Sunday, November 29, 2009

Please release me

The Saipan Immigration Court will open Monday, according to a Media Advisory.

It will be one of 58 around the U.S. by my count, the nearest previously being in Honolulu. They must be expecting enough business to keep an office open.

To begin, Associate Judge David Wiseman said there were more than 200 cases pending when he closed down the CNMI immigration docket.

FALLS CHURCH, Va. – The Executive Office for Immigration Review will open the Saipan Immigration Court in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands, on November 30, 2009. The Saipan Immigration Court will conduct immigration court proceedings for respondents in the Northern Mariana Islands. The Saipan Immigration Court will be an administrative control court and will receive filings and establish appropriate dockets.

The address for the Saipan Immigration Court is:

Marina Heights II Building, Suite 301
Marina Heights Business Park
Saipan, MP 96950
Hours of Operation:
8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., Monday - Friday

The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) is an agency within the Department of Justice. Under delegated authority from the Attorney General, immigration judges and the Board of Immigration Appeals interpret and adjudicate immigration cases according to United States immigration laws. EOIR’s immigration judges conduct administrative court proceedings in immigration courts located throughout the nation. They determine whether foreign-born individuals—who are charged by the Department of Homeland Security with violating immigration law—should be ordered removed from the United States or should be granted relief from removal and be permitted to remain in this country. The Board of Immigration Appeals primarily reviews appeals of decisions by immigration judges. EOIR’s Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer adjudicates immigration-related employment cases. EOIR is committed to ensuring fairness in all of the cases it adjudicates.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A koan to pick

"The CNMI maintains that the Commonwealth’s guest worker population currently is experiencing high rates of unemployment, and that employers are consequently unlikely to require permits for new guest workers in the near future." -- District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman

Yes, I'm still walking that dog. Come on along for the exercise.

How can a member of the "guest worker population" be unemployed? Either you're still under contract, or you're in the process of being repatriated. I meditated on that paradox all night.

But never mind, we'll deal with that when the "Transition Conditional" (240K or "umbrella") permits run out in two years-- or maybe the first time someone tries to use one.

The next lawsuit, or
If it's an umbrella why am I left holding the bag?

Enter the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 CNMI, used "to verify the identity and employment authorization of each new employee (both citizen and noncitizen) hired in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) after November 27, 2009."

The I-9 used in the rest of the U.S. has a list of acceptable documents in a format something like a Chinese menu: you can use one from List A or one from List B and one from List C. For CNMI use only, the following documents are acceptable in List A:

All documents must be unexpired

1. A foreign passport and Alien Entry Permit with red band issued to an alien by the CNMI Office of the Attorney General, Division of Immigration before November 28, 2009, as long as the period of employment authorization has not yet expired.

2. A foreign passport and an unexpired Permanent Resident Card issued by the CNMI.

3. A foreign passport and a temporary work authorization letter issued by the CNMI Department of Labor before November 28, 2009, containing the name and photograph of the individual, if the period of employment authorization has not yet expired and the proposed employment is not in conflict with any restrictions or limitations identified on the temporary work authorization letter.

That's it. There's nothing about "an approved employment contract as provided in Department of Labor regulations"-- the language of the 240K I saw.

Maybe that will change. The umbrella permits were rushed, and the I-9 CNMI was rushed, sloppy or both. The current I-9 is Rev. 11/12/09, it replaces Rev. 10/21/09, which said the Alien Entry Permit was issued by the Department of Labor.

The sticking point is "lawfully present and authorized to be employed in the Commonwealth pursuant to the immigration laws", the language of P.L. 110-229. That is echoed by "authorizes the holder to be employed" in the umbrella permit, but that's a Labor document (policy?) and the CNMI immigration laws were superceded as of Nov. 28. I don't want to argue, that's one for the lawyers. I also don't want to get caught in the middle.

I'm up in the air until the I-9 is revised, and so are prospective employees with unbrella permits. I can only accept, and they must provide, the documents listed on the I-9. It has no provisions for CNMI documents generated after Nov. 27.

Lawfully present? Sounds good, the "Umbrella Permits", though issued by CNMI Labor instead of Immigration, may cover that.* Again, go for it, lawyers. It's not up to me. But I won't give you a job, and I can't give a job to Transition Conditional workers until somebody else volunteers to be the test case.

The "CW" classification under the transitional rules might have solved that problem, but the Restraining Order has set them back for at least two or three months. Umbrella permits definitely need to be addressed when they are revised.

* I'm not sure about the students and investors who got temporary (Rain Check?) permits from the Department of Commerce. "Holders are scheduled to return to Commerce on March 1, 2010, to claim their permanent umbrella permit."

Friday, November 27, 2009

Chamorro Savings Time*

I really wasn't going to write about the lawsuit. (Saipan Tribune and Marianas Variety) The Department of Homeland Security still takes over 'after midnight' tonight. Most of the contract workers will still have to be gone in five years. So, what's changed by District Court Judge Paul Friedman's preliminary injunction?

There are no interim rules. We just get the full U.S. immigration package. The CNMI argued, persuasively to me, that DHS didn't follow the Administrative Procedures Act. Okay, the judge said, follow them: propose regulations, give an adequate comment period, consider the comments and then promulgate final rules.

It's like Daylight Savings Time: we can push time back, but only for a few months.

