Thursday, July 30, 2009

New Call Center -New Jobs for Saipan

IT&E will be holding a job fair on Saturday 1 August 2009 for the purpose of accepting applications for 250-300 telephone operators for its new call center. The location will be the Fiesta Resort's Asuzena Rooms 1&2 from 9 am to 12. Applicants must have completed high school or an equivalency program, have good English speaking abilities, be able to use a computer and type/input at the rate of 20 words per minute, and be US citizens, FSM citizens, green card holders or immediate relatives of a US citizen.

Actual hiring will occur after the Qualifying Certificate conditions are finalized.

This information is from Frank Gibson.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

New Jersey Corruption #2 (and unrelated corruption sentencing...)

Jersey city mayor is "public official 4" mentioned in one of the federal complaints.

And unrelated to the recent arrests, but interesting because it relates to sentencing of a public official for corruption, New Jersey's former Senator Bryant gets 4 years in jail.

(If Judge Munson looks to other jurisdictions to try to get some parity in sentencing, it's hard to imagine that Tim Villagomez will get anything like the 10 years mentioned in news reports as the presentence report recommendation. If he looks to sentencing here, though, he might consider that these high officials deserve more than the shmoe's in the utility reconnection scam got.)

Friday, July 24, 2009

New Jersey Corruption

The latest news about the New Jersey corruption case is pretty startling.

The list of names of those arrested range in age from 28 to 87. They include people from every decade between those ages. They include men and women. They include white and black Americans. They include many people of Jewish faith (especially among the Syrian and Hassidic Jews), but also others with other faiths (including Christians). They include Democrats (mostly) and also Republicans.

AP photo

What is it that ties these diverse people together?

Apparently, greed, a lack of real moral ethics and opportunity.

The comments in response to the articles look very much like those we see here in Saipan--with a large group applauding the arrests, condemning those arrested, hoping the feds will clean up the state mess; and others pointing fingers at other alleged crooks, trying to use this as a reason to criticize President Obama, castigating Jews, Democrats, New Jersey, etc.

It's all interesting.

edit: For a great summary, read this. For some history on Solomon Dwek (the cooperating witness), his rabbi father Isaac Dwek and uncle (also a rabbi?) Joseph Dwek, wife Pearl, and former business associates, the Adjmi's (one of whom is married to Joseph Dwek), and the twisted way in which they used "faith" to further their greed, check out this article.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Historic Preservation Office Project

I found this little blurb in the local newspaper to be interesting.

Basically, the CNMI Historic Preservation office announces the winner of a grant that applies to the CNMI.

The grant: the 2009 American Battlefield Protection Program grant is one of 33 grants awarded by the National Park Service to help preserve important American battle sites. The grant amounts range from about $21,000 to $78,000. The CNMI grant is for $49,967.

Photo by Jane Resture

The awardee: the grant goes to the Ships of Discovery and Exploration. From its website, it seems to have a diverse group of experts in science, archeology, marine exploration, and more. They've been involved in underwater archeology since 1989, and played a role in establishing the "Turks and Caicos National Museum" in the Caribbean. They seem to have the means and ability to do the job.

The job: As described in the announcement on the ABPP site:

The Battle of Saipan, which was fought between American and Japanese forces in the Mariana Islands during World War II, was one of the most politically and militarily significant battles of the war - American capture of Saipan brought land-based, long range B-29 bombers within range of striking Japan. Through archeological survey and GIS mapping of Invasion Beach at Tanapag Lagoon, this project will identify and document submerged remains of the Battle of Saipan for use in the future development of an underwater maritime heritage trail.

So it appears the Historic Preservation is hoping to develop an underwater maritime heritage trail--another great idea with cultural and tourism potential.

And all this means someone (namely HPO) is doing something right. Good.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Some Comments on Saipan News--swine flu, Tim Villagomez, the court's retirement debt

Swine Flu:
One death in Guam and 2 confirmed cases in Saipan. Like everywhere else in the US, swine flu makes headline news. Since I've been in Ohio this summer for vacation, visiting family, I've been hearing about swine flu here, too. Ohio also had its first death from swine flu this month.

Swine flu is a pandemic. More than half of the deaths have been in the U.S. It is NOT the most virulent form of flu the world has seen, but it is the current strain and it's causing plenty of harm. Symptoms being talked about here in Ohio are fever, sore throat, vomiting and diarrhea. Best to take precautions.

