Friday, April 27, 2007

The governor's big special announcement

I was not at the State of the Commonwealth Address address today because I have a job and stuff, but I called a friend from our local paper to get the scoop, and I was told that the special announcement was: The Government is still broke.

Here is my own special announcement: "I'm still bald and opinionated."

Only in Saipan.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Teaching in the Saipan public schools - the good, the bad and the ugly

I've got a lot of email inquiries and google search hits relating to teaching in Saipan. Right now is recruiting season for the next school year, so a new group is out there considering their options. In the interests of "esprit de corps," I will offer what I feel is a balanced views of the pros and cons of living and working here as a teacher. I am not speaking on PSS' behalf, but offering my own personal views.

The positives about living and teaching here are the following: the kids are reasonably respectful, there is minimal to no violence such as shootings, fights and the general horror stories you read about in the states, at least in the classroom, do not exist. Note this is not the case in Guam if that is a place you are considering. I've never heard a positive word about the Guam Public Schools, and in fact, GPSS sounds like a pit of epic proportion.

Saipan is a low stress environment. Administration is usually pretty hands off if you are a competent professional. There has never been any micromanaging of the classroom experience in my experience. As a teacher, you have a lot of academic freedom and are encouraged to be creative.

There is minimal traffic here, and your commute to work shouldn't be more than ten minutes. You can get a beautiful ocean view apartment for $500 to $600 dollars per month. You can get the kind of view you would never have on a teacher's salary in the mainland. Car insurance and taxes are also very low. Salaries are pretty competitive and are better than places like the southeast. The northeast and the west coast pay more, but the cost of living is much higher. There is a teacher shortage usually, so it is not that hard to get a job. A BA/BS in most anything, and completion of the Praxis I and II are the basic entry requirements. Take Praxis II in the subject you intend to teach. Later on you will be required to take a few classes in education if you do not have an education degree. You must be eligible to work in the U.S. to be employed here.

The schools often have high tech equipment like digital projectors, video equipment, high def television, ample computers, wireless Internet and so on because we get disproportionate federal funds because we are so small. Since local funds pay for supplies, you will have all these hi tech things, and then not have toilet paper in the restrooms.

Being in Saipan, you can easily travel to places like Bali, Cairns, Australia, the Philippines, Korea, Japan, Singapore and Thailand. There is a two to three week break at Christmas and two months off in June and July for summer vacation.

Saipan has pretty good scuba diving, and access to the world's best diving in Palau. There are a few nice hotels, two water parks and plenty of scenic locations. There are a few good coffee shops, and a couple decent restaurants. I find the restaurants pretty disappointing overall, but there are a few decent places. Fresh tuna is readily available for $1 to $2 dollars per pound. There are plenty of sushi locations on the cheap if you like that. This is a Japanese vacation site, so it is cool to live in a place where people take a vacation. The weather is always warm, but you don't get any change of seasons, and sometimes it is incredibly hot.

The negatives of teaching in Saipan are plenty as well. The government is very unstable. To date I've always gotten my paycheck on time, but there is a steady drumbeat of fear on the economic survival of the island. It is wildly mismanaged, and the system doesn't work anymore. The economy absolutely stinks right now. The unemployment rate is probably fifty percent and up. The private sector wages are abysmal, generally the $3.05 minimum wage or there around. There is a giant, bloated government bureaucracy, and the funds to sustain it are diminishing as our infamous garment factories are exiting stage left with great alacrity and fewer Japanese folks vacation here with fewer flights from Japan.

The kids are seriously lacking in intellectual curiosity, and motivation takes up a lot of your time as a teacher. Often times the parents are sitting home on welfare, and the kids get that kind of modeling. There is no shame about welfare as it is so common. "We accept food stamps" is pretty much the CNMI motto. If you don't motivate the students, the work won't get done, and you also grow tired of making them care about anything. Classes are overcrowded. Thirty per classroom is common in the high school, and I've heard those numbers go higher in the middle schools. You get no preparation time. We had a prep period once in my four years, but that is going away next year, and I don't expect it back anytime soon. This is ridiculous and annoying to people used to teaching in the states.

The facilities are falling apart -- especially in the older schools -- which make up most of the schools. There are a few newer schools, and I teach at one of these, where the facilities are better. There are no janitors to clean the classrooms. I have the kids do it -- especially if they break class rules. Teachers are often encouraged to paint the room and wax the floors on their own dime, which I find outrageous, but I did fund the painting part. Textbooks are often limited, and the libraries are a bit lacking, but getting better. PE facilities tend to be very poor, and virtually don't exist at two of the three high schools. There is no stipend for doing things like coaching (though there really is only basketball and volleyball, and sometimes paddling) or being class adviser or yearbook or all of those things.

