Saturday, May 31, 2008

241. Movie Review-CAESAR

I've posted a brief movie review of CAESAR on the Troupe 88799 blog (along with photos of the student induction).

Last showing is tonight, SATURDAY, May 31, 2008 at 7 PM at the AMP Visitors' Center.

240. Photos-SSHS Manta Band

I'm very late posting these. The concert at Aqua Resort was delightful.

There was a lot of variety, from march to swing.

I'm sure the Manta Band members who are going to the Olympics in Beijing are very excited. Although the group traveling is small and select, every student in the Band is an asset to the group. If you get a chance to hear them play, I encourage you to take it!

Friday, May 30, 2008

239. Taking a Moment to Look at Senator John McCain

There's a lot of information out there. We know he's the Republican nominee for U.S. President. So here's very small bit. (And please don't snipe, I'll be looking for more to get a fuller picture.)

Republicans endorsed McCain because he is a Republican, not an independent or "maverick." If you're a Republican who liked George W. Bush's policies, McCain is a good choice for you. If you're anyone else, you might want to take this Challenge-Bush or McCain?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

238. For those with a strong stomach

I suggest you toddle over to Steele on Saipan and read his post on Bush's lack of financial accountability, if you haven't already.

Friday, May 23, 2008

237. On Judicial Salaries

Senator Frica Pangelinan has introduced a bill that would reduce by 10% the salaries of our Supreme Court Justices and our Superior Court Judges.

The Supreme Court Chief Justice has written in opposition.
Chief Justice Miguel Demapan.
So has the Board of the CNMI Bar Association.

A few comments are in order:

1. The members of the CNMI Bar Association did NOT come out against the legislation. We didn't get to vote. The Board make a quick decision without even telling us, wrote the letter to the newspapers, and we ordinary members of the Bar Association found out about the position at the same time as everyone else.

The decision does not represent the opinion of THIS member of the Bar Association, and I know many other lawyers who do not agree with the opposition to the judicial salary cut.

2. The judicial salaries in the CNMI are ridiculously high. Judges and Justices in some U.S. STATES make less. Our CNMI is about the size of a medium-sized satellite community to a larger urban area. It simply makes no sense to be paying our judges and justices such high salaries, especially in light of our current economic situation.
Associate Justices Manglona and Castro.

3. Judicial independence is important. The Judiciary needs to be in control of its own budget. Judicial salaries need to be sufficient so that the evil temptress of bribery and corruption doesn't find an open door.

But will a 10% salary cut take away the judiciary's budget control? No, not anymore than having the fixed salary that presently exists interferes with the judiciary's control and independence.

Will a 10% salary cut make our judges and justices entertain bribes and corruption?
CNMI Superior Court Judges
If a salary is too low that a public official can't provide for his or her family on it, then it invites bribery and corruption. This is sometimes the problem in setting police salaries. But for these judges and justices, that's not a problem. They'll still be earning more than $100,000/annum. And if a 10% cut does invite bribery and corruption for any, those judges and justices should be impeached. To be truthful, any judge or justice who will consider bribery and corruption at a salary 10% lower than present will also consider bribery and corruption at their present salary, because to those easily susceptible to bribery and corruption, no amount of income is ever enough.

4. Here's another important point: The law will NOT immediately reduce any judge or justice's salary. It cannot constitutionally go into effect until the judge or justice's start of a new term. This means that those remaining on the Bench will have time to prepare for the downward adjustment of their salaries. They can save and plan for the small bite this will take from them.

5. The 10% isn't going to mean a lot to the CNMI coffers--less than $100,000/annum. But it will make for a more equitable distribution of the brunt of economic hardship we're all facing. And possibly make for betting judging from the bench.

It's simply impossible for judges and justices who have such cozy salaries to realize what life is like for those at the bottom rungs of our economy. I represent poor people. Poor people have a lot of legal issues. I have clients who walk to court because they have no cars, and they may be admonished if they're late. I have clients who can't afford child care, but there's no sympathy for a crying child in a courtroom. I have clients who can't call in when they're too sick to show up because they don't have telephones, but their absence may mean that a bench warrant for their arrest is issued. I have clients who owe money facing these highly paid judges who order the poor to pay $10 / month on debts, on the theory that they SHOULD pay what they owe. Of course they should pay what they owe, but in reality that $10 is coming from money they NEED for food, clothing, shelter, utilities, and medicine.

Sorry, but ask what kind of justice are poor people getting from such high-paid officials, out of touch with the realities of hardship. Certainly the stack seems weighted in favor of the HAVES, rather than the HAVE-NOTS.

And it's just OUTRAGEOUS that our judges and justices are not willing and eager to help our sinking government by taking a small pay cut, that still leaves them earning more than $100,000/annum.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

236. Blogging in the Time of Influenza

Well, that would be not blogging. There's nothing like a head full of cotton and a hacking cough to throw you off your game. I just want to go home and sleep. :-(

Monday, May 19, 2008

235. What ever happened to that laid-back island lifestyle?

There is simply TOO MUCH happening on Saipan these days. I want to go back to those kick-back evenings watching sunsets and drinking vodka tonics or mango margaritas or red red wine.

