

At the same time, he's trying to have it both ways: pet pundits have already said 'sure it's an important job' but not that important-- misattributing that famous old Will Rodgers line.

Also, a professional putz trotted out the talking point that her high-maintenance newborn Down's Syndrome baby can be a plus instead of minus. I'd like to say I couldn't make this stuff up, but of course I could, I just wouldn't say it.

The man with the best job in the country is the Vice President. All he has to do is get up every morning and say, "How's the President?" -- Will Rodgers

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Conventional pick

Well, I'm disappointed again. No, it's not because my email from Barack Obama (well, it says it's from him) arrived hours after Joe Biden's selection was all over the news.

It's because, as I've said, Biden is part of the problem, i.e. lobbyists overrunning Washington. That's important to me, and Obama held the high ground. Biden's connections aren't 'as bad' as some others? I'll even buy that, but I'm not interested in moral relativism on this subject.

Sure, Obama hasn't been caught with his hand in the cookie jar like McCain with Keating and lobbyists aren't involved with every facet of his campaign-- like McCain. It's just that both parties and both candidates are using soft money and 'bundlers' to get around the present weak restrictions. The so-called '527' groups are sure to follow as the election heats up. With Biden's selection, I just can't see lobbying as a campaign issue anymore, and that's too bad.

But Democrats are probably pleased: a mainstream Catholic liberal with solid foreign policy credentials who plays well with blue-collar workers-- particularly in Pennsylvania. Unlike Obama, he's more than willing to go for the throat when attacked and to mount some attacks of his own. That's a nice good cop/bad cop mix, I must admit.

Republicans were prepared; McCain immediately shot off a fund-raising letter quoting Biden on Obama's lack of experience. Take that with a grain of salt: he was campaigning against Obama then and also said at that time he'd rather return to his Foreign Affairs chairmanship than be Vice President.

Republicans and 'opinion' makers must be ecstatic about Biden's reputation for inserting his foot in his mouth; expect massive distractions from the issues. Comedians are licking their lips. Obama just hasn't been giving them good material.

The 'field promotion' at the Springfield speech doesn't count, it's his first time to introduce his running mate.

Oh, and Biden has an answer to the "gaffe machine" narrative:

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Barack to the future

I'm no gawping groupy, but I signed up with Barack Obama so I could be one of the million or so close friends to hear first about his choice for Vice President *.

I've actually been impressed by his organizational skills; putting together the operation that took out the Clinton machine is quite an accomplishment. You always wonder if a legislator knows how to administer. There's a reason Senators usually don't get elected President.

He certainly knows how to organize on the internets. It looks like I'll be getting an email a day. And why not? As soon as I finish this post I'm going to see about raising McCain.

My first offer was to host a Convention Watch Party. That's certainly grassroots. I looked around, evidently nobody's doing it in this area. Me? I'm just watching the watchers.

Let's see, local groups? Aha, Northern Marianas for Obama is making a difference together. Hmm, the group administrator is some guy in Hong Kong who spent about three years on Saipan. Only one of the 17 members seems to actually live here. (See for yourself, I'm not telling. You may have to register at some point. Don't worry, no purchase necessary.)

* Personally, I think Virginia Sen. Jim Webb fills in all of the blanks on Obama's resume', but what do I know?

Oh say can you CUC

Sometimes I'm a silver-lining sort of person, and those clouds are positively shining this morning.

CUC clouds.

How can that be? Just today, the Saipan Tribune has articles about delaying public school openings, hiring alien workers and not telling customers where to spend their money when the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation is missing in action.

I think we had a record Friday: every story on the Saipan Tribune front page was about CUC; I counted six in the paper. The Marianas Variety went one better with seven stories.

And this is good how? Well, one of the reasons I quit reporting is that it seemed like I kicked some rock or steaming fecal pile every week. I'd take some flak from those affected, get a few pats on the back and everyone would run around shouting and doing their Chicken Little impersonation. Nothing was done and there was always something new to kick. I felt like the Stanley Torres of print and airwaves.

Inevitably, some of those stories were about CUC-- or Public Works before CUC was made autonomous to avoid political interference....

Have we got your attention yet?

Only a few tories are saying 'realistically', 'you don't understand' or 'that's just the way it is' anymore; the bugs that scurry when next week's rock is turned over are all chittering "CUC". Short attention spans don't offer the usual solace.

I hope the Lieutenant Governor is innocent (as opposed to being found not guilty--they're not the same thing), but the federal charges have sure got some people's attention. That's not my call, let a jury decide. I would recommend that his lawyers try to get a trial on Rota or Tinian instead of Saipan; the Palace of Justice can't afford to run its generators during power outages. Talk about prejudicial.

Culture shock

Every company has a culture. CUC's has been self-interest as opposed to public interest, sole-source contracts and payoffs both large and trivial. Nepotism and favoritism were uncontrolled.

The current spotlight (when the power is on) can only be a good thing. No contract will slip through unexamined, and those responsible know it. The Legislature can't 'table' this issue. The Governor may be ruling by fiat, but thousands of people are watching to see whether the Emperor has clothes.

Is that a light I see at the end of this tunnel? Maybe we'll actually get privatization with rational and more efficient management. It's been promised before, but Executive Director Tony Muna says he'll be training local workers while the alien workers bail out CUC's sinking boat. Those workers may come from a manpower agency, but, sorry Felipe, the contract will be scrutinized inside and outside of the government.

