Monday, December 15, 2008

Oh say, can you Tennessee

One for the Dumb Criminal file: a guy driving around with an ad for fake ID's on his car.

The bust was for not having a commercial license plate. Then they found the computer and card printer.

On the bright side, with the additional charges he's likely to learn to make license plates so he can avoid being pulled over later. Much later.

But who's counting?

If you like to follow (and argue about) U.S. Immigration, the Department of Homeland Security has put out revised 2007 figures on enforcement, unauthorized immigrants and such.

PUC to fix CUC's LEAC

Friday evening isn't my best time to be public-spirited, so I'm grateful the Saipan Tribune covered Friday's PUC hearing. My first choice was judicious alcohol-poisoning with a tribe of misogynistic troglodytes, but I had to tend bar at USSP instead.

A three-hour hearing starting at six to kick off my weekend was right up there, but...

So I wasn't one of "About 15 people, many of whom were legislators" who still remember griping by candlelight a few months ago.

Then again, several people are quoted as being overwhelmed by the amount of information they were expected to digest, so I'd probably be in the same boat.

Better, then, that we have a Monday morning GUIDE TO CUC STIPULATIONS. Even that is frustrating: it doesn't give any figures; I assume none were thrown out in the hearing.

It appears the base rate won't change: "Both CUC and Georgetown agree that more work needs to be done before PUC considers restructuring the base rate, and recommend a base rate hearing before the end of 2009."

That leaves the fuel surcharge, reborn as the acronym LEAC.

So how exactly is this six-month "levelized energy adjustment clause" going to be determined?

"Under the tariff, CUC would be able to recover: fuel and generation lubricant costs and delivered fuel and other costs required by the supplier. The LEAC tariff also would factor in CUC's ability to establish and maintain a 30-day fuel inventory and to develop a reserve to support the availability and efficiency of generating units."


So how exactly is this six-month "levelized energy adjustment clause" going to be determined?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Runoff the mouth

I broke a rule yesterday by talking about the next CNMI Governor in the bar.

Well, it's not a rule actually-- just a good idea when there are a lot of candidates and only one job. The odds aren't good that you're talking to somebody who'd agree with you, which can be bad for business.

I usually won't talk politics in USSP unless someone else brings it up, but I'd just noticed a 'Yes 2 Kumoi' bumper sticker (Y2K Get it?). Perfect. I could make a joke and get a read on his opinion of Ray Guerrero, who's a pretty polarizing man.

I'm sneaky that way. It didn't work. I slipped in a line about every Governor being captive of outside forces like the tourism industry. Guessing (rightly) that he'd voted for Ben Fitial last time, I allowed as how it was a thankless job and it was hard to blame the Governor for events outside of his control.

I'd forgotten he was a retiree*. No mention of Kumoi, and he'd only say 'not this time' about Fitial. He didn't want to talk about other guys like Diego Benavente. All in all, it was another lesson for me about avoiding the subject.

The primary reason for losing an election

So I'll avoid it again. Well, soon anyway: first I want to chuckle about the Republican's and Democrat's (if there are any left locally) primaries. I've been amazed for years that candidates pick their running mate going into the primary.

It's short-sighted logic; you have a better chance of winning the primary but limit your options for the general election. That may have worked in the past when there was more party loyalty. Even then, the losing candidates and their families/supporters often threatened to sit out the election or jump to your opponent.

Picking a running mate after the primary would probably result in a stronger, more 'balanced' (wink) ticket. Then again, anyone who tried it would likely lose, so it will never happen.

Also, everyone's an independent these days, so a runoff election between the top two candidates is almost guaranteed.

* If you're outside the Commonwealth and just happened across this post, the CNMI Retirement Fund is expected to be broke in three, four or five years, depending on who you believe. The government has turned it into a Ponzi scheme by not paying its share in recent years.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Paean to Polaroid

Wanna buy a Polaroid? Not a picture, the camera. I've got a 600, still in the box-- but they're not making film after this month.

It was bound to happen with digital cameras everywhere. Still, it's sad. I fondly remember (showing my age) my father tinkering with his fancy Polaroid Land Camera. The early film had to be coated with a "fixer". I can still recall the harsh, but sweetish, chemical smell of the coating. It was probably something like melamine that killed thousands of brain cells.

It's a digital world, though vinyl records are making a comeback. There really is a different feel to pictures caught on film, similar to analog music.

If you're really a fan, check out They're trying to get another manufacturer to pick up the license.

Then you can buy my camera.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The rhetorical cafe

I probably know the answer, but I'm wondering if Saipan's dozens of internet cafes are using pirated software.

Ah, well, we're a small island and nobody cares locally. Reading that a Chinese City Requires Net Cafes to Use Legitimate Software made me think of the hole-in-the-wall cybercafes that seem to be everywhere, and reminded me of at least one shop that was caught buying stolen computers.

