Tuesday, February 05, 2008

We print what people tell us, MV 21

By Jeffrey C. Turbitt

There is an old saying in journalism that notes, "We don't print the truth, we print what people tell us." Nowhere was that on greater display than in the local media over the last few weeks.

Last week a story in the Saipan Tribune offered the headline: "Wage hikes harmful to NMI." The rest of the story followed that line completely, noting that a "U.S. Labor report said that raising the local minimum wage to the federal level would have adverse impacts on employment and lead to additional population declines in the Commonwealth."

Quoting press releases and writing one source stories with cherry picked report quotes from a local administration hell bent on keeping its poorest citizens poor is easy. Taking the time to read the actual report to get the full story and canvassing the community to get a broad range of opinion is harder.

What was completely omitted from the news was this caveat from the actual report about the recently enacted wage hike: "The Department’s research was limited by two significant factors: 1. Short Time Frame. The reporting time-frame specified in the legislation – no later than 8 months from the date of enactment (May 25, 2007) – did not provide sufficient time to observe actual effects of the minimum wage increases. The period following the initial increase was too short for significant observable effects to materialize. Adjustments of employment arrangements and of patterns of living standards typically do not occur instantaneously following a change in a key economic parameter. Immediate changes may be too small in scale to observe, and it may require the passage of many months before cumulative effects become large enough to observe."

Translated into simpler English, this statement above is code from academics to other academics that means the report does not have any reliable data, is speculation, has no merit, but it was requested by their bosses so they have to come up with something -- and please don't slam our lame research in any academic journals because we need to get a professorship somewhere when Bush leaves office next January.

This same story states, "Increasing the CNMI wage to $7.25 an hour, the report said, is comparable to raising the U.S. minimum wage to $16.50 an hour. No further explanation is given, notably this part from the report: "The scheduled increase in the minimum wage to $7.25 (by 2015) will likely affect at least 75 percent of wage and salary workers in the CNMI. By comparison, in order to directly affect 75 percent of U.S. hourly workers, the minimum wage would need to be raised to $16.50, the 75th percentile mark for wage and salary workers who are paid hourly rates."

All that means is most everyone here in the private sector makes meager wages. To affect 75 percent of the the U.S. population, the minimum wage would have to go to $16.50 because people in the mainland make so much more than us now. We're also talking about 2015. That statistic is hardly an argument against the increased minimum wage, but it sure looked like it.

Economics is hardly an exact science, so without data, these Bush Administration folks followed the usual Right Wing party line, which is to support anything that aids big business to the detriment of the working poor. Remember, this is an administration that kept its surgeon general from giving his honest opinion on stem cell research, tried to muzzle its top climatologist from speaking out on global warming and amplified sketchy intelligence in a State of the Union address to create an atmosphere for war. I'm sure the message came across to the economists who wrote this report to follow traditional Right Wing economic dogma about wages. Blogger Ken Phillips provides an excellent, detailed critique of the report at http://www.sosaipan.blogspot.com/.

The lack of the complete story wasn't the only lousy reporting by this reporter, Agnes Donato, who did a much better job than this paper's reporter on the federalization rally a few weeks ago. Continuing the one source, press release format in a separate story, she quoted the governor's public information officer Charles P. Reyes, Jr. as saying: “Just about everybody is in agreement that the Commonwealth cannot sustain additional increases to the minimum wage. We will do everything in our power to communicate this message to the U.S. Congress." Nowhere in the story was another viewpoint presented.

Really. Just about everybody. The local people not in the government bureaucracy making $3.55 are satisfied with those wages and don't want a raise? Where was Taotao Tano Greg Cruz's voice, a voice we hear daily and even discussing things like dentistry and medicine, who I presumed was the person who spoke up for the average working local?

Not once in five years of reading papers and discussing these types of issues with students and their parents did I hear anyone oppose a higher minimum wage. I can't recall hearing anyone not in the government leadership or the business community oppose a higher minimum wage. Some in the business community even acknowledge the shame of our wages. In fact, I would say most everyone not in the government leadership or business ownership community supports the higher minimum wage. Any reporter who walks around Kobler, San Antonio, Dandan or elsewhere would find out pretty quickly that it isn't so unanimous, but those folks don't write many press releases.

Real journalism is hard. It requires research and work. Writing one source stories from a press release from an administration that didn't win the most votes in Saipan while barely getting elected at all and whose party was massacred in the last election is easy and not very good.

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 Thoughts at: www.turbittj.blogspot.com/ He welcomes feedback, tips and story ideas at turbittj@yahoo.com. His column appears regularly on Wednesdays.


bradinthesand said...

nice, but i think that ee needs to get more of a beat down than agnes. she actually tries to do her job...

Jeff said...

It wasn't a beat down. She screwed up twice in a week. I didn't even mention her until near the end. She did a much more complete job on the federalization rally. You've got the EE beat.

dekada lawyer said...

Well done, Jeff.