Muna has even warned workers about the the appearance of skulduggery. According to the Saipan Tribune "Commonwealth Utilities Corp. employees should not be telling landlords and the general public where and how they should buy backup supplies, such as extra water, to deal with power outages, said CUC executive director Antonio Muña."

Snack time

Just something for Greg Cruz to nosh on while he's looking for another hearty meal to get his teeth into, but why do we still have so many defective photovoltaic cells? I'm told that some of those do-hickeys that are supposed to turn off streetlights during the day were defective when they were purchased. If true, why wouldn't they have been returned to the supplier?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Olympic gold lame'

I was sympathizing with Canada's low medal count over at The Saipan SCUBA Diving Blog. Well, not so much maybe: I wondered why the horses didn't get to stand on the podium.

That brought back familiar Deep Thoughts. Every four years I gnash my teeth about events like ribbon twirling, Busby Berkeley swimming, badminton... you get the idea; it's out of control.

What does a medal count mean when you can get one for walking like you've got hemorrhoids? Swimming? Sure. Track and Field, though I'm not sure about pole-vaulting-- okay, I almost impaled myself several times trying it out. The decathlon should be the premier event.

Where do we stop with the martial sports? Sumo? Wrestling is fine; it's hard to think of a sport that's more Greek. But Judo, Taekwondo and boxing?

Skeet shooting? Come on, is that before or after the fox hunting? All of the shooting is lame, unless the host country gets to pick the weapon. Kalashnikovs at 100 meters-- yeah! Maybe the modern pentathlon is all right, but there are those horses again.

Trampoline? Right, with Jimmy Kimmel as a commentator. What kind of sport has judges?

Enough, I don't want to wade through every event. (Or watch a lot of them either.) Besides, that's already been done on the Real Man's Olympics website. It ranks countries' medal totals by the manliness of the sports. You can change each sport's weight to suit your own taste. Fair warning, this is a MISOGYNY ALERT, so don't rag on me if you follow the link. Hard to believe, he left the horses out.

I'll relent a little: I'm not against a lot of the sports that don't belong, I just think the meaning of the Olympics got watered down over the years. Also, it would be a little disheartening to spend most of your life training only to have some stuffed-shirt Olympic Committee say "Nevermind."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Brave New Homeland (What's the Frequency Kenneth?)

Every time you fly into or out of the United States it's duly noted in your Homeland Security file. You knew that, didn't you?

They couldn't keep up with the number of people crossing by land. Until now, that is.

According to the Washington Post "In January, border agents began manually entering into the database the personal information of (all) travelers who did not have such (machine readable) documents." There's a disconnect here, because comments are being taken until Monday when the "new system of records will be effective." That's one for the Urban Dictionary; evidently "effective" now means "when we get around to telling you about it."

Don't worry, they'll only keep the information for 15 years. (It's 75 years for non-citizens, which doesn't bother me a bit.)

I'm okay, and you are too, of course. What have we got to hide?

But all those other guys might be worried that it links to the Non-Federal Entity Data System. Never heard of that one? That's a database they're building of State Driver's Licenses and Identification Cards-- a result of the Real ID Act of 2005. We won't call them national identification cards, because that's specifically prohibited by law.

"By June, all travelers crossing land borders will need to present a machine-readable document, such as a passport or a driver's license with a radio frequency identification chip," says the Post. RFID? WTF?

Everyone knows, but me

Oh, and "The notice states that the government may share border records with federal, state, local, tribal or foreign government agencies in cases where customs believes the information would assist enforcement of civil or criminal laws or regulations, or if the information is relevant to a hiring decision."

More? "They may be shared with a court or attorney in civil litigation, which could include divorce cases; with federal contractors or consultants "to accomplish an agency function related to this system of records"; with federal and foreign intelligence or counterterrorism agencies if there is a threat to national or international security or to assist in anti-terrorism efforts; or with the news media and the public "when there exists a legitimate public interest in the disclosure of the information.""

Is there anyone they missed? You guessed it, I'll bet:

"Homeland Security is proposing to exempt the database from some provisions of the 1974 Privacy Act, including the right of a citizen to know whether a law enforcement or intelligence agency has requested his or her records and the right to sue for access and correction in those disclosures."

States' Rights

No state is in compliance, according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, in fact 19 states have passed laws or resolutions opposing Real ID. That's because Homeland Security grossly underestimated the cost (what a surprise) and because of privacy concerns.

Just as an aside, I'm curious about the CNMI's reaction. Federalization, you know, an unfunded mandate and invasion of privacy too.

Opposition comes from "liberal", "conservative" and "libertarian" groups, it doesn't seem to be a partisan issue. With so many foes, who's for it?

Candidates' camera

Well, Sen. John McCain was absent when Real ID flew through without much debate and no public hearings. But I tracked down a specific question on the issue and his answer: "The 9/11 Commission recommended that the federal government set standards for the issuance of birth certificates and sources of identification, such as driver's licenses. Consistent with these recommendations, the Real ID act established federal guidelines to prevent fraud in the issuance and acquisition of identity documents. I support full implementation of Real ID but understand that states need to be given enough time and funding to implement the requirements."