Because summer never ends, the ant population never really diminishes, so ants will be getting around and about most anywhere. There is a growing rat problem on the island as well, and that leads to produce prices in a place with endless summer often being ridiculous. There is a lot of teenage pregnancy, and abortion is illegal as per the CNMI constitution. There is a habit of chewing this stuff called betelnut, which provides a buzz for the chewer when mixed with cigarettes, and the juice will be spit out most anywhere. It is extremely gross. It is illegal in schools, but it is a constant battle to stop it.

Retail prices here are outrageous, and power and gas are the highest in America. At least with the gas prices you won't be driving so far, so it evens out versus the mainland. We have a U.S. post office, so I just don't buy anything here. I just use the net. The power system is not only expensive, but it is unreliable. This seems to depend on where you live. I've never lived in an apartment where the power would go out too much, but in some places it could be a daily experience. It seems to be getting better since they raised the power rates. We are also prone to typhoons, but I've not experienced a terrible one, knock on wood, since I've been here. There were two minor ones during my stay.

Overall, the pros outweigh the cons for me, or I wouldn't still be here, but my days here are definitely coming close to ending. I never thought I'd be here four years, but I will be here for a fifth, and I expect final, year next year.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Poverty in the CNMI

According to the United States Government Accountability Office testimony, quoting the 2000 census, 46 percent of individuals in the CNMI are living in poverty, almost four times the U.S. national rate. Median income here is $22,898, about half of the U.S. average of $42,000. These figures are from 2000 before the JAL pullout and the garment industry collapsed, so the current numbers are probably worse. That GAO report from Thursday also detailed the spending spree Governor Babauta was on. His spending was indeed a big reason for our current problems, which isn't to forgive this bunch for the new hires, Hawaii junkets, Jesus Camacho, new lobbyist et al. Compared to the last bunch, Fitial is cutting spending. It would be nice if he would really fix the CNMI so it isn't so fly by night, and combine a tax increase say on those mansions on Capitol Hill with removing more government dead weight to focus on education, public health and public safety. Property tax on a lot of those houses would be $8,000 - $12,000 in most any U.S. suburb.

Could a minimum wage increase really be so bad given those poverty numbers?

Monday, April 23, 2007

PSS funding

The events of late regarding PSS funding are very disturbing. There is lots I can add to that point, but these two PSS colleagues/bloggers said it all:

Suffice to say I completely agree with them. I didn't think it was possible for my opinion of the vast majority of our elected leaders to sink to a lower level, but their comments at the PSS session last week paved the way to a new low.

Now here is what is news to me, I quote from the Saipan Tribune:

"With students, parents and teachers eyeing their every move, lawmakers
yesterday approved a bill taking $6.658 million from the Commonwealth Utilities
Corp. and other autonomous agencies to give to the Public School System.All 18
members of the House of Representatives voted in favor of House Bill 15-242,
authored by Rep. Joseph Deleon Guerrero. The measure now goes to the Senate for

Reps. Arnold I. Palacios and Francisco Dela Cruz said they
were particularly concerned about cutting the cash-strapped utility's budget by
almost $6 million. They said CUC might try to recover the reduced amount by
increasing rates. Rep. Cinta Kaipat raised a concern about fairness. "

Here is my question for my fellow blogger Cinta: Why does CUC, now that they've doubled the power rates, still get a nickel of public money? How can they not be self sufficient based on user fees at this point? They have the highest power rates in America, the customer service stinks, they still can't keep the power on -- and they're subsidized with our tax dollars while Bree has rat dung in her class and Bonnie has no toilet paper in her school. Please educate us because this blows my mind. The government is still giving these people tax money. If they were cut $6 million, how much were they getting before. I thought the massive increases got them off the government subsidy list.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Beautify CNMI Mascot

If the betelnut disaster teeth make for a good mascot on the economy, then maybe Beautify CNMI could use this guy as its mascot. His job is to use his limited body weight to hold a rag on the rail of the escalator at a mall in Osaka circa 2001 and thereby remove stains and fingerprints. Gil Grissom would be pissed if there was a crime there. Man does time fly. This was taken with a 35 mm and scanned poorly when I first left the not so friendly confines of New Jersey to go overseas and took a Japan trip from Korea. I rode the escalator again to get a snapshot of this guy, whose countenance displays a singular focus on cleanliness. Congratulations to Beautify CNMI for all the great work.


I've been reading the comments by Gov. Fitial, the Chamber Spokesman and the Island Crusader, and I'm won over by their scintillating logic. Things are going so well here that I'm joining their side. I'm really a conservative, so things should stay the same. That's the true meaning of conservative, not changing, just so you liberal wussies know.

