Friday, May 29, 2009

Blue Print for the CNMI

Ed Propst's recent post at Marianas Pride includes this bit:

Beautiful beaches. Pristine waters (no red flags please). Friendly locals. Clean buildings. Friendly, consistent laws for investors. Promotion of eco-tourism ...Why can't our leaders understand the basic building blocks of tourism???

I want to add my own thoughts to this excellent start.

Beautiful beaches.
No litter. Sufficient trash bins that are emptied regularly. Bike/walking paths that link all of the beaches and that are kept in good repair, with working lights at night. Bike patrolling police officers. Pala palas, concrete picnic tables and benches, and occasionaly restrooms that are maintained in good working order. (Personally, I don't actually mind graffiti, so long as it isn't racist, pornographic, ugly or vulgar, so I don't add that to my short list.)

Pristine waters, and I would add, teeming with healthy marine life in a balanced eco-system.
Strong enforcement by sufficient numbers of well-qualified, educated and trained marine protection officers. An end to tour guides who encourage our tourists to buy little hot dogs and other food to feed the fishies. Balance of our tourist interests in diving and "seeing" marine life with our local interests in fishing derbies and personal consumption. (I think we're doing this now, but accidentally, not intentionally.)

Friendly locals.
Bring back cultural Fridays. Put an end to price-gouging--allow competition in the taxi industry, for example. Encourage a return to the small stands selling leis and mwar-mwars; promote more local crafts.

Clean buildings, clean roads.
Zoning that simply requires clean frontage on the roads, trimmed grass, a neat look. And then also no more road kill! Let's require licenses for ALL animals (yes, even chickens and pigs, etc.). The license fee can be very low, but the purpose is to make people accountable. We'd need more enforcement officers (dog catchers!) and an animal control shelter (dog pound) for strays, but better this than more painful death on the highways. And on the subject of roads, let's make sure we have a sewer system, and drainage system that works. AND SIDEWALKS. We need sidewalks everywhere. And then we'll see more pedestrian traffic, and more tourists.

Friendly, consistent laws for investors.
Well, for everyone! One of the least friendly kinds of law is the one that is built on corruption and graft. We need more prosecution of fraudulent procurement practices. We need fewer sole source deals. We need open government. (And you'll notice I don't say we need an end to Article XII. Right now, investors of non-NMI descent can get 55 year leases. If we start promoting small businesses--as Ed mentions, the backbone of healthy local economies--we can feel confident that 55 years is not an unreasonable length of time for a business life, and sufficient to encourage investment at the level we need.)

Promotion of eco-tourism.
We've been handed a golden opportunity with the declaration of the Marianas Trench Marine Monument. Now we need to be pushing the federal government to make good on this potential. (Imho, that also means we need to go for what would be best in the LONG run, and that means NOAA Sanctuaries as the lead agency for the monument.) We also need to protect and promote our cultural sites--our latte stones and caves. And we could take a note from Hawaii, where the PUBLIC LIBRARY is an agency that promotes their tourism industry, with short-term library cards for tourists, with tons of informational brochures on the cultures and history of the islands, and more.

There is a lot more we could be doing, but if we did even some of this, we'd be heading in the right direction. It's also about not going off on irrelevant and harmful tangents.

It's all about where we start. But since we could be/should be getting some of the Recovery Act money, let's push for expenditures for these kinds of programs.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Making Sense of the Numbers-PSS

While the Governor was making the headlines with his same-old, same-old story about the state of the Commonwealth, the PSS released an important report. PSS has been trying to address the drop-out rate at the public high schools.

And PSS has made steady--and significant-- progress for 5 straight years, which then tapered off and seems to be bobbing about now.

Basically, as I understand it, PSS keeps track of how many students start 9th grade and finish 12th grade, graduating from the CNMI public school system.

2008 MHS graduation

The raw numbers do not subtract for students leaving the system to transfer to private schools or to transfer to schools out of the CNMI, when families move away. But basically, even without adjustment, the RATE of completing education to graduate from the 12th grade has been improving.

Using the numbers in the newspaper, here's what the percentage of completion of 12th grade looks like for those who started 9th grade here. (The years refer to graduation dates, I think, not 9th grade dates.)