Tuesday evening, Friends of the Arts is having its annual meeting at the Marianas restaurant on Navy Hill. They usually have some students perform, the price of food is discounted, and there are a whole lot of people who enjoy drama.

Wednesday evening, watch the John Gonzales show. Hawaii guests will share their experience with the national marine monument that was designated in their northern islands.

Thursday morning 7 AM, if you're a morning bird and want to hear more, or missed the Gonzales show, hear from the same Hawaii guests on the Harry Blalock radio talk show.

Thursday evening, still have questions? Listen to a live presentation (and ask questions?) at the AMP.

Details of all the national marine monument discussion are, of course, on Angelo's blog, and a comprehensive schedule over at Tamara's blog.

Friday evening, [don't miss the Karidat fundraiser. $50 gets you into the Aqua Resort Club dinner, and gives you a raffle ticket for some fun prizes.]POSTPONED UNTIL A LATER DATE per Ruth Tighe...

Saturday evening, it's Biba-the Agricultural Fair, Family Fun Day, and still Taste of the Marianas time at the AMP field.

I know there's more, but I'm having scheduling meltdown!
Oh, the woe of so much interesting, entertaining, beneficial happenings!

234. Helping When Times Are Tough!

The Marianas March Against Cancer raised more than $70,000 this year! That's an amazing feat given that the economy here has gone from stagnant to inert.

As usual, the March was held at the athletic field at Hopwood Junior High school. All of the teams had booths ranged around the track. In true island style, I showed up about 9 PM for an event that "started" at 6 PM, and found out that they hadn't even finished introducing the teams, the over-night relay race of runners, joggers, and walkers around the track had not yet started, and I hadn't missed anything of note.

The atmosphere was great. There were a ton of people (I had to park in San Antonio!), the air was fresh and cool, and the familiar voice of Celia Mercado echoed from the speakers as she wrapped up the introductions, urged the teams to parade around the track, and then finally opened the track to the relay race.

The race was the usual mash of children and teens with excess energy dashing around the track at top speed, with a handful of slower, but not less dedicated, team members jogging and walking on the outer lanes of the track.

I wanted to add a photo here, but I didn't take any. Jack Hardy was busy photographing everything. But alas, I couldn't find any I could borrow. :-(

I don't know what team ran the most laps. I do know that TEAM BODIG did a great job in other categories. Team Bodig won the "spirit" award, which seems fitting because they had a great turnout of family, from the youngest to the oldest, and a whole lot of them were in MMAC tee shirts!

Team Bodig won the "best booth" award, too. They did an eclectic combination of broadway musical and Chamorro lisayu! Dorothy had escaped from Wizard of Oz and was serving hamburgers and hotdogs at the booth's food counter. You could take your food to an area of picnic tables, or detour down a yellow brick road that led through a rainbow arch, into a "room" with silk & paper flower streamers hanging from the tent ceiling, white pillars holding lit candle-glasses, and a multi-tiered altar covered with satin holding framed photos of the family members who had died from cancer. Only in Saipan.

Team Bodig also won the "most luminaries sold." They added more than 1,000 luminaries to the inside rim of the track, helping to light the route all night long.

And last and certainly not least, Team Bodig raised the most money of the teams in the family category (and I think overall, beating out corporate winner PIC by about $6,000).

Special kudos to TEAM BODIG! And kudos to all teams and their members, to all people in the community, who supported the MMAC, and to the sponsors and organizers. No one group could do this alone--this was truly a community effort.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

233. CNMI Emergency Regs on ISLA

I attended the CNMI Bar Association luncheon on 5/13, 2008 and listened to a presentation by Deanne Siemer about the recently issued emergency regs. I also read the regs which Deanne provided in advance.

There are some interesting, and troubling, aspects to what's going on just now as our current administration responds to ISLA, P.L. 110-229 (chapter 7) [ f/k/a S. 2739].

1. Deanne's most outrageous statement was probably her boast that she's urging vociferously that Governor Fitial fight P.L. 110-229 with litigation in court. She thinks the law is terrible because from her viewpoint it is intended to shut down the CNMI's economy and prevent our recovery and any possible move in that direction.

Her unstated view of our economic recovery is essentially-we will get rich off the backs of poor foreign workers. We need cheap foreign labor for any economic success. We are incapable of finding a niche in any economic market if we can't take advantage of cheap, non-citizen, workers whom we can abuse and misuse.

Photo by Angelo Villagomez

Although she reiterated several times how horrible she thought the new federal immigration law is and how she is urging Governor Fitial to litigate (and mentioned that she herself is a litigator), I didn't hear her state any legal grounds upon which the law would be challenged.

2. Deanne went through the emergency regs. The government has come up with a number (22,417) that represents an assessment of how many aliens are in the CNMI who entered or renewed under a permit that would entitle them to work. Not all of these entered as "contract workers." For example, an IR spouse would be entitled to work and would be counted in this number. Trafficking victims, regardless of how they entered, who have been given special P permits are included. Missionaries are included, etc.

