Sunday, January 28, 2018

B-2 bombers on Guam and the real Duty to Warn

Business Insider recently published a story with an alarming headline: “US stealth bombers in Guam appear to be readying for a tactical nuclear strike on North Korea.”  Well, no.

The U.S. deployment of B-2 bombers to Guam signals nothing. The U.S. has deployed B-2 bombers to Guam for years. Andersen Air Force Base is only base in the Western Pacific capable of supporting large bombers, such as the B-52.

The Business Insider story doesn’t back up the flame-bait headline, because it can't. President Donald Trump’s strategy on North Korea is unclear. But if you want insights into what Trump might do please read “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.”

This book is a collection of essays by 27 psychiatrists and mental health experts. This community follows the Goldwater Rule, a professional guideline that prohibits mental health professionals from diagnosing a public official without examining the person. But with Trump, a counter-movement has emerged called “Duty to Warn.”

“Duty to Warn” argues that psychiatrists already have a responsibility to alert authorities if a patient informs them, for instance, of a plan to commit a violent act. The psychiatrist believe they have a similar duty about Trump because his behavior is putting the nation at risk. The authors president a formidable case against Trump as unstable. 

The consensus view on North Korea is any military action will be horrific and will risk nuclear confrontation.  What really scares is the possibility that Trump will goad North Korea’s leader into doing something reckless -- something that gives U.S. a thin reason to take military action. This administration may be hunting for justification. 

If not for North Korea, a leading area of concern might be China's island and military base building in the South China Sea. An excellent book on that risk is “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap,” by Graham Allison.

Sending some B-2 bombers to Guam tells us nothing about Trump or the U.S. plan, if there is one. But the real danger here isn’t North Korea or China. It's our leadership and its very real potential for bad decision making. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

America's day begins on Guam, and so does the government shutdown

Photo: "Area Closed For Turf Restoration" by Patrick Thibodeau, 2017 

If you're reading this right now, it's Sunday, about 6 p.m. or 1800 hours Eastern. It's 9 a.m.  Monday, on Guam, the place where the government shutdown begins in earnest.

Guam has about 4,000 federal civilian workers, which makes up about 6.5% of Guam's roughly 64,000 civilian workforce.

Guam is known as the place where "America's day begins," because of its location in the Pacific. It's the first part of America to see the start of the new day.

But for our purposes, this is also the place where the federal government shutdown impact truly begins.

The government shutdown has been affecting jobs on Guam since the shutdown began Saturday, Eastern Time. But Monday is the day that the impact will be felt.

It's not fully clear what federal services will be impacted on Guam. The PNC has a rundown of what's known so far.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The one benefit of Trump's fire and fury

President's Trump's threat to deliver "fire and fury" to North Korea does have one benefit for Guam. Namely, people are learning a few things about the island.

Many of the news stories point out that, yes, Guam is a part of the United States, its people are U.S. citizens, and some even note that a high percentage of them have served in the military.

Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo is making the best of it.

Calvo was on the Tucker Carlson show on Fox. He voiced support for Trump's fire and fury comment, but also took this as an opportunity to point out that Guam is no different than Honolulu or the West Coast, according to a report in The Hill.

People in the states are largely uninformed about Guam. Many don't realize that it's part of the U.S., and few are aware of Guam's status as a territory.

Most do not know that Guam is a legacy of American colonization. Guam never had a choice in this decision to become part of the U.S.

America needs to know more about Guam. It's people can't vote for a president and it's representative in Congress is non-voting. The island -- because of its status -- fights to be heard in Washington.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The number one fear people have about Trump, Guam edition

It isn't North Korea that Guam should worry about, but President Donald Trump.

Trump is the unknown. His warning to deliver to North Korea "fire and fury like the world has never seen" is scary. We don't know what Trump will actually do.

The threat makes Trump look weak because he is unlikely to carry it out. North Korea knows this, hence its response to threaten Guam.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived at Guam shortly after to explain Trump's comment. He characterized it as Trump's way of "sending a strong message to North Korea in language Kim Jong Un would understand," reported the Washington Post.

Try as he might, Tillerson can't blunt Trump's words.

Trump is forcing Guam's leaders to respond.  The island's non-voting representative in Congress, Madeleine Bordallo, urged Trump and other leaders "to de-escalate these tensions."

This tension is also with the people on Guam.

Trump's words -- "fire and fury" -- raises anxiety for everyone, but I believe it's more acute on Guam. There's no place to go.

The U.S. has to find non-military ways of dealing with North Korea. There's no choice in the matter. The alternative is too frightening. But is Trump capable of true leadership?

Trump seems to lack self-restraint. The fact that Tillerson stopped on Guam to dampen Trump's fire and fury comment tells you that Trump went too far. What we don't know is how far Trump is willing to go with North Korea.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Guam’s dangerous debate on casinos, a preview

A prediction: Casino gambling on Saipan will lead to a casino on Guam.

I’d bet on it.