I'm going to argue against these terrorists who want to inflict their LIBERAL, FAG views on immigration and wages and take away all that is sacred and holy: a cheap maid, our private sector jobs and one third of the island population, I mean the remaining garment factories, controlling two-thirds of the disenfranchised island population. If the Demonazis are successful, they will destroy our political structure. How will we get picnic tables and tents? Who will create the unnecessary jobs? Who will do the dirty, difficult or dangerous jobs? The junkets might cease! The poker rooms will close if they have to pay the attendant an extra couple of bucks in a few years, the garment factories will leave and we might have to pay the highest prices for gas, power and retail items in all of America. The special privileges of the covenant made these things so cheap before. Stop them. Act now and voice your support against a Federal Invasion, I mean Takeover. I wish they had Fort Sumter in the lagoon.

George Miller needs to stop abusing children, supporting Bin Laden and return to his home in North Korea, or his summer home in Iran, because he has no business telling us to stop paying $3.05 to people from China, Philippines, Bangladesh, et al. Since when do those people matter? Do you really want to see our boonie dogs eaten or Manny Pacquiao elected governor of the CNMI?

Those liberals are just using the CNMI for their own political gain. Voters all throughout California, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida will be heading to the polling place in November with a singular focus on wages in the CNMI, not Iraq, Katrina, the $9 trillion deficit, the trade deficit or the thinning military ranks, so Nancy Pelosi should stop the pandering to LIBERALS just to get votes for Democrats on the backs of our suffering islands. These liberals are traitors and decidedly not "loyal Bushies." Stop them now! NO Federal Takeover!If these meddlers get their way on immigration and minimum wage, the next thing you know they'll try to impose federal grants for free money on education, the environment, infrastructure and welfare here in Saipan. They'll even demand the schools STAY OPEN! Speak up now before Schools REMAIN OPEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Save our islands!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!STOP the liberals!!!!! Nancy Pelosi looks like a guy in drag!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

CNMI Economy Mascot

If there is a better symbol for the CNMI economy than this guy's teeth, I don't know it. Those choppers are abused, neglected and generally ill from doing the same bad idea over and over again. Sounds like our economy doesn't it. One thing to keep in mind is that Gov. Fitial is the head dentist in this analogy. Imagine that the dentist's previous job was chief executive to a betelnut farmers conglomeration. Stuff to think about.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Short Takes on failed youth, fish, blogs, ipods and diving

I had a smart yet very lazy student last year who simply stopped showing up for a while, and then would suddenly appear for a few days and then the process would repeat. Unlike most of the students who pull this, and there are about 10 per year even among seniors near graduation, he was above his peers in capability and brightness. Like I often do with these 17 and 18-year-old-students who need it, I painted a stark picture of where life was headed if he kept it up in this haphazard fashion. I give at least 10 of these talks a year and no punches are pulled. I make a point of mentioning the difficulty in finding an appealing woman (it is almost always boys of course) as an adult high school dropout making the meager wages dropouts tend to make. Sometimes these talks really work. Sometimes they don't. This one got the talk, and it obviously didn't take. I read in the paper today that this person, 18, was charged with felony armed robbery and is in jail on $100,000 bail. If convicted, and even if given the usual island slap on the wrist, will still have a felony conviction that will put the career Scarlet Letter on him in perpetuity -- even if he gets it together later on. All of this was for $4,000 in stolen poker room money presumably split among him and his alleged three accomplices.
One of the great things about living here, and there are plenty of them, is the fresh fish. Fresh tuna is $1.00 a pound island-wide right now, and I grilled up Cajun tuna steaks with Fettuccine Alfredo tonight. It rocked. The Miracle Blaze charcoal makes grilling very easy as well. It costs more than standard charcoal, but it is well worth it for a small grill used for a family of four.

I'm late to the party on lots of popular things, but as far as inventions go, the Ipod simply rules. I used to haul 600 plus cds around the world in three of those caseless flip binders, and when I wanted to hear something specific, I had to dig it out -- assuming I could remember where it was, and then drop it in the CD player. Often that hassle meant I never put the disc on. Now I just click the wheel and have access to 600 plus cds, and I run it through my AV amplifier so it isn't just for headphone use. The Ipod was really nice on vacation as well, as I could put on a lecture, or comedy act or more likely, something from my prodigious Dave Matthews Band collection on the endless bus, boat and plane rides -- or when my Tagalog relatives had enough English or me of Tagalog, which usually doesn't take long in either case.
I read Grant in Saipan's blog, and that guy has done some major exploring on this island and seen all kinds of natural and historical sites off the beaten path. I did some of these things at one point when I was friendly with some explorers, but as is common on this island, good friends move away and I've done little exploration missions since. Grant details all this in a very cool blog. I found myself next to him at the post office, having never met him in person, struck up a conversation and he was astonished that I knew of him in specifics. We forget how much we say on these blogs.
I'm jonesing to go diving in Rota. In fact, I'm trying to put together a trip June 8-10 after school gets out to Dive in Rota. The more people that go, the better the deal I'm sure that could be had. I've got about four interested parties right now. Email me if you are interested in going. I heard from Mark Michael at the defunct Dive Rota that June is the best time to dive the Rota Hole (to the left). These pics from the Dive Rota site look cool, and Rota is reputed to have spectacular visibility.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Diving around and about

