Sunday, January 28, 2007

14. Courage from the Pulpit

The times, they are a'changin'. Wow! Today was the kick-off for Catholic Schools Week. All of the Mount Carmel Students had to wear their uniforms and attend the morning Mass in their respective churches. About three dozen came to San Vicente Church.

I've witnessed the beginning of Catholic Schools Week as a parishoner for many years. The usual sermon tells us how wonderful a Catholic education is and urges all parents to send their children to Catholic school. I've heard this sermon from Father Roger and Father Manny. I enrolled my seventh grader in Mount Carmel this year, for the first time. So I was expecting, and possibly loooking forward to, the preening by the students and praise from the pulpit for our beautiful children.

Father Charlie Borja is one brave, and truly Christian, priest. He did the unexpected. He spoke to the children instead of their parents, and he cautioned them against thinking they're better than the kids who go to public schools. Period. The gospel told of the rejection of Jesus because he was just the son of Joseph, a poor carpenter. Father Charlie said it's not for us to reject others based on wealth or poverty, ethnicity or appearance, education or vocation. He didn't dilute his message by giving any reasons why parents should send children to Catholic schools.

It was Mass for the kick-off of Catholic Schools Week and there was no advertising for the Catholic school--except that for the first time, a parish priest let his actions (not just his words) speak the gospel. It was pretty wonderful.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

13. Sold Out

When you live on a remote island, you get used to limited quantites. When Christmas trees arrive, you buy as soon as you can, because later (usually by 12/10) they'll be gone and no more will be arriving. If you thought that surplus of turkeys at Thanksgiving would mean you'd be able to buy one for Christmas, you'd be wrong. If you buy a desktop printer in the states, don't be surprised if you can't get ink for it in Saipan. And just because you could get (fill in the blank) last week, doesn't mean you'll be able to buy it today.

Goods that are shipped in are limited quantity commodities--and they sell out. I've been here more than 20 years, and I'm used to this aspect of life. But I wasn't prepared for Friday night's news. I, with daughter in tow, planned on watching "In Transit," the live-theatre performance of original monologues hosted by Marianas Voices. We were told that this theatre, drama, live performance--in Saipan--was sold out!

Saipan has changed a lot in the 20 years I've been here. I wasn't aware of any live theatre then. Thanks to Friends of the Arts, we soon had small productions by determined actors and actresses, but few patrons. The crowds have gotten larger, and most productions now draw reasonable crowds. Mount Carmel School's theatre productions also draw a good crowd (but parents and family come to see their children perform, so there's a customary obligation and natural expectation that there will be an audience).

Theatre, written by people living in Saipan, is much more experimental. Who could predict a sell-out crowd? Friday, we couldn't get in, even when they added chairs and had "standing room only." Saturday, we got tickets, but saw others turned away. It's a phenomenon!

What is truly amazing about this event is that the writers-performers included people from a variety of backgrounds--a Chamorro, a couple of Carolinians, a couple of Chinese, a Filippina, some Americans and some exotic folks whose ethnicities weren't immediately ascertainable. Ages ranged over several decades. The audience was similarly mixed.

And the performances were interesting, thought-provoking, humorous, dramatic, scary, sad, poignant and beautiful.

Wow! It's an interesting time to be in Saipan.

Friday, January 26, 2007

12. Who is beautiful?

I came across this You Tube link in the comments trail at PubRants.


I've watched it several times. A nice-looking woman gets make-up, gets photographed, and then the photograph is "photoshopped." And the end result looks similar to an anime character. Is this woman more beautiful than the original? Certainly, advertisers must think so. Perhaps I do, too, and that makes me feel guilty.

I've known some people who I thought, upon first meeting them, were ugly. Two people in particular come to mind, one a man, and one a woman. I met them at different times in my life. The guy was tall and gangly, with thin hair and freckles and a lop-sided face. The woman was also tall, but overweight, with straggly hair, a pushed in face and bad teeth.

And as I got to know each person, my perception of each changed. I think the man is handsome now. He hasn't changed, but I know him to be smart,honest, hard-working, and ethical-minded. I like the woman, too, and I can't find what I once thought was ugly anymore. She is smart and funny and kind. Both are incredibly generous.

