Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Times Change, so must we, MV 17

By Jeffrey C. Turbitt

When I first arrived here I wondered why the CNMI is so strongly in the Republican camp. Historically it was the Democratic Party starting with Franklin Roosevelt and continuing on later with Lyndon Johnson that followed the John Maynard Keynes inspired notion of creating government jobs in the absence of private sector opportunities and set up social welfare programs such as food stamps that so many people here rely upon for important things like eating. D.C. Republicans, on the other hand, have been trying to dismantle these programs for years and have never been sympathetic to the poor in any fashion. This CNMI party preference is especially peculiar because the CNMI has an enormous number of poor people. The last census had that number near fifty percent.

The answer, I'm pretty sure, is that CNMI Republicans have little to do with D.C. Republicans, and for that matter, I'm not sure any of our elected leaders have any political philosophy other than the spoils system of giving public money and government jobs to political supporters. The second reason is that national Republicans have aligned themselves with the Religious Right, and the CNMI has a strong Catholic influence. And reason number three is that the demonized George Miller is a Democrat and he has been made the boogieman for years for his pointed criticisms of the CNMI, and his desire to federalize and reform the excesses in these islands that would necessitate a change in our economic model when we don't have a plan for a new model.

I'm now wondering why so many local people are against federalization of immigration. Put simply, it is this local government that has bloated the labor supply here for years to the point where there is still virtually no private sector paying living wages. I can understand why the Chamber of Commerce and business owners are against federalization as they'll have to pay more for labor, which means less money in their pockets. They are at least acting in their own economic interest. But why would a group like Tao Tao Tano be on the local government's side in an issue like this when this local government has treated people like Greg Cruz so poorly, and will continue to leave locals with only the $3.55 option as the garment factory money to fund the nonsense jobs continues to dry up. If the labor supply weren't bloated, there would be better options than $3.55.

The answer is that the average citizen here is being bamboozled by emotional issues, much like the average person in the mainland votes against their own economic interest because they are blinded by the use of the God, guns and gays non-issue in campaigns. D.C. Republicans have used prayer in school, gay marriage and gun nut pandering to get elected, start wars that drive the price of gas to $4.00, allow HMOs to keep sick people from seeing doctors and cut taxes for mega millionaire CEOs. As this is happening, costs for child care, college tuition and housing continue to skyrocket. But hey, we have a "moral" president that is against gay people kissing, which is more important than the cost of gas, housing, child care and medical care -- at least more important if you're a nitwit that can be easily manipulated by non-issues that don't really impact your life, which sadly makes up a large portion of my fellow Americans.

Same nonsense is going on here. Protect our right to "self government," fight the "federal takeover," "it's colonization" and other loaded terms make it sound like armed vandals are storming Garapan. These tactics tug at people's patriotism and emotions and away from their sense. It's good propaganda and a lot of people are buying it that shouldn't be. The Tao Tao Tano group is posting numerous videos on youtube.com with a generally derisive take on contract workers and federal government officials for their role in the Unity March and the nearly completed federal takeover of immigration. Other end of days proclamations went out for a $.50 cent increase in the minimum wage, normally something positive for the average worker that gets favorable public opinion, yet oddly it was other relatively broke people aghast at this turn of events.

Lost in all this loaded rhetoric is that a federal takeover is good for the average worker because it is the federal government that will actually clamp down on the supply of contract workers, and this reduction in labor supply will drive wages higher and motivate local people to actually work in the private sector, which needs to happen to have a functioning economy. The local government will continue to do what it has always done: Provide a steady stream of contract workers. It's what they've always done and always will do. The old model of using garment factory taxes to finance make work government jobs is broken, and there is no fix for it. There will be less government jobs each year. People will have to turn to the private sector, and who wants to work for CNMI private sector wages -- we know the answer to that and it isn't by and large people with American passports. The CNMI once had an economic model that mostly worked for local people, but it was rightfully derided around the globe for its immorality. That model is forever lost because the local garment factories can't use the U.S. tariff laws to its advantage any longer. The factories are closing and will continue to close. The sweatshops can make their clothes in Vietnam or China cheaper now and not pay a tariff. That's the consumer beloved free trade system, which isn't quite as appealing if you're a worker.

People haven't quite wrapped their heads around the fact that the old way is finished, and it was the tariff law change, not the minimum wage or federalization that ended the old system. Ordinary people are taking their cues from leaders who still seem to think that meager private sector wages using third world labor can still work. The governor went out of his way to malign Interior Deputy David Cohen, and he ignored the Washington Rep., who saw the writing on the wall on this issue. The cheap labor ship has sailed. It's time for everyone to face it and stop blaming contract workers, the federal government and liberal haoles. We need to reinvent ourselves and use what we do have: a beautiful island, strong families, a vibrant history and an American stability near the large, wealthy or growing economies of Japan, Korea and China. We can not put our future in the hands of an unimaginative government leadership that can't adjust to change, not to mention keep the lights on or the hospital stocked with basic supplies and staff. The old model just doesn't work any longer. Times change and so must we.

Jeffrey C. Turbitt is the language arts department chairman at Saipan Southern High School, as well as an avid scuba diver and traveler. He offers more thoughts in his blog Hypercritical Thought at: www.turbittj.blogspot.com/ He welcomes feedback, tips and story ideas at turbittj@yahoo.com. His column appears regularly on Wednesdays.


Jeff said...

This comment is in anticipation of Bruce Bateman going nuts below.

James said...

Wow! Excellent work, Jeff.

lil_hammerhead said...

Right on the money. Good piece.

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

I'm glad you took everything I told you to heart.

Joe said...

Great piece! 100% Agreed!

SteeleOnSaipan said...

