Saturday, July 28, 2012

Gregorio Camacho 'Kilili' Sablan for Delegate

This photo has nothing to do with Kilili or the election.
There is an online poll on the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Facebook Page that asks the question, "If the election were held today, who would you vote for Delegate to the United States Congress?"  As of this writing, Ignacia Tudela Demapan has received eight votes.  Gregorio Camacho 'Kilili' Sablan has earned 170.

In the 2010 election, which was a four-way race, Sablan garnered more votes than the second and third place contenders combined.  And it is worth nothing that most of the votes for the fourth place candidate, a Democrat, would have gone to Kilili had he not been in the race.

Everyone in a community has their own particular issue, and my big one is the proper management of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument.  Early in his first term, several members of the Friends of the Marianas Trench, including Laurie Peterka, Ike Cabrera, Agnes McPhetres, Karl Reyes, Mike Tripp, Jane Mack, and myself, asked Kilili to introduce legislation that would transfer management authority for the monument from USFWS and NOAA NMFS to NOAA ONMS.  We believed then, and are being proven correct now, that the Sanctuaries Office's mission was more in line with the intent of the monument declaration.  Kilili wasn't interested in wading into that battle (and a neutral observer would likely say it was the right decision on his part), but Kilili did everything in his power as the new Delegate to help fulfill the promises of the monument.

In his first year in office, Kilili was able to procure nearly $1/4 million to design the (Angelo O'Connor Villagomez) Mariana Trench Discovery Center.  The US Congress earmarked the funds to ONMS, which contracted with the local DLNR to conduct outreach activities and design a visitors center.  Some of the money also went to DEQ to support their activities.

That was three years ago.  So all the complaining you hear from the Fitial Administration and WESPAC about no visitors center being built is empty rhetoric; they already have the money for it and have chosen not to use it for its intended purpose.  Kilili fulfilled his part of the bargain, but local politicians are screwing things up.  It is my belief that there are certain individuals who would rather see the monument fail than have the local people benefit from its creation, but that's a topic for another post altogether.

And I think this situation has played out many times over with a number of different issues.  Food stamps come to mind.  So does the full implementation of the Covenant, which the Administration is blocking.  Kilili is doing his job.  He's representing us in Congress and he's bringing home the bacon, but his efforts are stymied by local politicians.

Having been a candidate myself and having had three years to reflect on my campaign, I realize that there is really only one perfect candidate: yourself.  Candidates are people, too, and you will never agree 100% with the positions and opinions of the people you choose to represent you.  Given that, unless you are willing to put yourself out there, you have to pick from those who decide to throw their hats in the ring.

And with Kilili, you get one of the very best representatives the Commonwealth has ever had in our 36 year history.  There is no other candidate that is willing to stand up in front of a room of anyone that chooses to go to a town hall meeting and answer every question he gets asked, even the outrageous ones. He's the only candidate that reaches out to citizens that can't vote (the cynic would say it's because their kids can vote, but he's still the only one who does it).  And of all the politicians in the Commonwealth, he's the one who has let the power of his office go to his head the least, if at all (I have to roll my eyes at the guys who win with 600 votes and suddenly think they are experts in economics, health care, and oh, just about everything).

And trumping all other considerations, Kilili is a really nice guy and truly cares about the people he represents.  So while I do not agree 100% with all of Kilili's positions, I have a great deal of respect for him and heartily endorse him for reelection.

I will be voting for Kilili and I encourage you to vote for him, too.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Falo Island Shark Nursery

Weno Island as seen from Falo Island.
The waters of Chuuk are incredibly beautiful.  I know better than to call them pristine, but their beauty above and below the waves outshines anything we have on Saipan.  Man, I hate having to admit that!

Wilden and Teno with Falo Island in the background.
I made two trips to Shark Island last weekend; I dove the first and snorkeled the second.  On the way back to the Truk Stop my guides Wilden and Teno asked if I wanted to stop at the popular-for-picnic island just north of Weno.  Who was I to say no?


Falo Island is a small sandy island just about the size of Managaha.  Wilden told me to take about 15 minutes, so I did a quick walkabout of the island.  And what should I find on the western shore?


Baby blacktip reef sharks!  This is probably not too exciting a sight for those of you from Saipan because this is relatively common around Managaha, Bird Island, Tank Beach, or Wing Beach, but it is increasingly rare.  These little sharks are assessed by scientists are near threatened with extinction.  They're threatened because they get chopped up for shark fin soup (I've seen piles of shark fins that include fins from this species), plus my Chamorro cousins in Guam grill them up when they get hungry (here on Saipan, at least in my family, we would always let them go).


I've seen cool footage of these guys playing around in shallow water and thought I'd try my hand at recreating it.  Yeah, right.  In about 200 photos, this is just about the best.  I guess that's why we have professionals.


My stay in Chuuk was much too short.  I was able to spend some time with great people, but I wish I could get out to the villages and outer islands and talk to people about the ocean.  And hopefully go swimming in their ocean, too.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Benigno R. Fitial for Delegate

I really thought Ben Fitial was going to run for US Congress this year.  The job of delegate is the best job around these parts with a salary in the range of $170K, travel benefits, health insurance, a pension after so many years of service, a huge operational budget, and lest we forget, the power of the United States Congress.  It is the highest ranking federal position in the Marianas, and in islands where every single person seeks to obtain power and influence by running for elected office, it is the most coveted job one can aspire to.

The job of governor is nice, too.  The governor gets to dole out about 3,000 jobs and for a great many families, determines who eats lobster and who gets food stamps.  The governor is the highest ranking local official, which has its perks, but in no way compares to the prestige of being in the US Congress.  And the pay stinks.  The governor makes about 1/3 what the delegate makes, although the governor traditionally gives himself and certain members of his cabinet free unlimited utilities -- which they've been known to share with all the other houses in their family compounds from time to time.