I dove the Grotto again yesterday. The Grotto is still just about my favorite on the planet. It is more unique with those contrasts between light and dark than most anywhere else, and so much can be explored here. Those steps are rough, though. I'm still in pain.
I moved to Saipan in large part for the ability to dive whenever I wanted to. In year one and now in year four I've done fair bit of diving. I almost bit it at the Grotto in year one, which didn't spook me on diving, but it spooked me on the Grotto. Crossing that rock still scares the shit out of me. I have a very healthy respect for the dangers of that place, as everyone should, but doesn't. I've seen some people standing around with waves crashing and generally oblivious to the danger. I found this island by coming here on a dive vacation from Korea and was told there was a large demand for English teachers. I contemplated if I could live in such a small place "for a year," decided yes, and here I am four years later. I'd probably be out here for the longer haul if I could buy a house and the government wasn't so "fly by night," but it isn't and that isn't the purpose of this post.

Since I got certified in 2001, I've been diving in the following places in order of dive trip: Cheju Island Korea (Open Water), Boracay Philippines (Advanced Open Water), Phuket Thailand, Koh Tao Thailand, Saipan CNMI, Puerto Gallera Philippines, Palawan Philippines, Palau, Gili Trawangan Indonesia and Bohol Philippines. I have a real interest in doing a liveaboard on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia one day and another trip to Palau before I leave this area. Eventually I'd like to dive the Red Sea as well, which would allow me to see the Pyramids and the Sphinx and all that stuff everyone should see.

Cheju Island is between Korea and Japan. It is the Korean honeymoon spot. I'd never even been snorkeling at this point, let alone diving, and then I did my first dive here. I thought it was amazing, but anything would have been amazing on dive one. The first dive is like the first sexual experience: awkward, nerve wracking, amazing and very short with that little voice saying, "everyone should know about this, wow." I doubt this is a must see spot for serious divers, but is good if you are in Korea.

Boracay, Philippines. This place has a great beach, good restaurants and a cool atmosphere overall. I just went for like the fourth time a few weeks ago. The diving here is fairly lame, but it is a great place to learn to dive because the water is warm, clear and there is no current. This is not a place for experienced divers. I did a drift dive that was cool, and there is a deep dive called Yap Bak or Yap Yak or something like that, which is ok.

Phuket is a bit of a tourist hell along the main tourist areas with the relentless commercial assault, but there is really no place like Thailand. There are lots of cool day trips to take to caves, elephant rides and ancient cave drawings. It is legitimately gorgeous here, the food is great and the diving is spectacular. The diving is also not cheap for Thailand, or anywhere else, as you have to go out pretty far to get to the good spots, but there is tons to see here. I dove with Sunrise Divers and recommend them.

Koh Tao has a great reputation for diving, and I thought it was pretty good, but not great. You get there by ferry from the Koh Samui area, and it is a small island with a good vibe, good food and good, but not great diving. The whole focus is on diving here, unlike nearby Koh Phangan, the stoner "full moon party" island. The diving is cheap, though. $20 bucks with gear when I was there. It doesn't have the commercial assault so evident elsewhere and the bungalows are like $5 per night. There is no power during the day for the most part, but everyone is out diving anyway.

Saipan, CNMI. We are lucky to have such great visibility here, but it certainly appears to me that the coral is getting bleached out. I watched the Mike Tripp video and this was especially evident. The Grotto is still a staggering dive, and I like Naftan and Ice Cream as well. I'd like to do Bonzai when the time is right, but I've never done so thus far. I wish I could do more boat dives here without breaking the bank. I only spent more money on diving in Palau than Saipan -- at least when I came here as a tourist. It's good here, but not amazing. I'm eager to dive Rota as well, but have not thus far.

Puerto Gallera, Philippines was utterly lame in my view. I was not there during optimal season (Christmas), which I'm sure is a factor, but it was cold, poor visibility and generally seedy. This is the closest dive resort to Manila, but was not a place I'd return to at all.

Palawan, Phillipines on the other hand was a great place. This is a great place to dive WWII wrecks. It is a lot like Chuuk for a fraction of the cost -- maybe $25 or so. In terms of natural beauty this place is great. The town of Coron is pretty loud and polluted and not very memorable. I got a referral from a buddy for Discovery Divers and I'd recommend them highly. This is a place I'd visit again for sure. The visibilty isn't much here because they have pearl farms in the water, but the water is so nutrient rich that it is just so full of life.