So I think I'm wrong on my assessments of beauty in the first instance. It isn't that beauty is skin-deep. Beauty is informed by knowledge.

And we can't get that in a photograph. So instead, advertisers are giving us the fake goods.

How can a lie convey beauty? "Photoshopping" digital pictures takes away what is real. We get a substituted version of womankind. A fake version. And it's sold as beautiful. The subtle message is that reality is less appealing.

Why do we need to elongate the neck and plump the lips and add more space between eyes and eyebrows? Perhaps if the original photo included a quote from the woman, or a quick glimpse of her real self, she would be more beautiful than the fake version. We'd "know" her a little, and see her beauty.

There are a lot of beautiful people around us. But we're not recognizing the beauty, because we're looking for the fake "photoshopped" image that doesn't exist.

And we're missing out on truth and beauty.

Fortunately, there are some good ideas on the Dove CampaignforRealBeauty to help educate our youth. The ideas are aimed at girls, to help with self-esteem. I think we need some education for the boys, too.

11. What $1.2Trillion Can buy.

Sorry for the link "problem" in my earlier posting about Foolish Spending.

Basically the article provides a handle for analyzing huge dollar amounts in proposed budgets by comparing what can be bought.

We could double cancer research, fund medicine for diabetics and heart disease sufferers, have a global immunization campaign, provide universal pre-school for all 3 and 4 year olds in America, reconstruct New Orleans, implement the recommendations of the 911 commission, send more military help to Afghanistan and provide peace-keeping troops in Darfur.

Or we can fund the war in Iraq.

It's worth registering to read the whole article.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

10. On Literary Agents, Editors--and Writers

What to look for in an Agent: Someone who knows how to get the most from editors. Check this out! (Beverage alert!)

Paperback Writer: The Last Samurai Agent

Now--Another important link today--HugAWriter

Yup--January 24 is Hug A Writer Day. So anyone can come up to me and I'll take the hugs--today only. (I'm not very touchy-feely, so this is a once a year deal with me!)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

9. Awards Time-YAY!

I love January for all of the awards. Here's a link to the 2007 winners from the American Library Association (juvenile literature).


These include the latest Newbery winner and honor books, the Caldecott medalists and more. I'm looking forward to reading the ones I missed (and this year, I missed a lot).

8. Sentencing the Crime Committed or the Crime Charged?

Judge Govendo issued his sentences today to Edward Frank Cabrera and Jenny Luo. Each got 5 years jail, with 2 years suspended and 3 years to be served without possibility of parole. They were also sentenced to similar terms on other counts, but all actual jail terms are served "concurrently," meaning at the same time. Each will be on probation at the end of the sentence, and one of the probation sentences is consecutive, so the probation term is a total of 7 1/2 years after they get out of jail. Each was fined $8,000. Mr. Cabrera's business license for his nightclub, karaoke, massage enterprise was revoked and permanently barred. Ms. Luo's entry permit to the CNMI was revoked and she is permanently barred from re-entry. She will likely be deported immediately upon conclusion of her jail (so the probation term for her is meaningless.)

The sentences are consistent with the probation report. They seem reasonable when you look in the abstract at the crimes for which each Defendant was found guilty--permitting prostitution, promoting prostitution, immigration fraud.

However, I can't help but feel the sentences miss the mark.

Two women were deceived into believing they had legitimate jobs in the CNMI, and then were forced to be prostitutes. One was repeatedly raped over her protests. All at the hands of, arranged for and with money collected by, these two defendants.

Three years jail doesn't seem long enough. Not even to me, a liberal do-gooder who is opposed to the "tough on crime" agendas of some politicians.

Monday, January 22, 2007

7. As in 2007--Nominees for Best Mystery, that is the Edgar Award

I love to read mysteries.

Here's what garnered kudos from the premier mystery writers (and fans) of America (and possibly the world).


Check out the titles. Enjoy.

6. Foolish Spending

January is a good time to reconsider personal finances. The holiday spending is over (hopefully) and it's time to get a grasp of income and outflow. Make a better plan for a child's future college years. Or retirement (as if!). I didn't bounce any checks this holiday season, but I have a little bubble on my credit card I want to deflate. Time to eat in and enjoy the library.