Whatever PSS did from 2001 through 2005, they were successful in making great strides in the "cohort" graduation rate. And I'm guessing that the fluctuation in improvement rate in the 2006 and 2007 graduating classes may have been due more to the exodus that was occurring as families left the CNMI during the economic downturn. The drop may also have related to the new graduation credit requirements, which increased the number of credits needed for graduation from 21 to 28. But we are still seeing a vast improvement over the low-50's rate at the start of the century!

I hope PSS continues its efforts to keep cohort statistics and to improve the record on students staying in school through graduation. Whatever strategy they're using, it's been working, and our entire community benefits from having students who stay in school and graduate.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wage Raise

P.L. 110-28 is the federal law that increases CNMI minimum wage by $.50 per annum. Sec. 8103(b)(A)&(B)--see page 78. We should be seeing that increase now at the end of this month, I think.

No one seems to be talking about this. Why not?

Some subcommittee hearing "highlights"

I had my doubts about whether this subcommittee hearing would be a worthwhile endeavor. I feared that it would just be an opportunity for the Fitial Administration to push an agenda that has previously been overcome by the US Congress with passage of P.L. 110-229; and I feared that the US Congress might weaken and let its guard down, giving in to the Fitial Administration, weakening or completing debilitating the promise of P.L. 110-229.

But after watching the hearing on the video, I actually have more confidence in our Congress now. Sure, the representative from South Carolina was somewhat lost, but Kilili was most assuredly not. And having him in the House, participating in the subcommittee hearing meant that there was less cover for Governor Fitial.

Not that Governor Fitial ever tries very hard to disguise his true motives. He wants to keep a permanent subclass of foreign workers without rights available to labor in the CNMI, forever. He makes no bones about it.

Here are some of the features from the hearing.


Asked what he was referring to in his testimony when he said that human costs are being overlooked by Homeland Security Governor Fitial answered:

In implementing P.L. 110-229, DHS wants to start everything from scratch. They want to do it by themselves...We have a division of immigration...Because the anticipated implementation date ...was set originally for June 1, 2009, that particular division was not budgeted after June 1. And...up to now, none of those employees in the immigration division are considered for employment by the DHS...

The Governor wants the committee to look into DHS plans to employ some of our CNMI immigration employees.

That's the human cost Governor Fitial is referring to.

NOT the human cost to foreign workers. NOT the human cost to our principles and morals by maintaining a two-tiered system of labor that depends on a labor pool of workers without rights.

The 50 CNMI immigration workers are the only "human costs" on this Administration's radar screen. Not the 16,000 foreign workers here.

Permanent Residency
There was a telling exchange between Kilili and Fitial that highlights the differences between the men. Not just on foreign workers' rights, but also on federalism and the responsibility of being a public servant.

The law requires that several federal agencies need to be talking together... I agree...this thing, if done in the way as being proposed...would be devastating to the point would cripple our economy... At the same time CNMI government needs to cooperate with federal government ...there are issues, foreign investors, H visa caps, visa wiaver program...Govrenor, I sent you a letter...April 21...asking for specific records and numbers...people living in the Northern Marianas, foreign workers, IRs, immediate relatives of FAS, and would appreciate getting a response...

what would you recommend for FAS IRs, increasing numbers, CNMI permanent residents, investors...(seems to say he's asking for that in his letter, and then here in the subcommittee hearing, he wants the following...)

What about workers who have been in the Northern Marianas for 10 years, we need them for 10 years more...?

(mentions how Kilili and he were both in the third legislature where)...I authored the non-resident workers act. The intent was to bring in foreign workers to develop our economy. I maintain that act is working...Another act by the U.S. preventing that act...

With respect to long-term non-resident workers, there's a place for them. We should allow the present administration of President Obama to come together as national policy for immigrants....

Let me get this straight. We need the workers in the Northern Marianas. We want these people to remain there, but just as workers?

If they come in to work, then they should be allowed to work.

But if they're there 20 years, and we need them for another 20 years, we keep them there just as workers, nothing more, no improved status?

They're supposed to be there as only temporary guest workers. If they happen to be immediate relative, then they should be given due consideration. (something about process)

...I agree they should go through the process...

I don't think we should give citizenship to anybody who comes in and works for long term.

