Saturday, March 28, 2020

Guam’s coronavirus strengths and vulnerabilities

Street Art, Washington DC, circa 2014

The government of Guam is posting daily updates of the status of the coronavirus. As of March 28, it has conducted 366 tests with 55 positive cases and 277 negative cases.

What do these testing results tell us?

Right now, I’m in Connecticut which, as of March 27, had 1,291 confirmed cases. This is equal 0.036% of the state’s population of 3.57 million. Connecticut borders America’s coronavirus epicenter, New York. (1)

Let’s compare the number of confirmed cases in Guam to Connecticut.

Guam’s population is 164,000. With 55 confirmed cases this equals to 0.033% of the population. (2)

The number of confirmed cases on Guam is close to Connecticut's percentage. Is this a meaningful comparison? The response says it is.

Connecticut has closed schools, and so has Guam. The state recently has ordered the closing of non-essential businesses, an action on Guam.

Connecticut also recently ordered stores to try to ensure customers “maintain six feet of distance.” It is asking stores -- if they can -- to use “touchless payment technology.” Most don’t have it at this point. It also prohibits requiring employees to place items in customers’ reusable bags.

Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero is being direct about the problem.

"Now is the time to act. We are not yet out of the woods. Not even close,” Gov. Guerrero said, according to a report in the Pacific Daily News.

Strengths, vulnerabilities

In fighting the coronavirus, what are Guam’s strengths and vulnerabilities?

Guam’s role as an Asian tourist hub is the biggest risk. The coronavirus was likely loose on the island before the threat was recognized.

Strong family connections are a hallmark of Guam. This includes frequent get togethers. This can put people at risk. But it is also a strength. Family networks both during the crisis and after will help residents.

Guam’s population density is a potential vulnerability. The military controls about one third of Guam’s 212 square miles. Much of the island’s population is in coastal areas. Large sections of the island’s interior are too rugged for development. (3)

Economic impact

One-in-four residents are either employed by the Guam government and federal government. Tax revenues will take a serious hit but federal help may buffer the impact.

But 75% of Guam’s employment is in the private sector. It’s unemployment rate was under 6%, pre-coronavirus. The island has seen high unemployment before. In 2012, unemployment was 14%, a consequence of the global downturn that began in 2008. (4)

Guam’s tourism accounts for about one third of the island’s employment. More than 1.5 million people visit the island each year. Tourism is now at or close to zero. (5)

Economic outlook

The relocation of 5,000 Marines and families from Okinawa to Guam, will help the economy. But this is a decade-long project. It won't bring immediate help, except in the construction industries. It’s also a divisive one. It increases the island’s militarization, something many on the island oppose. (6)

It’s impossible to know when tourism will resume and if hotels and stores can recover from lost business. If people are willing to travel to the Tokyo Olympics next year, that could be a positive sign.

The only certainty is the next 12 months, at least, it will be difficult on the island and everywhere else. 

Sources and notes:

(1) Connecticut's coronavirus portal. It's updating is similar to Guam's process. 

(2) Guam's data updates can be found on the Guam Homeland Security webpage.

(3) This Guam topographic map gives a good idea of where the population is located. 

(4) 2018 Guam Economic Report, Regional Center for Public Policy, School of Business and Public Administration, University of Guam

(5) The Economic Impact of Tourism on Guam, 2016, Tourism Economics, an Oxford Economics Company. Posted on Guam Visitors Bureau. 

(6) There are many stories that look at the island's grassroots opposition to the military buildup. This 2010 piece of The Nation by Koohan Paik, Living at 'The Tip of the Spear' remains one of the best.

Disturbing news from the U.S. Navy: 36 sailors on the U.S. Theodore Roosevelt tested positive for the coronavirus March 27. The entire crew of 5,000, diverted to Guam, is now being tested.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Climate change-related migration from Guam not an issue, yet

The impact of climate change on the Marshall Islands is, by now, well understood. Climate change may make the islands uninhabitable. It may already be prompting increasing relocation to the United States. The islands and atolls are home to about 58,000 people.

Increasingly, U.S.-based media is reporting on how Marshall Island residents are establishing communities in North America.

The stories, in some cases, tell of hardship.

Politico recently reported on a community of about 800 Marshall Islanders in Dubuque, Iowa. The title of the story is "They Did Not Realize We are Human Beings."

The Marshall Island diaspora is likely to get more attention. It is an obvious story to consider after looking at the impact of climate on the island.

Climate change isn't prompting relocation of Guam residents to the U.S. The major driver has been education and employment opportunities. Whether climate change becomes a reason for relocation may well be decided by the impact of climate on Guam's tourism industry.