This number (22,417) is the cap that is now in place under ISLA, according to Deanne. (ISLA contains a provision that says the CNMI cannot increase the number of alien workers once the law becomes law, which was 5/8/2008).

3. In order to comply with the cap over the next year, the regs use a "body for body swap" method. One alien out who is counted in the number means one can come in. This will keep the CNMI from going over the cap.

4. The devil is in the details. When I read these emergency regs before the CLE presentation, they seemed almost innocuous, and in some ways, good. When Deanne explained how they would be interpreted, I began to see through the veil of nice words.

A company may claim the "slot" for the body-for-body-swap if they repatriate an alien worker. BUT THE WORKER DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THEIR WORKER! The company has 90 days to claim the slot.

If I understood correctly, a company can repatriate aliens facing deportation proceedings and claim the slot. Wendy Doromal noted in a recent blog post that the newest Labor policies call for deportation of workers with unsatisfied judgments (absent a court order providing for their staying and getting a transfer) and she asked on her blog, Unheard No More, where the money would come from to deport workers--well, here's where it will come from. Companies that want to bring in new workers can get a slot for every worker they repatriate.

I fear this will encourage companies to "help" aliens return against their wills and then claim the slot.

5. It wasn't quite clear to me whether the company who repatriates an alien owed money by a former employer would have to pay for the judgment, but at one point Deanne did seem to say that employers might be able to buy the voluntary departure of aliens owed money by paying the money owed. According to her, there are many aliens owed small amounts of money (she mentioned $200 or $300).

It would be much more helpful if companies were required to pay the judgment through court (or even DOL) and there is verified payment--not just some signature by the foreign worker (who may be pressured or tricked into signing a complete satisfaction in order to get some/any money).

6. There was some talk about "voluntary" departures. This was in the context of aliens overstaying, who might be given a one-time opportunity to voluntary depart without any stigma or deportation effect, meaning they could come back with a job, if possible. Companies who want to secure the slot of such an alien would pay for the repatriation.

Deanne said that under U.S. law there is a complete ban on return if you are deported. And she talked glowingly of the DOL website with job listings that aliens in their home countries could peruse in order to secure a means of returning. I would need to check further on all of this, and for now remain skeptical.

7. She mentioned that companies could get slots in other ways, through a point system for unclaimed slots, a lottery, for "anticipated projects" and, in some cases, just because the Labor Department gives them slots within DOL's discretion. To me, this seemed to indicate that DOL would continue to operate in an arbitrary and capricious manner to the benefit of some and detriment of others.

8. Temporary absences by foreign workers (for medical leave or vacation) will not be counted as a departure/repatriation. This seemed sane and reasonable.

9. Deanne continued to praise CNMI PL 15-108 as a wonderful law designed with the possible loss of immigration in mind. I've blogged a little on PL 15-108 and believe it to be fundamentally flawed-attempting to preserve a two-tiered system where locals are "trained" for management with higher paying jobs while aliens do the real work and get paid a pittance. What I found interesting was how NOW Deanne is saying this law was supposed to be in anticipation of federalization of immigration, not in lieu of it, when originally it was touted as a reason why the U.S. should back off of its attempt to apply U.S. law to the CNMI.

10. Deanne said there are about 1,900 illegal aliens in the CNMI. She foretold a complete quagmire in the transition, believing the U.S. will be incapable of handling all of the immigration caseload.

I didn't believe her. Right now, one judge in Superior Court handles the deportation calendar. I don't see why Judge Munson in federal court would be less capable. Nothing about the structure of the AG's office and DOL make me think they have a lock on doing it right and the U.S. would automatically screw up.

11. The periodic exit requirement of P.L. 15-108 will not be enforced, according to Deanne. It wasn't clear to me if that was throughout the period leading up to the transition, or if it only applied for only the first six months, subject to being enforced especially if the start date of the transition period is delayed.

12. Deanne said the DOL is honoring "two year" contracts, so that alien workers can, if their employers agree, renew now or at their regular renewal date for a new 2 year period of work.

I need to think about all of this more and get a better handle on the details. I don't think the emergency regs are completely bad. I think they at least nod at following the letter of P.L. 110-229, but I don't think they're quite in keeping with the spirit of that law.

Guess we'll see how things play out.

Monday, May 12, 2008


Sign the petition for more study about a national marine monument in the CNMI here:


Saturday, May 10, 2008

231. On the current state of our oceans

Our oceans are dying. We've had strong scientific evidence reported in the media here and here, and here, as well as elsewhere, about this worrisome phenomenon.

We need to stop that decline. It's not too late.

giant grouper at Uracas

A national marine monument protecting the ecosystem around Uracas, Maug, and Asuncion would be a step toward recovery of our oceans. Insisting on keeping the ocean open to expanding fisheries will only help ensure the loss of our ocean life.

Who is behind the opposition to the national marine monument?