Huh, bummed to be redundant but excellent piece Jeff.

The downfall of the CNMI can be directly attributed to a corrupt leadership and those who continue to re-elect them.

Saipan Writer said...

You know how David Khorram gave us that excellent article about understanding the American mind? Well, I think we need something like that about understanding the island mind.

Hints of it show up in letters, like those from Maria Rios Martinez, who is eloquent. History imprints on genetics, I think. And the island's history is one of colonization--400 years of it.

I can't think that the Chamorro and Carolinian (and Guamanian) dissent to "colonization" and the federalization bill means people have been "bamboozled" by emotions.

The vote for a commonwealth in association with the US was intended to keep local control of local issues, provide self-government. Islanders embraced the American notion of democracy because it returned to them their rights--voting, making decisions, having local leaders. After centuries of being ruled by foreign powers, islanders were hungry and thirsty for democracy.

The federalization bill shifts control of immigration to Washington DC, which is a long way away. Having one elected representative in the House, no US senators, and not being able to vote for US President doesn't make this "feel" like democracy, and makes it feel like colonization, with a "foreign" government in a distant world that is not always in touch with the ground here deciding what happens here.

Rationally, many of us (whether Americans from the mainland or islanders or others) can see benefits from federalization--that the US can give some fix to our immigration system that our own government leaders have failed for decades to address. We can see that the federalization is not a "take-over" or "colonization,"--and in fact helps puts the cost of immigration and dealing with trafficking and asylum on the U.S. rather than our stressed local government.

But the federalization bill does trigger feelings of loss of control, loss of saying what happens here, and feels as much like colonization to many islanders, as, say, our labor situation feels like "slavery" to some mainland US citizens and alien contract workers.

I'm in favor of federalization, although I wasn't for more than 18 years of my presence here. I'm no fan of U.S. Immigration, as I've said before. But I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that our local leaders cannot fix the immigration problem, that the stresses and rhetoric in the communities here prevents them from doing what is necessary, from seeing that we cannot built on cheap foreign labor and must end this addition cold turkey.

I agree that we don't have the garment industry that can continue to sustain our government and economy by using cheap foreign labor, because of the change in tariffs. And I agree THAT'S A GOOD THING, because of the moral implications that system wrought here. The turn to casinos, I think, is more of this old thinking--looking for an immoral system that puts money into the economy.

It is time for new thinking. But it's also important to recognize and respect the history, the Island Mind, and its experience, and learn from it, too.

Jeff said...

You're so the only person to discuss the God, guns and gays thing Angelo.

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

I do it for the troops.

SteeleOnSaipan said...

Great thoughts from Saipan Writer but I can't recall any indigenous friends for co-workers that I've discussed this with stating that they feel colonized or taken over. Most are welcoming federalization of immigration, knowing that the direction the elected leaders are taking us is not a "best for all" direction and that their priorities are highly misguided.

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

We must hang out with different people. Hardly any Chamorros I know tell me they support it.

SteeleOnSaipan said...

I'll admit Angelo, I don't know many people from the YouTube watching / tabloid-following crowd who Google naked, French tennis player's sex videos.


The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

She's a swimmer, not a tennis player!

I just watch Internet trends on Technorati. All traffic whores do.

Jeff said...

The public noise would have made you believe people were against the minimum wage hike as well, but it damn sure isn't the students I teach down here or their parents. We sometimes forget there are a lot of people not in the bureaucracy making peanuts, they just tend to be poor and as a result quiet, not to mention unrepresented.

As for the traffic whoring, to each his own of course, but I wouldn't see much joy in offering that type of content or drawing people interested in that kind of fluff for mere hits. I'm interested in Saipan readers or people with CNMI ties or interested in the same.

I don't have the most hits, but I'm pretty damn sure I have the longest average visit length, which fluctuates between 5 and 9 minutes.

Marianas Eye said...

And, so, inevitably, the discussion turns to length.

Jimbo Rayphand said...

It's pieces like this one and comments by Saipan Writer that keep me coming back to read these blogs...

Thank you both...

Jeff...can't recall you ever blending your American Haole voice with your Saipan Haole voice so well and claiming some ownership of "our" "beautiful" island with "strong families, (and) vibrant history." I'm almost convinced that, like me, you might be here to stay and legimately want what's best for "our future"--

Thanks for writing...Jimbo

Jeff said...

I've always wanted what's best for this island. I'm critical because it could be even better if certain bullshit were knocked off. There is a lot I love about this place. I'm not chained here or masochistic, if I didn't like it, I'd leave.

Read this Jimbo:


Brady Barrineau said...

I didn't know this, but most Americans on the Mainland don't even have passports. The US Passport has become such a symbol of belonging to something here that it symbolizes being an American citizen. So, the blue jacketed passport means that you are an American in a lot of peoples eyes here. Having spent many years here I've seen a lot, and I mean a lot of US mainlanders come out here, chew some betelnut, wear slippers and believe that their mission in life should be the salvation of the enslaved Chamorros and Carolinians and saving the island of Saipan. Business owners who employ cheap labor don't want the Feds to "takeover", and throw terms like slavery, colonization and other ugly terms towards the US Gov't. I have met a lot of people like this, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Some are on the lamb, some are escaping the IRS while others have been arrested here and abroad. Life here is easy compared to a two hour commute in LA. You can drink beer on the beach, and locals invite you to eat at their bbq even if you are a stranger. My family moved here in the early 70's probably because life here would be much easier, and cheaper. What's my point? The US Federal Gov't will secure the CNMI's immigration and labor departments. Yes, some business owners are up in arms about this because life will get a little harder, you might actually have to work your business, i.e. accounting, waiting tables..etc. Sucks doesn't it. Welcome to the real world, formally the CNMI.