It doesn't seem particularly difficult to me to live within a budget. I'm always surprised by those who get caught up in debt from their own foolish mistakes. (Totally different than those who get side-swiped by life-sudden emergencies from illness, accident, natural disaster--those can be devestating.)

It happens at more than the personal level, though. Consider CUC. According to the DOI-2006SummerInternReport , the CNMI's CUC is second only to the Virgin Islands in high utility rates. Our customer cost is more than in American Samoa, Tahiti, Vanuatu, Cook Islands, Hawaii, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Samoa, Guam, FSM, Marshall Islands, Palau, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and the U.S. Despite the high rates, though, our CUC is in an economic crisis because of inefficiencies in its operations.

How did this happen? And why aren't we fixing it now? I think we need leadership and help.

And as much as I favor the U.S. federalization of minimum wage and immigration, I'm not sure we can reliably trust the U.S. for leadership and fiscal responsibility.


Amazing what we've allowed to happen (in the name of God and love of country). Time to re-examine what's important and how we want to spend our money.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

5. Red Heart Massage

In September 2005, Edward C. Cabrera returned to Saipan with two women from the Philippines, who came in on tourist entry permits. Jenny Luo picked up the trio of arrivals in a taxicab with Ed Cabrera's name on the door. Mr. Cabrera and Ms. Luo took the women to Mr. Cabrera's business, the Red Heart Massage, gave each a room, and then brought men to them for sex.

One of the women came to Saipan believing she would work as a waitress, the other as a legitimate masseuse. Over the next few weeks, the women were usually kept locked in the room, with men brought to them for sex. When the women cried or begged to go back to the Philippines rather than do this "work," Jenny told them they owed Mr. Cabrera and the business and had to pay back their debts.

Eventually they escaped. On September 25, 2005, Mr. Cabrera and Ms. Luo were arrested and charged with assisting illegal entry, promoting prostitution and other similar charges.

They were not charged with aiding and abetting rape. There were not charged as sex traffickers. No charges of involuntary servitude were placed against them. All charges were made in the CNMI Superior Court and no federal charges were brought against either Edward Cabrera or Jenny Luo.

In August 2006, Judge Govendo found Mr. Cabrera and Ms. Luo guilty of most of the charges.

On Friday, January 19, 2007, I watched the attorneys for the government and the defendants argue their cases about the sentencing.

Kevin Lynch, Assistant Attorney General, spoke about the seriousness of the crimes and the harm to the victims and to the CNMI. He asked for the judge to make the sentences run concurrently--meaning one after the other, to lengthen the time in jail, because the statutory maximum for each count wasn't very high. He asked the court for more jail time(12 years) than recommended by the Probation report (3 to 5 years). Kevin also asked for a hefty fine and sanctions that included relinquishment and denial of business licenses to each.

Joseph Arriola and Robert Torres argued for their clients, Edward Cabrera and Jenny Luo respectively. Joey asked for probation, arguing primarily that Mr. Cabrera has a minor son who needs his attention. Judge Govendo said all criminal defendants with children could make this argument--what would that mean for enforcing the laws of the CNMI?

Rob asked for no greater sentence than the probation report recommendation. He sought leniency for his client, who had many years ago, also been a rape victim. His argument blamed the victims, the women tricked and forced into prostitution, because they had willingly come to Saipan as tourists hoping to work after they got here.

Kevin pointed out that Ms. Luo's victimization, while creating her own private pain, did not excuse her compliance with the laws of the CNMI. As he said, we all have our own private niches of pain, but our pain doesn't give us license to break the law. Ms. Luo, of all people, should have realized from her own experience how traumatic and victimized these two women would be by the forced prostitution, their repeated rapes.

Mr. Cabrera seemed scared at the sentencing. He was too choked up to speak when given an opportunity first.