Guam's climate change impact remains limited and hard to see unless you look what's happening below the ocean waters. Coral bleaching is a issue and one that was explored in this recent news story.  It is a worrisome environmental trend.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Completely off topic: My review of the Pixelbook Go

Pixelbook Go. Showing it next to an Apple keyboard and trackpad to give some sense of scale. 

Since I spend my working day, on computers, having a good, responsive machines if a high priority. 

A high battery life is also very important, especially if you are you doing 18 hours of travel, such as a trip from the East Coast to Guam. That made the Pixelbook Go a very attractive machine. 

I've been a big fan of Chrome operating system. When it was first introduce, bought one of the first chromebooks, an Samsung unit. It simplicity, fast boot up, was fresh air. No worries about viruses, and the machine is easy to reset. 

For a long time, Chromebooks were still stuff to use because the applications weren't there.

Here's a brief summary of what I like and don't like about the Pixelbook Go.
The pros:
Stellar piece of hardware. Incredibly solid.
Keyboard is as wonderful as all the reviewers have claimed. Best I've ever used.
Speakers are exceptional.
Fast charging works as advertised.
The M3 is very fast and responsive. After using it, really can't see a reason for buying the i5.
Battery life is exceptional. No reason to doubt the 12 hour claim.
Screen is bright. Very good glass. Sensitive to glare, but not an issue for me at least.
Touchpad seems great. And touch screen is very responsive.
The cons:
This is a big con for me. I am use to working on machines with higher resolution, such as Apple iMac, Microsoft Surface, Samsung CB Plus V1. All of them have a higher resolution than the Go's 1920 x 1080. This lower resolution has the letters, the blacks, look a little tad bleached and soft to me.
Minor thing: The unit seems to have trouble with the battery level reading.
I bought the Go knowing it's a clamshell. That's not a problem for me. No pen support, again no problem. Prefer an iPad for tablet use.
The Go would have been perfect if it had a higher resolution. Truly perfect. I'm not going to return it, although I'm tempted, because it will have value as a travel machine. But it's not going to be my main machine by a long shot.
I knew the resolution might be an issue but not as much as one.
The high-end model with the 4K resolution is retailing for $1,400 -- that's more than double the cost of the M3 at $650. Can't justify it.
If you are use to working on machines with a higher resolution than the Go, you may not be crazy about the Go or anything less than its 4K model. It feels like a step back.
I'm a little disappointed with Google here. They could have done a little better. It should have had a 2400 by 1600 option, instead of nothing but 1920 x 1080 or 4K. I imagine they made that tradeoff to maximize battery life because they are selling this as a "Go" machine. But still, considering all the excellent work that Google did on hardware, it just seems like a pretty big trade-off. Nonetheless, I really need a machine with long battery life for travel. Every other laptop I've owned -- no matter what the manufacturer claims -- seems to rarely make it past 5/6 hours. I am so sick of trying to find outlets in airports. The Go does deliver in that respect.
So maybe that's the trade-off (long battery life vs. resolution) that Google had to make to get the price it wanted on the base model. Maybe in its next iteration of the Go (two years from now?) it will be able to give the resolution a bump? Let's hope so, because otherwise, it's a darn good machine.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Trump doesn't understand Greenland or Guam

If President Trump understood anything about Guam and colonialism, he would not have offered to buy Greenland. Indigenous people have rights. No longer can one nation "own" another, as Spain did in 1898, when it turn over Guam to the U.S. as a prize of war.

In 1979, about 70% of Greenland's voters approved home rule and since then the island has been self-governing. It's still dependent on financial assistance from Denmark, but the island is on a possible path to full independence.  Greenland is not Demarks to sell and it's amazing that Trump doesn't understand it.

Trump's offer to buy Greenland is rooted in Colonial-era thinking, pre-dating the UN charter that gives indigenous populations the right to self-determination.

This said, it's interesting to contrast Greenland with Guam. What becomes clear, is that Greenland is in a much better position than Guam to determine its political fate.

Guam's Chamorro population makes up less than 40% of the island's total. The Greenland Inuit, in contrast, account for about 90%.

Guam is an Asian melting pot and this culture diversity is one of the island's great strengths. But it is also a serious complication to a Chamorro-only vote on Guam's future political status. Federal courts have rejected a native-only vote as discriminatory. Greenland doesn't have this demographic obstacle.

Greenland, which has a population of 56,000, similar to the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, receives about $600 million in support from Denmark. It has universal healthcare and other Scandinavian-type social benefits.