Just about everyone [Flashback: "Pretty darn good."] disagrees with Charles Reyes and the Governor on economic issues. Remember better times? Obviously they didn't have ordinary working people in mind. Poor shmucks.

I don't suppose we can get Harry Blalock to give the "Babauta treatment" to Charles Reyes / Ben Fital / Tim Villagomez ...

As for EE, here's what I have to say.

KAP said...

Thanks for the compliment.

Agnes had her day of atonement in the Tina Sablan article today. Kind of.

Of course the report is old news already. The story is on page two.

KAP said...

Addendum: I totally agree about the professionalism of most local reporters. Tsk, kids these days.

I never would have made it past Journalism 101 with one-source stories. A pro forma 'we called and nobody answered' at least, please.

Jeff said...

When I went to journalism school we couldn't hand in stories with less than three sources.

Bruce A. Bateman said...

This is one of your best pieces in the MV series, Jeff. Nice work and well written. Your points are succinct and logically flow each to the other.

Your ideology on what happens when governments interfere in markets and try to mandate minimum wages is wrong, and that leads to errors in conclusions, but none of that detracts from the great job you did exposing a crappy piece of journalism.

BTW, close elections are the norm around here, and by way of example I will point out that one of your favorites, Tina Sablan, was sixth out of six and barely made it in by the skin of her teeth. Others also were in or out by tiny margins. This does not make their power or their responsibility any less once elected.

Keep up the good work.

Jeff said...

Left to their own devices, big business would have children working for peanuts, as they did before someone stopped them. So I have much less faith in the strong not opressing the weak.

Tina won. She wasn't Ralph Torres or anything, she actually said things, took positions and everyone knew where she stood. If you didn't read that election as a repudiation of Fitial, Bruce, I don't know what you're looking at.

PNGed twice said...

Chamberonomics XXXII...wages

Who is in favor of keeping CNMI minimum wage artificially depressed? I cannot think of anyone, any group, or any organization wanting to keep our wage structure down except greedy companies wanting to profit on the backs of an indentured worker labor force. I cannot think of a better way to hurt local indigenous graduates of our high schools and college than to keep our wages low. This is not a guest worker issue. Guest workers have no vote or say in minimum wage issues. Blocking a wage hike would have a disastrous effect on our island and would guarantee that another generation of our high school graduates will have limited options and opportunity.

Under these depressed wages, our future graduates will have the same four choices they currently face –to join the US military, move to the mainland, sign up for US federal assistance, or work at the local gas stations/restaurants on an unlivable wage, even lower than guest workers, who receive housing and medical benefits.
Federalization of labor and immigration, an improved standard of living, an improved quality of life, an improved investor environment, an improved economy, and a minimum wage that our children can afford to feed families and pay power bills on are certainly tied together. Stifling the first minimum wage hike in a generation will doom any thought of an economic recovery.

Who will benefit from a low minimum wage? I would expect that big business here would continue to make big money. Would our largest employers close under a minimum wage increase? No, I feel assured that the Hyatt, Fiesta, PIC, World Resort, PTI, and Duty Free will not close even if our minimum wage was S12.00 per hour. What business will be hurt by a substantial increase in wages? Our worst employers that litter Beach and Middle Road with laundries, pawn shops, and decrepit convenient stores may close. Who owns those affected stores? They are owned and operated by alien investors. The recent zoning law in Saipan was a huge step forward for the commonwealth, but blocking the minimum wage increase would be two enormous steps back.

Big business here has long exploited the good nature and laid back attitude of our indigenous populace to lead them around like sheep. The struggle here has never been between the US and islanders, but the struggle for islanders to take back these islands from big business. Judging by those in attendance at the TTT anti-federalization rally, it would seem to me that, many of the supporters of a 'freeze' on the minimum wage were in attendance. It was my understanding that the Fitial administration, the chamber, and HANMI were well represented in the crowd of 150, if not sponsors.

The U.S. Department of Labor report entitled, The Impact of Increased Minimum Wages on the Economies of American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands apparently conducted interviews with Lynn Knight, President of the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands(and currently in DC lobbying the minimum wage issue for HANMI); James Lin, President of the Saipan Garment Manufacturing Association; Marian Pierce, President of Duty Free Shoppers; Richard Pierce, Assistant to the Governor for Trade Relations & Economic Affairs in the CNMI; Howard Willens, Special Legal Counsel & Assistant Attorney General, and Office of the Governor in the CNMI. None of the aforementioned group live on $3.55 per hour. Did anyone conduct interviews with local homestead residents in Kagman, Chamorro mothers working in the grocery store, former MHS honors students pumping gas, or Carolinian fathers trying to raise their families on HANMI wages?

The NMI has at least one legislator, Tina Sablan, that has stood in defiance against the big business position of blocking the minimum wage increase and can now be officially called the spokesperson for the rights of the indigenous populace and decent citizens here.

I would like the people of the commonwealth to stand up for my 2,000 former students by putting a stop to this big business block on minimum wages that would sentence another generation of NMI youth to poverty. If there is a rally on this issue, I would love to join the concerted effort.

