Hot days. A rainbow this morning in the western sky. A few scattered sulphur butterflies. And a travesty of cut-down trees along Beach Road at MHS. (sigh)
The CNMI is in a deep, deep rut. We are facing payless paydays of government employees. The private sector is eating dirt and unable to even get to its knees. And the mood in the communities is bleak.
We have technological problems with water, sewer and utilities. We have a community college on academic probation and facing revocation of its accreditation again. We have a retirement system that has lost millions of dollars and given away perks and double dipping benefits and now can't pay its obligations to its members.
We have increasing crime but a criminal justice system that is riddled with flaws--police who forget about the use of warrants, prosecutors who fail to work with the police to get the evidence and then lose cases, worse yet--settle for puny crimes and miniscule sentences unrelated to the real crime, and worst--dismiss cases or face the court's dismissals instead of prosecuting them.
We have extreme and serious problems and no workable solutions on the table.
Our re-tread legislators peddle the same tired proposals--1) casinos (which have not brought prosperity to Tinian in a decade of operation; have already cost us money in Rota without profit); 2) hitting businesses for more (taking away qualifying certificates, increasing fees); or 3) begging for help from the Federal government, while we continue to strut and profess our indigenous rights and refuse to cooperate with them on immigration and federal enforcement of drug laws.
Most people in the community are impatient and only want money in their pockets (or as Zaldy Dandan reported earlier-the only kind of change people are interested in is the kind that jingles in their pocket).
So if and when elected officials "look" for solutions, they look for short-term, immediate "fixes" which do not address the underlying problems and only tend to delay and worsen the situation. Pension-obligation-bonds are an example. The idea is that we will borrow to "fix" the debt we owe...
Finding long-term solutions means examining what we've done wrong. Some people in the community view this analysis as "unpatriotic," meaning it's anti-CNMI. Others do not have the patience to sift through the details. Still others want to re-write the past and insist that known facts are actually something else. (For example denying the truth that the Department of Interior did consult with the Governor before issuing its report on alien labor.)
And unfortunately, long-term solutions provide no immediate remedy. The people vote out politicians (like Tina Sablan) looking for them, before such proposals can be put into effect or before their effect can be felt. And so we change course, losing ground in the process.
There is a solution. That solution: we need a shared vision of how to approach the problems.
We have spent so much time on thinking of where we want to go, and then we end up arguing about how to get there.
Instead, we need to focus on how we want to act; how we want to build our community; how we think we should engage with one another. We need an ETHIC, a shared ethic.
And that ethic must be based on moral values that support our cultures, all of them in their varied beauty.
We must find the Community Ethic that can nourish all of us, without placing any of us at the expense of others. We are in the same boat, and we will sink together unless we work together to save ourselves. Throwing some off the boat is not going to keep the boat from sinking. Obeying a captain who will share what little wealth is left with only his loyal followers is not going to keep the boat from sinking. Hoping for a miracle is not going to keep the boat from sinking.
God helps those who help themselves. And it is time we help ourselves.
My recommendations for our ethic:
We need an ethic that promotes industry, meaning work. There is value in labor. We need to promote this. We cannot promote the benefits of hard work if we cling to the notion of hand-outs, the gamble, the luck of the draw.
How this ethic might look applied to some of the issues we have before us: Casinos should be out because they promote the idea of easy winnings. Discretionary funds for politicians should be out because they are unrelated to work. Borrowing money (pension obligation bonds) should be off the table because we haven't yet tried to earn our way out of our problems. Immigration benefits should be handed out to those who worked a long time or are working now, but denied to those who got here, did little, and now are hoping for the lucky ticket. ALL government jobs should be civil service--based on competence and merit as demonstrated by competitive exams--and protected from political hiring and firing.
A work ethic includes getting paid on time. It includes a fair wage for work done, commensurate with the skill and level of the work. It includes reasonable profit for businesses and rational restrictions, taxes, and licensing.
A work ethic could re-balance the CNMI and keep the ship afloat.
Another possible ethic: Our ethic could be environmental harmony. We live in a beautiful place. The natural environment is our precious resource. Wasting or harming it is counter-productive to our own physical, psychological and emotional health. We ourselves must insist that everything we do is good for where we live.
We can do simple things like keeping our own yards and streets clean. (and yes--I have room for improvement here myself!) We can learn from Tinian and Rota and look to our elders who were especially neat and clean and handy with a broom. We can be grateful for the end to personal maids because it led us to be lazy about our own efforts at keeping our environment clean. We can return to our roots and make our environment cleaner.
At a local government level, there are many things we can insist on. Kill the rats. Amp up our Zoning Board to focus on environmental concerns and don't license what disturbs the beauty and calm of our islands. Insist that cars and buses have proper mufflers and stop spewing pollution into the air. And thank our current Saipan mayor for properly addressing the dead animal problem we had endured for years.
Our ocean is our legacy. We need to insist that everyone obey the fishing restrictions and respect protected areas. We need to reward the efforts of those in the community who are cleaning up our litter. We need to stop tour guides from encouraging our visitors to disobey regulations like feeding fish at Managaha.
We also should be promoting conservation and working with those outside the CNMI who do so, including federal agencies. We need to push for more action on the Marine Monument. We need to create a co-managed sanctuary with NOAA to get their education and other benefits here.
With an environmental ethic, we can build on programs in our community like CREES, and encourage our students to study science. We can promote eco-tourism and demote ideas like casinos. We can develop green business ventures. There is potential to save us from shipwreck and live in harmony with the world about us.
There are other worthy ethics we could embrace. Kilili has been touting the value of education and critical thinking--critical meaning careful evaluation and judgment, not carping and negativism. (To my knowledge, he's the only political leader in generations who has approached our problems with a stated goal for a community ethic.)
This is a good value and one that could be a worthy Community Ethic. A commitment to education as an ethic can include promoting vocational education (and work); it can strengthen our basic institutions with reliance on facts and information; it can replace politics with reason. There is a chance to repair our ship with learning and knowledge.
Whatever ethic we choose, our ethic should direct us, and come before politics and greed and personal agendas.
In the past, we have confused politics with our love of our family. Strong family loyalty and the ties of kinship are also an ethic. But we have gotten confused by this ethic. We have embraced teen pregnancies in the name of family, when this is not good for our teen children who are having babies or for the babies born to them. We have allowed our little children to stand on street corners and beg for money in the name of family--for politicians, for school organizations, for personal needs. We have overspent our personal budgets, digging ourselves into debt in the name of family obligations from funerals to birthdays. We have turned a blind eye to nepotism in government jobs because of our acceptance of "family first." We have even called on family to give us jobs, expecting ties of kinship to overbalance other considerations like education, experience, competence. We have voted family members into political office despite their poor past performances and lack of leadership skills. When we have so twisted our value in family that our practice no longer actually serves the benefit of the family, we are doing something wrong.
And our community is now in peril because we have failed to think through our actions and decisions. We have brought ourselves to this mess.
We need to re-think our ethic when it comes to family and how we practice this ethic. Family is an important value in our society and one that underlies all cultures. We should work for our families, but not at the expense of other values. We should ensure our children's safety and education. We should share our religious beliefs with our children and families. We should protect and enjoy our family units. But we should not distort our loyalty to family into a corruption that destroys our other ethics to hard work, the environment, education, and other worthy ethics like honesty and mutual respect.
In this time of strife and difficulty, we need to think harder. We need to decide. We need--not a plan of action, but--a shared value of HOW we want to build our future. And then we need to begin by letting those values and ethics direct our choices.