The most prolific and vociferous opposition has come from John Gourley. He currently lists his business interest as Micronesian Environmental Services. His former business was called Micronesian Clam Company. Both appear to be related to commercial fishing.

Also significantly, he's listed as a member of the council advisory panel to WESPAC, one of the divisions under the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), a branch of the federal agency National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Does Mr. Gourley speak for WESPAC? Not officially, but WESPAC stands to lose control of the designated ocean area if a national marine monument is created. And their control allows them to protect commercial fishing interests at the expense of our oceans. WESPAC officials are under investigation for lobbying, have been accused of having conflicts of interest, and have been sued for gross failure to protect marine environments. (See earlier posts.)

So it seems WESPAC is at least allowing Mr. Gourley to mouth all of the confusion and vitriol he can muster to put the kibosh on CONSERVATION, the only goal of the national marine monument.

Asuncion, CNMI

Who else is among the opposition?
John Gourley mentioned a "new" fishing venture in the CNMI called Crystal Seas that wants to have access to fishing around Uracas, Maug, and Asuncion.

I think this is the same business that has previously been called "Northern Marianas Fisheries, Inc.", and "Lady Kimberly, Inc.", as reported in a March 2007 article in the Marianas Variety.

Their website includes contact names, including Courtney Zietzke, who was at one time affiliated with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), as shown on a letter from Idaho Power with an xc to him. (Remember WESPAC is under NMFS.)

There's a little more information about Crystal Seas out there: it is mentioned in the recently promulgated draft amendments that would regulate long-line fishing around the Marianas--well, allow it that is.

And although Crystal Seas is reported to be a relatively new company, starting their fishing in just 2007, they've already been sued in federal court by Seattle Refrigeration Company for breach of contract.

So back to the topic at hand--our oceans are dying. The devastation is extremely worrisome and dangerous for our well-being. Conservation-putting entire ocean eco-systems beyond the damage of commercial fishing-would help.

Why should we listen to those who oppose this environmental aid?

We do need to be afraid-but not of "losing" 1/3 of the U.S. EEZ to conservation. We should be afraid of not protecting it, afraid of the harm done by those who want to shut down the discussion of a possible marine sanctuary that would help our oceans recover. We should be afraid of not doing what needs to be done--establishing protection for the unique eco-system the Marianas Trench provides around Uracas, Maug and Asuncion.
Photos from NOA A and USGS (Frank Trusdell).

Friday, May 9, 2008

230. S. 2739 / P.L. 110-229 --what now?

The good news--President Bush signed S. 2739 into law. Read the details, press releases, and celebrate at Wendy's blog.

I'm concerned about

1) spouses who are being divorced.

The CNMI immigration did not require U.S. citizen spouses to get U.S. green cards for their alien spouses. So alien spouses in the CNMI have not had any way to gain permanent residency when their U.S. citizen spouses did not get them green cards.

Sometimes they don't get green cards because the U.S. citizen spouse intentionally wants to use the lack of permanent status as a means for control over their alien spouse.

But sometimes, they just can't afford the cost of the green card processing.

So now, in the CNMI, divorce means you lose your local "immediate relative" status. Just today I looked at a woman's application for help in a divorce case where she has teen children, has been living in the CNMI and been married to a U.S. citizen for more than 15 years, and now has been served with divorce papers after separating from her spouse several months ago.

In the U.S., she would have gotten a green card soon after the marriage, and would now already be a U.S. citizen. Here, once the divorce is finalized, she'll lose her "local IR" status and be deportable. She'll be "illegal" when U.S. immigration kicks in next June 1, 2009, unless she manages to get hired on as a contract worker.

This seems so wrong. Her kids are U.S. citizens, but still too young to petition her in. This is not a one-person issue--there are many spouses in this situation, spouses without green cards, spouses whose marriages are of long duration, but aren't surviving the stresses of life now.

2) Widows.

As noted above, spouses do not all have green cards. In the U.S., there's a requirement for U.S. citizen spouses to get their alien spouses green cards if they live in the U.S. So there's a corresponding law that upon divorce of the U.S. citizen spouse, the alien spouse has no status, except or unless s/he has a green card. (This prevents alien spouses of U.S. citizens living abroad from automatically claiming a right to relocate and live in the U.S.) But alien spouses living in the U.S., upon widowhood, generally continue to have a right to their green card status.

In the CNMI, alien spouses who have faced this issue upon the death of their U.S. citizen spouse have been granted by the Commonwealth Superior Court recognition that they have a right to remain in the CNMI, that the death of the U.S. spouse does not extinguish their "immediate relative" status under CNMI law. The CNMI Supreme Court has never ruled on the issue.

So on June 1, 2009, when U.S. immigration takes over, these widows and widowers will probably be considered legal, but will have uncertain/no protection under U.S. law. And no clear category that they'll fit into under the new U.S. immigration system.

3) "CNMI Permanent Residents."