Ms. Luo spoke instead, a lengthy diatribe in Chinese, translated quietly and professionally. The translation could not disguise Ms. Luo's lack of remorse--Ms. Luo said that she was trying to be a good wife to Mr. Cabrera. He had this business and she worked in it as the manager, did what he said. She saw nothing wrong with that. She openly blamed the women that she forced into prostitution and said that they cheated her, that she lost money on this whole venture, that all she wants to do is make a living, "survive."

When Mr. Cabrera was again given a chance to speak, after Ms. Luo, all he said was "sorry." As with all criminal defendants who apologize, it wasn't clear if he regretted his criminal conduct and immoral exploitation of people poorer and more desperate than himself, or if he just regretted getting caught.

I don't know what sentence Judge Govendo will give.

But I hope it's commensurate with the crime.

I think Mr. Edward Cabrera and Ms. Jenny Luo are slavers, creating / adding to female sexual slavery here in the CNMI. And I think we should all be outraged by their conduct.

Young women in the Philippines who mistakenly think they can come in as tourists and then get jobs violate our immigration laws with their tourist entries, but these actions are only illegal because of our laws, not because they are inherently wrong.

In contrast, Mr. Cabrera and Ms. Luo exploited and enslaved two young women for their own financial greed. Mr. Cabrera's and Ms. Luo's actions are morally repugnant.

I'm glad the CNMI finally caught and charged the employers who exploited these workers. I hope the CNMI and the U.S. will take a more active role in prosecuting any and all similar conduct.

4. The Grotto Monorail

Do you oppose the monorail proposed for The Grotto? Sign here.

3. Return to the edge of paradise

P.F. Kluge is in Saipan. He's an author with a commendable history. WikipediaonKluge I've heard of Fred for years. I've read The Edge of Paradise (touching and true and so Micronesian). Having learned late last year about his probable visit this month, I borrowed Biggest Elvis to read before he came. And I made sure that this time, I would meet Fred in person. My purpose--glean some pearls of wisdom about becoming a successful (i.e. published) WRITER.

Fred was charming. I already knew he'd be intelligent. And he's in Saipan, heading to Palau later this month, to soak up the most current tempo, the threads and chatter and beat that throbs under the crash of waves on the beach and beyond the sirena through the trees. So clearly, lesson number 1 for a writer is be there, pay attention, observe.

I was hoping for more specifics. Fred is between agents and having a tough time getting a new one (or one he wants). This is disheartening news. I'm hoping to get an agent for my novels (two now). Somehow it seems that an author who can score a book blurb from Martin Scorsese should not have "trouble getting an agent" stories to tell.

As we chatted, I found myself giving more information than I got--the names of writing blogs I like, details about life in Saipan, opinions on political issues. Fred is a master interviewer. And so I inadvertantly hit upon that second important writing lesson, which is a whole lot like the first one. Ask and listen, but say less.

Really. I should already have known that.

Did I catch any new tidbits about the personal writing habits of a "real" author? Well, at least this--P. F. Kluge doesn't read novels while he's writing.

Perhaps he just wanted to head off any possibility that I would ask him to read my manuscripts!

Oh well.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

2. Tsunami

I left the office about 5 PM and planned on stopping at Dolphin's on the way home for some necessaries. But when I got there, the store was closed, with typhoon shutters over the front window and the lights off inside. Strange for a Saturday afternoon.

I headed up the road and stopped at Joeten Dandan instead. The store was a hive of activity and I had to wait in line behind 4 people. While I waited another 5 or 6 people lined up behind me. A man in front of me joked how they were all buying beer and water. Obviously down to his last spare change, he had 4 beers and 2 small bottles of water. The woman directly in front of me had similar items. I was too tired to give it any thought.

I took my bag of purchases out to my pick-up truck and saw two lanes of traffic, bumper to bumper lined up from the light at the Shell station westward past the Joeten parking lot. What was going on?

I chatted briefly with Presc Tenorio, who'd been shopping in her family's store and learned there was a tsunami warning. Okay. Now it made sense.

It was almost 6 PM by the time I drove past San Vicente Church. The parking lot was jammed. And next door, the land fronting the Kumoi family house had been turned into a free-for-all parking/camping/picnicking area. Cars were parked at angles and trunks were opened, people were hanging out, eating their dinners and chatting.

