Tuesday, March 31, 2009

346. Monumental interest

NBC is here filming a special about the Marianas Trench Marine Monument for the news.

We said that creating a Monument would bring us press, visitors, attention. And it's started! I've posted a few photos on the Monument blog from our welcome picnic at the beach for our guests. It was very low key. Anna Rose brought her camera and took most of the photos, except for the ones she's in. She wanted pictures with the NBC team, so that's what we've got.

While NBC is here for a news story, National Science Foundation is sponsoring a trip of scientists to the underwater volcano near Rota. You can read more about that trip, going on this month, also, here. Of interest to students and teachers (and some of the rest of us who enjoy the learning process) is a blog that details their daily forays into the ocean to chart the underwater volcanic activity.

It's a very exciting time in the CNMI!

Monday, March 30, 2009

345. Screnzy--Are You In?

It came as something of a shock this weekend to realize that Script Frenzy starts this week--April 1 is Wednesday. Just 2 days away!

A month-long adventure of writing a script. The goal-100 pages. Script types include screenplays, stageplays, radio theatre, graphic novels (manga), comic books, and even collections of shorts for film or stage.

I've been planning since last November to adapt my NaNoWriMo novel from 2008 into a stage play (musical style). That inspiration came during November as I was writing the novel and kept thinking it would work better on stage.

The only problem, as I realized this weekend, is that I never finished the novel! I have more than a dozen scenes of varying lengths to write on the novel. I estimate that I have about 12,000 to 18,000 words more to go. And I'll never get that finished before April 1.

So do I "adapt" the unfinished novel, and come up with the ending during Frenzy? Or do I latch on to some other idea now and wing it (which is truly the style that works best during these write-it-all-in-a-month on-line events)? I could bail this year--I have enough unfinished projects already, don't need another...

Is there any one else out there who wants to write a script in a month with me? It's fun! And it's easier with someone to share the experience.

Friday, March 20, 2009

343. More News

The Senate Commerce Committee approved Gary Locke as Secretary of Commerce.

The reports on him are decidely mixed. The full Senate vote is expected to be pro forma--approval on the basis of the Committee report.

No doubt one of his first --and probably least troublesome, at least to him-- duties will be to join the Secretary of Interior in creating an Advisory Council for the Marianas Marine Monument.

Deadline looming (first week of April, I think.) We can hope for the best.

But here's what bothers me:

That smile... even the eyes...




Photo of Benigno Fitial taken from Wikipedia; Photo of Gary Locke from AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta.

342. BREAKING NEWS

I got a phone call this morning from Wendy Chavez of the Environmental Protection Agency.

FRIENDS OF THE MONUMENT has been selected as a winner for the region 9 awards this year! YAY! She said it was a "tight" competitive process, and that more than 200 nominations (in all categories) were received and 40 winners selected. Awards ceremony will be April 16, 2009.

I received the notice because I nominated the organization for the award. You can see my earlier post about the EPA award here.

Congrats to Friends of the Monument!


And follow up on Angelo's breaking news: a link re Jane Lubchenco confirmed as new NOAA chief.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

341. Some Refreshing Perspectives

Senator Frica Pangelinan has a good commentary in today's papers. She discusses the incongruity of the Governor's statements (first blaming fiscal problems on the lack of a budget and now on the passage of a budget), his willingness to use deficit spending, and her view of the importance of looking to the future and embracing needed changes.

My favorite part of her opinion:

So, do we continue to desperately scramble to preserve the two-tiered system that crowds our government offices with personnel, and our private sector with guest workers? Do we keep fighting minimum wage increases? Do we continue to resist a “federalization” that can open up jobs for locals in the private sector?

I say no.


There's also another good letter in the Tribune, from Jim Rayphand (and at present no link available to it). He makes the point that age is not the yardstick for measuring who has beneficial attitudes for government service, that the young as well as the old can be wedded to a system of perks and privilege, and that other people of all ages can embrace transparency in government.

There is growing talk about the younger generation of upstarts causing the tremor that is to be a cleaner, more open government. The fact is, age has nothing to do with the movement in that direction--there are just as many, if not more, young knuckleheads as there are old ones. Since ever since, numerous people in the government have been beating their heads against the same guarded walls of territorialiasm and other hollow-blocks of self-inflated egos. The endeavor is not new, but if the younger generations are to make any significant headway in the quest for better governance, they will need to connect with and build on existing foundations from the inside out...


He votes for transparency and shares a bit about the recent problems of the CNMI Council on Developmental Disabilities.