What's scary in Saipan, though, is how small the population is, how close contact may be unavoidable, and especially how weak our health system is, despite the protestations of CHC and the health department that everything is fine.

Tim Villagomez:
His lawyers are begging for leniency. His family and friends are flooding the court with letters begging for mercy. The newspapers publish only snippets of the requests, but some of them show that the community is also part of the problem.

The comment that gets first place imho in the "you're clueless" category goes to Diego Benevente for this:

“Villagomez has been and remains a respectful and modest public servant in spite of the predicament he found himself in.”

Excuse me? Respectful? He's hired the most virulent attorney he could who has acted as Tim's mouthpiece, bad-mouthing the judge, the jurors and even the court marshalls. Humble? He's kept his mouth shut. Is that humility? Or actions thatspeak of arrogance. And predicament? He didn't find himself in a predicament. He committed a crime. He is to blame for his own action. It's about personal responsibility.

I still haven't seen Tim Villagomez own up to his own responsibility in this matter. Yes, he quit his job as lieutenant governor. But that was not until after he was convicted of federal crimes. And there was no concurrent statement accepting responsibility for committing the crimes; he could just as easily have resigned because of political reasons.

I'm guessing he can't say a lot, because he's probably following the advice of counsel to remain silent. But that's a far cry from finding himself in a predicament. (Ah, yes--so true. See Wendy's blog post on the sentencing issues and follow her link to his lawyer's filed pleading.)

Another comment winner for passing the buck goes to his wife, Margaret Keene Villagomez, who, as his wife, is understandably blinded by loyalty and love. But really, think before you write something like this:
“One of the biggest mistakes that he has ever made, in my opinion, was that he entered the uncertain world of politics where some of the people that he helped would one day be the cause of his demise.”

This just shows it's all about getting caught, in the thoughts of his family. Never mind that there was evidence that he scammed the public through fraudulent rydlime sales to CUC before he went into politics... And those people he helped! How dare they cause him trouble. (Surely she doesn't mean his sister and brother-in-law; it's the snitch who testified against him and those people in the public auditors office and who else?)

I'm not sure what the Bishop hoped to convey with his comment.
“They have strived to live up to the Christian ideals of living out the Gospel message in their day-to-day living. They recognize their mistakes and they are keen on making conscious efforts to correct them. Overall, I see the goodness in their hearts despite their shortcomings.”

I don't remember the Gospel saying anything good about cheating people by enriching your own pockets with a scam, under cover of high status and public power.

And then there are the heartfelt pleas for the sake of the children. I do feel for the children, who are innocent in this matter; who no doubt love their father; who no doubt need their father in their lives. But what are we teaching those children with comments like this?

“Please give them leniency on sentencing day. Please don’t take our families apart. It’s all in your hands.”

“I don’t know how any parent could find the strength to explain to their young children the logic of why their daddy will not be with them much longer, or that soon he may not be coming home at all."

Both of these comments (one from a nephew, one from the wife) again show that denial of the reason why Tim Villagomez is facing jail time. It is not the JUDGE breaking up the family.

And what you tell your children is that daddy is a human being who made a big mistake and now must pay for it.

I understand loyalty and wanting someone you love to be given a second chance; be shown mercy. I think Kay Delafield's comments, as reported in the newspaper, help protray that best.

According to the Tribune, "She said Villagomez has no past record of bad acts and he has young children, a wife, a mother and a family who need him in their lives." Okay. Facts. This is an effective plea; simple, direct, not too emotional.

And Sasamoto's comment:
“He has lost credibility in the public eye and I believe that he is truly despondent regarding what he has put his family through.”

Okay, fact and opinion stated as an opinion. Effective.

But the sentencing guidelines don't give a lot of room for leeway. Lots of people convicted of crimes have mothers, wives and children. The judge can't seriously even consider that when sentencing someone convicted of crimes. (Well, perhaps he can if he finds exceptional circumstances...but really, not being there to support your kids is pretty much a given for any parent facing jail time; not being there to care for an aging parent is also foreseeable. Are these exceptional circumstances?) What can be said is that fortunately the Villagomez family is close-knit, well off, and politically connected, so that these innocent and vulnerable family members will get some help.

It's also wrong to equate Tim's reported despondency with remorse. Many people get despondent when they are caught. Remorse is more about owning up to having done something wrong.

And still the kids are saying in their letters that they haven't a clue what their father, uncle, relative did wrong. There's been no acknowledgement by him that he made some serious mistakes and committed crimes. There's been no real sign of remorse.

