Sunday, August 7, 2016

Pagan Island, the worst place ever


Credit: NASA. Astronaut photograph acquired on March 6, 2012, with a Nikon D3X digital camera using an effective 1200 mm lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center.
The U.S. wants Pagan Island, all of it, to conduct military training using real bullets and bombs as large as 2000 lb. If Pagan Island sounds to the Western ear like a bad movie name, well it is. It is the title of a 1961 film about a shipwreck survivor who ends up on an island populated by women. More accurately, it is a “Secret Island Ruled By Natures Own Exotic Young Maidens.” Adults Only. Go see the movie trailer to discover more.

Ok, you’re back.

The U.S. intends to turn Pagan Island into its own “Secret Island” for training troops. The entire island, from shore to shore. And that will be it for Pagan Island. It will disappear into an Area 51-like fog of conspiracy theories.

If you have no experience with Micronesia, Guam or Geography, Pagan Island may sound like something Donald Trump thought he saw in a video. You have no idea, basically.

Let’s start with a couple of the essentials. First, Pagan Island is bigger than you think. It’s about the size of Hartford, Connecticut, or about 18 square miles. Unlike Hartford, it has two volcanos.

The Volcanoes

The volcanoes erupt from time to time, and one did in 1981. The Mount Pagan eruption was serious enough to force the island’s complete evacuation.

There were about 300 people on Pagan at the time. Technically, the island has been uninhabited since the 1981 evacuation. But a very small number have returned, according to various accounts.

The evacuation was a very unfortunate thing for Pagan Island. By clearing the island of its population, it opened the way to some strange ideas for reusing it.

The Opportunists

A few years ago, a team of Japanese investors proposed mining Pagan for its pozzolan, a byproduct of volcanic activity and a material used in cement. And if mining the island for its pozzolan weren’t enough, the Japanese also wanted to use Pagan island as a landfill, a dump site for debris from the 2011 tsunami. Can you imagine? No one else could, either.

But now comes the U.S. plan to take the island over.

Before the U.S. does something big, it undertakes an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which provides a detailed description of the island habitat.

The Wasteland

There is no McDonald’s on Pagan Island. Or electricity, sanitation, WiFi or roads of consequence, notes the EIS.

There are two lakes, and one is 65 feet deep. Imagine. A palm tree’s fronds move gently and you feel a soothing, warm breeze on your face. You stick a straw in a coconut and see yourself swimming in the deep, cool lake waters. Sounds nice. Then you wake up to read the EIS some more.

The water is brackish and not fit for drinking, says the EIS. It goes downhill from there.

“The barren lava areas provide a dark gray or black landscape,” the EIS, diligently notes. “The western shoreline of North Pagan is dominated by a large black sand beach and contiguous brackish water lake just inland from the shore.”

“The island’s forests and grasslands have been ‘severely overgrazed’ due to the abundance of feral cattle, goats, and pigs that have done considerable damage to island vegetation. This overgrazing has resulted in large open areas susceptible to soil erosion,” says the EIS.

The EIS gives the impression that Pagan Island is the worst place ever. A wasteland. Bombing it would be doing it a big favor. Thank you very much.

No Warning Label

The U.S. is lucky that no one is officially living on the island. In 1946, the U.S. wanted to use the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands for nuclear weapons. Unfortunately for the government, there were people living there.

The U.S. told Bikini’s leaders, a population mostly cut off from civilization, that allowing the government to blow up large nuclear weapons on their island, repeatedly, would be a big help to, guess who, mankind. Of course the islanders immediately agreed to leave their homeland, according to U.S. officials.

In appreciation, the U.S. gave Bikini’s leaders several gifts, including “a pipe, cigarette holder, matches, a carton of cigarettes and a complete set of photographs of the atomic cloud over Bikini,” reported the New York Times. Just priceless. If the radiation didn’t damage their health, the cigarettes certainly would.

The EIS is a list of environmental findings, conditions, observations and measurements. It can’t describe what the island means. It has no concept of “sacred,” which is how indigenous population describes their islands.

The EIS knows nothing of the discontent arising over the increasingly militarization over this part of the Pacific. It’s a useless document in this respect.

The Unacceptable Alternative

Pagan Island is part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Island (CNMI) a U.S. insular area. Its residents are U.S. citizens. It is a territory of the U.S.

The CNMI government produced a rebuttal to the federal EIS. It says the military’s plans for Pagan, and Tinian Island (part of which will also be used for training and target practice), will “prevent the recovery of a number of threatened or endangered species.” It will displace wildlife and hurt them with noise. Wetlands will degrade.