"The commonwealth will continue to operate under its existing labor system except for entry and exit," volunteered part-time attorney Deanne Siemer. Umm. No. We just won't have interim rules to soften the transition yet.

In one of this lawsuit's strange twists, Friedman writes that "The CNMI maintains that the Commonwealth’s guest worker population currently is experiencing high rates of unemployment, and that employers are consequently unlikely to require permits for new guest workers in the near future. Reply at 20-21. Consequently, the United States cannot argue with any degree of certainty that CNMI employers will be harmed by the issuance of a preliminary injunction in this matter."

Got that? Everybody's in limbo. If there are problems, Friedman writes, "To assist either foreign workers seeking to leave and return to the CNMI or employers desperately in need of workers from outside the Commonwealth, DHS may, if necessary, promulgate a narrowly focused and temporary emergency regulation that addresses only the problem at hand."

That's a far cry from Siemer's formulation that "Friedman also virtually commanded DHS to come up with an emergency regulation allowing aliens in the commonwealth to travel in and out."

Rhetorical question: what substantive changes do you expect to see when we get the final regulations?

("The CNMI maintains that the Commonwealth’s guest worker population currently is experiencing high rates of unemployment.")

* I'm not forgetting my Carolinian friends. It's just that I couldn't pass up the word play on Chamorro Standard Time.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

No umbrella needed

From the Saipan Tribune, an early sign that the new immigration rules might help local employment:

Looking for Sexy Dancer
- Female
- IR or Green Card holder

Gotta keep those tourist attractions.

James Bond's got nothing on these guys

Nobody does gadgets like the Japanese, and I just wasted entirely too much time on a virtual stroll through

I was casually checking out bulletproof sunglasses, but it was the Samurai Umbrella that got me. I've always felt dorky carrying one of those things. Then I saw the Samurai Underwear and I was hooked.

The 3D Blue Earth Puzzle looks outstanding. It's based on satellite images and population areas have glow-in-the-dark paint.

Black tissues for mourning... and black is the new white: "Black also has a “clean” feeling to it, which is why cotton swabs, toothpaste, and now these Black Tissues from Daishowa."

Fur keyboard? Radio-controlled flying cockroach or driving tissue box (available Dec. 1 for Christmas)? You got it. There's a dog voice translator -- only works with Japanese dogs, or only translates to Japanese. Something like that. Get your dog a pedometer.

Okay, Cyber Figure Alice the augmented reality maid creeps me out: Using the software, included props, and a web cam, you can interact physically with a digital maid character! Alice has a real personality and responds to your touch and loves receiving gifts from you. She’ll even take off/change clothes when you’d like her too.

Not creepy at all, once I notice is a "partner shop". I don't even want to know.

I'd go nuts shopping here if it wasn't so pricey.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Apocalypse Not

I've read some dire predictions about what the Commonwealth faces now that it appears Gov. Benigno R. Fitial will be re-elected. Nothing new, of course, equally dire predictions were made before the runoff about the future under him and under Rep. Heinz S. Hofschneider, the challenger. Two sides, and support hardens to partisanship in the clinches.

I'm a fatalist myself. The government's profligate ways combined with the economy's retrenchment to form not the perfect storm, but the perfect doldrums. I had a definite preference, but there won't be much room to maneuver for either man.

The Pacific Daily News paints a pretty accurate picture in their election story. With a liability of 'close to $500 million' (David Sablan) or 'probably upwards of $1 billion' (Sam McPhetres), the government will likely be reacting to events rather than controlling them.

Any solutions will be complicated, as usual, by the fact that Rota and Tinian use their control of the Senate to say 'me too' and 'me three' whenever appropriations come around. (Another reason a union with Guam is highly unlikely in the foreseeable future. They would never consent to having a Senate with veto power over their larger population, while Rota and Tinian would never give that up.)

Somehow, though the problems will be solved, or at least dealt with, simply because there is no other choice. There will be a lot of pain and suffering. The finger-pointing and second-guessing is likely to continue. More crisis management with the bottom signaled not with a bang but a whimper.

Some of Governor Fitial's detractors have said, or implied, that 'the feds' had a preference in this election, and it wasn't him. The Governor has done nothing to discourage that view. Personally, I view the federal government as a huge, amorphous caterpillar that doesn't have the motor skills to get all of its feet moving in the same direction.

Yes, the Department of Interior didn't announce the release of Compact Impact funds until after the runoff. The progress report on CUC's compliance with its stipulated order came out just before the election. But, at the same time, the Department of Homeland Security's postponement of immigration control until a week after the election seems almost calculated to help the incumbent.

People fear change, and boy, is federal immigration control a big one. Hofschneider and Speaker Arnold I. Palacios meant change from the current policies with their campaign slogan, but it got confounded with 'change to federal control'. In times of crisis it's 'don't change horses in midstream', 'stay the course', 'rally around the flag' or 'let it BE'. (Maybe it's just me, but 'let us finish the job' sounds a bit too ominous.)

My cynical side suspects that the thinking behind the lawsuit attempting to stop federalization was 'even if it doesn't work, it's great for the campaign.' I suppress that side, but it pops up again and suggests that the Marine Monument might have gotten a better reception if it hadn't been proposed with immigration control pending. Outsiders, pushing federalization and taking away local control all dovetail too neatly with the immigration narrative.