And so the family continues to hold out for his innocence. One of the kids just doesn't believe that any of these three (Tim, Joaquina and James Santos) would do this to their families--and that hurt must be what fuels the denial.

But let's be honest, Tim did some serious harm, despite the denials of his family. Damage to the public fisc. Damage to the public/government climate in the CNMI. Corruption is a damage that sows seeds and blooms larger and larger in future generations. Damage to the CUC, and its provision of an essential public service.

What is most mind-boggling is how this man, from a "good" family, with brains, education, a sense of humor, lots of respect and love, could stoop so low as to rip off the CNMI government and the people of the CNMI for his own and his family's economic gain--and a basically puny economic gain at that (not a Madoff-scale crime).

Because the actions where Tim and the others committed these crimes do not jive with the portrait of the people as presented in the letters. The letters show strong family, good education, community involvement, church attendance, and love. So obviously, something is missing from the letters.

There are some glimpses behind the facades--the pride (mentioned by some, while others detail humility), the power (for example, Tim's wife's letter shows his personal power, people coming to him to help with their CUC problems--when there should have been systemic solutions, regulations, help in place for people with health issues and such), the laxity about following the rules (one of the kids mentions how punishments were for a week of being grounded but then everything was okay the next day, etc.), and the opportunity must have been there--a government coffer ripe for the picking.

So Judge Munson will have to find a sentence that fits the crime--one that punishes this man for the wrongs he committed; one that deters this man and others from committing similar wrongs; one that protects the public from this man doing more harm; and one that provides the public with a sense of retribution.

I think Rob Torres' comment sums up the "support:"

Villagomez's counsel, Robert Torres, said his client is no different than other offenders in public corruption cases who have denied their gifts and talents in pursuit of brazen, if not blind, ambition.

“But Tim remains to me someone whom I care for and whom I support unequivocably and without hesitation. I stake my name and reputation as an officer of this court in writing this letter,” he said.

Tim screwed up but we love him anyway.
Okay. Now let's get back to logical considerations for sentencing. Punishment, deterrance, protection (incapacity), and retribution.

Judiciary debt to the Retirement Fund:
This one is good: the CNMI judiciary owes a heck of a lot of money to the NMIRF.

Let's order them to go get second jobs to pay this off, okay? Sic Mike White on them? Threaten them with jail for non-payment?

That's what they do every day to poor debtors without the education and opportunities they all have!

Oh, they want the public to pay from the general fund? That was part of the deal. Okay. They want to work this out. No problem.

Well, there is a problem as there is no easy solution. Oh-oh.

Really, I hope they consider how unreasonable debt happens to the best of us the next time a poor person can't pay in an ordinary debt collection case.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Half-Blood Prince-a movie review

Warning: May contain spoilers.

I love the Harry Potter books. I've read each one at least a half-dozen times, and listened to them read by Jim Dale (oh so fabulous).

I've seen all of the films as soon as they were released, and then numerous times after. I've never liked any of the films on a first viewing, until now.

Usually, I am so distracted with the obvious glitches, I get pulled out of the film world and can't get back in. Like the first flying lesson in THE SORCERCER'S STONE where Madame Hootch counts all the way to 3, blows her whistle, and only then Neville takes off while all of the other students stay on the ground. Neville is supposed to be so anxious he leaves before she gets to the full count; and why would the other students NOT take off after Mdme. Hootch blows her whistle?! Another example is the obvious double who plays Harry when he gets thrown about in the duel in CHAMBER OF SECRETS. And Harry practicing "lumos maxima" under the covers, at homein PRISONER OF AZKABAN--despite the ban on underage wizards using magic out of school. And the change to ordinary muggle clothes while at Hogwarts, instead of wizards' robes in PRISONER OF AZKABAN. And Professor Dumbledore yelling at Harry, asking him if he had an older student put his name into THE GOBLET OF FIRE. Dumbledore is too wise and too much in control of himself to ever behave so badly or stupidly. And there was Harry pulling out his wand in the opening scene of ORDER OF THE PHOENIX, in front of Dudley's muggle friends, and then hiding it when Mrs. Figg arrives.

Well, you get the idea.

This film has many of the same issues, but on the whole, it's the first time I liked an HP film on first viewing!

In this one, there's a glitch in the early scenes--when the bridge is blown up. All of the people who were on the bridge are seen making it to the ends and climbing off safely before its final twist and destruction. But the newspapers report a mounting death toll...Uh, if you can do the special effects to completely destroy the bridge, why can't there be people on it, falling to their deaths?