Barack Obama didn't vote either. To be fair I tracked down his answer to the same questionaire: "I do not support the Real ID program because it is an unfunded mandate, and not enough work has been done with the states to help them implement the program."

Not surprising: given their positions on privacy and wiretapping. McCain is more interested in talking about Georgia's democracy than ours. Obama flipped like a pancake on this one.

It seems the State Department and Homeland Security are trying another tack in their search for a National ID card: the (RFID) Passport Card. Then again, this guy's pushing offshore banking and investment. Maybe we should be looking him up on the database.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Are you still here?

In a reality check for Barack Obama and John McCain, a Zogby poll shows that most "likely voters" think Bob Barr should be part of the Presidential debates. Heck, almost half feel the same about Ralph Nader. (A hint, Raider Ralph; do you remember now?)

For Independents, it's 69% for Barr and 59% for Nader. Draw your own conclusions. For me it's the ideas, stupid. McCain and Obama have settled into canned speeches, talking points and the occasional shot at each other. Maybe another point of view would jar them out of the pandering platitudes and cannedpaign speeches.

That's just my dream. The reality is that the major parties play Least Common Denominator politics; trying to wrap up the uncommitted without alienating their base. It works: the Commission on Presidential Debates (I'm not kidding, it exists) only invites candidates with at least a mathematical chance of winning. Barr and Nader aren't on enough state ballots; Barr is tracking at about 6% nationally, with 2% (!) favoring Nader.

Exorcising his demons

I had misgivings, to put it lightly, about the Saddleback love-fest, but was pleasantly surprised. It wasn't the litmus test I expected. Sure, there were the usual talking points from the candidates, but Orange County populist Rick Warren asked some reasonable questions and got (some) reasonable answers. There was very little 'gotcha' and no 'my opponent'. He later said he was trying to help voters who might agree with one candidate on some issues but with his opponent on others. I vote for Warren to moderate all debates.

Both racers benefited; McCain with 'Yes, I am' and another war story, Obama with a biblical quote. McCain rather self-consciously peppered his remarks with 'my friends' and Obama just as obviously hummed My Sweet Lord under his breath throughout. Let's ignore $5 million as the new rich and the 'above my pay grade' copout.

I'd call it a tie. Reassuring the fundies on one hand and showing he's not a monster on the other. Maybe a small edge to Obama because he needs to avoid the Clinton Syndrome: a visceral 'anybody but' response. For the same reason, his latest foray into the Veterans of Foreign Wars command post is valuable because he was able to put blood on the table: relatives who had fought in America's wars. That's their currency.

Who knows? Let's see if the new (sigh) polls show that fewer than 12% of the hypnotized still think he's a closet Moslem.


Nader has announced a super rally during the Republican convention as well as the Democrat's convention. I can see drafting after the heavyweights I guess, but he's likely to only get covered by the half-dozen loonies who can't get press credentials to the Main Events. Let's call them anti-conventions; the hall he's booked in Minneapolis seats 2,500, even Ron Paul's shiv in McCain's back has room for 20,000.

Bloomberg County

Strangely, candidate-who-never-announced Michael Bloomberg might have more effect on the election than any of the third, fourth and nth party candidates. Virginia is a battleground state and its Independent Greens have got him on the ballot. Supposedly Ron Paul pops up here too as number two on the ticket.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Tagging along

I get grumpy when I'm tagged. This one from Boni put me on the spot last week.

It's too much like a chain letter, and I'm pretty private about some of these things. So I thought about it for a few days, filled it out for a couple, then thought whether to post it for a few more.

Then I got nailed as least likely to respond. So, from guilt or being perverse I'll post it. But....

1. I'm not tagging anybody, I still don't much like this game, and

2. The questions and answers are in the comments because the post was too long.

Bad timing

Sylvester Stallone is set to push Synergy Vodka's "Russian Ice" brand starting September 1.

I can't believe they decided to go ahead with this advertising campaign while Russian troops are still parked in Georgia-- and that "There is a bit of Russian in all of us" slogan has got to go. According to Reuters:

"The advertising campaign concept was based on the fact that the actor has Russian roots," Synergy said in a statement, referring to Stallone's great-grandmother, Rosa Rabinovich, from the Ukrainian town of Odessa.

Umm, the Ukraine is not part of Russia. In fact their President flew into Georgia to express solidarity. They're worried they might be next on the Bear's menu.

The contract's reportedly for a year. Maybe after that Stallone will drag Rambo out of retirement so he can defend Georgia on film.

Editorial cartoons

A picture's worth a thousand words department. Cartoonists tweaking us about Georgia:

Ed Stein

Pat Oliphant

Bill Schorr

Candidates missing: Inaction

John McCain and Barack Obama are so busy talking about energy independence they've forgotten to vote on it: Obama, McCain absences may doom big Arizona solar plant.

S.3335 and H.R. 6049 are 'portmanteau' bills, including enough tax breaks to give you a headache if you try to read them. Nevertheless, their main thrust is to continue existing breaks on solar and wind turbine investment.

Both bills failed to get the 60 votes needed even to make it to the Senate floor. McCain has evidently taken no position on the legislation, though I've read that he failed to vote on S.3335 eight times-- once when he wouldn't even leave his Senate office. Obama says he supports it: and voted for it the three times he was present.