McPhetres brings up an interesting point in the PDN article: most of his students get a "warm and fuzzy feeling" from Fitial. I hadn't thought of that, and it's undoubtedly true, though I doubt he'll be pushing Saipanda dolls off of the Duty Free shelves.

I once told Bob Grimac, a former editor of the Marianas Variety that he would probably never understand CNMI politics if he didn't have some familiarity with big-city machine politics. Analogies are never exact, but that one has been pretty useful to me over the years.

The ward heelers were out in force in the gap between the general election and the runoff; you saw many of the free-lancers choosing up sides with their endorsements. Two things: 1) that's meant as an observation, not a judgment and, 2) I'm not saying the term applies to all of the people endorsing one camp or the other.

If you think I'm going to tell you which is which, well, that's tough. Do your own homework.

I've been amused and sometimes irritated by the spokespeople, politicians and columnists who throw out references to 'bloggers' instead of responding to a specific person. It's intellectually dishonest. A straw man: they win by default because you don't know who they're arguing with. *

I agree with some bloggers ten percent of the time and others 90 percent. Only one meets my exacting standards and is 99 percent correct. That's me. I resent being lumped into somebody's spew against bloggers in general.

For instance, here's David North reacting to the latest election. Another hollow man, but not me.

* Yes, I'm doing the same thing. Aren't you clever to catch it?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

More on Saipan Shooting

I'm not in the mood to write today, but I've heard a lot of speculation about yesterday's murders.

The latest I've found is from the Pacific News Center, where Brad Ruszala is reporting the gunman's name as Lee Zhong Ren.

According to Ruszala, "Lee reportedly complained of a failed attempt to open another shooting range on the island."

Friday, November 20, 2009

Saipan shooting

KUAM is reporting that four people are dead and six injured in shootings on Saipan. I've been trying to get more information for several hours. Pacific Daily News says five dead and eight injured in their breaking news.

Jane Mack at Saipan Writer has pieced some details together.

Check those sites; I don't want to just compile them when there's still more information coming in.

4:00 p.m. The Saipan Tribune just posted five dead and eight injured.

6:00 p.m. KSPN-2 on cable television has more details (streaming video).

Jay Solly says no second poll

Jay Solly of Marianas Consulting took exception to my piece Eve of distraction. In the interest of fairness, here is the complete text of his latest Press Release. (I removed the email address, simply because I didn't want to subject him to the spam he would get if it was published on the internet.)

November 19, 2009

Second Poll ‘Unnecessary’ In Light of CNMI’s Chilling Political Climate

Saipan—Upon inquiries from media outlets, Marianas Consulting announced today that no additional polling would be conducted in the CNMI leading up to the historic November 23rd gubernatorial run-off elections. The company made this decision in light of the CNMI Governor’s Office and the Covenant Party’s heightened and unparalleled energies expended the day before the November 7th General Election. Though the statistically sound poll disclosed its full methodology as thoroughly or even more so than the University of Guam’s poll published earlier that week, the Governor’s Covenant Party Chairman issued a specious press release in a classic case of “shoot the messenger” chiefly because their candidate was not prevailing. The three other candidates for Governor did not issue statements.

Further, the Governor’s Office openly engaged in eyebrow-raising back-and-forth with a private company and the account of events and depth of involvement leave more questions to be asked than were answered. Consequently, this company terminated an employee with a personal relationship to Marianas Consulting’s principal consultant the same day the poll was released. In media accounts it was acknowledged that they contacted the Governor’s Office to inform that the employee had been let go, a highly unusual action for what was a private and internal personnel matter. Even more curious, the Governor’s Covenant Party thought it appropriate to comment on this personnel issue, offering words of support for the supposed “hurt” caused, but in reality, adding insult to injury.

Principal Consultant, Jay Solly comments, “On a personal note, my family and I are grateful for the outpouring of support from the community. We love Saipan and the kindness and giving hearts exhibited. We look forward to staying and will continue working for the community. It is likely that there would have been no effort to silence, discredit, or intimidate if the numbers were in Covenant’s favor. Again, neither I, nor my company, was contracted by any campaign when this poll was conducted, but now I know with certainty for whom I will not work—the rank amateurism of the Covenant Party opposition research linking Marianas Consulting to an Ontario-based company that happens to share the name made me chuckle. Incidentally, I worked in Moscow in 2005, did they check with Vladimir Putin too?”

Marianas Consulting concedes that a run-off poll again employing random sampling in line with theories of probability would likely be informative and serve well the interests of the people, but as Mr. Solly adds, “even statistics with reported sampling error come under fire in this chilling political climate fostered to stifle dissent. This, coupled with the ‘spiral of silence’ effect—where voters are less likely to voice an opinion if they fear reprisal, job loss, or isolation from the existing political apparatus—make polling in the CNMI uniquely challenging.”

The CNMI-registered company iterates that the only polls that truly matter are election polls where the free exercise of choice is safeguarded.

About Marianas Consulting
Marianas Consulting is a strategy, government & public affairs consulting firm headquartered on the beautiful island of Saipan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, headed by Mr. Jay Solly. Jay has over 12 years of professional experience in political communications, public relations, marketing, and government arenas at the territory, state, and national level. Mr. Solly has advised, managed and worked on 26 campaigns in 14 years.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Honk if you love me

Well, thanks for the warning. I'll stay away from the Shell/Dandan and the Microl intersections from 4-6 p.m. today. If you're into traffic jams and roadside wavings here's your chance.