If Greenland does seek full autonomy, it may look to the Pacific to try to understand what that means. Although the U.S. still has strong political ties to island states, China is using its economic power to expand its influence. China, for instance, has cut tourism to Palau for its recognition of Taiwan. In the Northern Marianas, it is using casino development and tourism to build stronger ties and weaken U.S. influence.

An autonomous Greenland may feel obligated to cut deals with China and Russia for valuable mineral rights and port access, actions that would put it in conflict with the U.S.

The best approach for the U.S. going forward in dealing with Greenland, is to respect and recognize the native population. Trump's offer to buy Greenland may be seen by a future administration as crude, but also a legitimate expression of geopolitical concerns over military and economic control of the arctic. America will have to compete for influence because it can't "buy" Greenland.

Selected readings:

Trump’s Greenland Plan Shows He Has No Idea How American Power Works, NY Times, Daniel Immerwahr, Aug. 23, 2019.

A Brief History of the Indignities Heaped Upon Greenland, NY Times, Matthew H. Birkhold, Aug. 22, 2019.

A new great game: US-China competition in Guam and CNMI, a paper by Major Nicholas Sigler. 2017. 

Paradise Lost. Ms. Magazine. A report on the exploitation of Northern Mariana Island workers. July, 2019. 

China's influence on Free Association States (page 36-37) testimony by Admiral Philip S. Davidson before Senate Armed Services Committee, Feb. 2019. 

China's Engagement in the Pacific Islands: Implications for the United States. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, June 2018. 

CIA Factbook: Greenland

Why Trump Can't Buy Greenland. Lawfare, Aug. 2019.  

Greenland Reconciliation Commission finds colonization did 'a lot of damage.' CBC. Jan. 2018.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The coming mass extinction?

No one would support President Trump is they understood that more than half our oxygen comes from the ocean. That seems like an odd thing to say, but it isn't.

Climate change is heating the ocean waters. This heat could stop oxygen production by phytoplankton by disrupting photosynthesis. The oceans are heating up faster than previously thought.

This could happen within the lifetime of a young child today. If the oceans stop producing oxygen, mass extinction is very possible if not probable.

People just don't understand yet what we're dealing with. It's profoundly distressing. Understanding climate change takes work. The earth is a complex system. Humans are disrupting this system releasing by C02.  

The breakdown of this system isn't easy discern on Guam. The island's climate remains relatively stable, unlike Alaska and Siberia, which are seeing record heat. The ocean waters have always been warm. But clear water is a result of absence of life. Cold water can hold more oxygen. Guam's most obvious problem is the decline of coral reefs

Trump denies that climate change is a threat. It's a wilful, ideological-driven ignorance. Trump's view is shaped by fossil fuel interest and Republican belief that remedies to climate change will amount to an attack on capitalism. 

It's hard to realize how much damage we are doing because we see it in isolation. But the collective impact is massive. By the time we truly wake up and begin to address our problems, it may be too late. 

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Climate change and Guam

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite image, Typhoon Yutu

The Marshall Islands may become uninhabitable as early as 2030. It won't take much. A 3 foot sea level rise may force a wholesale relocation. This is bad for Guam as well. Much of Guam's development is in areas not much higher than the Marshall Islands. It's not the only problem.

Rising water temperatures will amplify typhoons. Super Typhoon Yutu intensified from a tropical storm to a category 5 storm in two days.  That's an increase from about 50 mph to 180 mph. Average water temperatures around Guam have risen more than 1 degree over the last century, reports the EPA. Heat is energy. As sea levels rise, and water gets warmer, Guam's vulnerability to massive storm surges increases.

Warming waters and changing pH levels from increasing carbon emissions will kill coral reefs, and probably Guam's tourism industry. Much, however, remains unknown.

There aren't good, firm estimates about how climate change will impact Guam. There's no roadmap that says what will happen in any given year.  But nothing good will happen from climate change.

Unlike the Marshall Islands, Guam's higher elevations will keep it on the maps should sea levels rise 10, 20, 30 feet or more. But Guam faces enormous challenges from climate change that may impact critical infrastructure, especially its fresh water lens and sanitation systems.

Guam's independence discussion ends

Guam has yet to discuss how its climate change future impacts its political future. It ought to be the key issue in the island's self-determination discussion, but it isn't. There's a disconnect and it's not surprising. 

Guam has a stable climate. It's average annual temperatures stay within a relatively narrow band. The rainfall patterns remain predictable. The Marshall Islands problem seems distant. There may be concern about more Yutu-type storms, but Guam is built, to a point, for storm resilience. 

But if mankind fails to quickly address climate change, the people of Guam have no future on the island. It may be getting too late already. No matter what action is taken, the Marshall Islands are lost. This also means that Guam's lower elevation areas will be impacted by rising seas.