I suppose it has all been said about Palau, so I won't add much more other than it doesn't disappoint even with all the buildup and expectation. They have everything in Palau: wrecks, caves, drift dives (most of them). big fish, weird fish and it is just a staggering place to visit with a great vibe. I dove with Sam's, and while it wasn't cheap, it was first class all the way. I dove with Keith Santillo specifically, who was about the best dive master I've ever encountered. He worked with Sam's at the time, and he might be independent now, not sure. Blue Corner is completely amazing -- one of the great experiences of my life. I was there when a typhoon recently hit Yap, so conditions weren't optimal, but it was still a good trip.

Gili Trawangan is this cool little hangout near Bali on nieghboring Lombok. It is a party island with at best ok diving. The currents there are strong, the viz limited and there was nothing about the one dive I did there that was memorable, which is why it was only one dive. I've heard there are places in the Bali area, Lovina I believe, that are pretty good, but I never made it there. I wouldn't go to Gili T for the diving.

Bohol, Philippines has some damn good diving. There are lots of small little critters around and about and very good visibility. They have lots of walls that are worth checking out, and the dives are between 25 and 35.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

My issues with hyper-Christians and why I moderated my views

I must admit that I've never cared much for devout Christians. None of these misgivings have to do with Christ, whose radical message of peace got him killed. Carrying messages of peace and love is always dangerous: see John Lennon, Ghandi, Martin Luther King -- even the Dixie Chicks -- for the score on that one.

The reason I've never cared much for the devout Christians, other than their compulsive need to declare to most anyone at the most awkward time their personal relationship with Jesus, is that they've often been extremely judgmental about the wrong things and often aggressively associated with the worst political figures. I suppose it isn't fair to judge Christianity by the wacky comments of Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell and others, but when you read the things they've said, largely unrepudiated by their peers, you have to wonder about the rest of the team. For years Evangelicals have been lined up with lots of ungodly things: anti-environmentalism (they fired their lobbyist because he was also an environmental activist), war, gay bashing, the fight against stem cell research, the Vatican's shameful edict against condoms in AIDS stricken Africa and far too much silence on the death penalty.

Many of my misgivings with these people were summed up in the play Inherit the Wind. The denial of science and evolution now reborn in the silly Intelligent Design argument is disturbing. This exchange with a moralistic radio host in the mold of Dr. Laura Schlesinger, fictional of course in its brilliant off the cuff dagger thrusts by Jeb Bartlet, the president from tv's the West Wing, effectively counters the bible as justification for gay bashing and fundamentalism in general. We'd never be fortunate enough to have a real life president like Bartlet in these "Swift Boat," "Did you pay your nanny taxes," "Did you inhale" times:

President Bartlet: Good. I like your show. I like how you
call homosexuality an abomination.
Jenna Jacobs: I don't say homosexuality is an abomination. The Bible does.
President Bartlet: Yes, it does. Leviticus.
Jenna Jacobs: 18:22
President Bartlet: Chapter and verse.
I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I had you here. I'm interested
in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. She's
a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, and always cleared the table when
it was her turn. What would a good price for her be? While thinking about
that, can I ask another? My Chief of Staff, Leo McGarry, insists on working
on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death. Am I
morally obligated to kill him myself or is it okay to call the police?
Here's one that's really important, 'cause we've got a lot of sports fans in
this town. Touching the skin of a dead pig makes us unclean, Leviticus 11:7.
If they promise to wear gloves, can the Washington Redskins still play
football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point? Does the whole town really have to
be together to stone my brother, John, for planting different crops side by
side? Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments
made from two different threads? Think about those questions, would you?

I recently spent a few weeks in the Philippines for the wedding of my sister in law Mildred Ravalo Yap. Mildred is what you would call hyper-religious, like many people in the Philippines. The Philippines is religious enough to close the mall for two days during Holy Week -- that's when you know they are serious. The mall closing says more about their devotion than the mock crucifixions.

Dred does her level best to actually live the life prescribed in the bible. She attains a great deal of inner peace from her faith, and is a charitable, warm, compassionate, selfless person. Part of her charm I'm sure, is that she both looks and has a temperament similar to my wife Cynthia. Dred has many gay friends, and no one I've seen or heard in the PI sees homosexuals as the big problem. I doubt the PI would flip out over the site of Janet Jackson's nipple in a world where children in the world's richest country aren't entitled to medical care, thousands die senselessly in wars and want of cheap vaccinations and religious conflicts between India and Pakistan as well Israel and the rest of the Middle East could lead to Armaggedon.

My colleague Jay Villagomez lives a similar life to my sister in law, and though I've only met her once in person and perused her blog, Bubbles in Paradise, I get that same sense about Saipan Bev. I guess the bottom line comes from a quote I heard from DL Hughley last week on Real Time with Bill Maher: "I believe in God. I just don't believe that everybody who says they work for Him really do."

NMI citizens not U.S. Citizens

NMI citizens are apparently not U.S. citizens. This isn't my proclamation, this headline is a news flash from the Island Crusader, Sarah Miel, the self proclaimed Joan of Arc of the CNMI, though more like the Ann Coulter of Saipan. This is from her latest post:

"So, the DC Democrats are in control of both the US House and the US
Senate. Instead of focusing on issues pertaining to US citizens, leadership has
been focused on two areas --The Federalization of NMI's immigration and opening
up dialogue with Damascas -- international terrorism's bankroll."