The latest vote on S.335 was 51-43 with six abstentions, basically on party lines. H.R. 6049 got a similar 53-43-4 vote. Both Presidential candidates were absent, counted as abstentions.

The article claims, and I've read it elsewhere, that it's "because Republicans are blocking action on any energy bills until the Democrat-controlled Senate first acts on the president's request to lift the ban on offshore drilling for oil."

Shouldn't we expect more than political brinksmanship and gamesmanship from the Congress? Maybe not, there's a reason their approval ratings are lower than President Bush's.

By all means, let's argue about offshore oil-drilling (I vote no), but that's no reason to kill investment that's already in the 'pipeline': Solar group slams Congress over bill

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Bestest protest ever?

Mickey Mouse in chains? Try telling the kids why Snow White, Tinkerbell and Peter Pan are being hauled in by the police. (OK, plastic handcuffs, but you get the point)

Somebody thought of dressing protestors as Disney characters in a labor protest against three of that company's hotels.

That ranks right up there with the legendary Saul Alinsky feeding his troops beans and sending them to a concert in the chocolate-colored company town of Hershey, Pennsylvania. Have we got your attention yet?

"Publicity stunts are not productive and are extremely disruptive to the resort district," said Disney spokeswoman Lisa Haines.

"It's changing my opinion of Disneyland," said tourist Amanda Kosato, who was visiting from north of Melbourne, Australia. "Taking away entitlements stinks."

Hotel workers claim they agreed to wages two-to-three dollars less than in other area hotels in exchange for health benefits that Disney now wants to modify.

Granted, it's an urban area, and in California to boot, but the wages they're talking about show how far we've got to go on Saipan: "Co-worker Diane Dominguez, 50, said she was worried about losing health care because of the heavy labor involved in lifting mattresses, moving furniture and making dozens of beds a day. She also said rising prices and the cost of gas were eating into her salary of $11.11 an hour."

Friday, August 15, 2008

Who's counting?

By 2042 everybody in the United States can claim to be a minority, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Depending on how you define it. Isn't this getting ridiculous?

As a country, we're obsessed with race. We get misleading reporting like White Americans no longer a majority by 2042 -- I assume that's a headline the Associated Press recommended because the Saipan Tribune used it too.

That should sell some Tums and make white immigration foes froth at the mouth, but it's misleading. Actually no, it's wrong. Try this (not attributed) from the New York Times story on the report:
"The share of Americans who identify themselves as white, regardless of their ethnicity, will remain largely unchanged, declining from less than 80 percent in 2010 to about 76 percent when the majority-minority benchmark is reached in 2042."

What's going on? Well, the headline's true if you don't count Hispanics. I don't know if 'Hispanics' includes Brazilians. A Portugee would be miffed by that like an Australian listed as English. Oh, and I think North Africans are still white this year. From India? Well you used to be Caucasian, but I think that definition changed.

The statistics are useful for policy wonks, and essential for politicians. They're potentially harmful when the AP and other media misuse them.

Immigration? Well, according to the Times (again not attributed) "The main reason for the accelerating change is significantly higher birthrates among immigrants." To me, that's not too worrisome. I've been in a lot of second and third-generation American homes that make the Cleaver and Huxtable families look like radicals. Also, worldwide, birthrates generally drop with rising income.

But what about all of those gangs in our inner cities? You know, Asians, Latinos, the Gangs of New York... Wait, we're in the wrong century with that last one.

There's too much emphasis on race and not enough attention on class. That sounds Marxist, I know; they've made the concept radioactive. Poor people band together to get their share of a very small piece of the American Pie. To quote George Bush, we've got to "make the pie higher" so 'minorities' aren't at each others' throats.

I am concerned about this: "With the Census Bureau forecasting even more immigrants, other demographers estimate that the proportion of foreign-born Americans, now about 12 percent, could surpass the 1910 historic high of nearly 15 percent by about 2025 and may approach 20 percent in 2050." I don't know if there's a point at which assimilation breaks down and I'm not eager to have honor killings and female circumcision become part of our culture.

Ah, well. This is probably a minority opinion.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Did the earth move for you?

I guess there was a 5.6 earthquake up by Anatahan at 10:06 this morning. I didn't feel a thing in Garapan. Did anyone on Saipan or the other islands notice anything?

My power was off and I was just reading, so you'd think I'd notice.

bigsoxfan was admiring my earthquake widget so I scrolled down to check it out.

The USGS says it was 120 miles NE of Saipan about a marathon deep (26.6 miles)

Follow the link if you want to report your ride. I usually do if there's anything to say. Zero responses so far, so they'd be glad to hear from you.

UPDATE: Reported it anyway. 'Missed it' is as useful as any other answer. Hey, everyone in the Marianas wants to be a scientist. Here's your chance.

Yahoo mail: starting to suck

I tried to send an email today, but Yahoo wanted verification first. You know, those grade-schoolish scrawls that are supposed to stop computers pretending to be people.

Annoying by itself, but the program they use is worse than most: you can't tell whether the scrawls should be upper or lower case. It took me three tries to be accepted.

Fine, nobody wants too much spam in their diet. Also, a disparate number of my new Nigerian friends seem to have Yahoo! accounts. But here's the thing. They've got massive computer resources and I've had several accounts for years. I don't fit the pattern, fools. I doubt if I've sent more than a dozen emails a week from any account since I signed up.