To quote Chamberonomics I " Henry Ford had a novel concept. He thought if he paid his workers more, they could afford to buy his cars and he added the entire working class to his new and expanded market. Soon every major corporation in America followed suit and the middle class was born. Nineteen garment girls crammed into a tin shack seldom eat out, can't afford cars and are never going to buy a home".

Mr. PNG ps Jeff- You know why we don't have orphaned 12 years working 16 hr 7 day weeks in the NMI. Because the US might do something to stop that because child labor does make for nasty press coverage in an election year.

PNGed twice said...

Jeff - Outstanding, between this gem and your last masterpiece, you are the front runner for the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in journalism, which automatically escalates you to lifetime membership on my Saipan "master" list.

To really win the PP though, I would suggest a little more pointed and provacative enough that the gangsters here can not dismiss your work!

Weathermen anonymous

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

You've been tagged.

bradinthesand said...

"Tina won. She wasn't Ralph Torres or anything, she actually said things, took positions and everyone knew where she stood."

all ralph torres stood for was beer and free t-shirts...

chartreuse said...

Isn't that what 90% of our legislators stand for?

I love Agnes! She's wife material.

If the government didn't regulate companies/business, we'd have sweatshops galore, child labor, 14 hour days, bars that paid their waitresses a nickel an hour, etc. The government always needs to regulate business. Business by its very nature is prone to immoral and criminal behavior.

SteeleOnSaipan said...

"Government needs to regulate business because by nature business is prone to immoral and criminal behavior."

What a bunch of crap.

So this local gov't has leaders with the proper morality to offer such oversight?

If our gov't leaders didn't let such half-ass business operators, foreign and local, obtain business licenses and recruit workers so easily or at all, many problems that you speak of wouldn't exist.

Thanks for the words of wisdom, no wonder you comment anonymously.

lil_hammerhead said...

You've not only misquoted me steeleonsaipan, you left out the historical fact, which is, it is only through the government regulations and laws, that sweatshops, child labor, environmental hazards, excessive work hours, work safety, among numerous others, have been addressed. Without government, businesses would simply do whatever is necessary to improve the bottom line. Businesses were so powerful they ran towns, they had people executed, they controlled courts, etc. Business unchecked is a very dangerous thing. All you need to do is read a history book to realize this.

Jeff said...

The utter desperation to appear in this blog by monkey picture is kind of flattering I suppose. She invented the latest pseudonym chartreuse and just admitted to it. Not that it wasn't obvious to begin with, or in her Cinta bashing in the other post.

lil_hammerhead said...

The comments are valid. I therefore will do my utmost to ensure these "valid" statements are included in the conversation.

Jeff said...

This is a blog about my thoughts. I didn't set it up to have a conversation. Having said that, anyone who discusses the issues and acts like a civil human being is welcome to participate.

lil_hammerhead said...

There is conversation however, that is facilitated by the available "comment" section. I'm always civil when my valid comments are not excluded. Always have been.

SteeleOnSaipan said...

Well isn't that special?

I slightly misquoted someone who is not-so-slightly misrepresenting himself.

Do you see now why some choose not to converse w/ the anonymous?

lil_hammerhead said...

That's good, go after me and not my comment.

Please.. business unchecked, I'm still curious as to a response on that one.

Maybe there is a response, outside of the historic accounts of railroad tycoons, plantation dependence on slaves, agricultural barons theft of hawaii, the cloth factories of Philadelphia that worked children to the bone, Microsoft's abuse of market dominance, soccer ball's made by children in Pakistan, sweatshops, Mexican-based meatpacking businesses, use of cheap labor to pick US crops, etc. etc.

I am sincerely interested in your response to the statement that seemingly stated that due to some poor legislators, businesses here should go unregulated. (Has nothing to do with my screen name)

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

Who says what matters.

A poll from CNN is much more credible than a poll from Cosmo.

You and the other anonymous bloggers continue to hammer away at your false belief that ideas matter as much as the messenger.

Ambrose Bennett has been saying it for years, but no one listens because he's Ambrose.

lil_hammerhead said...

Maybe Ambrose needs to use a pen name.

And it is about the ideas. Only false to those who can't respond.

Bruce A. Bateman said...

Hogwash, monkey picture, your 'valid ideas' aren't worth a penny farthing without provenance. Your cowardly hidden identity indicates that you have little or no regard for your own ideas; surely not enough to stand up for them.

One takes seriously the ideas and input of those whose background and prejudices are verifiable. One ignores clowns too gutless to expose themselves and their vested connections to public scrutiny.

lil_hammerhead said...

Well Porky, I get considerable comment on my blog.. which doesn't speak to folks "ignoring" me as you state. Please explain. I'd also be glad to, at any time, send you a screen capture or .pdf of my blog stats, so you can see just how many people are "ignoring" me. I have quite a substantial daily viewing audience.

Bruce A. Bateman said...

Too stupid to answer? ... Or just no answer to give?

One thing is for absolute certain; not one of your self-coveted hits comes from me.