Marshall Island residents have, under their compacts, the right to work and study in the U.S. with little restriction. It isn't permanent residency, but it ought to be a path for them. For Guam, the safest political status option is one that maintains U.S. citizenship. 

There are compelling arguments for Guam to pursue separation from the U.S. One leading advocate, Michael Lujan Bevacqua, has argued powerfully for decolonization and independence.

Far from being terrifying, independence for colonized people is a normal and standard course. Billions of people in the world today do not live in terror since they are independent countries. It only feels that way in Guam, because people have accepted certain myths and misunderstandings about the status.
But the decolonization argument is not independent of climate change. Climate change is our new history: Past, present and future. It is an existential threat to the survival of humanity. Everything that we have accomplish and everything that we may accomplish is at risk.

Guam needs to consider the possibility that one day the island may be abandoned.

Suggested reading: 

How climate change is making hurricanes more dangerous. Yale Climate Connections.

Here’s why hurricanes are rapidly exploding in strength. Washington Post.

Friday, December 28, 2018

What is the future of Guam?

Guam wants its own version of a Brexit vote, or the ability to decide its political future. The fundamental question is this: Should it remain part of the United States?

Guam became a U.S possession as a consequence of the Spanish-American war. It was a prize of war. The island’s native population, the Chamorros, have never had a say in their political status. Guam is an American colony. 

The American relationship to Guam has delivered citizenship and higher standard of living. The youth have more options. But it is still exploitative. Guam has no vote in Congress or vote for president. The island has almost no political power, and little control over how the U.S. uses it, which is a very big issue.

The military controls about 27% of the island’s 212 square miles. The military and tourism are Guam’s principal economic bedrocks. But the military buildup is adding significant stress to this relationship.

The U.S. plan to move 5,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam is worrisome for many on the island. 

A gentrification-like battle

The opposition to the buildup parallels urban gentrification battles. Gentrification increases housing costs, reduces income and ethnic diversity and creates conflicts over land use. Guam offers a twist to this problem.

Economic opportunities created by the buildup will increase immigration. This will reduce the percentage of the native population, which has been declining.

The Chamorro population, according ot 2010 census data, makes up about 37% of the island’s population. The balance represents other ethnic groups. Filipino 26%, white 7%, Chuukese 7%, Korean 2%, other Pacific Islander 2%, other Asian 2%, Chinese 1.6%, Palauan 1.6%, Japanese 1.5%, Pohnpeian 1.4%, mixed 9.4%, other 0.6%

The Chamorro population is cohesive and dominates island politics. But the Chamorros may have lost their hope of deciding the island’s ultimate political fate.

Guam wants a plebiscite vote on its status. Voters will decide to make Guam independent, or a “free association” with U.S., which is a form of independence. The third option is to seek statehood.

Guam’s intent was to limit voting eligibility to the native Chamorro population. But Arnold Davis, a non-native inhabitant of Guam, argued it was a form of discrimination. In 2017, the U.S. District Court of Guam agreed with Davis. Guam’s government is now appealing. 

The court's problem with the plebiscite

The court, in its ruling, made it clear why everyone on Guam should have a say in Guam’s plebiscite.

“This change will affect not just the ‘Native Inhabitants of Guam,’ but every single person residing on this island,” the court wrote.

The court is cognizant of the “history of colonization of the island and its people and the desire of those colonized to have their right to self-determination. However, the court must also recognize the right of others who have made Guam their home,” the court said.

Does the lower court ruling on the plebiscite end Guam’s decolonization effort? That's unknown, but it may be an opportunity for Guam to reconsider its approach.

Guam’s economic success is a consequence of its diversity. This immigration has given this small island a great depth in skills. It has allowed Guam to have a high degree of sophistication in services and technologies. Modern Guam will not exist without it. 

The risk of political tribalism 

This is not being blind to another truth. Increasing immigration diversity works to U.S. advantage, which has potential of diluting the Chamorro influence and relevance.

But a Chamorro-only plebiscite vote has consequences. It replaces one historical injustice with another injustice. This vote will marginalize Guam’s other ethnic groups. There is no way to sugar coat it with promises of equality post-plebiscite.

The U.S. is now tearing itself apart in political and cultural tribalism, as is much of the world. It's a terrible situation and it is giving rise to the worst impulses. Guam, for all its problems over status, can be a much better place than the U.S.

Guam’s success depends on the equal contribution of all its residents, no matter where they were born. This is Guam's reality and it’s too late to change it. This diversity is Guam's greatest strength and its future. 