Heinz S. Hofschneider and Arnold I. Palacios will be up by Dandan, while Benigno R. Fitial and Eloy S. Inos are planning to be in Oleai.

Once is too much for me. My son, uh, forgot to tell me his report card was out until the last minute, so I caught the Ben and Eloy line-up last Friday.

I even waved a few times; to Eloy out of respect, and to a few friends. But I didn't want to look as silly as Manny Borja when he used to run for office: waving at every car like one of those little bobble dolls you put in a car window.

Mostly though, because I was in the right lane, I didn't even look at a lot of the faces. I was focusing on hundreds of toes creeping over the white line into my lane, hoping no one stumbled or darted out. I thought of Imelda Marcos in a parade, wondering if she stared at all of those shoes along her route.

The little feet bothered me. I really don't like roadside rallies, but, shrug, it's your choice. Please don't bring your kids, or else make them stand in the back. I was worried about hitting someone. So worried that I failed to recognize a lot of people and tensed up.

Some supporters helped keep traffic real slow by driving back and forth, stopping occasionally.

My son was suitably impressed, but 13-year-olds don't vote. I doubt that anyone is going to change their mind based on this stuff. Why, that would be as silly as sending soundtrucks out to annoy people.

I've actually seen people claim they won't vote for this or that candidate because of roadside rallies or loud music, reminding us that it's not wise to open up your mouth and prove how dumb you are. Anyone who has been paying attention knows the candidates differ on a number of issues, and they haven't been shy about pointing out those differences. They all have long records of public service.

Obviously, they also know more about campaigning than I do. Maybe the rallies are for the participants more than for the innocent by-drivers-- some kind of group-building exercise.

Whatever. I only got to talk to three teachers before the security guard locked the gate. This time I've been warned in advance.

Whose visa waiver?

Or, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Guam is looking forward to getting its share of Russian and Chinese tourists under the visa waiver program.

"Guam may be able to benefit from a similar program if the one in the CNMI proves successful, (Guam Delegate Madeleine) Bordallo and tourism officials have said," according to the Pacific Daily News.*

Uh, oh. Unfortunately for us, Guam's 'share' will probably be larger than ours. They've got the air connections and a lot more attractions. Hong Kong was just added to the list eligible for Guam waivers. It will be interesting to see how they do in that market.

Another uh, oh: "It will open up English language and educational tourism opportunities of longer duration, thereby expanding the mix and menu of teaching modules that have different time horizons," said Guam Visitors Bureau General Manager Gerry Perez.

Where have we heard this before?

Bordallo was lobbying Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano for Chinese and Russian to have Guam included in the 'parole' that was eventually approved for the Commonwealth. According to the article, she's still at it.

That may give the CNMI a very small window to get our act together before Guam is competing for the same tourists. Ah, but we've got casinos.

Well, casino. One, and it's not doing that well. A lot of plans, a few silver shovels getting scratched up in 'groundbreakings'. Don't get me wrong. I hope they work out on Tinian. I have the same hopes for Rota. I hope Saipan doesn't fall for that one.

Meanwhile, Rota leaders appear to be having second thoughts: Small-scale casino pushed on Rota.

Umm, do you mean a poker palace?

* I'd appreciate it if one of my two loyal readers lets me know when this link disappears and the article disappears into the vending-machine archives.

glass houses

To start, there is never, ever any excuse for throwing rocks at vehicles. It's criminal and it could be deadly.

With that out of the way, it would probably happen less if the rockthrowers-- and the people in the community who must have seen them in action-- thought they were getting something out of tourism.

I expect to get some statistics in response. They will probably be correct and I have no doubt of tourism's benefits. They just don't 'trickle down' directly to enough households.

Bumper cars

I fear those little white tour vans. The drivers are aggressive, unpredictable, oblivious of the law and dangerous. It's not my personality, but I've had to stop myself from chasing several of them around the island so I could.... do something (I have no idea what that would be).

Maybe they're not accountable either. There was a recent traffic case where the tour company tried to avoid liability by saying the driver was an 'independent contractor'. Isn't that more like, a taxi driver?

So yes, the tour companies have to clean up their act: a lot and quickly. Parents have to get control of their kids (or adults their inner kids). Most of all, neighborhoods are only safe if the residents are in control. Is anybody watching?

You might say I forgot to mention the police. No, I didn't.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Holes in the umbrella

Okay, Over 80 percent of guest workers to get umbrella permit, according to the Marianas Variety.

How about 'almost 20 percent of guest workers won't get umbrella permits', instead? That's a lot of slippage.

Some of those presently in the system may have already departed the Commonwealth, Deanne Siemer is supposed to have explained to the reporter. Well, that certainly makes me feel better. They're in control.

Somebody is. Siemer is described as "Labor’s part-time hearing officer" in this story; it's usually "volunteer legal adviser". Why is this part-time volunteer so often the 'spokesperson'? (It's not the newspapers' fault. Has anyone seen her business card to clear this up?)

It bothers me that the percentage is that high. Are one-in-five guest workers here illegally? Are they going to try to hang on illegally for a few more years? Maybe that many people have given up on trying to find work and just want to go home. And, yes, I'm sure some have already left.