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The lack of Jesus Camacho spin from Charles Reyes

I'm watching the news on KMCV and saw two encouraging things. First was a good story by Morgan Rose asking questions about the $4,000 being thrown down the drain each month to pay Dr. Jesus Camacho as a "consultant" to write reports about a place he has been to only once (for Fitial's inaugural). The gist of the story was that Camacho wrote some useless business report from California that seemingly no one here has read, and Camacho has collected $36,000 so far with $12,000 left to set on fire. Apparently out of a sense of shame, the administration won't be renewing this guy's sordid "sole source" contract that even Fitial's own AG had issues with before the happy face was put on. Everyone knows this is public money being paid to Camacho for writing letter after letter in the Tribune praising Fitial and bashing Babauta during the campaign. Morgan did a great job of asking the good questions.

More surprising, Fitial Press Secretary Charles Reyes barely even attempted to defend this disgusting act of political patronage by his boss Governor Fitial. He didn't throw Camacho under the bus or anything, but he really didn't even attempt to lie, spin or justify this affair. He was spinning it on Harry Blalock nine months ago, but perhaps he couldn't stomach it again. This non defense might put Mr. Reyes in Fitial's doghouse, but Reyes did maintain his dignity and intellectual honesty and didn't do the usual spokesperson spin job.

I suppose highlighting a government official not lying shows you the times we live in, but these are the times we live in, so it does deserve some appropriation.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Why I can't shut up about our lousy government

Sometimes I'm sure people wish I'd shut up about our lousy government. There are times I wish I could as well. Part of the reason I can't is because I read, routinely, the things my students write and the stories they tell are often horrible.

Every Friday I have a free reading and free writing period. Students can basically read for half the period whatever they wish, and then write about whatever they wish for half the period. I do this because I want to obliterate the idea that reading is something you are forced to do and your selection is what your teacher tells you to read. I want the same idea to get across for writing. Yes, in a sense, I'm still making them read and write, but I'm freeing them to read and write what they want. As an aside, I'm convinced my reading and writing ability became highly polished because I was obsessed with sports and read Sports Illustrated, which is very well written, as young as eight.

Engaging in the reading process is part of our standards for one, and two, student writing is better when they choose their topic. Beyond that, my other teaching philosophy is to develop the tools to light a fire for their own intellectual curiousity. Half of what a teacher does is break down the mysterious into something more approachable. When I took bass lessons years ago I noticed that. Ninety percent of what I know is based on all the reading I did on my own. Maybe ten percent was from school. I want to teach them to want to learn new things and not to rely or limit themselves to teachers to do it.

The stories I read in free writing are horrible. Everything from there is no food in the house because mom and/or dad pissed it away in the poker room, to verbal and physical abuse (a lot and yes reported) to dad is in jail to massive family medical problems. There are more horrible and shocking specifics that I can't mention. The number of parents who are flat out off-the-island and left their high school kids to run things is amazing. Even when the parents are here, these kids tend to have the essential parenting duty for younger siblings.

We think everyone is in the giant bureaucracy and they are all making a reasonable salary. This isn't the case at all. In fact, I'd say at best one in four of these kids have parents with a half decent job in the bureaucracy. I'd say one in five are actually on grade level. Some are quite literally on elementary school grade level. I got my schedule for this term today, and I had 35 students in one English class. This is ridiculous and it is a disservice to the students. Many are repeating the class because they put in no effort at all and got F's, but here they are again, which happens to be unfair to the kid who wants to learn only to have their teacher's attention diluted from overcrowding.

These kids, with the rarest of exceptions, aren't discipline problems at all. They are seniors after all. The Freshmen don't share this quality as much. Intellectually they mostly are aware of the importance of education and the need to prepare for the future, but in terms of putting together a strategy to do those things, they are completely lost. They don't see the relationship between action and results. Many are working for $3.05 and they are disillusioned by it already. Many have parents working for these wages and are disillusioned by that as well.

Last year for accredidation we had to put together some data on parental education levels. Very few parents got through college, many didn't get through high school, and this was at a time when the schools in the CNMI were much worse. I took an informal survey and couldn't find one student already lined up for a four year college and we're in April. They did an NMC survey at my school, and the students aren't that enthused about NMC, either -- not that I blame them. Parents have instilled a fear of the costs of college, which is understandable. However, what are the options. Skip college and you won't have those debts, but you'll most likely be broke in perpetuity. These kids have the blue passport that lets them at least get the student loans.