My son is devoted to these places so I know their prices, leading me to wonder how they survive.

Storm clouds: the week that was

The Marianas Variety implies that less than 1,000 "out of status" workers isn't much.

More than implies actually: "THE Department of Labor says there are less than 1,000 foreign nationals who may be overstaying in the CNMI since they arrived here over the past six years, allaying fears that the commonwealth may be harboring many illegal migrants."

Seems like a lot to me, and how are they getting by without being part of the underground economy?

Fair enough

Will there be a 'bubble' of unneeded employees because of the transition to federal control of immigration? They may be chasing ambulances a bit, but it's good advice for employers "to extend their employment contracts to buy them more time amid ambiguities and uncertainties regarding regulations that are still being drafted."

It could be a rocky transition.

CUC in a nutshell

"When you're looking at financials it tells you (you're) insolvent," Antonio Muna said. "It's difficult in accounting terms to project if it will be a growing concern, because of all of this burden of liability where debt exceeds assets. How do you cope with that?"

Shellgame in a nutshell

(Eloy Inos) added that the projected decrease in personnel outlays due to reduction in employer contribution to the NMI Retirement Fund was not achieved because the anticipated savings were "plowed back into the system and expensed by way of fuel subsidy to [the Commonwealth Utilities Corp.]."

"If that subsidy was in fact treated as payment of government utilities, [the] $2.1 million over-expenditure in utilities expense could and would have been averted," he said.

Just plain nuts

Key provisions of the budget include...

11-percent employer contribution rate to the NMI Retirement Fund;

Prohibition against reprogramming of appropriations for utility expenses;

Flight fright

It's no surprise, really, but Asiana Airlines is losing money on its Saipan route. Hmm, so is it a bad time to sue over Kumho's Laolao lease?

From the comments, there seem to be some unhappy taxpayers, but CDA proposes changes to qualifying certificate program" tells us the government is still working to provide a better deal.

The Flame Sako Resort & Spa proposal for the beach north of the Palms Resort in As Matuis seems to be getting some opposition too. There seems to be a vocal group that's questioning new development. The Dec. 9 hearing at GTC Elementary School should be particularly interesting.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Yes, but

Rep. Diego Benavente's proposal to hold CNMI elections in even years makes sense, but isn't it a little late?

Local elections have historically been held in odd years, while the newly-created Washington Delegate is elected in the federal even-year cycle.

Maybe I need a lawyer's help here, but it seems that the Governor, Lt. Governor, Senators and Mayors will be elected in 2009 with the current four-year term provided under the Constitution. Can a Constitutional Amendment during the same election change that term to three years?

Let the legal scholars decide, but it sure would have been cleaner for the amendment to be on the ballot last month. Of course, the Legislature got tied up deciding whether it was a regular election. Not so coincidentally, dangerous ideas (to incumbents) like a part-time legislature and elected Attorney General couldn't take effect until 2012. That AG initiative has been kicking around for years, but it always gets buried in committees.

There's still some question about Mayors and Municipal Councils, too. Especially on Saipan, where frequent flyer and Mayor Juan Tudela is doing his best to prove he's not needed.

At least the Mayor of the Northern Islands has a productive marriage mill going, though I'm always amused that an acting Mayor is appointed when he makes a trip up north.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Night lights

Our planet from space if everyone left the lights on; just another nifty image from NASA's Earth Observatory.

The images are from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Operational Line Scanner (whew!) for the year 2003. They filtered out sunlight, moonlight and the aurora.

You can link to a more detailed (3 MB) picture here if you want more details-- it loads too slowly to put on this page.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Bail out bonds

I love a good joke, so how could I pass up a story with this lead?

Ford Motor Co. plans to tell Congress it is retooling itself to build small fuel-efficient cars and break from the past strategy of focusing mainly on large pick up trucks and sport-utility vehicles, and will cut the compensation package of Chief Executive Alan Mulally, as part of its bid to win support for a federal bail out of the Big Three auto makers, a person familiar with the matter said.

Jimmy Carter would have been proud, but isn't it a bit late to plan for the 21st Century? Which slogan are they using, Ford. Bold moves. or Built for the road ahead?


There's a helpful story on the Department of Homeland Security's "Transition to U.S. Immigration Law in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands" webpage in Monday's Saipan Tribune.

Not that there's anything new, but along with the overview page it gives us a window on what DHS is doing.

Until we got the (bad) news that Chinese and Russian visa waivers weren't likely, there wasn't any word out of Washington. June 1, 2009 is just around the corner and it's past time for them to flesh out the details.

Six months isn't much time to plan for the new immigration rules. We can only hope that these are signs the process is picking up some steam, and that the process doesn't get muddled by the transition to an Obama administration.

Flying off on a tangent

It's really off of the subject, but it's possible Saipan might get occasional visits from another airline. That would be ICE Air, the Flight Operations Unit of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Of course we'd hardly be able to fill a plane...