Of “grave concern,” will be the overall military presence, said the CNMI. If the U.S. succeeds with its plan to expand military training operations in this island chain, it’s leased landholdings to 24 percent of all the land.

CNMI’s response is incredulity and disbelief.

“The military's intention to hold nearly one quarter of the CNMI land base under lease as excessive and unreasonable, and the restrictions on the people's access to their own natural resources unacceptable,” wrote officials.

In a 130-page analysis, CMNI tears apart the various assertions made by the U.S. The government takeover of the island will foreclose, forever, any possibility that Pagan’s former residents will be able to return to the island

The loss of so much island land -- on Pagan and Tinian (which raises a different set of issues to be explored in a separate piece) of CNMI to the military finds expression in the chart below. CNMI calculated what the loss of 24 percent of the land area would mean for four states, and included this diagram in the map.



The Most Beautiful Island

Pagan Island is drop dead gorgeous. No kidding. Volcanic islands are shaped by magma and violent explosions. There are large rock outcrops, cliffs, King Kong Island-type vistas, relatively high elevations and plateaus.

Scroll down this summary of CNMI’s response and look at the photo of Pagan Bay. It’s just incredible. And watch this short video of the island.

Pagan Island is also part of the culture of an indigenous people, and they are fighting to save it.

Empathy for this island and the people of Micronesia ought to be within easy reach. Just imagine if the U.S. was proposing something similar in a part of the mainland U.S.

A Militarized Wasteland

On July 27, the Tinian Women’s Association, Guardians of Gani, PaganWatch and Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against federal authorities, challenging their plans for Pagan and Tinian.

“Families who formerly resided on Pagan would be forever banished from returning to their home island, which would be turned into a militarized wasteland,” the lawsuit says.

The “rebalancing” of the U.S. military to the Pacific is bringing with it an unprecedented buildup. Guam now has missile defense systems, and the island is slowly moving into the “duck and cover” mentality of the 1950s.

There is an indigenous movement that is pushing back, but it faces so much. The people of Guam and CNMI have little political power. In the U.S., stories about Guam tend to marginalize the island and treat it as an odd curiosity.

People have no idea CNMI is a U.S. territory, and fewer still understand this: Pagan Island does not deserve this fate.

Notes:

Careful EIS readers will note the government has made plans to protect the native island wildlife. For instance, consider the protections for the fruit bat. “The proposed 0.5- mile (0.8-kilometer) buffer zone around each (Fruit Bat) colony will significantly reduce the potential for aircraft strikes of fruit bats.” [Emphasis added] ES-72.

The homepage of the U.S. Environmental Impact Statement. See this page for documents.

Facebook group opposing plans for Pagan and Tinian: @AlternativeZeroMarianas

@OurIslandsAreSacred - a Facebook group devoted to this issue.

Scientific American report on proposal to use Pagan Island as a dump.

Sierra Club, “Pagan Island -- Too Beautiful to Bomb.” Many photos.

The complete 130-page analysis by CNMI of the U.S. Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

Earth Justice, which is participating in the July 27, 2016 federal lawsuit, details the effort.

For a beautiful reading about Pagan Island, and to hear how it is pronounced, see Lehua Taitano’s Save Pagan Island Video.




Saturday, July 30, 2016

The best defense against ‘Guam killer’ missile strikes

How China sees itself areas of interest. Source: U.S. China Economic and Security Review Commission. 

China has developed missiles that can strike Guam, the U.S. recently reported. The missiles are called the “Guam killer.”


Guam, in various news reports, is described as a “U.S. interest,” a place with “U.S. assets” or a home to military bases. Guam is not reported as a U.S. territory whose residents are U.S. citizens and no different (except for some voting rights) under law than the citizens of Kansas.

It’s as if Guam isn’t a part of the United States.


What would an attack on Guam represent? An attack on the U.S., similar to an attack on Kansas.


The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission report that describes China's missile capabilities makes an important point missed in the news reports. The commission argues that defending Guam requires making sure that China understands that Guam is definitely part of the U.S.


“Clear statements by the United States that an attack on a regional U.S. base, particularly one located on U.S. territory inhabited by U.S. citizens, would be viewed as an attack on the United States itself and have broader strategic and political implications could help prevent Beijing’s capabilities from altering its risk calculations in such a dispute,” the report notes.