Saipan’s new casino will siphon tourist traffic. As time goes on, Guam lawmakers will face pressure to allow a casino.

What will happen in Micronesia, has happened in the U.S. Let’s take New England as an example.

Connecticut allowed casino gambling after reaching an agreement in 1992 with the Mashantucket Pequots. Slot machines were illegal in the state and the Pequots needed state approval for them. The state agreed to slot machines in exchange for 25% of the revenue.

The Pequots opened a Las Vegas-style casino, Foxwoods, which became very profitable. It was the only casino in New England.

This put pressure on neighboring states to open casinos. Rhode Island now has a casino and Massachusetts is building them as well.

In fact, Massachusetts allowed a casino in Springfield near the Connecticut border. Connecticut now wants a casino near the state line, 12 miles from Springfield's casino. The goal is to keep Connecticut gamblers from crossing the state border.

Gamblers have little loyalty to any casino. They will go to the casino closest to them. This helps drive the growth of casinos. State lawmakers don’t want their residents gambling in a neighboring state.

Guam and Saipan are only separated by 135 miles. For travelers from China and Japan there is little difference in travel time. They might as well be neighboring states.

Saipan’s Imperial Pacific may generate more investment and tourism. This may be to Guam’s disadvantage.

As Saipan tourism grows, Guam’s lawmakers will feel compelled to take up the casino issue. The arguments will be powerful. A casino will provide a viable alternative for tourists considering Saipan.

But casinos impose a terrible cost. Having a casino on Guam will lead to problem gambling. They bring ruin to vulnerable families. Casino’s operate 24 x 7. This will increase the drunk driving risks. Crime may rise as well.

Opposition on Guam to a casino will be fierce. Guam’s faith community will issue strong warnings about the damage to families. Religious leaders may succeed in holding Guam back. But the Saipan casino, especially if it's successful, will be corrosive on public debate. As time goes on, lawmaker resistance weakens.

The casino debate in Massachusetts lasted some two decades. The resistance of lawmakers to casinos has all but collapsed in America. Indeed, President Donald Trump was a casino operator.

Thanks to Saipan, a new debate about casinos on Guam is inevitable.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Guam is built to withstand disaster

I arrived on Guam from the East Coast and had never experienced an earthquake tremor. The first was in the barracks. I was on the top rack and had a clear view of the ceiling from end to end. The tremor was jarring. The two opposite ends of the barracks appeared to twist in different directions. A few things fell off the shelves. It quickly ended and it hardly got a mention from the people who had been there a while.

Low-level tremors are common on Guam. If you stay on Guam for any length of time you'll experience one. Bigger earthquakes are possible. An earthquake on August 8, 1993, reached 8.1 magnitude. It damaged some hotels and but the disruption to the island was short-lived. Much smaller earthquakes have caused more damage in the U.S.

Experiences with typhoons -- which destroyed most of the wood-framed housing -- ushered in reinforced concrete construction. Most houses on Guam are of a pillbox design, low to the ground with flat roofs, and intended to resist typhoons. This also improves their capability to withstand earthquakes.

There are few buildings on Guam that pre-date the 1960s. There is very little construction pre-dating that time period. The 1963 typhoon Karen leveled the island, literally. It destroyed 95 percent of the homes. But Guam was able to rebuild to modern standards.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Trump affirms harder stance on South China Sea

Blocking China's access to disputed South China Sea islands may really be on the table with President Donald Trump's administration.

To recap, this is what Rex Tillerson, recently told a Senate committee about the South China Sea: "We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.” 

Did Rex Tillerson really mean that the U.S. would be willing to block access to the disputed areas in the South China Sea? Was Tillerson was taking an outlier position? But it turns out this may not be the case.

Consider what Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said at a press briefing today: "I think the U.S. is going to make sure that we protect our interests there. So it's a question of if those islands are, in fact, in international waters and not part of China proper, then yes, we're gonna make sure that we defend international territories from being taken over by one country."  (Source, Washington Post transcript.)

It doesn't seem like there's much daylight between the two statements.

Reuters view: Trump White House vows to stop China taking South China Sea islands.

One worrying thing about the Trump administration is this: It seems inclined to blunt-edged policy decisions, such as imposing a federal hiring freeze even if such a action may end up costing the government money, creating headaches for the people it directly serves, such as veterans and Social Security beneficiaries.  Making the IRS that less capable of recovering tax dollars doesn't seem to make too much sense. But that's another issue (and one that hits Guam as well.) Another example of blunt force policy making is its recent action to pullback enforcement of Obamacare absent any replacement plan.

The Diplomat seemed a little nervous in its report about this emerging China policy, but it also optimistically suggest that Spicer and the administration really haven't figured it out. Read: The Trump Administration Needs a Clear South China Sea Policy.

Trump Monday also met with CEOs of a number of major corporations, some of whom source their products from China, such as Dell. I can't imagine these business leaders urging Trump to follow a path with China that could destabilize global markets and trade routes.