And so, kudos to both Frica and Jim. Although there is much work to be done, there is also some progress, some bits of sanity and good governance cropping up in our CNMI local government terrain.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

340. On the Amicus Brief in the Federalization Lawsuit

I've read the amicus brief filed by Bob O'Connor on behalf of the NMI Descent organization in the lawsuit challenging federalization of immigration. You can find a link to it here at Wendy's blog.

This blog post is my initial reaction, brief analysis, and random thoughts about it--in no particular order.

1. It's written very well. Bob covers a lot of ground and hacks through a lot of underbrush and misconceptions about the Covenant and the CNMI-US relationship with clarity and perception. Although I disagree with the bottom-line conclusions, I am in awe of his writing talent and the depth of his thinking on the issues.

2. He takes some basic positions that are clearer, neater, and more cogent than either the CNMI or the US in their briefs: a) the Covenant's guarantee of a right for self-government over internal affairs is mandated by international law and the UN Mandate to the US for the trusteeship; b) the Covenant is not just a public law of the US but a bilateral agreement; c) it doesn't matter whether you call the CNMI a US territory that is different than other territories, or not a territory because of the differences--the real significance of the Covenant is that it alone governs the relationship between the US and the CNMI; d) because self-government over internal affairs is an essential part of the relationship between the CNMI and US, the Covenant and the limits it puts on US power must be construed to promote that essential, fundamental aspect of the Covenant; e) reading the provision to provide a purely institutional guarantee without a substantive provision could result in an empty, meaningless promise of self-government. The example Bob gives on this is the hypothetical if the US Congress were to immediately pass a law after each and every law enacted by the CNMI local government declaring such CNMI local law a nullity--not changing the Covenant, not effecting the existence of the local governing institutions, but clearly gutting the meaning of self-government.

3. These positions were so well-articulated I am persuaded as to each of them. I would have already agreed with a, b, and c before reading his brief and could even have articulated these ideas. d was a natural corollary. e was a stretch for me, but I was persuaded as to the issue of a substantive component to the self-governing provision of the Covenant despite my earlier discussion (argument?) with cactus on this matter, by the clarity of the example. The writing is brilliant and helpful to getting through the thicket of the Covenant and self-government of internal affairs at least this far.

4. Bob also disagrees with both the CNMI and the US on the next step of the analysis. He embraces the balancing test of Richards. He says because there is a substantive element to the guarantee of self-government, it must be weighed in the balance each time the US enacts a law applicable in the CNMI.

He dispatches of the US argument that the balance has already been struck in the covenant itself because at section 503, the Covenant acknowledges that US immigration laws can be later made applicable to the CNMI. Bob's argument is simple--that section 503 only relates to what federal laws do not apply at the start of the CNMI. That they may later apply does not negate the US's need to comply with the balancing test because the source of Congress's power to enact any law is section 105.


While I like that analysis of the Covenant's framework, this is also where I think his analysis begins to falter. The substantive element of self-government only applies to self-government over "internal affairs."

5. Bob glosses over the "internal affairs" issue. He assumes that anything that effects our economy to a great extent is automatically an internal affair. He argues that because we have handled immigration, it is a matter of self-government that we continue to handle immigration. He claims that because the CNMI has already wedded itself to cheap foreign labor, our use of cheap foreign labor is an internal affair.

If you use the same kind of hypothetical analysis on this argument that Bob uses on the institutional vs. substantive aspect of the right of self-government, you can see the flaw of this type of reasoning.

If we decided to build our economy on the production of heroin, it would be an "internal" affair and protected by the right to self-govern.

If we decided to become a banking center for money-launderers, it would be an "internal" affair and protected by the right to self-govern.

If we decided to embark on a new industry of cloning individuals or selling babies or whatever... it would be an "internal" affair and protected by the right to self-govern.

If we decided to make our economy based on selling jihadi movements information or goods or services, or have schools here for training, it would become an "internal" affair and protected by the right to self-govern.

You get the idea.

In a small place like the CNMI, everything can be said to have a big effect here. With Bob's analysis of what is "internal"--everything is internal, nothing is external, unless it doesn't effect the CNMI at all.

6. In Bob's analysis, the fundamental right to self-govern is so strong that few laws would overbalance it. In this case, he fails to credit any of the interests that the US has in passing the CNRA.

He goes so far as to say the US has NO interest in how the CNMI conducts its labor matters, how we structure our economy, how we treat workers here; the CNMI's decision to not extend rights to alien workers is an internal affair because those rights would be exercised here.