I've had problems with adware when I tried to read my mail in Internet Explorer. Just an itch because my spy program catches it and Firefox is better anyway.

Oh, and they keep pushing their all-new and improved mail. For months they made me wade through extra pages just to click through to what I signed up for. The new version is lousy, at least for me. They want me to use their Chat, but all I ever see in it is women who Really Want To Meet Me. I've never opened a message there. When I gave up and used it, it frequently froze, then told me there was a 'temporary' problem and I probably should use the old version. I did, and I do.

Ah well, I'm griping about a free service. I could start using my Gmail accounts more-- unless the server is still down.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Are scientists an endangered species?

The lame duck Bush administration is trying an end-run around the Endangered Species Act as a parting shot.

Its twisted logic? Federal agencies should decide whether projects affect endangered plants or animals before having scientists determine whether they affect those species.

The Department of Interior press release is a smokescreen to me, with code words and a lot of spin but not much information about the actual rule. I tried to look up the proposed regulation, but the process is not exactly intuitive. The closest I came was this proposal for the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service. It includes the following line, which I think was paraphrased pretty well in my second paragraph:
Do not apply guidance contained in this chapter (FSM 2670) that pertains to conducting a biological assessment unless the LMP, amendment, or revision may have an effect on threatened or endangered species or is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a proposed species, or will result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated or proposed critical habitat (FSM 2670.31).
I couldn't find a DOI proposal, but this seems to be what the press release is talking about.

'Snail darter' critics have been after the ESA for oh, about 35 years. Now it looks like they've found their champions. Changes may be needed, but that's why we've got a Congress. Gutting it backdoor through regulations is wrong... and typical of this administration.

MSNBC has a pretty good story, more balanced and easier to follow than the press release. According to them, scientists had little role in the rule change either:
The proposal was drafted largely by attorneys in the general counsel's offices of the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Interior Department, according to a source with the National Marine Fisheries Service. The two agencies' experts were not consulted until last week, the official said.
That shouldn't surprise anyone who remembers scientific reports from the Environmental Protection Agency being edited by political hacks in the White House.

Monument in his own mind

Also not surprising is that this "Ocean President" seems to have forgotten Hawaii's Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument once it was created. MSNBC is also reporting that funds to clean up plastic and other debris have been cut drastically: Debris soils Bush vow to protect Hawaii islands.

Hey, but on the bright side, DOI has recruited the Little Mermaid to warn kids about dropping trash in the water.

Thirty days until the rule takes effect; six months until we get a President who gives a damn about the environment.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

dipity do

What's your favorite internet fad? Check out It's got all your favorite memes. Missed one? Add it yourself.

Yeah, I revisited Dancing Baby, Frog in a Blender, the Tourist Guy (ugh), The Flying Spaghetti Monster, Dog Skating... well, I got lost in the fun and had to run through the whole timeline.

But I quickly got hung up on You're The Man Now, Dog (YTMND) and demotivators, then 4chan and Anonymous. I got Serious, thinking about what an 'improved', more secure internet would do to the anarchy I love/hate. All that fun stuff got dropped and I posted The meming of security instead.

Happily, a comment on "the internets" snapped me out of it, and I was back with George Bush using "The Google" for aerial views of his ranch. The link I liked was tossed, but I still have one of my all-time favorites: Sen. Ted Stevens and his "Tubes":

Georgia on my mind

Welcome to cyberwar. The Republic of Georgia (not the state) is using Google's Blogger to get its message out:

Cyber Attacks Disable Georgian Websites
Monday, August 11 • 12:00 Tbilisi, Georgia

Cyber Warfare Attacks by Russia Disable Georgian Websites; Government of Georgia Established Alternative Websites

A cyber warfare campaign by Russia is seriously disrupting many Georgian websites, including that of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If you cannnot access official Georgian government websites, please go to the following sites for the latest official Government of Georgia news.

* (this site)

* The website of the President of the Republic of Poland Lech Kaczyński: (go to the link: "information about the latest developments in Georgia.")

This one doesn't work:

(Oil) Power Politics

President George Bush is dithering, John McCain favors a more bellicose stance and Barack Obama seems to be falling into Bush's hand-wringing posture. Meanwhile, Russia's troops have cut the country in half. Realistically, there is nothing we can do to oppose the power play.

Bush has been pushing NATO to accept Georgia as a member, but was rebuffed because its democratic institutions have a long way to go. Not-so-incidentally, our European allies are dependent on Russian oil and gas. McCain and Obama also favor NATO membership.

Russia, newly rich, nationalistic and confident, is playing power politics. They have helplessly watched as the former Soviet Republics turned to the West. To former KGB Cold Warriors like Vladimir Putin, our actions must look like a remix of the old George Kennan containment policy. The pipelines through Georgia were intended to reduce Russian influence.

This pot has been simmering for 15 years. Residents of the breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions have been given Russian passports, giving Putin the pretext of protecting his citizens. Constant border tensions were the bait and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili bit, leading to the Russian invasion.

He may have counted on more Western support, particularly from his old friend Bush. There's a George Bush street in the capital and Georgia may be the only country where he was popular with the majority.

I wouldn't suggest taking a poll now, even if the Russians would let you do it. NATO membership is a lot further away.