It is no secret around these parts that the governor wants to either (a) elect a delegate he can control or (b) become the next delegate.  I really thought he was going to opt for the latter action and am surprised that he has instead asked Dr. Ignacia T. Demapan to run.

I've thought about writing this post for months, but held off due to the fact that I'm thinking about voting in Virginia this year (I maintain a household on Saipan and am still a resident and am still registered there).  Well, I'm on Saipan for a few days and everyone here talks about politics wherever I go, so what the heck.

You see, this would have been the perfect year for Ben Fitial to run for delegate.  It would have been a win-win-win for him.  As Louis Crisostimo showed us in 2008, it is not necessary to resign from your local seat if you want to run for a federal position.  Therefore, the governor could have run and maintained his position as governor.  He could have used the bully pulpit of the governorship to help him get elected, and win or lose, he'd still have a job afterwards.  If he won, he could resign as governor, have trusted co-Tan Holdings VP Eloy Inos take over, and gone off to Washington, DC.  If he lost, he'd still be governor.  And he could still run again in two years when his governorship termed out.

So has Dr. Demapan turned in her paperwork yet?  Because there still might be time before August 8 for Ben Fitial to collect enough signatures to run for delegate.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Shark Island


I just spent a couple of days (more like a couple of hours it seemed) in Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia.  This was my second visit to Chuuk; I visited in 2008 for an environmental conference (for a program that I later quit because the CNMI made it their official position to give up on marine enforcement and just focus on outreach, something that I disagreed with).


By now, readers of this blog (both of you) are aware that I work for an organization unaffiliated with anything I may write here and focus on an issue related to charismatic megafauna that like to cuddle with their teeth.  I don't usually write about my work, but this particular trip had no political sensitivities, so I will blog away.


I was free on Saturday morning, so I made a reservation to get in a couple of dives.  Chuuk is known for wreck diving, but I was pleasantly surprised that they boast three shark dives within the Truk Lagoon.  Shark Island, the little sand cay in the top photo (and below, too), is a 15 minute boat ride north of Weno, the island with the airport and the hotels, and has a reef shark cleaning station in about 60 feet of water just off its shore.  During my visit I saw grey reefs, whitetip reefs, and blacktip reefs.


I'm going to get two stories out of this for work, so look for them in the coming months.  One is going to be about visiting Shark Island; the other is an interview with the manager of the dive shop.


I never realized until this trip how much beauty Chuuk has.  I can't wait to go back, and when I do, hopefully I'll remember to set my strobe settings so that it fires when I want.  Maybe by then I'll have convinced someone to buy me a housing for my 60D, too.  Until that time, here are some photos and a short video from my dive trip.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Sunday, July 01, 2012

On Blogging in 2012

Much of what I have in life today is a direct result of the countless hours I have spent editing and publishing to this blog.  Jerry Tan, the richest guy on Saipan, once told me that I was a great communicator.  He probably doesn't even remember it, but I think it explains perfectly what I do.  I don't produce anything tangible in my line of work, unless you count more fish swimming in the ocean as something tangible.  What I do is try to convince people that my way of thinking when it comes to ocean issues is the right way of thinking.  I am by far not the best at this; not even close.  Kevin Zelnio and David Shiffman probably have to share that trophy in Webtupoigntoland, with Carl Safina winning the award among the big boys.

Yet here I am, almost 8 years after I started the JET Applicant Blog, now The Saipan Blog brought to you by Mr. Taotaotasi, and I'm writing useless, meaningless drivel that anywhere from 100-500 people will read in the morning (my readership is way down from my highs in 2008).

Back to my original point, much of the success of my time on Saipan was due to my ability to communicate with the people of Saipan through blogs, media stories, and email.  This led to the success of Beautify CNMI, MINA, the Mariana Trench Monument, and my third place showing in the Saipan mayoral race.  It also contributed to a lot of people not liking me, especially when I communicated to them that I thought they were full of shit.  I pissed a lot of people off, especially during the Saipan Blog Wars of 2007 during which the anonymous 'liberal' bloggers carpet bombed the fun all the popular bloggers were having (mostly me and Jeff).  So regardless of how you feel about me, I've left behind an impressive online paper trail should anyone ever want to write a screenplay (or dig up dirt on me).

And that brings us to today.  In the first half of 2012 I only managed to publish 55 blog posts.  To compare this effort to years past, consider that in January 2009 I published 71 blog posts.  Part of the decline in my writing has to do with the rise of social media.  I spend a lot more time on Facebook and Twitter than on blogs.  I also work for an organization that does not encourage commentary on issues related to work.  And much of the early Saipan Blog was related to my cleanups, tree plantings, meetings, editorials, public hearings, and dissecting all of John Gourley's letters to the editor libeling my work.

So, are blogs joining cassettes and beepers in the dustbin of history?

Probably not.  I do blog elsewhere, and those blogs eat up time that I might have otherwise used to publish to this blog.  And social media has expanded.  For the shark coalition of which I am senior editor, I manage a blog, 7 separate Facebook pages, Twitter, Pinterest, Flickr, Youtube, Tumblr, and two email lists (although I have help on all of them).  And that's in addition to my own two Facebook accounts, Twitter, Youtube, Flickr, LinkedIn, and I lost count of how many email addresses.

So The Saipan Blog will continue.  I have no plans to stop posting, even if the postings are mundane and sparse.  That may change when Edz comes out to Washington, DC to live, hopefully next month.

And if you know the guys who do the green card interviews on Saipan, please give them a nudge and tell them to approve our application without having to provide further documentation (People from DHS, US House of Representatives, and the US Courts here in Washington, DC read my blog every single day, so someone should know the right people, right?)