Overall the system here is dysfunctional. You can't have kids witnessing their parents sitting home on welfare because that is better than $3.05 and not instill a model of laziness and no ambition. You've got to break that cycle. There might have been a time that was flush enough for the current cheap labor/bloated government model to at least work for the local people, but those days are over. The garment factories are already folding with $3.05. If you can't get all these local people in the bloated government, and you can't, then you've sold out your people if there are no viable private sector jobs paying a living wage, which there isn't. A lot of people here are suffering, and a mere ride through Kobler and Dandan and other places should make that obvious. I see very clearly the consequences of this piss poor government and hear the stories of those most adversely impacted. I can and will pack up and leave one day. It won't be as easy for many of them. I'm not sure anyone is speaking for this demographic, as there is no money in it, but more people should.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Vice Speaker Justo Quitugua

First off Mr. Vice Speaker Justo Quitugua, no one in PSS, including the commisioner, is "highly paid," or are earning the "big bucks." No one. A person with a master's degree and 30 years experience is capped at about half of what people like you just wasted on a lobbyist, $47,000.

As the salary guide is constructed now, I won't make another dime for six more years. There are no "in step" or "within grade" salary increases. Be responsible and read the actual salary guide where it clearly says that before you spread disinformation. Principals work twelve months for barely more money than teachers, and frankly, you would be insane to take a principal or vice principal's job when weighing the salary versus the hassle and time requirements. There is a reason a few principals returned to the classroom, retired young or simply left the system. Principals are especially underpaid here.

Instead of bashing the people who act as surrogate parents, teach children to read, write and count, yet are routinely punished for these good deeds, how about spending some time focusing on real waste in government. For starters, how many government officials went on junkets to Hawaii a few months ago? Did a single tangible benefit come from that? How many elected officials went to Washington to keep fighting to keep the "working poor" poor? Who just spent $90,000 for a lobbyist to try to keep the poor poor? Who is paying Jesus Camacho $4,000 per month for writing pro-administration letters during the campaign? Who allowed the CPA attorney to charge the government around $500,000? Who did nothing while the old MPLA partied on the taxpayer dime? A congressman's job is oversight and supervision, so you might be better off focusing on those things where there is actual waste and leaving PSS alone to handle the mess Capitol Hill created, enabled and perpetuates.

I will be actively reminding every teacher on this island of your recent comments near November when you are hopefully sent packing for this needless slap in the face to all teachers and principals in the commonwealth.

A great, more diplomatic response can be found here:

These are the comments to which I refer:

VICE Speaker Justo S. Quitugua says the Board of Education should temporarily suspend the merit and step increases to qualified Public School System teachers until funds are available.The Board of Education, he said, is considering a reduction in the number of children to be served by the Head Start program due to funding problems.Effective this school year, highly qualified teachers receiving the maximum $47,000 salary in accordance with the new PSS compensation scheme were provided a one-time lump sum differential that amounted to $2,300.These are teachers with masters degrees, 10 or more years of experience, who have professional certification and have passed the Praxis tests. The board has also approved a $3,000 bonus for highly qualified teachers who accept two-year teaching assignments for hard-to-fill positions on Rota and Tinian. “In this time of budget reductions,” Quitugua said, “PSS must not make any salary adjustments or pay increases. The merit and step increases can be stopped temporarily and the funds used for students instead.”


Vice Speaker Justo S. Quitugua, D-Saipan, said Borja should have taken the school system’s worsening financial situation into consideration.“The commissioner should not grant principals and vice principals exemption from the austerity law,” he said. “The principals and vice principals are highly paid and they should join other personnel in this sacrifice.”Quitugua said PSS should also suspend salary increases.“The money saved would prevent many students and personnel from departing our schools,” the vice speaker said.

“The commissioner should not grant principals and vice principals exemption from the austerity law,” he said. “The principals and vice principals are highly paid and they should join other personnel in this sacrifice.”

Random Musings

Today I turn 35, or as I like to call it, the 14th anniversary of my 21st birthday. I remember turning 30 like it was yesterday, and fretting about that, but now I'm closer to 40 than 30. I think you are taken a bit more serious post 30, so it hasn't been bad at all. I've got a lot of things at 35 I didn't have at 30: a wife, two kids, a graduate degree, six years experience as a teacher, an apartment with an oceanview and a greater wealth of life experiences. I'd like to get published in a major publication, put together a short standup routine and perform it in a comedy club and drop about 20 pounds, but all in all, I'm pretty pleased with life right now.

There are a few good signs about a change in political attitude that are very encouraging. The Democratic Party chairman came out in support of the increase in minimum wage. Jesse Santos from Kagman spoke out against the fight against the minimum wage. Tina Sablan's manifesto laid bare many points that needed to be made, and those people had island names, which I think helps. I'm optimistic somebody like Angelo, who is becoming a real island leader if he isn't already, is smart and social enough to improve this place dramatically.