This argument ignores the reach of the US Constitution to the CNMI and its protections of equal treatment, due process, and fundamental fairness. The argument ignores the reality that the face we present to the rest of the world as being part of the US means that what we do in the CNMI can tarnish the US' reputation abroad. The argument ignores the case law cited by the US government that the US, not local governments, is "parens patria" and thus the US has an obvious federal interest in treating all people with dignity and fairness.

7. Bob also fails to acknowledge that US citizenship and the path of alien workers to US citizenship is not internal at all, but strictly within the province of the US federal government. He mentions that the CNMI has controlled the reins of access to rights, and claims that US control will flood the CNMI with aliens who gain rights at the expense of the indigenous.

In other words, he argues that as a matter of local self-government, the CNMI has a RIGHT to continue to have a two-tiered economy with a class of workers who are permanently excluded from every avenue to political rights.

8. He makes a few good points in his arguments, even for these offensive positions--for example, that the US has not had a coherent immigration policy.

No doubt that the US has vacillated on how best to have immigrant labor and protect US labor at the same time.

9. But it is disingenuous to suggest that the US has not embraced an immigration policy that promotes eventual citizenship for immigrants. It isn't uniform, it isn't all encompassing, but there are certainly SOME doors open for immigrants to use as a means for gaining citizenship--besides a familial relationship of marriage or parenting an adult US citizen child (which IR door is open here only because of the Covenant provision). In the US, some workers can gain US citizenship; some foreigners can get in through the quotas; etc.

In the CNMI, all doors are closed, except to those IRs who come through the applicable portals of Immigration and Nationality Act.

So the US Congress can express an interest legitimately in wanting an immigration system that does not rely on cheap foreign labor that is permanently excluded from the political process, permanently kept as an underclass.

And Bob's refusal to acknowledge that federal interest is the biggest weakness of his brief.

10. He also argues that the CNMI is not part of the US, arguing that the US's interest in control of its borders does not mean the US has any interest in control of the borders of the CNMI.

This is a very big leap and very significant. Bob doesn't give enough analysis to support his assumption.

It's also a very dangerous argument. Imagine if a foreign power came knocking at our door with its guns ablaze. We could 't defend ourselves. We're counting on the Covenant and the U.S.'s promise to protect and defend us. But what if "we" aren't part of the US. What interest would the US have in spending its money to defend our borders? Would we be claiming "self-government" then? Or would we be demanding that the US live up to its commitments?

Since the US has a covenant commitment to defend us, it obviously has an interest in securing even our border.


All in all, Bob's argument, although very well written and persuasive on some aspects, depends on very flawed assumptions:

1. that "internal affairs" to which local self-government applies includes everything that has an effect here and applies to immigration of aliens into the CNMI, applies to employment of foreign workers in the CNMI, and applies to control of the CNMI's borders.

2. that this is not the US and not within the US's border, so the US has no security interest.

3. that citizenship and rights of foreign workers are a matter of local concern only and not a federal interest.

339. News Flash! New Growth in Backbones...

House votes to override Governor's veto of budget. Just heard.
More details to come.

EDIT: Some details.

14 voted for the override--the same 12 who previously voted for the override, plus David Apatang (who had been absent before) and Edwin Aldan (who had voted no on the override before).

P.S.
I forgot to say this--and perhaps it is the most important thing to say--thanks! thanks! THANKS! to all 14 House members.

And of course, to our Senators who previously voted to override the budget veto.

This may not be the best budget. It may not even be a good budget. But at least it is a written, considered, and legislated budget. Yay!


Second edit:
I also heard (and Ed reports this, too) that Stanley Torres voted "no" on the budget override this time. The report I heard is that he mentioned Lil Hammerhead's blog figured in his final decision... I'm not sure how--perhaps he wants to give Lil more fodder, or he enjoys the attention, or he just doesn't like being pressured even by public opinion. Guess I'll have to wait for the newspaper editions, though, to see his exact quote.

I'm still waiting to hear who the other 3 "no" votes were.


Final edit:
Per Ed at Marianas Pride in the comments, voting NO--Oscar Babauta, Joseph James N. Camacho, Victor Hocog, and Stanley Torres.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

338. Federal Officials

I've met a lot of federal officials over the past two days.

Marine Monument


Some top officials from Fish & Wildlife are here about the Marine Monument--Barbara Maxfield, Barry Stieglitz, Donald Palawski; and also from NOAA--William Robinson. They are meeting with local government officials and conducting their first field review about the national marine monument, designated in January 2009 by then-President Bush.