The road was still crowded with cars as people looked for anywhere to pull over, now that they had reached higher ground.

And for a moment I had a twinge of fear, hoping my daughter would be home safe and sound, feeling the separation as if a tsunami was crashing into me at that very moment.

Darling daughter sat at her computer, not a worry.

I telephoned a friend living in the Golfcourse area (Chalan Laulau). She knew about the tsunami warning, laughed at the hysteria, said an EMO guy had his government car parked next door doing nothing-no warnings, nothing. If the tsunami was going to hit, it would arrive between 6 and 7 PM. Meaning right then. She laughed again.

Later, I dropped my daughter for plans with a friend, back down near the beach, in San Antonio. The radio stations all played music and there was no more information about the warning. I headed a little north and went walking along the beach path, watching the ocean for any signs of tsunami. The lights on the path were not turned on. In an hour of walking, I saw only two bicyclists and one jogger on the path. Along the way, all but one of the pala-palas were empty and dark, and the one with lights had only a few guys hanging out drinking.

Along the horizon five big ships lurked, silent and unmoving. About a half dozen fishermen swam inside the reef in the lagoon and some near the shore, their dangke flashing on and off as they signaled each other or speared fish.

No rush of water. Only a steady cool breeze from the East.


Saturday, January 13, 2007

1. On federalizing labor and immigration in the CNMI

Writing about the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands' political relationship with the U.S. is a little like walking across a field planted with land mines. There's no really safe place to step.

And opnions can cause explosions.

But since it's important to think about these issues and we have to get across the field, here are some of my thoughts on the subject at the moment.

The CNMI is a territory of the U.S. (And yes, I know that the Territorial Clause of the U.S. Constitution does not apply to the CNMI.) According to the Covenant (a/k/a P.L. 94-241), we (the CNMI) are under the sovereignty of the U.S.

So we deal with the federal government through the Department of Interior.

David Cohen of Interior urges the people of the CNMI to speak with one voice about the current issues. Those issues include applying the U.S. minimum wage laws to the CNMI and having the U.S. take over immigration, which is currently under local control.

Our Governor (Benigno Fitial), joined by a collection of business organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and the Garment Manufacturers Association, and backed by a letter from the leadership of each house of the CNMI local legislature, has informed White House Chief of Staff that the people of the CNMI oppose federalization of minimum wage and U.S. immigration control here.

I think that position paper misrepresents the "voice" of the people.

Most of the people of the CNMI are ready for change, no matter how rocky the immediate future may be due to it.

I say this based on a variety of sources--the NMC study that showed a majority of businesses thought minimum wage should be raised; the man in the street interviews published in the local newspapers; the results of Saipan Tribune's online poll and my own conversations with a variety of people here.

I personally do not want the CNMI to spend one cent of its very limited budget on a lobbyist to fight against U.S. minimum wage protections for CNMI workers. Or to take a position against federalization.

Most people who live and work in the CNMI want a higher minimum wage than what we have now, which is just $3.05 per hour. Paying this low minimum wage may be legal here, but it is immoral.

People, even hard-working fully-employed people, are kept in poverty by the low minimum wage. And jobs here, no matter how skilled or unskilled the work may be, usually pay minimum wage because we have very few labor unions and an open door to foreign workers, who are willing to accept these low salaries.

This is an old problem. The CNMI has had years to fix it.

When I arrived in 1984, there was a strong feeling that the availability of cheap foreign labor was undercutting fair wages for local workers. There was a call for a moratorium on foreign labor permits. Then-Governor Pedro P. Tenorio agreed to the moratorium, but the date for implementation was delayed again and again, and no moratorium ever happened.

For the first 18 years of my life here, I had faith in the CNMI government to fix the problems of labor and immigration, or at least address them sympathetically, even as I watched one failed attempt after another. I am no fan of U.S. immigration. I love the CNMI.

But the failure of the most liberal and policy-oriented (as opposed to politics-oriented) administration (Governor Juan N. Babauta's) to succeed, despite efforts, convinced me that no locally controlled government could fix our problems. Former Governor Babauta extended the federal minimum wage to all workers employed on government contracts, without legislative support. The legislature never stepped up to help, and that action was immediately rescinded when our new governor took office. Our local government cannot fix these problems because the influence of the business sector (and elected leaders' own business interests) are sufficiently strong to suffocate efforts to raise the minimum wage.