I recently read the Tipping Point from Malcolm Gladwell, and the book is about how a small group, or even one person, can start a trend that has major implications. Part of this is the broken window theory of crime, used in New York, which says small violations of crime send a message of lawlessness that spreads to worse crime.

I can sense that the Beautify CNMI movement might tip, and the volunteers and the goals might spread rapidly. In fact, I've been so moved, I'm getting off my butt and I'll be helping out as well on the next clean up. I'm going to also find a way to enlist some students as well as my family. On the negative side, I was off island three weeks and went for a walk on the Oleai Beach Path and there is an enormous amount of graffitti in that area all of a sudden. Now that it is there, I would expect it to get worse unless it is cleaned up quickly. There are some people who are not getting the message.

I saw a similar group of hoodlums at the post office the other night trying to get money from the stamp machine, and generally hanging out inside there. I'm sure nothing good was on their minds. In addition, these kids were way too young to be left alone. Between the awful food selections, the messing around with fireworks at too young an age (one of my students lost use of his eye this way), the general lack of supervision and another awful phenomenon: parents discouraging and sometimes flat out preventing their high school graduate children from going off to college, I feel there is a lot of bad parenting in the CNMI. It is very hard for me not to call up the parents and lay into them when one of my seniors tells me mom or dad doesn't want them to go to college and won't let them leave the island. Yes, technically they can't stop them, but few 18 year olds are capable of defying mom and dad to that degree.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The new CNMI Lobbyist aka Back to the Future

Let's be clear on what the CNMI government has done -- again -- in laying out $90,000 plus to hire another lobbyist. They have taken public money from all of us for the benefit of local employers to the detriment of the working poor. Fortunately, if news reports are correct, they chose such an inappropriate and ineffective lobbyist that they'll merely "just" be wasting money they don't have.

Far from acting in the interest of the poor and needy, this government is trying to make sure wages stay low with a large third world labor supply so that no one with a blue passport wants a job in the private sector for a meager $3.05 per hour. Far from being fiscally conservative, as many people in this island passionately claim to be, this insures more welfare and all the related problems with sitting around all day doing nothing: crime, alcoholism, poor diet and worst of all, poor parental examples for children that infect the schools and make education, the real solution, way more difficult. Who wins with this: Employers and those already in the bureaucracy, particularly those with nonsense jobs whose only real marketable job skills are political connections. Who loses, everyone else, especially those actually working for the meager private sector wages here.

First off, everyone should know what a lobbyist is, and I'm rather certain not everyone does. Lobbying is a top of legalized bribery in which former legislative staffers, writers and general influence peddlers, and even former lawmakers themselves, use their contacts in government to ask for favors for their clients. The system is so hideous that banking lobbyists have been able to actually write the bankruptcy laws, pharmaceutical lobbyists set prescription drug law, and policy on virtually everything of economic value is set by the powerful, organized elite corporations while normal people fret about Britney, Anna Nicole Smith, professional sports and all the other pop cultural piddle that passes for news these days.

Often times lobbyists take these lawmakers to vacation resorts to seduce them, such as what infamous lobbyist Jack Abramoff did when he wined and dined Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader, at Lau Lau Golf Course and put him up in the Hyatt here in Saipan. In return, Delay made sure our meager wages and easy immigration continued. Delay left office in disgrace and more civilized people took over Congress in November for the first time in a while, so now the CNMI runs the only play in their aging and unimaginative playbook: Hire a lobbyist and try to scrape out a few more years of our dying economic system. Type in Delay and Saipan on Google and all the sordid and well documented details from many sources will appear.

Some people, and not all of them idiots I'll admit, are out there making the argument that "the time is not right," we have our "economic crisis," so let's just wait. Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. If you read the history of the civil rights movement, many made the "you're right, but the time is not right" argument. Martin Luther King famously retorted that "Justice delayed is justice denied." Segregationists would bitterly complain about outsiders telling them what to do as the Freedom Riders assisted in integrating the South. I would say the two situations have their similarities if you listen to the rhetoric over the frightful "federalization."

Others offer the "unique place argument," but just once I'd like to see someone explain how people are supposed to pay the highest food, gas, power and medicine prices in America on the lowest wages in America . This absurdity is what is unique. We expect people to be Houdinies.

In short, there is one simple bottom line: This government took tax money from people making $3.05 to try to make sure these same people never make more than $3.05 -- yet again. They didn't even have the ideological consistency to let private business to hire their own lobbyist to try to rig the system. All these things are obvious to see and easily verifiable with a little intellectual curiosity and even a slightly operational BS detector. Until the people of the CNMI wake up to what is going on around them, and stop voting for these same people to do these same things, this type of nonsense will continue. Frankly, and I speak directly to all the working poor making $3.05 or perpetually unemployed and simultaneously quiet about local affairs: If you are so indifferent or ignorant to let this lobbyist and government sponsored fight to keep your wages low without protest of this government effort in your name, you probably deserve $3.05 per hour.