They have the words of the proclamation and of the designation of DFW as lead agency, but apparently a lot of the groundwork, fieldwork, and framework from the process leading up to the designation has been lost by the change in Presidential administrations.

Here's what I understood would be two of the first agenda items for the Monument management:

1) fishing regulations, which are on the agenda for the next Wespac meeting scheduled for March 17-19, 23-25, 2009 in PagoPago, American Samoa; and

2) NEPA--environmental impact statements. There is a lot of groundwork that goes into one of these; and apparently DFW is looking to get started on the baseline fundamentals. (Lauri, Angelo--please correct me if I got this wrong...)

There is no fixed timeline, but some targeted dates:

4/11/2009--advisory council in place. This date is based on the proclamation language "within 3 months of the date of this proclamation." It is unlikely that this date will be met since the appointment is by the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior, and right now we don't yet have a Secretary of Commerce, although President Obama has nominated Gary Locke.

Governor Fitial's selections may not qualify, either, as the proclamation requires that the advisors be members of the local government.

8/2010--I think this was the target date for draft regulations, with the hope that they would be in place by 12/2010.

2011--Monument included in 2011 budget. It seems to be already too late to include the monument in the 2010 budget. It may be too late for the 2011 budget...

2013--full operation of Monument.



USCIS Application Support Center




Today marked the official opening of the US Citizenship and Immigration Service's Application Support Center in Saipan. This is part of the operation to federalize immigration here.

Present for the ceremony were Michael Aytes--Acting Deputy Director of USCIS, Carolyn Muzyka--Regional Director of the Western Region of USCIS, David Gulick--District Director headquartered in Honolulu, HI, and Walter Haith--Field Office Director from Guam. Other dignitaries came as well, including TSA official (Michael Connolly?), federal Court Judge Munson, DOI representative Jeff Schorr, and CNMI dignitaries including Governor Benigno Fitial, Mayor Juan B. Tudela, and Immigration Chief Mel Grey.

The ASC office is open and has the capacity to do "biometrics"--meaning fingerprinting, photographing, and getting electronic signatures. The staff gave a quick demonstration of how they do these. They have already been doing these things since 3/2/2009, but there is a small snafu for those applying for green cards. Right now USCIS still reads the various laws as requiring "admission upon inspection" and therefore says applicants must still travel to Guam. They are looking into the possibility of changing that, and will change it for sure on the start date of the federalization/transition.

There is some strong speculation that the start date will be delayed and that federalization will not start on June 1, 2009. It can be delayed as much as six months (to 12/1/2009), but could also be delayed for a shorter period of time.

The problem from the USCIS point-of-view seems to be that regulations are not in place, and the time for getting them in place is running out. USCIS does not want to start operation without regulations already in place. Given that regs usually need a 60 day comment period and then republication in adopted form, and we only have about 82 days from now before June 1, 2009, it seems like the time is too limited for a prompt start.

The USCIS officials present were an interesting mix of diplomat and bureaucrat. They got in their soundbites--about being a service provider, about wanting to do things right, about being available and open for comment and information, but they also didn't answer some direct questions, like whether there would be a delay in the start-up date. They expressly denied that there would be any amnesty by the agency, although they acknowledged that Congress could move in that direction.

They also have a policy man in the Saipan office--Fred Ongcapin--who is here to get a better grasp of some of the trickier issues and then go back to Washington and work on them.

All in all, the prospects from today's events seemed hopeful.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

337. Oh, for a Good Lame Excuse

Voting No on the override of the Governor's veto of the budget:

Republican
Joseph James Norita Camacho--no reason given*; he'd voted for this budget when it was originally passed.

Stanley T. Torres--abstained; "I was not ready to vote yet because I just got in when they had a roll call. I would have voted yes to the override."

Democrat
Justo S. Quitugua--no reason given; he'd voted for this budget when it was originally passed.


Covenant
Edwin P. Aldan-no reason given; he was absent when the budget was originally passed.

Oscar M. Babauta--he'd voted against the budget when it passed because he supports Governor Fitial's call for austerity Fridays, so presumably he objects to the override for the same reason. He also said, when questioned about his reasons, that he recommended that the House of Representatives "move on" to more pressing concerns.

Raymond D. Palacios--no reason given; he'd voted for this budget when it was originally passed.


Independent
Victor B. Hocog--he voted for the budget when it passed, but voted against the budget veto override because the Governor telephoned him threatening to furlough contractual workers, especially in Rota and Tinian.

David M. Apatang--absent; he'd voted for this budget when it was originally passed.