Another issue with this film (major imho) is Harry, not under a spell, at the scene of Dumbledore's death. That Harry Potter would obey the last instructions of Dumbledore while able to act, would allow Dumbledore to face his enemies alone and have them kill Dumbledore while Harry waited for the action to play out--this is so out of character for Harry Potter as to be incomprehensible. Harry, the one who went to rescue Ginny in the Chamber of Secrets, who walked into the Ministry of Magic's secret corridors because he believed Sirius Black in danger...this Harry would be unable to act in such a way. Despite his promise to obey Dumbledore. Even JK Rowling had Harry under a spell, which also explained how Draco, a mere student, could disarm the greatest wizard who ever lived.

And if Harry would "obey" Dumbledore at this point, why in the name of all that is wizarding, would he then disobey him and chase after Snape? Yeah, this was so wrong.

Also sadly missing:
The opening scene with the other minister. I'm not surprised this was deleted, but it would have been fun.

The house-elves. They've been abandoned, so no tailing of Draco.
Moaning Myrtle. No touching scene with Draco, no screaming at Draco's bloody downfall.

Most obviously missing was the big fight between the Order of the Phoenix and the Death Eaters at Hogwarts. No Bill savaged by Fenrir Greyback. No Carrows tormenting Dumbledore. No anger at Dumbledore for putting them at risk. No breakdown of the members of the Order upon learning of Dumbledore's death. And no funeral. No phoenix song (although we do get to see the phoenix soaring...) and no joy and then break-up with Ginny.

Some of the things that seemed inadequate:
Harry's loss of Sirius's love and presence. Not mentioned in his opening meeting with Dumbledore; only hinted at with Bellatrix's taunting of him.

Dumbledore's black hand. Not black enough, not dead enough, and not progressively worse.

Harry's building infatuation with Ginny. No chemistry there--Harry swallowing hard just didn't do the trick, and Ginny didn't seem flirty enough, or taken with other guys enough. She was too busy throwing herself at Harry-tying his shoelace? made me want to gag.

The worry about the growing power of Voldemort and the Death Eaters. We don't see or feel the fear inside the walls of Hogwarts.

Harry's obsession with what Draco is up to--we get a tiny bit of this, but not enough to make it an obsession, not enough to irritate his friends.

Harry and Hermione's disagreement about the half-blood prince's copy of potions. There was a bit of this, but not enough to show Harry's growing fondness for the Prince, as a friend.

Professor Slughorn's love of the easy life. There's no obvious growth in his girth from his time with Riddle and the present. There's no unicorn hair in Hagrid's hut, not other treats.

Voldemort's past. We get only two glimpses--nothing of the story of the ring and his Gaunt relatives, nothing of his time at Borgin and Burkes and the locket and cup. Understanding Voldemort and grasping the possibility of these items as horcruxes are incredibly important underpinnings for the next book/film.

Well, lots more.

But on the whole, I enjoyed this HP film. I loved Ron and Lavendar; Hermione and McLaggen. I liked Luna Lovegood and the presence of wrackspurts! I thought Draco was almost intense enough, especially in his scene at the top of North Tower. I didn't lose focus during the movie (except once or twice).

I didn't even mind the extra scenes too much, although I didn't much like the arson of the Burrow or Harry's stupidity just before it--and why didn't Voldemort just come out there and do Harry in at that point?

I want to see this again, of course. And figure out whether it holds up with more viewing.

And now some links to much better discussions and reviews than mine:
Gina Carbone for Comcast, analyzes the Hermione way and the Harry way.

Jason Dudek discusses the placeholder problem.

Kurt Loder confronts the issue of balance--hormones or horror.

Rex Reed wants relevance and more screen time for the greats.

What do you think?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Getting Excited!

Just 5 more days for the opening of the newest Harry Potter film, THE HALF BLOOD PRINCE, based on book 6 in the 7 book series.
Of course, I'm looking forward to seeing the film. Harry, Ron and Hermione are now legend!
Ron, Hermione, Harry. (c) Warner Bros. Pictures

I also love the Weasley twins, and Luna Lovegood. And even Draco Malfoy-bad boy extraordinaire.
Fred and George, or is that George and Fred? (c) Warner Bros. Pictures

Luna Lovegood. (c) Warner Bros. Pictures

Draco Malfoy. (c) Warner Bros. Pictures

New cast members include Freddie Stroma as Cormac McLaggen, the obnoxious Gryffindor who wants to play Quidditch keeper and whom Hermione invites out to make Ron jealous, Jessie Cave as Lavendar Brown, Hero Fiennes-Tiffin as 11-year old Tom Marvolo Riddle, Frank Dillane as 16 year old Riddle, Helen McCrory as Narcissa Malfoy and Jim Broadbent who plays Horace Slughorn.