Of course not. Giving citizenship would mean they have rights, which would mean they could lobby for higher wages, better working conditions, or move to the mainland. Uppity foreignors. Who do they think they are? Sweat, blood, and tears on our island and they think they should have human dignity?

Governor Fitial's true colors were so apparent. I could hardly believe that everyone continued to be civil to him. He hardly deserved it. The only thing I can give him credit for in his statement is owning it as his own, and not claiming that the people of the CNMI feel this way.

Because we don't. We want rights respected. We want an end to the two-tiered labor system that gives us a permanent underclass of powerless foreign workers. (Well, at least most of us do, I think.)

On Delay of Implementation of P.L. 110-229.
Fitial was very clear that he wants a "full year" after November 28, 2009 for the delay.

What do you think the federal government will do in that full year that they're not capable of doing in the next six months?

I seriously doubt they can be ready by November 28 to put all the things they plan to install--securing the borders, the six ports they plan to staff, equip, run. That's due in 2010, but I doubt they have the funds. ... They only have $5million and they need $97 million...

I'm sure the federal authorities from DHS dealt with how ready they'll be. For example, Nik Pula said the issue with making reports is difficult because of the lack of data, and he wants a 1 year delay for REPORTING on permanent residency options for foreign workers.

DHS's Mr. Barth testified that they have given priority to being ready. They did NOT ask for more time.

The Administration's position seemed a very lame request. It would be like a Plaintiff asking for a delay because he thought the Defendant wouldn't be ready for trial. Um...that would be up to the Defendant to say... And up to the Federal government/DHS to say, not the Fitial Administration.

On the Visa Waiver issue:
Felix Camacho from Guam was articulate in support of adding Russia and China to the Visa waiver list. Fitial and Kilili both agreed with adding Russia and China to the Visa waiver list. The potential benefit from tourism from these markets is an economic incentive.

P.L. 110-229 puts in a balancing test for the feds to use in setting up the Visa waiver program--economic needs balanced with security concerns.

While there seems little doubt that the economic reason for adding China and Russia to the Visa waiver program is satisfied, the testimony on the security aspect was less compelling.

Felix Camacho just said security issues could be met. Somehow. No plan. Except he did mention that Guam is a remote island,and Chinese could not enter Hawaii or other American desitnations. I'm not sure the real meaning of this arguments. Presumably Chinese security threats in Guam would not be Chinese security threats in the rest of America, and therefore, if Guam is willing to take the risk, then the rest of America should be, too. Never mind the American military in threats to them don't count.

And then there seemed to be some huge "fudging" by Governor Fitial.

In his written testimony, Governor Fitial says that the tourists from China and Russia together comprise approximately 10% of the CNMI tourists. Yet in answer to questions, at one point, he said that China alone provides about 25% of our tourists and Russia, "less". Um.. Hope the Congressmen READ the written statements...

And then there was this bit:
Has the CNMI ever encountered problems with overstays of Chinese and Russian visitors?

Frankly, we did experience, nu, problems of overstays, but they were very, very temporary. We managed to find them and deport them back.

Later, M. Bordallo asks questions to the federal witnesses, including DHS' Richard Barth, and referenced some written testimony where Governor Fitial apparently claims that there have been NO Chinese overstays on visitor permits during the past year, thanks to vigorous efforts with Chinese tour agencies and the use of bonding.

Bordallo asked if DHS had any information about overstays from China in the CNMI, whether it was true that there were NO overstays, and Barth said he had no such information. It seems that Bordallo may be skeptical of this claim, herself.

To borrow a word from Governor Fitial--FRANKLY--I don't believe such a claim.

Furthermore, the problem with Chinese "tourists" entering without visas isn't just that they may overstay. I know of at least 2 Chinese women who were TRAFFICKED into the CNMI on tourist visas. And then there are all our drug lords, and other Chinese crime syndicate operators.

Faleomavaega also got the picture clearly; recognizing that Hawaii, which also relies heavily on tourism, does not grant visa waiver to China and Russian tourists, and in fact, Guam and Saipan get Visa waivers from Taiwan and some other countries that Hawaii doesn't.

We have put all our eggs in one basket--the basket that depends on cheap foreign labor. We need to re-evaluate. We need to diversify our industries, but more importantly, we need to find our true selves and our own economic productivity possibilities. We need to develop our LOCAL labor force to handle a full range of jobs, from service to management (and not just management). We need to recognize that our economic problems pre-date federalization of our immigration--listen to Nik Pula's testimony. In just the first few sentences he paints the grave situation that has been unfolding for at least the past 10 years.