Saipan's Beach Boy Blog: BREAKING NEWS

Saipan's Beach Boy Blog: BREAKING NEWS

Just trying the "LINKS TO THIS POST" feature. Citizen Brad got the goods: copy of the indictment, video of the press conference....

Monday, August 11, 2008

CNMI Lt. Gov. in federal custody

That's the headline from KUAM's Mindy Aguon (I was checking on the Olympics).

Lt. Gov. Timothy Villagomez, former Commonwealth Utilities Executive Director Tony Guerrero, Commerce Secretary James Santos and Joaquina Villagomez are supposedly in federal custody pending a 1:00 hearing today. This relates to alleged misuse of federal funds.

Aguon cites Saipan's KSPN-2, so there should be more on tonight's local news--if CUC's power outages cooperate, I add laconically.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The meming of security

Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig threw an interesting anecdote into a recent panel discussion, claiming the internet has a Patriot Act of its own waiting in the wings:
Lessig: "I had dinner once with Richard Clark at the table and I said 'is there an equivalent to the Patriot Act -- an iPatriot Act -- just sitting waiting for some substantial event just waiting for them to come have the excuse for radically changing the way the Internet works?' And he said, 'Of course there is' -- and I swear this is what he said, and quote -- 'and Vint Cerf is not going to like it very much.'"
Cerf had a huge part in founding, and some call him the father of, the internet.

Okay, we expect our government to be proactive, to plan ahead. How many would argue, for instance, that the Patriot Act sprang full-blown from someone's head in three weeks following 9/11? (It took six weeks to be enacted.)

Crackpot theory? Paranoia? Stay tuned while you can. More at boingboing, including some interesting discussion.

Into your heart it will creep

That's a somewhat minor internet meme, and I've tracked a few of its threads, but there's a wider meme that comes into play: the constant drumroll bemoaning identity theft and general internet security.

A honking big vulnerability in the Domain Name System has been in the news lately, finally making it to the mainstream media in articles like Leaks in Patch for Web Security Hole. (New York Times)

Foremost to the MSM? Security for banks and financial institutions. Ominous background music please:

"The root of the problem lies in the fact that the address system, which was invented in 1983, was not meant for services like electronic banking that require strict verification of identity," moaned the Times.... "A number of Internet security engineers point out that if a solution is found for the deeper problem of identity and authentication on the Internet, it will go a long way toward stopping many of the identity-related crimes that are now commonplace."

"It is now almost certain that there will be an escalating number of attacks, Mr. Woodcock said. Before the patch, which has now been distributed to more than three-quarters of the affected servers in the world, it would have taken as little as one second to insert false information into the address database. Now, even with the patch, attacks will be possible in a matter of minutes or hours, he said."
What's the response if this allows a major attack on a few big banks?

But that's just paranoia.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Lieutenant Governor watch

Rumor-mongers should have a field day with the KSPN-2 'interview' of Lt. Gov. Timothy Villagomez: Spotlight: Lt. Governor Say's "Not Involved" with Federal Probe. (It looked like he was 'ambushed' as he walked by)

My browser's having trouble with the streaming video, but you might want to give it a try.

Basically, he confirmed that he'd cut short his trip to the Lt. Governors' meeting in New York, but wouldn't say why or who got hold of him there.

My recollection is that he also said he hadn't been interviewed by the FBI. Otherwise, "No comment." "No comment" also from the U.S. Attorney (I forgot his name and KSPN replays don't fit my schedule)

Media well done

Points to the Saipan Tribune in reporting the Government Accounting Office report on the federalization of CNMI immigration.

While they apparently went for sensationalism in their original story, their follow-up included a response from the GAO. Seen in that light, Stefan Sebastian's original story was reporting the latest news: i.e. the Administration's response. He continued by seeking a new source. Meanwhile, the Marianas Variety follow=up highlighted the report, mentioned the Administration's position and refuted it with comments from the report. Without taking sides, who's working at reporting here?

Bad timing, because I'm really irritated with the Variety. It's happened before, but their reporting of the alleged poker robbery by the Rota Mayor's son is completely unprofessional. Try this: "The defendant later surrendered the green plastic bag containing the money he got from the poker parlor. The rifle he used in the robbery was found later on the roof of a barracks unit. He said his son was in critical condition on Guam." And I've said this before: why bother having a trial?

Yeah, it's obvious to me he's probably guilty, but a newspaper shouldn't play it this way--if it wants to be taken seriously.

Why? How about this story? When you have no credibility, I don't believe statements like this: "Cabrera and Borja are currently under probation, while Camacho has been previously involved in various drug-related criminal activities." Yeah, right. What does "involved" mean? What's "drug-related"? Charged? Tried? Convicted?

Pop tart

Oh, and I liked the Tribune's headline about Paris Hilton responding to John McCain's Paris Hilton ad. It's right up in my top five this year. Paris Hilton issues tart rebuttal to McCain ad. They copped it from the wire, but I still like it. Unfortunately, McCain may be one of the few who gets the "tart" joke. Who uses that word any more?

The idea is funnier than the ad, but Angelo and I agree, it never hurts traffic if you mention a media darling. He has a link to the video. I don't because it loads very slowly.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Delegating the representation

No one has mentioned it, but our man (or woman, candidates) in Washington is quietly moving from the Executive to the Legislative branch.