Cormac McLaggen. (c) Warner Bros. Pictures

Narcissa Malfoy. (c) Warner Bros. Pictures

Lavendar Brown, in love with Ron Weasley. (c) Warner Bros. Pictures

Horace Slughorn. (c) Warner Bros. Pictures

Albus Dumbledore, Professor McGonagle, Hagrid, Lupin, Tonks, Mr. & Mrs. Weasley, and more are of course back in action. As is the evil one, Lord Voldemort.

The trailers are enticing. Here's one:

The HP chatter online is increasing, with discussions about the prolific talents of the supporting cast, a countdown until the movie opens at Mugglenet, and reports of fans and their many methods of expressing their own magic.

But nothing beats the wiki, which lists the entire cast, has a great synopsis, and three different trailers, with a list/links of all TV spots and other media releases collected in one place!
You can see tons more photos, like the ones posted in this blog, here.
Ginny Weasley. (c) Warner Bros. Pictures

Bellatrix and Snape-(c) Warner Bros. Pictures.

The only gripe I have so far is that Romilda Vane is far too pretty!
Romilda Vane-(c) Warner Bros. Pictures.

The red carpet is already rolled out as early screenings are happening in various places.

And the reviews are predominantly good. Rotten Tomatoes gives a 96% score at this early stage of the game (and has a host of trailers and bits of the movie available for viewing, too).

While most of the HP news is positive, there's the bit about the actor who plays Vincent Crabbe, caught growing marijuana. Do you think that has anything to do with casting him as a bad guy?

And one final note: this current HP fix will have to do for a long time. The last book will be made into a movie, split into two parts. The first part is due out November 2010 and the second part isn't due until July 2011.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Bit of News about U.S. Fish & Wildlife

Angelo has an interesting post on a plan to deposit "euro trash" in the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.

We haven't been hearing enough lately about what's happening with the Monument. And this was not really good news. I suggested reporting on it to those in charge.

Remember who's in charge of the MTMNM? It's U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. And we've not been hearing anything about them lately.

So here's a tiny bit of news that I didn't see reported in our local newspapers (well, yes, it did make the Saipan Tribune, but I was gone from Saipan and didn't catch this...) President Obama has named a new director for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, subject to Senate confirmation. Sam D. Hamilton.

Ken Salazar, Interior Secretary, approves of the appointment. Mr. Hamilton also gets a thumbs up from two diametrically opposed groups: the National Wildlife Refuge Association (a conservation group) and "Ducks Unlimited" (a hunting group).

He's praised for his ability to balance competing interests--wildlife on the one hand and people on the other.

His record is not without problems. He has the weakest known record on enforcement of the Endangered Species Act, among all comparable officials, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. No wonder the hunters, anglers, and trappers like him!

Even more worrisome, in a 2005 survey of 1400 F&WS biologists, results from those working under Mr. Hamilton included the following:
"Nearly half (49%) of FWS respondents cited cases where "commercial interests have inappropriately induced the reversal or withdrawal of scientific conclusions or decisions through political intervention."

If this is not bad enough, it appears Mr. Hamilton also lacks experience with deep ocean environments. He helped with a (now defunct) congressional committee on merchant marines and fisheries. He's got some experience with fisheries and even with the Florida Everglades restoration. But even with this, his lack of ardor in protecting marine life, and concommitant lack of understanding of marine environments, seems evident.

For example, there was some criticism of the USFWS apparent failure to include relevant information about marine mammals--manatees--in an assessment approving of a new marina along the Orange River in Florida. And tourists were harrassing the manatees, which led to another complaint about USFWS's lack of enforcement of protections.

Perhaps this is the balance of interests he's known for?

Whether you agree with his philosophy on "balancing" competing "needs", there's no doubt Mr. Hamilton has a lot of experience, with many years at USF&WS. Yet none of his varied experience seems to be directly related to what will be at the heart of managing the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument--deep ocean ecology.

Which gets us back to that nitty gritty question: why USF&WS and not NOAA marine sanctuaries? aargh.