Of course businesses in the CNMI do not want to pay more money to the men and women who labor in their employ. Higher labor costs would cut into their profits. This is not unique to the CNMI and is the same argument made in the U.S. by some.

The prediction that application of U.S. minimum wage standards will cause all to end in an unworkable, failed economy is the same prediction made when minimum wage laws were first enacted, when child labor laws were enacted, when the 40 hour work week became law, when overtime pay was required. These predictions have been made here, and also in the mainland. Why do we give credence to these predictions when the past has shown them to be false?

While the U.S. is moving ahead to raise minimum wages, the CNMI continues to resist. There is no sign that the CNMI is capable of fixing our labor structure to be fair and equitable to both workers and business owners.

And the opposition to increasing the minimum wage ignores the benefits that higher wages will bring. People earning more money will have more disposable income to spend, stimulating the economy. Higher wages will also stimulate a healthy work ethic among the local population of the CNMI. It's hard to want to go to work for $3.05 an hour.

Those with marginal businesses may in fact fail with the adoption of a higher minimum wage. But not all of the businesses in the CNMI are marginal. A positive effect of the failure of marginal businesses is that it gives more room for thriving businesses to develop and grow.

Another positive benefit from the loss of marginal businesses stems from the problem they pose on a different front: many operate to offer only immigration benefits for their relatives from foreign countries. We are a small island community. The population has expanded more rapidly than we can handle. The failure of marginal businesses won't hurt, and it will help, to prevent the continuing influx of foreign workers into the CNMI. And the continuing outflow of money paid to them, which is sent to their families in foreign countries rather than being spent in the local economy.

Business owners here are entitled to a fair profit, but if the only way they can make a profit is to exploit the labor of others, then that profit is no longer fair. And we do not need an economy built on exploitation. It isn't healthy for anyone.

Cheap foreign labor is available in the CNMI only because our elected representatives have continued an immigration system that imposes little control and no protection to the local population. And even less protection to the large numbers of foreign workers who come here, without any means of becoming permanent residents.

Our "cheap" foreign labor has come with a very high cost that has hurt the CNMI. As Mr. Cohen points out, our reputation is in tatters. We are viewed by those in the U.S. who know about us as the worst of slave traders and exploiters.

So now, we have more foreign laborers in the CNMI than we have indigenous or U.S. citizens. And that means we have a majority of the population here excluded from the political process.

The purpose of the Covenant provision keeping control over immigration in the hands of the CNMI was so that we could better protect this small island community from the influx of immigrants. But the CNMI has not handled immigration well. It has not protected our resources from the demand of a rapidly expanding population. It has not protected our economy from Third World practices and a worsening slump. It has not protected our indigenous people from becoming disadvantaged minorities in the CNMI. No wonder so many people here are saying goodbye to their sons and daughters who seek better jobs in Guam and the 50 states.

U.S. control over immigration would have done, and will in the future do, a better job.

But we do have concerns about federalization. We want to make sure that we keep benefits like Supplemental Security Income (Title XVI benefits under the Social Security Act) available here. The CNMI, like the District of Columbia, is part of the U.S. for purposes of these benefits--we don't want that to change. We'll need to figure out how federal take-over of immigration impacts our own food stamp program (if at all). And other CNMI-US political relationship issues will arise. That's why we need a voting delegate in the U.S. Congress. Right now, we have only a non-voting representative who cannot introduce legislation and is little more than an elected (and underpaid) lobbyist.

If we are to speak with one voice, I think the message should be:
1. Yes to U.S. minimum wage, extended in increments. We are the U.S., too, and our people deserve to share in the values and economic progress of all Americans.

2. Yes to federal take-over of immigration. We can retain the wonderful cultures of our indigenous people and still be part of the U.S. We are no less capable than Guam or any place else in the U.S. of adapting to the federal system of shared power.

3. Yes to a delegate in Congress. We have value. Our opinions count. We should be heard in the U.S. Congress.