The Covenant required the Washington Representative to present his credentials to the Department of State, something like an Ambassador. The Delegate will presumably have to present credentials to the U.S. House of Representatives to be seated.

Practically, there's not much difference, it's even a plus because of the ability to directly influence legislation. Philosophically, it undercuts those who argue for a more independent CNMI. Former Governor and Washington Representative Froilan C. Tenorio consistently opposed having a non-voting delegate. That may be the reason, though I've never had the chance to discuss it with him.

For all of its rhetoric, Gov. Benigno R. Fitial's administration seems supportive, at least according to Press Secretary Charles Reyes in the Saipan Tribune:
Reyes noted that if the governor were to challenge the federalization law, the challenge would not include the delegate portion.

“The delegate portion is not harmful. He [Fitial] supports the delegate portion of the law. What he disagrees with are the other provisions of the law that he finds very damaging to the CNMI economy,” he added.

It would seem none of the candidates have a problem with the change.

Section 901. The Constitution or laws of the Northern Mariana Islands may provide for the appointment or election of a Resident Representative to the United States, whose term of office will be two years, unless otherwise determined by local law, and who will be entitled to receive official recognition as such Representative by all of the departments and agencies of the Government of the United States upon presentation through the Department of State of a certificate of selection from the Governor. The Representative must be a citizen and resident of the Northern Mariana Islands, at least twenty-five years of age, and, after termination of the Trusteeship Agreement, a citizen of the United States.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

GAO Predicts 50% Decline in CNMI Economy as a Result of Federalization

The headline isn't mine; I borrowed it from Special Legal Counsel Howard Willens. It heads his letter in Appendix XII of the Government Accountability Office report on the impact of federal immigration law. The letter is the CNMI response to the draft report, which he predicts would result in that headline.

The Saipan Tribune decided to use the acronymic and more catchy GAO: Local GDP could plunge instead but agreeably used this lead: "Pointing to findings they say will harm the CNMI's economy, Gov. Benigno R. Fitial and officials in his administration are blasting a report released yesterday by the Government Accountability Office that details several scenarios on the impact of the pending federal takeover of local immigration rules and includes projections that suggest it could slash the Commonwealth's gross domestic product by 50 percent or more."

The Marianas Variety? They went with GAO downplays Fitial’s economic disaster scenario.

So which is correct? Strangely enough, both papers can justify their headlines. It's just a political decision: what they want to emphasize.

I was thinking about this last night, but a 100+ page report gives me a PDF headache and I needed a good night's sleep. It's the best they could do, I suppose, but there are so many qualifications I've come to a familiar cynical conclusion: pretty worthless.

Save yourself some time and just read the title: "Managing Potential Economic Impact of Applying U.S. Immigration Law Requires Coordinated Federal Decisions and Additional Data".

The scenarios are based on 'all things remaining equal', i.e. ignoring the increasing minimum wage, high-flying energy prices and the CNMI's low-flying economy. Those factors have too much influence on the outcome to be set aside.

The Commonwealth letter and GAO response to it in Appendix XII are entertaining and informative if you've got the time. Otherwise, read both papers and the first page of the report. Glutton for punishment? Here's the link.

Humor us

I need a break from constant power outages. Enter CNN, of all things, in a throwaway line at the end of a story.

It seems former Osama bin Laden driver Salim Ahmed Hamden is facing a life sentence if he loses --and detention until the end of the War On Terror if he wins-- in his Guantanamo trial. He's been classified as an "enemy combatant". Now he knows a little more about the U.S. military: Catch 22.

Yeah, it's mean, especially because I'm chuckling, but I reluctantly have to agree in this case. Am I inconsistent? You bet!

A quick check and I ended up with a Wired blog. Interesting, but nothing to get me out of my funk.

Ah, but there was a link to God Destroys Boise for Not Being Gay Enough. Hey, at least those malware bozos are starting to provide entertainment in exchange for installing their trojans.

Oh, CNN wasn't done. They also reported that researchers "discovered" another 125,000 lowland gorillas. That's something like discovering America, but good news after all of the dire predictions of their demise I've been reading. Here's a New York Times take.

I wanted to say something about Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn yesterday, but everything I wrote between outages came out ponderous and preachy; something close to his political and social views. It's that black (heh) CUC mood.

But I enjoyed, if that's the word, his early books. I do wonder if I would feel the same today. Maybe Cancer Ward would hold up or The First Circle, which I haven't read. I doubt I could wade through One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich or The Gulag Archipelago any more.

He was an important writer during his fifteen minutes and some still think he was one of the best writers of the 20th century. I don't doubt his courage in exposing the Soviet system and its labor camps. Let's hope countries like Iran and China will be lucky enough to produce a similar voice.

Complicated, great and imperfect like a figure in Greek tragedy, he died Sunday.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Now it's jellyfish

Saipan is lucky jellyfish are just a nuisance instead of the growing problem found elsewhere.

There are more of them and they're showing up in new places, according to the New York Times.

Scientists are blaming it on the usual suspects: warming oceans, pollution and overfishing.

"While no good global database exists on jellyfish populations, the increasing reports from around the world have convinced scientists that the trend is real, serious and climate-related, although they caution that jellyfish populations in any one place undergo year-to-year variation," according to the Times.

A report is due in the fall from the National Science Foundation listing problem areas as Australia, the Gulf of Mexico, Hawaii, the Black Sea, Namibia, Britain, the Mediterranean, the Sea of Japan and the Yangtze estuary.