Some thoughts:

1. Rep. Babauta--There are no more pressing concerns. We need a budget immediately. We need to stop discretionary spending, stop uncontrolled deficit spending, stop irresponsible-no account needed spending. Your support of austerity Fridays is a sham to hide the fact that you really support this governor having unlimited power. A budget, even without austerity Fridays, puts in more fiscal controls and restraints than the phantom austerity Fridays you pretend to hold out for.

2. Rep. Torres--Why were you late? You needed to be ready and present from the start. You have a responsibility and need to live up to it. This is probably the lamest excuse from a legislator to date--and that's really saying something given all the lame excuses we've heard over the past year from you and your colleagues.

3. Rep. Hocog--Where is your backbone? Stand up to the Governor and vote for what is right. The CNMI needs a budget. You are concerned about contractual employees in Rota. Why does the CNMI have so many government employees who are not civil service? Why do we have so many ordinary citizens in political appointments and contractual jobs that are subject to political pressure tactics? We cannot be hostages to our leaders. And you, as a "leader" should not be bowing to political pressure and caving in to threats of job losses when you actually supported this budget to begin with.

4. Rep. Camacho--Although you gave no excuse on the record in the House, you explain your reasons on your website. Basically, you say your change of mind relates to separation of powers, because the budget contains a provision that requires Legislative approval of any and all new hires. You say you originally voted for the budget because this provision can be viewed as merely ministerial (an administrative function), but now that the Governor says it violates the Constitution, you must respect the Governor's interpretation.

This is a lame excuse. The budget as passed--HB 16-213--contains at sec. 801 a "severability" clause, basically saying that if any one provision is unconstitutional, it shall be severed from the law and the rest remain in effect.

You should have voted to override the veto. Then we would have a budget. If the provision is challenged and the court rules it unconstitutional (neither a sure bet), we still have a budget and the constitution is upheld by severing it from the rest of the law.

Stop trying to confuse the electorate with make-believe justifications. This is nothing but a lame excuse and a poor one at that. I suspect this excuse masks other political motivations. Be honest with us.

5. Rep. Quitugua--What does it mean to be a member of the Democrat party? What possible explanation could you reasonably give for voting against the veto override? I suspect your vote has nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with your personal politics and limited vision.

6. Rep. Palacios--I understand that you voted this time with your party. I don't agree with you or your party. I hope Covenant loses resoundingly in the next election.

7. Rep. Apatang--Why did you miss this session? I understand that you may be sick. You didn't look good today when I saw you at the memorial service for the Honorable Marty W. K. Taylor. I hope you get well soon.


WE STILL NEED A BUDGET!




Wednesday, March 4, 2009

336. Happenings at Guma Hustitia

Tomorrow, the state memorial for former Justice Marty W.K. Taylor.
Friday and Saturday, the CNMI high schools' Mock Trial Competition.


Both events serve important purposes.

One--to remember a man who worked for a long time in the legal field and served as Public Defender, an Associate Judge on the Superior Court, and an Associate Justice at the Supreme Court.

He wasn't perfect. He wrote some horrible opinions, like the lower court ruling in Ada vs. Sablan, adhering to the archaic common law that women were merged into their husbands and had no interest in property bought during the marriage, so that the wife in the case would get none of the land purchased during the marriage. The case was overruled on appeal, and it seemed fairly clear that then-Judge Taylor had intentionally written a decision that required action as a means of bringing the matter to a head. Eventually, the Legislature did act to reform the law and passed a marital property act. But it was a risky and unjudicious method to make an outrageously unequal decision to achieve that end.

He also had some more cavalier moments on the bench and in his personal life, some endearing and some offensive. He also made some very good judicial decisions and had a good understanding of the community.

And he had a sense of humor.

What is important now is to realize that our justice is in the hands of men and women who aren't perfect, but who, nonetheless, work at doing what is right. And Marty Taylor, for all his contributions and imperfections, for his effort, for his successes and his failures, should be remembered and honored.


2. Our students are just starting their lessons in life. The mock trial competition gives them an opportunity to learn about how trials are conducted, how testimony is elicited with questions, how tangible objects and documents are introduced and used at trial, and how objections are made to keep out irrelevant and unfair matters.

The competition gives them a chance to see how their individual skills can be used in an adversarial process. The way the competition is set up also forces them to look at both sides of the case, and take turns advocating each side of prosecution and defense.

While some schools act as if the competition is about winning, the better schools actually treat the competition as a tool for teaching. Students get a chance to realize having a lawyer is important for access to justice, at least in our system. And they begin to understand their own strengths and weaknesses in working toward that end.