Friday, July 27, 2007

Is It Time For All of Us To Have A Talk At Oleai?

Food For Thought 7-27-07

Hi friends, this is Harry Blalock; General Manager for radio stations KZMI & KCNM. It’s that time once again to take a look at the issues of the week, and to offer some Food For Thought.

Misunderstandings are usually at the heart of many arguments and heated discussions. When you don’t have all the facts or all the information that someone else may be basing their decisions on, it makes it difficult to understand how they may have come to their conclusions and why they are taking the stands they are. Most of us tend to rush to judgment and are willing to draw our own conclusions based on the first few facts we encounter. Wisdom would dictate that you hold your tongue and comments until you find out a little more about the situation, but unfortunately wisdom is not always employed. And when we jump to our own conclusions and lash out at those we view as being on the other side of the argument, it is usually the beginning of the escalation of hostilities. When individuals do this sort of thing, it is usually called a fight or an argument, when countries do it, it can easily lead to war. In many of the cases, if someone would just sit the two people down and get to the bottom of what is going on, they might discover that the additional facts they learned had changed their perspective or attitude. And once that happens, they might find that they really aren’t as far apart as they had initially thought. Unfortunately, there isn’t usually that unbiased 3rd party around to mediate these situations when they occur.

Now I’m not saying that misunderstandings are always the problem. Sometimes it’s perfectly clear, and you just can’t agree on basic principles because you’re philosophically and diametrically opposed. Even in those situations, there is usually a mature and socially acceptable way to handle the disagreement where you agree to disagree after thoughtfully discussing the situation. And then there is the way that most us choose, lashing back at the other side, making accusations and trying to deflect the heat. It is always nice when both parties can discuss the situation, both arguing what they feel are the points of merit for their side, and listen attentively as the other person explains where they are coming from. A good debater knows that the key to their success is paying careful attention to the opponent’s arguments and using their weaknesses against them. Some of their points may actually strengthen your argument, but if you’re not really listening to them, you will never be able to avail of that strength. I’m usually not worried about the ones who are the first to speak, who monopolize the conversation cutting other people off and always have to have the last word. There usually isn’t a lot of point in trying to make a point to them or convince them of anything, because their minds are usually made up, and they make it perfectly clear they really don’t care what you have to say by cutting you off and interrupting you. You know where they are coming from, and you also know there is likely nothing you are going to say or do that will change their mind. So honestly, why bother? Why go to the time and effort of trying to convince them, when you probably have a better chance of building a snowman in hell.

The people that I enjoy having a discussion or dialogue with are those who are willing to thoughtfully listen and ponder what you are saying, carefully weighing it before giving their opinion or defense of their point. I find that I usually learn quite a bit from this type of person, because they are a thinker. They don’t simply rely on the knowledge or facts already contained in their brain, but they are always observing and gaining new facts and perspectives. This kind of person is always learning and always adapting based on the new facts and knowledge they come across, in other words they are always growing.

Have you ever met someone who thinks exactly the same way about everything that they did 20 years ago? Their attitudes and opinions haven’t changed a bit, they believed they were right then, and they are still completely convinced of it. This person has no need of learning anything new, because in their mind, they already know it all. Chances are good they won’t listen to anything you have to say, unless you happen to agree with them about everything.

There is no shame in admitting that you once felt a certain way about an issue, but now because of new information and new facts you have come across, have changed your attitude and opinion. Most people who do any amount of thinking, reading and listening will have their attitudes change and shift on different things many times throughout their life. It’s all a part of the learning process. Can you imagine where we’d be if we adamantly stuck to everything that was known about science 100 years ago? What about 50 years ago? What about even 10 years ago? If there is one thing that a good scientist will tell you, it’s that they are always learning new things and changing their feelings and attitudes toward certain things based on the new information and facts available.

I was recently involved in a situation regarding something I wrote about in my blog. I’m not going to rehash it, but there were some who disagreed with what I did. One person chose to write in their blog about why what I did was so bad, and give me a good public whipping for it. Another person, who also didn’t really agree with me, but for different reasons, chose to call me up and discuss the situation over a drink at Oleai, first getting to know me, and then explaining what their concerns were and letting me draw my own conclusions. Needless to say I reacted very differently to the two different approaches. I decided to go after the one who I felt had attacked me, and attack back. I know I didn’t handle it the way I should have, and frankly the whole thing got much uglier than it ever should have been. But after listening to all the concerns of the other person over a drink at Oleai, I completely understood where they were coming from and pulled my blog that he felt could possibly set a poor example. I learned a lot from that couple hour conversation, and it will have an impact on how I look at things from that point forward.