Urban legend visas

Or maybe they're the people Jaime R. Vergara was talking about in his opinion piece Stragglers under the Commonwealth umbrella. It's a must-read for anyone in denial about the very large group of exploited workers.

Yes, they're "incredibly gullible", he says, "a docile population of foreigners exploited by their own kind, oblivious of any political rights, and reliant on fortune tellers and fast-buck schemes..."

They're about to pay for their mistakes, or pay later if they go back underground for awhile. A lucky few might find an advocate and take their exploiters down with them. The people who gamed the system will move on, looking for another scam. The people who created the system will try to rewrite history: 'Not Our Fault.'

I've still been hearing about 'tourist' and 'sponsor' schemes this year. It hasn't stopped. Vergara says "I saw copies of identical pleadings for a waiver addressed to no less than Labor’s celebrated volunteer asking that the waiver be granted to an overstaying tourist and a jobless consort so that they may be allowed time to seek other partners, apply for an Immediate Relative status, and qualify for the umbrella permit!"

According to Vergara, "Shanty dwellings with their ubiquitous satellite dishes house many aliens who expect the feds to start handing out urban legend visas come December." Sad, but I have to agree with him.

I was pulling up to YCO Hardware this morning and saw a flyer for a Black Friday Sale on Nov. 27. Wow, I thought, they really don't like the feds. Oops, the day after Thanksgiving is supposed to be the start of the Christmas shopping season. My bad, I hadn't seen anybody use it out here

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Northwest Pacific by North

I've read dozens of articles about last Tuesday's elections, and the CNMI results weren't mentioned in any of them.

That's not too surprising, I suppose, because of the national media's obsession with What It All Means to Democrats' and Republicans' chances in next year's mid-term elections. A local election involving the Republican and Covenant parties doesn't fit neatly into that narrative.

Google just fed me one exception, not news but a blog at the Center for Immigration Studies titled The Elections and Immigration Policy. David North describes the election results as "one apple, two oranges – and in the distant Western Pacific, a split coconut."

Who is this guy? I thought as I read along. He's obviously knowledgeable, very obviously opinionated and he's got some sort of grudge.' An example: "There was no Democratic candidate but there were two independent ones. These are both named Guerrero, as there seems to be a shortage of last names in the islands."

Hafa? What's that got to do with the subject? I read a previous blog, with the "Disclosure: I worked for the Clinton Administration's Department of the Interior territorial office at the height of the DeLay-Abramoff power." Oh, that David North. (There was a lot of press at the time. Some was harsher, some kinder and gentler, by the usual suspects for the usual reasons.)

It's too bad, if I could ignore the drone of axes being ground, I might agree with much of what he writes. That's tough to do.

The Center for Immigration Studies is popular with people interested in the subject. I have no idea how many of them follow his blog

They bombed in New London

Remember Suzette Kelo? She was one of the people who lost homes to a redevelopment project anchored by Pfizer Inc.

Well, the tax breaks ran out, and so did Pfizer.

The Supreme Court heard their eminent domain case about five years ago, and I remember it because it was one of those rare cases where there was public outrage across the political spectrum. 'Take the land for a road or school,' I thought at the time, 'but not to benefit a private company.'

Pfizer's research and development facility was touted as the 'anchor' of the project. It was supposed to draw hotels, condominiums, biotech office buildings, a marina, a walkway, a proposed Coast Guard Museum and public parking for the museum and the adjacent Fort Trumbull park.

From the stories I've seen, for their $78 million (or more than $80 million according to another article) they've got the parking lot. So much for the Little Pink Houses like Kelo's.

Heck, and I never thought I'd write this, Justice Clarence Thomas was right:
The Framers embodied that principle in the Constitution, allowing the government to take property not for “public necessity,” but instead for “public use.” Amdt. 5. Defying this understanding, the Court replaces the Public Use Clause with a “ ‘[P]ublic [P]urpose’ ” Clause, ante, at 9—10 (or perhaps the “Diverse and Always Evolving Needs of Society” Clause, ante, at 8 (capitalization added)), a restriction that is satisfied, the Court instructs, so long as the purpose is “legitimate” and the means “not irrational,” ante, at 17 (internal quotation marks omitted).

This deferential shift in phraseology enables the Court to hold, against all common sense, that a costly urban-renewal project whose stated purpose is a vague promise of new jobs and increased tax revenue, but which is also suspiciously agreeable to the Pfizer Corporation, is for a “public use.”
Thomas (or his clerk) was on a roll. He also said that eminent domain-fueled urban renewal often became a synonym for "negro removal".

Ah, well, nothing new. Big business teams up with government and the middle class loses.

Friday, November 13, 2009

I prefer Bloomsday *

Or, as Janis Joplin said more indelicately: "It's all the same fucking day, man."

Our gullibility is charming at times, and often funny. Enter, 2012, The Movie. I've been successfully ignoring it but finally succumbed to Burl Burlingame's debunking article Doomsday denied in the Honolulu Star Bulletin.

If you haven't been shopping for crystals lately, the Mayan calendar ends in 2012 (on our calendar). Presumably, so do we.

Was that story really necessary? Well, yes, apparently it was. Google it if you must, but there are as many references to 2012 as, uh, as there are stars you can see from our little planet. According to Burlingame, "the filmmakers have also created Web sites that pretend to be legitimately scientific, something that has real scientists somewhat annoyed."