In the late 1970's and early 1980's, the CNMI had a "permanent residency" law that allowed aliens to become permanent residents of the CNMI. Something like 200+ permits were issued under this law. When the law was repealed, these "permanent residents" retained their status.

On June 1, 2009, when U.S. immigration takes over, these "CNMI permanent residents" will be legal, but will have uncertain/no protection under U.S. law, and no clear category that they'll fit into under the new immigration system.

4) U.S. citizen children who are minors with alien parents.

I feel for these kids. They're U.S. citizens. They have a right to be here in the CNMI. But their parents don't. As the economy continues to plummet downward, these parents are not only losing the economic security of having a job, but with job loss these parents face deportation as no longer having a legal status.

It's the kids who will suffer. They will either be left here with others to care for them--breaking up the family, or they'll move with their parents back to the parents' home country--suffering disruption and other problems. Maybe they'll come back when they're old enough or have the money, but they'll not forget how their parents were made to suffer without status.

5) Long-time workers facing unemployment.

As noted above, we have a lot of aliens who have lived in the CNMI for five, ten, twenty, and more years. For those who have decades of employment behind them, but now find themselves without jobs in our dwindling economy, they're just missing the boat by a fraction of an inch. It seems unfair.

If anyone should get status, it should be those who have worked and contributed to the CNMI for the longest time period, even if they've lost their most recent job in the economy.

Edit--adding #6, thanks to Lil Hammerhead:
6. Alien spouses of citizens from the Freely Associated States-FSM, Palau, RepMar. Years ago, Judge Munson ruled in a case filed by V.K. Sawhney that the CNMI couldn't just start re-classifying these alien spouses as "aliens" when they are married to people who were former TT citizens with a full right to live here (especially for those who had legal status as spouses when the Covenant went into effect). So the CNMI continued to give them IR status. Now they will face the same challenge as we transition from CNMI immigration to U.S. immigration, only against U.S. law (which I doubt will be as kind as Judge Munson's interpretation of due process). They have marriages, children, lives in the CNMI. But they're married to FAS citizens who have the right to live here by virtue of the Compact of Free Association.

What I think we need:

1) an immediate halt to new immigration of incoming aliens except for tourists; and an immediate halt to deportation except for tourists overstaying their entries that start today. Stripping the CNMI of these powers during the interim before the effective date of the U.S. immigration would prevent further harm.

2) an amnesty provision that grants "legal" status for up to 3 years (1 year of pre-U.S. immigration and then 2 years after transition start date)to all aliens here, whether workers, spouses, widows, permanent residents, students, or those just hiding out, coupled with a registration requirement. Any alien not registered when U.S. immigration takes control could automatically be deported.

3) a permanent residency track for those who have been here the longest. This could be done either by deciding on a specific number of years--e.g. been here 5 years (7 years; 10 years...) or it could be done by granting a specific number of permanent residency slots ( e.g. 1,000; 3,000; 5,000, 7,000...), starting with the aliens who have been here the longest and moving forward until the number of slots has been filled.

This would give us an "alien" worker population for industry and commerce; it would provide some certainty as we head into the transition; it would defeat the CNMI's current efforts to do a little last "kicking while they're down" of aliens here; and it would be nice to people who've not always been treated with the greatest respect.


Thursday, May 8, 2008

229. At the Multi-Purpose Center

Last night there was a diverse crowd at the Multi-Purpose Center. Two quite-different, but sometimes overlapping, groups showed up. It was quite amusing as people from each group-unaware of the other group's contemporaneous event-stood about, trying to get to the right spot.

Area students from Hopwood, Mount Carmel, MHS, Saipan Southern and SAEFS (Saipan American...School) were staging two one-act comedies in the main area of the Multi-Purpose Center. They had been rehearsing for weeks, had put up posters around Saipan, and sold tickets, all on a shoe-string (or less!) budget.

Scheduled at the same time, in the conference room, Representative Tina Sablan hosted a forum on the Open Government Act.

Ruth Tighe, Greg Sablan, John Gourley, Mike Nisperos, Wolf Mojica and a whole lot of other well-known and lesser known people eventually headed into the conference room--packed in tightly, with less-than-satisfactory air-conditioning, all to learn and participate in a meaningful way in our local civic affairs.

Meanwhile, an equally large crowd, including Mike Dotts, Karen Borja, Dora Miura, and a whole host of future leaders, took seats arranged in a circle around an open space--the shoe-string version of "theatre in the round" to watch CINDERELLA WORE COMBAT BOOTS, and AN EVENING OF CULTURE.

I sat at the ticket table for the student Thespians of the Western Pacific Islands(TWPI) production, selling tickets at the ridiculously low price of $3 for students and $5 for adults, enjoying the bedlam. Adelayah Mojica, interested in both events, helped steer people in the right direction with a well practiced "Are you here for Tina Sablan's forum?" directed at those who came with notepads and serious faces, and with a patient request to "please wait until the house opens" at known teachers, parents, those with children, and anyone obviously smiling.

As both events got underway, there was very little sound coming from the conference room, and occasionally someone left early or entered late, jostling for an open chair.