The only reason I bring that example up is because I see the potential for some very serious problems starting to surface right now in the CNMI. We are a community in transition and because we all have various ways we want to see those transitions happen and some of us are outspoken about them, it gives the potential for some pretty severe divisions. We have already seen some racially charged statements and attitudes aired. This group doesn’t like these people because of this, and this group of people is striking back by doing this. Sadly in the middle of this mix we have a newspaper that likes to fan the flames of controversy and pit different groups of people against each other. They’ve been doing it for a very long time, and they’re good at it. They like going back and forth from one group to the other trying to get comments about the other. Then they use those comments to go to the other group and try to get them to say something back against the first group in retaliation for their comments. This particular newspaper isn’t try to bring the community together or to create understanding, they are trying to fan the flames of controversy, and where they can’t find any, they’ll create some.

Honestly, our community is faced with some overwhelming challenges at the moment. We’re being battered on every side and we’re losing many businesses and residents as a result. We really can’t afford to be divided right now and to be fighting each other, each only looking out for their own self-interests and ignoring all other points of view. For all of our survival we need to stop sniping at one another. We need to start listening to the other side, consider what they are saying, learn from it and move on from there. We all need to go to Oleai, pull up a table that sits right on the beach, order your favorite beverage, listen to the sounds of waves lapping at the beach, and watch the sun as it sinks down at the edge of the ocean. Then we need to first listen, seriously listen with our ears and minds open, letting the other person have their say. We need to show each other proper respect, showing that we not only respect their opinion, but also respect them as a person, and see what they have to say that we can use to broaden our knowledge base.

We just really can’t afford to be tearing each other down right now, attacking just because they have an opinion that differs from yours. And there is nothing wrong with telling a newspaper that is looking to stir up controversy that you have no comment. So they may sell a few less newspapers that day because they don’t have any inflammatory accusations to report on, oh well.

I think we can all agree that we haven’t always handled things here the best we could have. That’s ok, the U.S. has to make the same concession, remember slavery and segregation used to be legal there. We have all made mistakes and hopefully have learned from them. The point is you need to take your newfound knowledge and go forward, not dwelling in the past and trying to defend who you were back then or what you did.

Have I made mistakes in the past, absolutely, and I will undoubtedly make a few more before I’m done with this earth. The point is that you admit them, learn from them, and then move forward. It is also important to remember as we try bringing out community together, that most people will respond much better to a friendly talk than they will to being publicly attacked. So I’ll see you all at Oleai tonight?

I’m Harry Blalock, thanking you once again for giving me a generous slice of your valuable time, and allowing me to share my Food For Thought.

For more thoughts, pictures and observations, feel free to visit my personal blog at

Economic Realities

Food For Thought 7-20-07

Hi friends, this is Harry Blalock; General Manager for radio stations KZMI & KCNM. It’s that time once again to take a look at the issues of the week, and to offer some Food For Thought.

This past week has been a tough one for me, for a lot of reasons. The biggest one is that I had to let half of my staff go last week. I knew it was going to be coming, the call from the owner saying that we had to further cut our expenses. When your revenues continue to plummet and yet your costs (electricity) continue to skyrocket, you have to do something. At that point if you have a huge bank account, you can subsidize the cost of doing business by pumping in money to keep the operation afloat. Or you can look into taking out loans to continue operating at your current level, hoping that things will turn around soon and you’ll recoup the money you kept pumping in when it couldn’t be justified. Or there’s option #3, not a very popular one among most politicians and government workers. That’s when you cut your expenses so that you live within your means. In other words, if you’re only taking in $20,000 a month, you don’t keep spending $30,000 a month. You cut everywhere you can, and get rid of all the things that aren’t an absolute necessity.

We’ve already done all that, we’ve cut out extra phone lines, cancelled newspaper subscriptions, turned off one of the stations, and about the only thing left to cut was staff. I got the call late last week that we needed to cut all the part time announcers we had on staff, that meant my staff shrank from 8 to 4 overnight. We had previously already cut our staff size from 12 down to 8, but now more was required. It’s quite a challenge to try running and operating a radio station with 4 people, when that includes you as the General Manager. Needless to say, you are in a fight for survival, and you do whatever it takes.

Of course we still wanted to keep both of our main stations on the air, 103.9 FM – KZMI, and 101.1 FM – KCNM. We also wanted to keep a live presence on both stations without having to totally automate either one. That meant that I had to start doing an air shift again, so now I’m doing 6-10 am on KZMI, while Lewie Tenorio shifted over and is doing the morning shift on KCNM. It broke my heart that we had to let some great long term employees go, but there was simply no other option; everything else had already been done.

I realize the rumor mill is in overdrive right now, and I’m sure our competitors are helping to fuel those fires, but no, we are not going off the air and closing our doors at this point in time. We are struggling, yes, as is every other business that I know of on island. Our economy is in total shambles, the politicians have no clue how to improve the situation, and in their infinite wisdom may actually make things much worse very soon. And most other businesses that are looking at investing in the CNMI are afraid to do so right now for a number of reasons. Many are looking at the federal immigration take-over legislation that has been introduced in both the U.S. House and Senate now, they want to know what it will mean for our workforce and our tourism markets. And until those answers are cleared up and we know what the new rules are going to be, many people are afraid to move. I believe that our economy desperately needs these issues to be finally ironed out once and for all, we need answers not impending question marks and uncertainty.