I'd provide a couple of links, but that would just be driving traffic to those sites. My reasoning was similar when I decided not to write about Ben Stein's loopy Creationism catechisms; I stopped using the Drudge Report to follow news sources when I was reminded that I was enabling his looniness by building his numbers.

In a nice touch, one source refers to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which pretty much sums up my feelings: we're pretty insignificant, emphasize the small 'i'. Our calendars are constructs, like our languages and very much rooted to place. Our 'time' is tied to the earth's rotation period, which isn't fixed.

So I don't buy into specie-ific fixations on our little planet in a universe that is incomprehensible to us. Then again, we're tethered to it. If it goes, well, "so it goes".

Or, gee, maybe 2012 is when we finally enter the Age of Aquarius, though that sounds fishy to me.

* I happened to think of Ulysses, probably my favorite book, about 20 minutes before I found this article. Sigh, haven't read it in a century, though.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Final Countdown

The gubernatorial election? Nah, I wrote a piece about that but, after a bit of reflection (and a second opinion), I decided to hold on to it for now.

The Administration and contract workers basically agree about federal immigration, and neither will be happy come Nov. 28.

Hard to believe, but when you cut through the chatter they both think that our current workforce is permanent, while the main thrust of the immigration provisions in Public Law 110-229 is to gradually eliminate permanent immigrant (a contradiction in terms) workers in the CNMI.

I'm sympathetic to that view, but not convinced.

I recently heard Rep. Heinz S. Hofschneider say 'development is not more auto shops along Beach Road', or words to that effect. I would go further. Development is also not more hotels if you don't have the local workforce to staff the existing hotels*.

Is the local labor force large enough for existing businesses? I think not, but I do know that there is substantial unemployment among resident and contract workers. If I were a cynic, I'd think someone is trying to keep wages low.

A lot of kids will be graduating in the next five years. It's time to pay more than lip service to preparing them for jobs in the economy. If (gasp) more than minimum wage is offered, some residents will return to the CNMI. It's hard to see how a 'soft landing' can be managed during the transition, but it can certainly be made softer.

A little sophistry, please

The Department of Homeland Security has been criticized for not soliciting comments and, almost in the next breath criticized because they're asking for suggestions on how best to manage drawing down the number of Commonwealth-only 'CW' workers. 'They don't have a plan.' Okay, what's your plan?

'How about a CNMI-only H-2 style visa?' former Chamber of Commerce President Jim Arenovski is is supposed to have asked. Well, the reporter caught it: H visas are for temporary workers. (The emphasis is mine.)

The Chamber is also supposed to have bemoaned the fact that no representative of the U.S. Department of Labor was there to explain the 'CW' visas. DHS has the authority and delegates determination of prevailing wages, eligibility and enforcement for most of the lettered visas to DOL. As far as I can tell, that does not include 'CW' visas, which makes sense because eligibility is based on CNMI labor permits.

Local control? Well, that might have been possible following U.S. laws if the suggestion had been made last year during the comment period on this final rule. It included the CNMI in the definition of U.S. effective on the date of DHS assuming immigration control and included this language:
Sec. 655.2 Territory of Guam.

Subpart A of this part does not apply to temporary employment in the Territory of Guam, and the Department of Labor (Department or DOL) does not certify to the USCIS of DHS the temporary employment of nonimmigrant foreign workers under H-2B visas, or enforce compliance with the provisions of the H-2B visa program provisions in the Territory of Guam. Pursuant to DHS regulations, 8 CFR 214.2(h)(6)(v) administration of the H-2B temporary labor certification program is performed by the Governor of Guam, or the Governor's designated representative.
Ah, temporary employment again. We're back to that. U.S. law will not allow us to have permanent immigrant workers after the transition period. The Congress can change that, DHS can't. The District Court in Washington, D.C. could delay implementation, but not change the law. I'm just a lowly layman, but I think the Governor is lucky we probably won't know the results of his lawsuit until after the runoff election.

Non-residents who have been here five, ten or even twenty years say it's unfair that they can't get a pathway to citizenship. I can't argue with that, but again it's up to the U.S. Congress. If enough residents and, particularly, their leaders join with them it could probably be accomplished.

I haven't talked to Greg Cruz, but I've met members of Taotao Tano. I may not always agree with them, but it's easy to understand their anger, their rage in some cases. This government has failed them, unless they get a shot at the brass ring: one of the disappearing government jobs. In cold, economic terms, it's often smarter to collect food stamps and other federal benefits than to work for the local minimum wage. You couldn't do much better if you were trying to create a permanent welfare underclass.

But at least you get those benefits, residents are told, you're U.S. citizens. Why does that remind me of what poor white sharecroppers were told in the antebellum South: 'at least you're not black.' Their anger, and that of others who aren't part of the group, is unfocused.

Sometimes it is aimed at past leaders, sometimes at businesses and sometimes at the contract workers. People with long memories might consider the Commonwealth Bank. It slipped through the door opened when the Bank of Saipan wangled weakened laws and regulations. A lot of people lost their savings. Contract workers came through a door; they were invited to work here. The small business owners who will be forced out eventually under U.S. foreign investment regulations were following existing regulations: a door. It's not their fault.