In the "theatre," there were few empty seats, but because of the "in the round" staging, everyone was within 3 rows of the action. Bursts of laughter streamed through the closed doors, punctuating the quiet of the lobby.

Two very different events, both part of a vibrant community life. I'm glad I was there.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

227. Please Make It Stop!

Stupidity by our elected officials.

Governor Fitial wrote to President Bush saying NO to a national marine monument in the Marianas Trench at Uracas,

and Asuncion.

He spoke of the longstanding dispute between the U.S. and CNMI governments over the ownership and management of submerged lands around the Northern Marianas.

Our CNMI students participate in Mock Trial, write essays and debate over legal issues, and probably know more than our Governor about the meaning of a court's decision. It's called "finality" --that attribute of a court decision when all appeals are exhausted. And it means that the matter is SETTLED, OVER, FINITE, DONE, RESOLVED, and FINAL. The CNMI litigated and lost the submerged lands issue. There is no longer a dispute between the U.S. and the CNMI about this matter. And the Governor's foolish adherence to a claim that has been lost has no merit.

It certainly isn't a reason to reject a proposal to save our oceans and promote conservation before we've ruined beyond redemption the entire globe.

He is also concerned that the designation would restrict the indigenous people's ability to fish and conduct related activities in the proposed site.
Why is it that we are concerned that conservation limits our activities? Of course it does. That's its purpose. We need those limits because our natural resources are limited. In the Pacific Ocean at Maug.

If we don't limit ourselves, we will deplete our natural world.

“We rely on fishing as a source of food and jobs.
We do not depend on fishing in the waters around the three northern-most islands for anything. We're not fishing there. Who has jobs that relate to industry or fishing around Uracas, Maug, or Asuncion that would be lost by creation of a marine sanctuary?

No one. The creation of the sanctuary can be done to allow anyone who is currently invested in fishing in those waters a time period to recoup their investment and withdraw from fishing there. In Hawaii, the few fishing interests in the area that was eventually protected by the marine monument were given 5 years to keep fishing.

But again, I ask, who is fishing around Uracas, Maug, and Asuncion?

Right now, according to Pete A. in his State of the Commonwealth address, there is satellite evidence that these waters are being poached. The CNMI is not protecting anything, and not benefiting either. Better to protect the area than let it be devastated by poaching and unrestricted use.

Those who live in the CNMI have no interest in ceding their cultural heritage to the federal government under the auspices of environmental protectionism,” he said.

Conserving our marine environment is not ceding a cultural heritage. Letting WESPAC and its henchmen get to our Legislators and officials to vote against protecting our marine environment is ceding our cultural heritage.

The most vocal opposition to the marine sanctuary has come from John Gourley, who is on the advisory panel for WESPAC. WESPAC is a federal agency that promotes fishing--and right now, the FISHING interests are in control of our oceans. Their financial interest is to take as much as they can get away with, and they have caused tremendous damage to the world's oceans, as reported in numerous scientific and popular journals and newspapers.

This commercial fishing is NOT our cultural heritage, where islanders took small amounts of fish for what they needed on any given day. Now we have fishing vessels scooping up everything, and throwing back into the ocean dead creatures--the "by-catch" they don't want, keeping the haul that is commercially viable for them.

This commercial fishing is not the CNMI's cultural heritage. This harm to the ocean is not the CNMI's cultural heritage. This failure to respect the marine environment is not our cultural heritage.

The governor argued that the Commonwealth is looking at fishery as an economic growth engine to replace the declining garment and tourism industries. He said the loss of about 115,000 square miles of ocean area due to inclusion in a national monument would significantly impact this economic effort.

Why is our Governor embracing this type of harm and speaking of it as our cultural right? Didn't we learn anything from the problems with the garment industry? When you choose as your livelihood something that hurts people or the world, it's not a sound basis for an economy. "Our" garment industry brought us shame and a horrible world image, bad press, and a scarred moral compass. The Governor may have gotten rich off it, but that doesn't mean it was good for the CNMI.

Tourism, on the other hand, invites people to share our islands, our culture, our lives. It offers respite and recreation. This is a sound economic choice.

Our tourism industry is declining, but we can turn that around with good decisions. A healthy commitment to a clean and conserved natural environment would be a huge step in the right direction.

Volcanic sulfur bubbles at Maug.

Instead, our Governor wants to now promote a joint venture with WESPAC? Commercial fishing where we rape our waters of what little is left? Do we really think that commercial fishing, as it presently exists, is going to improve our world? Is it a sound basis for our economy?

No. At present, it's depleting our oceans.

Why do we turn a blind eye to the damage these fishing interests and the U.S. government's WESPAC agency is doing? Because there are liars and cheats among us, people willing to twist the facts and prey on fears and prejudices to get what they want, to keep their pockets full while emptying us of our world's natural resources.

If that's not what is meant by commercial fishing, if commercial fishing insists that it believes in protecting the oceans, too--then let it support a marine sanctuary. Why can't we protect 1/3 of the ocean around the CNMI with a marine sanctuary? Isn't 2/3 of the EEZ enough for fishing?