Can the U.S. take over our immigration system and confer permanent residency status to our long-term contract workers? Yes, they have that right. We can fight, argue, complain, drag our heels, and anything else we can think of, but I believe the truth of the matter is, it’s not really going to make any difference in the end. I think the politicians in Washington pretty much have their minds made up, I think some of them had their minds made up 15 years ago, and are just now getting the chance to get their way.

If the U.S. does take over our immigration, will it be good or bad for us? You can find some very well meaning people on both sides of this debate. A lot of people have some very real concerns about the impact this could possibly have on our tourism markets and on our ability to get the workers we need. They don’t exactly trust the U.S. government to work out all the details later and make sure that they take our interests and concerns into account. Then there are those who would say that this is long overdue, and the U.S. should have done this years ago. They believe that our system hasn’t operated properly for a long time, and that it has been riddled with corruption. There have certainly been examples in the past that would justify that view, but are they still the same today? And will the federal government necessarily do any better a job at protecting our borders and making sure we don’t have a problem with illegal aliens staying here? A very good case could be made that they haven’t exactly done a very good job with their own situation, so what is to make us believe they will do any better here? But again, the bottom line here is that the U.S. does have every right to take over control of our immigration, and they will most likely do as they please, regardless of what we say or think.

Then there is also the whole issue of the U.S. granting the long-term contract workers permanent residency, or F.A.S. status. Does the U.S. have the right to do that? Yes, they absolutely do. Was it in the Covenant, or was it ever part of the discussions between the islands and the U.S. government when the Commonwealth was being formed? No it wasn’t, but again, that doesn’t mean that the U.S. can’t do as they please now. And all indications are they will do as they please, and again, I don’t really think it makes much difference what any of us say or feel about the issue.

I do believe there are a few issues that are worth considering if they go ahead with this. The first would be that this means these workers would no longer be considered contract workers, but would now be considered local workers. That means they are no longer entitled to the same benefits as a contract worker. The employer would no longer be required to cover all their medical expenses, or to give them any medical coverage at all for that matter. Is the U.S. prepared to give us “impact” money for the additional costs at C.H.C.? You have to believe that having that many more “local” workers without adequate insurance or medical coverage would mean that there will be a lot more unpaid bills at C.H.C.
Then you also have to consider the influx of students in the schools if these new “local” workers are allowed to start bringing their families from their country of origin. Our schools are already overcrowded and under funded, what will that kind of influx of students mean to the quality of education for all students? Is the U.S. prepared to give us money to help out with the additional cost of education for the influx of new students as a result of these workers they have now given permanent resident status? If the U.S. doesn’t plan on giving us any money to help offset these additional costs, it means we will have no choice but to either cut the rebates or raise taxes substantially. Cutting the rebates is raising taxes just for the record.

These are all factors that need to be considered and planned for. If we just allow them to happen to us and we don’t have a plan of what we are going to do, or how we are going to deal with it, things will continue the downward spiral economically. I personally am not opposed to the U.S. granting permanent residency, citizenship or anything else they think is appropriate to the long-term contract workers. But there will be economic consequences that need to be planned for and taken into account if that happens. Right now I don’t hear either the U.S. government or our government talking about how to deal with those issues, or what they will do about them. Failure to plan in this case means you are planning to fail.

Now we have a multitude of contract workers and others who have joined their cause threatening to boycott businesses affiliated with the Chamber because of the Chamber’s testimony in front of the U.S. Senate. That is certainly their right, but there are a couple things they need to keep in mind before they take this too far. Just because you belong to the Chamber doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with all stands taken by the Chamber. The Chamber is made up of many different businesses, all with their own opinions and points of view. Its diversity is one of its greatest strengths. But on a small island like this, when you boycott one business you affect all other businesses. When one business sneezes, a dozen others catch a cold. When one has to make cuts as a result of a loss of sales or a downturn in the economy, it means that other businesses that do business with them will also have to make cuts, or raise prices as a result. It’s extremely difficult to raise prices too much in this economy to make up for your losses or increased cost of doing business, so what many businesses will wind up doing is cutting their expenses and their staff. Boycotting one business or a few different businesses will not just affect them, but will have a domino effect that will affect many other businesses as well. This will most likely result in lost jobs, with some of the contract workers who were hoping for permanent residency actually finding themselves without a job, and on their way back to the Philippines with the only permanent residency in their future back in the P.I. For every action, there is always a reaction. Yes, you may have the power, but are you prepared to pay the costs for the reactions when they come?

I’m Harry Blalock, thanking you once again for giving me a generous slice of your valuable time, and allowing me to share my Food For Thought.

For more thoughts, pictures and observations, feel free to visit my personal blog at

My commentary that airs on radio stations KZMI - 103.9 FM & KCNM - 101.1 FM