Jellyfish have only become a problem in Hawaii in the last 20 years. Still, the state is luckier than most victims. Their visitors are like a tour group: arriving on schedule the ninth or tenth day after a full moon.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Toby or not Toby

I was just goofing when I slipped that Ludacris link into the previous blog, making fun of the 'experts' who tried to make a song part of the Presidential campaign. It's not a threat to the country.

You know, forget about media spin and Barack Obama's or John McCain's reaction; just listen to/read the lyrics. Make up your own mind and move on. And yeah, I was hoping somebody would bite.

But the accompanying blog brought up what Immortal Technique has called "Toby Moments". That's a reference to Roots, when Kunta Kinte is whipped until he accepts Toby as his new name, and media pressure for Obama to constantly attack supporters. Not advisors, not members of his campaign. Supporters. That is Ludicrous.

I'd like to see the term enter the vernacular. It's no big thing actually, just another interesting piece of the media puzzle.

Oh, and the Immortal Technique interview is interesting, if you can bear with the hip hop mixed throughout

Saturday, August 2, 2008

My computer, locked up

I know this is a serious subject, but my sense of the absurd kicked in when I got the Washington Post article Travelers' Laptops May Be Detained At Border in an email. I had immediate visions of renditions, or trips to Gitmo.

Seriously then. We all know, or should, that privacy in the United States pretty much ends at our front door. As long as we stay in the Homeland (A grand Newspeak concept), we're still protected by conceits like probable cause.

All bets are off when we travel internationally. Your laptop, your cellphone, even your ipod with Ludacris rapping Politics as usual may be 'detained' for 'a reasonable period of time' by the Department of Homeland Security.

That's "any device capable of storing information in digital or analog form" in addition to "all papers and other written documentation." Oh, and that can all be shared with other agencies and private entities. More from the Post:
"The policies . . . are truly alarming," said Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), who is probing the government's border search practices. He said he intends to introduce legislation soon that would require reasonable suspicion for border searches, as well as prohibit profiling on race, religion or national origin.

"In April, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld the government's power to conduct searches of an international traveler's laptop without suspicion of wrongdoing", the Post adds. If the Ninth Circuit signs off on it, no other court is going to oppose.

The policies are dated July 16, according to the Post, though they've been around for a lot longer.

For more information,see if you can get
to work. It's giving me problems when I try to load it.

Privatization dancing

Most people favor privatizing the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation, from what I hear 'on the street' and see in online polls like the one on Rep. Joseph Camacho's website. But proverbally, the devil is in the details.

The Senate has sent the House Bill calling for privatizing CUC within 45 days back with "minor amendments", according to the Saipan Tribune. Well, that's helpful, but about what you'd expect when the story doesn't even mention the bill's number.

How many companies are going to sort through the engine pieces on the power plant floors, take stock of substations, lines and transformers and come back with a bid?

Somebody, preferably from outside the Commonwealth, needs to independently take a 'snapshot' of CUC before there is any request for bids. The Legislature was just guessing when it set the value at $500 million and now $250 million. The winning bidder will also face huge costs for needed spare parts and maintenance that has been deferred for years.

I'm groping in the dark here (Last night too, but that's a different story), but I've heard the company will also have to "protect" current employees. That's hanging an albatross around a pig's neck when hiring practices have helped bring CUC to its current state. The pool of qualified CNMI residents isn't huge. It would be suicidal to fire valuable employees, particularly with the tightening labor market due to impending federalization. Do you really want to pay for the others with higher power bills?

Like any new board members, the Public Utilities Commission had to rack up some frequent flyer miles before digging into business. That's done, but I doubt if they'll be ready to go in 45 days.

Privatization was a great idea 20 years ago. It's a better idea now, but not if it's another one of those rush jobs that has to be done again and again.

Oh, one other thing, a proposed amendment: "Proceeds from this sale may be used for operations only after retiring all government debt and unfunded obligations."

Speaking of rush jobs, The Marianas Public Land Trust will be meeting in the Morgen Building at 9:00 am Monday to discuss Resolution 08-03. You know, Aggreko money.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Name game

Yes, it's a waste of time, but I've just been checking on the popularity of my name over the years. It seems I caught the peak: Kenneth hit 13.5 per thousand the year before I was born and my birth year was number two at 13/1000.

It's supposedly the #135 male baby name historically, but only cracked the top 100 in Alaska, Tennessee and South Carolina last year. Ken peaked in 1960; is that a Barbie bump? Kenny's had a few minor blips, nothing after South Park came out.

It's a fun black hole for your time, the State by State Popularity Map has a slider so you can check going back to 1960--Flash is required. The Historic Popularity Chart reaches to 1880. It's available on

What's in a name?

I've always wondered whether those poor refugees from the 60's and 70's like Sublime Sunbeam were affected by their names and how they felt about them.

The book Freakonomics claims there's an economic effect and discussed a lot of names popular among blacks. Interesting, though I thought Levitt and Dubner's snide presentation was classic liberal racism, or maybe 'elitism' would be closer.

(This was just an idle post to kill time until my 'scheduled' power outage. I missed it by five minutes. KSPN-2 had perfect timing last night; we were just hearing "...the new schedule will be..." when the screen went blank.)