One of the most important protections the globe has is from the ocean's coral
Coral layers at Maug.

--more significant than rain forests. And our ocean health depends on complete and healthy eco-systems. Why do we not want to protect 1/3 of our waters? That may not be enough, but at least it's something! We have a chance to do our part. Let's do it!

Further, the governor said, Hawaii's experience with its marine monument showed a lack of procedural safeguards to ensure public involvement and environmental review during the designation process.
Now that sounds like a straight-out lie.

What do you see happening here in the CNMI? Angelo Villagomez, on behalf of Pew Charitable Trust, is going out getting comments, talking with people. We already have public involvement.

In the Hawaii process, Angelo reported that there were hundreds of thousands of comments taken, both before and after the designation--comments that were considered, comments that helped shape the eventual final project.

Instead, it is the Governor who is shutting down the process, not letting us be heard!

Press secretary Charles P. Reyes Jr. said that federal enforcement funding may be a concern. He said the U.S. Coast Guard was not given any additional money or resources to extend patrols in Hawaii's monument area, and a similar scenario is likely if a Northern Marianas monument is created.

If this were true, how would it weigh against a marine sanctuary? Would we be worse off? NO! NO! NO! The Coast Guard patrols now, and the Coast Guard patrols after a designation of the area as a marine sanctuary. We'd like it to be better; we'd like it to have more money; but that is no reason to say we don't want to protect this marine environment!

“The people of the CNMI and their elected leaders do not want an outside group to permanently force a decision on them without their consent. This decision is too important to be left to Pew and their supporters. The people of the CNMI must decide if they want to give up a resource forever and forego all other opportunities or developments. This is democracy.”

We don't want an "inside" group permanently forcing a decision on us without our consent, either! This is a democracy! How many public hearings has the Governor or the Legislature held on this issue? HOW DARE YOU SPEAK as if you know what the public wants when you have done NOTHING to find out! The decision is too important to be left to Charles Reyes Jr. or Governor Fitial.

Please make the stupidity stop. Make corruption stop. Make the devastation of our natural world stop!

Prevent WESPAC from doing further damage. Wrest these waters from their control and protect the EEZ around Uracas, Maug, and Asuncion by making them into a marine monument!

Photos from MARAMP, the CNMI DPL, and Sarah Poznay.

Monday, May 5, 2008

226. Penny Wise and Pound Wise

Here are my two ideas for how the CNMI could save some money:

Penny wise (and eco-friendly). STOP sending out memos for every "delegation of authority."
Literally reams of paper every month are used to send around to every government office whatever delegation of authority is happening.

Mr. High and Mighty, secretary of the stupid department, "will be off-island on official business from" this irrelevant date to that nonsensical date. During Mr. High and Mighty's absence, Mr. Muckety Muck will be acting secretary of the stupid department.

Do we not know about e-mail?

Pound wise. STOP fighting federalization. We've been spending large on lobbying, and now we're talking about litigation? We don't need to spend money on litigation. Lawyers are expensive. We have little chance of succeeding through court, and there are better uses for the funds.

And STOP the spending on lobbying.

Are we still paying $15,000/month to Oldaker, Biden, and Belair? Or did we stop after 1 year of payments, having stupidly renewed the first 6 month contract? In 2007 alone, we --the CNMI-- spent $160,000 on this lobbying firm! Not to mention the $60,000 we spent on subsidiary lobbying by Sandler, Travis, and Rosenberg! There's more great information at the Center for Responsive Politics, including reports on the issues these lobbyists worked on for the CNMI (immigration and trade).

And Governor Fitial said in his State of the Commonwealth message that U.S. Congressmen/Senators in Washington, D.C. don't know about the CNMI. What are we getting for all that money?

Does anyone know if we're still paying lobbyists? Is there a way to stop this insanity?

225. Comments, anyone?

I accidentally turned off comments on the last few posts. Sorry.

Any one have something to say?

Friday, May 2, 2008

224. Theatre in the CNMI

No movie theatres, so come watch live action drama--well, comedy!

That's just $3.00 for students and $5 for everyone else. See you there!

224. State of the Commonwealth-Redux

I attended the State of the Commonwealth address by Governor Benigno R. Fitial and Resident Representative Pedro A. Tenorio.

I did not take notes. I occassionally zoned out (oops!). But here are my impressions of what was said.

On Immigration and Minimum Wage:
Governor Fitial thinks S. 2739 is terrible. He thinks the increase in minimum wage is terrible, too. Together, he believes these will damage our economy. He said there are 3 ways to respond: 1) litigation challenging the law(s); 2) negotiation on the regulations; and 3) seeking future amendment.

He continued with the mantra that the CNMI's right to self-government includes the right to control over economic factors which includes labor and immigration. He stated that S. 2739 violates the Covenant. These arguments would presumably be the basis for some legal challenge.

He said that he would be putting together a group of business leaders and government officials to work on the implementing regulations, distorting (oops, that's my word) the intent of the new immigration laws.