Related points,  selected readings:

What are alternatives to independence, free association and statehood? Perhaps Guam should first consider the idea of reuniting the Mariana Islands, and seek to become a stronger political entity. They share similar problems. The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Island (CNMI), for instance, is under pressure from the U.S. to give up Pagan Island to the military for training. It's to the U.S. advantage to have a divided, fragmented Marianas. Perhaps the path to improved political status is unification. 

Statehood is not an option. Guam is too small, and giving Guam two U.S. Senators compounds the problem facing the mainland. The population is concentrating in a number of large states. This is giving outsize political power to smaller states. But Guam can make a easy case for a voting member in The House.

A Chinese Casino Has Conquered a Piece of America
, Bloomberg Businessweek, Feb 15, 2018.  The rise of China's influence in the Marianas is worrisome.  CNMI is seeing a major increase in Chinese investment, and this is bringing new problems. If Guam has a plebiscite over status, a potential worry will be China attempting a Russia-like social media campaign to influence the vote. It's in China's interest to weaken the U.S. military presence in Micronesia. Although China tourism is seen as a potential boon for Guam, China is unreliable as an economic partner and is using its power to bully Palau. It has hurt tourism on Palau over its support of Taiwan.

Climate change is another concern that may impact political status. The Marshall Islands has a free association agreement with the U.S., but is an independent nation. It is also danger of being consumed by sea level rise. Palau has a similar problem. Guam has higher elevation but is not immune, and suffers from declining coral reefs. It's future as a tourism spot could be impacted by climate changes. The need for Micronesia residents to relocate to the U.S. is a long-term possibility. 

What Independence for Guam would mean, Michael Lujan Bevacqua, Pacific Daily News, Sept. 22, 2016. 

The Destructive Dynamics of Political Tribalism, Amy Chua, New York Times, Feb. 20, 2018. 

UN General Assembly adopts news resolution on territories. The Guam Daily Post, Dec. 28, 2018. 

U.N. Resolution 73/104 Economic and other activities which affect the interests of the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories. [The UN ruling makes clear that territories, such as Guam, should have control over the use of the island by the military. It's hard to understate the importance of this point. The island has little control over how the island is used by the defense department, and it had no say in the relocation of 5,000 Marines.]

Who are Guam's native inhabitants? The Davis vs. Guam case. 

The District Court in Davis vs. Guam ruled in March 8, 2017 that the “native inhabitants” restriction on the plebiscite question was illegal under the U.S. constitution.

Who are the  “native inhabitants” of Guam and eligible to vote in the plebiscite? People who were made U.S. citizens by the 1950 Organic Act and their descendants.

According to the 1950 Census, approximately 98.6% of those who gained U.S. citizenship in 1950 through the Organic Act (25,788 of 26,142 people) were Chamorro.

Arnold Davis, the plaintiff in the case challenging the voting restriction, does not meet the definition of Native Inhabitant of Guam, according to the complaint he filed. Davis argued the voting restriction “was designed to exclude most non-Chamorros, including most black, Korean, Chinese and Filipino citizens living on Guam.

The defendant, Guam, argues that Mr. Davis “is mistaken as to the legal consequences of the law he is challenging. The challenge statute does not say that its purpose is to hold a plebiscite ‘concerning Guam’s future relationship to the United States.’ Rather it is to ‘ascertain the intent of the Native Inhabitants of Guam as to their political relationship with the United States of America’ and that once their desire is determined, to transmit it to the President and Congress of the United States and the Secretary General of the United Nations. Notably, nowhere does the statute suggest that the results of the plebiscite will have the effect, immediate or otherwise, of actually altering Guam’s future political relationship with the United States, only that the desires of the Native Inhabitants of Guam … be transmitted.”

The court ruling argued that “Natives Inhabitants of Guam” is a race-based classification. “As Plaintiff correctly points out, even an adopted child of a descendant cannot vote in the Plebiscite,” the court wrote.

Guam’s efforts to downplay the significance of the plebiscite vote were also rejected by the lower court. It wrote: "It is also very likely that the government of Guam and its political leaders will use the Plebiscite result as the starting point in working towards achieving the 'Native Inhabitants of Guam’s” desired political relationship with the United States. The Ninth Circuit recognized the important implications of the Plebiscite and noted that “[i]f the plebiscite is held, this would make it more likely that Guam’s relationship to the United States would be altered to conform to that preferred outcome, rather than one of the other options presented in the plebiscite, or remaining a territory.”

The Center for Individual Rights, a public interest law firm in Washington, together with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and the Election Law Center, is representing Mr. Davis

The case is 1:11-cv-00035 Davis v. Guam et al