The Commonwealth was given local control so it could protect local workers and their culture. The result was massive numbers of factory workers who diluted the culture and strained the infrastructure. But the factory owners got greedy. Not only did they exploit their workers-- and I'm cynical enough to admit that might not have done it in itself-- but they grew too large and began threatening U.S. factories and jobs. Compounding their error, they delayed federalization through lobbying. When the political tide turned, and it always does, it was personal for a lot of Congressmen and Senators and not just political any more.

So we've got U.S. Immigration come Nov. 28, and it's not going away. If the 'CW' jobs are permanent, as the Administration, the Chamber and the contract workers seem to think, they'd better find a solution under U.S. law.

Guess what? The only realistic solution I can see is legislation, probably to offer U.S. citizenship. The next Governor is going to have to deal with reality instead of continuing this wishful thinking and foot-dragging. There is a five-year window of opportunity, though it is going to get smaller every year.

But what if the non-residents get citizenship and decide to go elsewhere? Well, I think the workers and Taotao Tano could live with that. They're really in this together, though they might not see that. Some workers would stay, no matter what. They've put down roots. Others would stay if they're given a little incentive. Here's a hint: offer more that the minimum wage. Think about it; there's still time. Tick, tick.

* Or do we? Hafa Adai Hotel lays off workers blares a headline in today's Marianas Variety. Several hotels have had some workers on 32 hour weeks for at least a couple of years now.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Eve of distraction

Jay Solly seems to know a bit about marketing.

His shamelessly self-promoting CNMI gubernatorial 'poll' landed him on the front page of the Friday Marianas Variety and the election-day Saipan Tribune.

Not bad for a young guy who seems to be looking for a job. Unintended consequences kick in, of course.

He reportedly used his 'significant other's' (gad I hate that term) phone to survey voters. Well, not hers exactly. According to the Tribune, it's a residential phone but it belongs to Bridge Capital LLC *. They fired her, "for improper use of company resources." A company whose unrelenting campaign for gambling on Saipan has been controversial doesn't need a pissed-off Governor.

And he was pissed, or at least his minions were. That's easy to understand. Who needs to get blind-sided the day before the election by a poll showing the incumbent is in third place? The obvious --and legitimate-- questions were asked: who is this guy and who does he work for?

So Solly

So they called Bridge Capital, who quickly cut their losses... and their payroll. Pressure from the Governor's Office? I have no idea, but there's no crying in Public Relations. It seems like a move they would make with or without pressure. But Jay and the SO (girlfriend) are victims now. Stay tuned. We need two jobs now.

Who does he work for? There's nothing obvious to go by. Personally I think he free-lanced this, but time will tell. Stay tuned. With due diligence, the Governor's people checked out Marianas Consulting on the internet, and only got, evidently some consultants in Toronto. Nay, says Solly, it's, which is true enough. He bought that domain name on October 26, but it's not functioning yet. The Website Title is 404 Not Found. **

Haidee V. Eugenio writes that the Tribune got Solly's Press Release Friday. I suppose he was trying to maximize coverage in both papers. He puts a brave face on it, but I don't think this is the story he expected to read.

And the voters say

Solly claims that his methods are sound, but the numbers don't add up to me-- figuratively and literally. My "Pala-Pala Poll" shows the Governor ahead of Juan Guerrero, with more than 20 percent of the vote. I guess we'll know tonight.

I could comment on the poll's design if I knew more about it. I was looking for his Press Release or other information when I tried to track down the Marianas Consulting website. Big assumption here, but if they only called landlines they would get a skewed view of the population. A lot of people only have cell phones these days, particularly younger people. Also, in this political climate, I would expect some people to hold their cards pretty close when talking to an anonymous voice on the phone.

Survey questions have to be designed very carefully. For instance, 'Do you think the Commonwealth is headed in the wrong direction?' would be leading. 'In which direction is the Commonwealth headed?' with choices would get a better result.

Then again, at least he tried, and he's sure poked himself into the public eye.

* Mo' marketing: Bridge Capital got in its own public relations licks with the irrelevant "Since June this year, the company has donated nearly $25,000 to the CNMI community."

** The WHO IS pointed at instead of just There's a little more information at the site, but the Press Release he posted has less information than what was provided to the local papers. I got through once. The connection has 'timed out' every other time I tried.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Hafa da' Haole?

Every time I hear about the "haole vote" I start to laugh. We're the fifth wheel of CNMI politics: almost irrelevant.

Haole is used here to mean 'someone from the States', which is not exactly what the Hawaiians originally meant. It's close enough, and that's the local usage, so I'll follow. I'll even answer to it if we're just funning.

Some politicians here never use the word. Political correctness I suppose, and I can cautiously like a sensitive guy or gal. Others don't say haole because the tone might give them away: a "haole hater", and we can't have that. Most fall in the middle and use the word. You have to read that tone, that body language and yeah there are a few adjectives that might tip you off too.

But what if he doesn't like me? Seriously? Show of hands... how many people obsess over that once they get out of primary school? Get over it. I've voted for a few haole haters; they were the best candidates.

Which nicely brings me back to the point. A couple of people who would gladly see me pack up my carpetbag have bailed me out when I had car problems. They were friendly and helpful: nothing personal.