He said that he would push for the U.S. to do a better job gathering reliable economic data so that reports, like the recent U.S. Labor Report, would not be subject to easy attack when it supports suspension of the increase in minimum wage.

He said that in the future, there is room to have these laws changed and he will work for that. He did not mention whether he would once again be hiring an expensive lobbying firm.

Representative Tenorio said that the Covenant never provided for nor anticipated that the CNMI would have permanent control over immigration; that the CNMI's control over immigration was always thought to be temporary. He said the time for control has passed and that, as part of being a full member of the U.S. with its immigration laws here, we also get to be a full member by having an elected representative in Congress.

His pitch (whether on immigration or other issues) was for developing a cooperative working relationship with the U.S., helping the feds to understand what we need and why we need it, but also accepting and living up to our role as part of the U.S. He said the CNMI is "America's face in Asia."

He explained that he supported the federalization of CNMI immigration, despite some nasty attacks on him. And that we cannot deny that scam artists took advantage of our lenient immigration handling and that abuses of alien workers occurred here.

Although he supports federalization of immigration and the minimum wage hike in general, he also believes that our economy is hurting. He supports a two-year suspension of hikes in the local minimum wage after it reaches $4.05 this May 2008.

On environmental and cultural preservation and conservation:
Governor Fitial: Perhaps I missed it, but I didn't hear anything on this.

Representative Tenorio: He stated in general terms how the people of the CNMI are tied and defined by the land and sea, how we recognize the importance of our cultural heritage and how we need to protect it.

He lauded Governor Fitial's signing of some agreement that commits the CNMI to preserving 30% of shorelines and 20% of forests for conservation.

And then mentioned the debate on the Pew Charitable Trust Fund's proposal for a National Marine Monument. He chided the Legislature for their "untimely," premature rejection of this project. He said he supports it, that we need the financial help that this project offers. He said whether we miss this opportunity or not, we need to develop a plan for future conservation and preservation.

Governor Fitial said that we've gotten a huge grant from the U.S. and will have our power plant repaired with it, up to 90% capacity, when completed. But that the fuel issues and lack of adequate funding persist. He chided the Legislature for its political short-sightedness in suspending the power of CUC to set its own rates, needed to keep it on an even financial keel. He also promotes privatization, but thinks that the preference for local owners should be scrapped.

Representative Tenorio said basically that CUC is a local problem,. He mentioned that we can all be grateful that it is still keeping the lights on despite its severe situation, and that the U.S. can and does help us with this type of problem. We need to be attuned to ways that we can accept and use this help.

Other issues:
Governor Fitial recognized (and this is where he started, it was very touching) the military men and women of the CNMI who have died in action, especially the 4 who died since he gave his last state of the union address.

Representative Tenorio spoke a little about other places where our lives in the CNMI intersect with our federal government, mentioning the increases in Medicaid caps, problems with veterans benefits, etc.

Most notably, Representative Tenorio spoke of the duty of elected officials to represent the entire community, while Governor Fitial spoke only of coalitions of his department heads, indigenous citizens, and selected business leaders.

My impressions:
I thought Governor Fitial's praise of the Department of Labor and the Chamber of Commerce were totally offensive. He completely ignored the reality that the CNMI has unfortunately earned its reputation as a place of sweatshops and sex trafficking. He completely ignored large segments of the community, and would continue the racism and nepotism that has corrupted the CNMI.

I was appalled that he wants to continue fighting against the federalization of immigration and the raise in the minimum wage. His statement that no community in the U.S. would be subjected to such US control (over immigration) is an outright lie.

I thought Governor Fitial did get it right when he spoke of the Legislature's failure to grasp the reality of our economic slide as to CUC. The higher rates may be unpopular, but they are necessary.

I thought Pete A. acted as a leader when he said that it is important to include all segments of the community in any problem-solving and that we need to work together. I appreciated his support for the national marine monument but wish it had been stronger. I loved his clarity on the scope and intention of the Covenant as to immigration control, shining the light on the Governor's lie.

223. A Nod of Respect

It takes real courage and maturity to side with people with whom you have serious disagreements on other issues and who are effectively criticizing you for racial bigotry and posting rude, juvenile cartoons about you. But this is what Cinta Kaipat has done in her recent letter to the editor in favor of the National Marine Monument.

I almost never agree with you, Cinta, on issues about labor and immigration, but I have more respect for you now. I'm sure this wasn't an easy thing to do, but it was the right thing.

We need the National Marine Monument. Thank you for speaking up.

Good job.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

222. Shin Kimura

While we're all fretting about the proposal for a national marine monument, federalization issues, economic issues and more, at least somebody in Saipan is practicing music! Wow!

221. S. 2739 -ISLA

I've put up a summary of the new immigration act, ISLA, Title VII of S. 2739 on the blog of Micronesian Legal Services--Day in Court--for anyone interested.

Or you can sort through the whole bill by typing in S. 2739 and clicking on "bill number" in the search box here.