And stop trying to justify an unfair labor system that depends on corrupt immigration practices with our need for a sustaining economy. We can have BOTH--a fair labor system, fair immigration system, and a healthy economy. We just have to start... and WORK at it, make it happen.

Subcommittee Hearing-GAO testimony & video link

Interested in the testimony presented at the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife--that's a subcommittee of the Committee on Natural Resources, House of Representatives? This is the hearing on the impact and progress of federalizing the CNMI's immigration pursuant to P.L. 110-229.

While we wait for Wendy to report at Unheard No More, here's something to read:
GAO testimony about its position: Coordinated Federal Decisions and Additional Data are Needed to Manage Potential Economic Impact of Applying U.S. Immigration Law.

The chart on the first page of the attachment to the testimony is a good graphic summary of P.L. 110-229.

You can also get the full sense of the flow of the hearing by this listing of witnesses: subcommittee panel listing and by watching a video of the hearing, also at this link.

Thanks to Dan MacMeekin.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Did any one else find this bit in yesterday's Saipan Tribune ironic?

The governor said the Subcommittee and the people of the Commonwealth are entitled to know exactly how much Fiscal Year 2009 funding has been spent to prepare for the implementation of federalization, how much more will be expended in the remaining months of FY 2009, and whether DHS is depending in part on funding being sought for FY 2010, “buried somewhere in the Department's request for $55.1 billion.”

Governor Fitial HAS been listening to Tina Sablan, after all! While he denies that the people of the CNMI have a right to know what our CNMI government is spending to fight federalization, he is insisting we have a right to know how much the US government is spending to implement it.


I think we have a right to know about all of it--both the CNMI and US expenditures.

Judge Wiseman is moving cautiously, but he is moving the Open Government Act case toward final resolution.

No more delays!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Guam Stripes

Okay, so I don't normally read it. But hey--when you're part of the front-page feature article, you check it out.

Guam Stripes" writer Mary Parker wrote about writers in this part of the world. And of course, since I am "Saipanwriter" she contacted me. I put her in touch with Joe Race and Angie Wheat, too. Time was short, so I missed out on hooking her up with other writers (and there are plenty), but still, it's nice to see she got Saipan into the mix.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

More MFL photos

Finally, a chance to get back to the photos and upload them. You can see the "Ascot" photos in my earlier post.

These are in no particular order. And you'll notice a complete absence of the stars "Henry Higgins" (Rich Hamilton), "Colonel Pickering" (Frank Gibson), and "Freddy" (Paul Dujua). My apologies. I didn't really think I'd take as many photos as I did, so I'm surprised to see how much I do have, but there are obvious holes in the collection. I hope someone else will share their photos to get a better flavor of the full production.

The line out the door-Saturday night.

The set:

Lots of support:

Miss Eliza Doolittle

The favorite bar and friends of Alfred P. Doolittle:

Back-stage dressing for the Embassy Ball:

The Maids of Henry Higgins:

Some Cockneys:

Friday, May 8, 2009

Kentucky Derby

While we were staging My Fair Lady, with characters attending the "Ascot" horse race, full sound effects thanks to Will De Witt and the band (Manta, Pacific Winds, et al.), a real horse race occurred at the Kentucky Derby.

Stunning upset. Listen the announcer for his announcing during the race about "Mine that Bird."

For some interesting thoughts on the event, the horse, and American sports, check out this Sport's Illustrated article.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ooh, my back...

My head is full of information from the 2 day workshop on immigration, hosted by Karidat and MLSC.

But I wanted to post the few photos I managed to get of the cast, crew, costumes and set from the Friends of the Art's production of My Fair Lady, which was held 4/30/09, 5/1/09, 5/2/09 and 5/3/09. I was busy back-stage and had little opportunity to get the photos, missed the ones I really wanted (the Ascot scene with full cast), but am sharing what I've got. I hope others who took more photos will share, too. :-)

(Well, I've run out of time tonight, so I have my "Ascot" photos--to show set and costumes a bit. But I'll get up the rest soon.)

Oh, yeah--and the cast party cake! Based on the image used for the program.