Cue laugh track

Each of the four gubernatorial candidates has haole supporters. 'He's really very nice in person', they tell me. Really? Charming and running for office? How refreshing, he's got my vote. Yes, it's important to meet the candidates, but really. (I actually hadn't met Heinz Hofschneider until last week. We both thought that was odd. The meeting was for haoles who hadn't made up their minds and fancy themselves independent. I guess I qualified, barely.)

In the end, I expect the 'haole vote' to run pretty much the same as the overall vote, for many of the same reasons. Some have a job or expect to get a job. (No promises, understand, because all three challengers say they just won't work that way.):

Quite a few long-timers will vote for a friend or their spouse's relative-- not familia, mind you, but they just really know this candidate. Some are just too lazy to actually do a little homework.

Because, really, the four candidates have been around for a long time. They have records, and there are skeletons out there. It's easy to ask around, or Search through the files of the Marianas Variety and the Saipan Tribune. Federalization is a wild card. That aside, it's a mystery to me why the haoles will split their vote like everyone else.

They will.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Slouching towards federalization

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

It was probably inevitable: all of this apocalyptic talk about immigration made me think of Yeats' Second Coming. With the federal 'takeover' on Nov. 28 just three weeks after Saturday's election, Gov. Benigno R. Fitial continues to run against Washington. His opponents seem content to let it be BE on this subject, at least in the media.

Large businesses have consistently voiced their objections and are likely to comment on the Transitional (CW) Worker Regulations. But those regulations are likely to go into effect as scheduled, unless the Governor's lawyers can pull a rabbit out of their hat.

Unlikely allies

Now, some contract workers are having second thoughts. According to the Marianas Variety, many left a Department of Homeland Security 'forum' on the regulations "with unanswered questions and mounting uncertainty."

Apparently they're shocked that DHS is just following Public Law 110–229, and not adding any provisions. DHS does have the leeway to "phase in the U.S. federal immigration system in a manner that minimizes adverse economic and fiscal effects and maximizes the CNMI’s potential for future economic and business growth." They exercised that discretion in agreeing to add visa waivers for Chinese and Russians.

So, with a specific showing of economic harm from the CW regs, who knows? Not likely, is it? District Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services David Gulick is quoted as saying they haven’t determined yet how to reduce the numbers of guest workers in the CNMI.

But there is no doubt those numbers will be reduced. The bill and the regulations require that workers "who would not otherwise be eligible for admission" under applicable provisions of the Immigration and Naturalization Act find another status or leave the U.S. before Jan. 1, 2015.

What happens Nov. 28? Not the Rapture some doomsayers predict; guest workers will remain. Not the Workers' Paradise some starry-eyed optimists have predicted despite evidence to the contrary. In the short term, everything will continue as before. We'll just have a new set of friendly faces greeting us at ports of entry.

Velvet handcuffs

According to the Variety "Gulick’s main message to the migrants and their employers: CNMI-issued labor or umbrella permits are not legally recognized to allow one to reenter the commonwealth or resume work after leaving the islands for whatever reasons."

The golden umbrella becomes velvet handcuffs: USCIS won't hunt you down, but you can't leave and come back without having a status approved by them.

Time for another creative solution like the visa waiver, according to the Governor. "It doesn’t make sense for them to be restricting the travels of the workers," he says.

Well, actually it does. Anyone who is currently in the CNMI has been cleared by the local government, not the feds. It's no surprise, to me at least, that DHS wants to have investors, CW's and all other categories go through the visa process. To them, it's the same as entering for the first time.

That's the short-term. Down the road, well, how do you interpret the poem?

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Monday, November 2, 2009

CUC's penalty phase

The Commonwealth Utilities Corporation *may* be facing $630,000 in penalties from the Environmental Protection Agency. Quick, who didn't see this coming?

I use the word may because the Saipan Tribune is incredibly vague about its source. "In a Sept. 30, 2009 conference with EPA, it was disclosed that that the United States is seriously concerned with CUC's lack of compliance with many important provisions in stipulated orders 1 and 2," the article says. We'll just have to assume a letter or report on the conference is being referenced, because the article is full of 'EPA said'(s).

According to the story "There are a total of 13 provisions that were not met by CUC under the two stipulated orders. EPA described the actions as “alarming.”"

At the time they were reported, I thought that 'Stipulated Order Number One' and 'Stipulated Order Number Two' amounted to de facto federalization of CUC. (Sorry, I couldn't find links to the orders at the U.S. Department of Justice, the Northern Marianas District Court or the EPA.)

The CNMI had been stalling EPA for years, so I was optimistic when Gov. Benigno R. Fitial reportedly said he agreed to the stipulations because "We decided to fix the problem instead."

Then, in June, CUC Deputy Director Bruce Megarr told the Public Utilities and Infrastructure Committee the utility was unlikely to meet EPA deadlines. Uh, oh. Here we go again.

The timing is interesting, because the Governor 'owns' CUC's problems after endless Emergency Declarations.


I was looking in all the wrong places. The Saipan Chamber of Commerce has a treasure trove of Public Utilities Commission documents available for download. They include Stipulated Order Number One and Stipulated Order Number Two.

An October 16, 2009 letter signed by EPA Project Coordinator Michael Lee and On-Scene Coordinator Michelle Rogow seems to be the source for the Tribune article.

(Time to rewrite this, but I'm out of time. Also, I may have to rethink my opinion that the Chamber just isn't relevant to small business owners.)