What will the news media report when it's announced that China has missiles capable of reaching Hawaii and California? Will those missiles be dubbed, as well, the Hawaiian Express or LA Killer? Probably not.

The use of the term "Guam killer" is just another illustration of the ongoing absurdity facing Guam. It is part of the U.S. but it isn’t recognized as such by anyone, including China.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Guamblog glitch, something of a repair, and hopefully ...

This blog was knocked offline for period of time of about two or three months. Totally inaccessible. No idea why.

It seemed as it might be a domain issue, but no changes were made to the domain. And no changes were made to the Blogger template.

But there were some issues with the template. I could not delete the custom domain, Guamblog.com, and go back to the original Blogspot domain. The intent was to go back to the original Blogspot domain and then try again.

Two outstanding people at Google Domains spent a significant amount of time trying to troubleshoot the problem over long chat sessions. I really appreciated their help. Eventually, it was decided the problem was with Blogger. But Blogger support (reached through the product support forums) seemed similarly mystified. Their advice was to start fresh.

I created a new blog on Blogger. The backup/restore from the earlier blog didn't work, so I had to copy and paste the earlier blog post (going back to 2006). I ended up only migrating those posts that seemed to still have value today, especially the ones that looked in depth at the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) over the military buildup.

This migration probably broke all the RSS links to this site, it wiped out comments, and the people who so graciously followed the blog. So, in this sense, what I'm now doing is similar to starting fresh.

I created new template art (which I'm not certain about), and will gradually return the links to useful bits of information and good reads about the island.

There's good, sometimes, in starting fresh.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Guam's political clout is a footnote

The one thing to know about Guam is this: Its residents can't vote for president. Despite the fact that one-in-eight of its residents have served in the military.
There are about 45,000 registered voters on Guam.
Guam does send delegates to the national party conventions. Guam Republicans just selected its delegates. For that reason, the national candidates pay attention to what Guam does.
Guam will send nine Republican delegates to the convention. There will be 2,472 delegates at the GOP convention, which means Guam makes up .4% of it.
But in a close contest Guam is important enough, delegate wise, to have prompted Donald Trump to phone into the Guam GOP convention and make a pitch for support.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The cost of Guam’s unemployment level


Guam’s unemployment rate, at about 7%, is near its historic low. We’re getting close to another annual update of the island’s employment situation, and there’s reason to believe that these levels will be maintained. But we're not here to celebrate.

Guam’s economy is dependent on three things: The number of visitors to the island, the military presence, and the size of the government's payroll. The size of the government and the U.S. support for the island are interrelated. But the military build-up is another matter.

The U.S. will relocate some 5,000 Marines and 1,300 family members to the Guam, over the next few years. The military owns one-third of this 212 square mile island, and a major part of the island can’t be developed because of its steep terrain.

The island's economic development is constrained by resources and population. It is extraordinary difficult for Guam to achieve sustainable development, if you define that as creating enough jobs to support the population without despoiling the environment. Let's see why.
Source: Guam Bureau of Labor Statistics
First, there aren't enough people on Guam to support a diverse economy. Guam's major employers are the government, state and federal, and tourism-related. Guam's working population is roughly 63,000 out of 175,000, residents.

There's not much to compare Guam with, but consider Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico has 3.5 million residents, and roughly 45% of its economy is based on manufacturing, with another 20% in the financial services sector. About 8% work for the government.

But on Guam, manufacturing accounts for about 3% of the island’s economy, and fully 25% of the island’s employment is government payroll, local and federal. The other large employment sector is tourism and retail. Health care and other service occupations make up the rest. Guam is not an exporter of goods and services.

The second major issue is cost of living. Job growth from the buildup will put pressure on housing. Prices may rise faster than incomes.

The unemployment rate will likely remain below 10% for a time, at least through the construction phase of the build-up. Much of the buildup long-term job growth will likely be in relatively low-wage, service sector jobs with incomes that aren’t keeping up the cost of living on Guam.

Guam already has an affordability problem.
According to the Guam Housing Corporation (GHC), a modest size home on Guam (3 bedroom 1 bathroom house) ranges between $65 to $90 per square foot. The average price tag to build a simple home on Guam, excluding the price of land, connection of utilities, sewer, water, power, etc. costs approximately $ 78,000 to $150,000. Low to mid-level rentals range from $900-$1,200 for a two-bedroom apartment or condominium and $1,200 to $1,700 for a three-bedroom house.
If you live on the mainland, especially on either coast, these prices may seem affordable, but not for the typical wage earner on Guam.

There are, for instance, only 570 people on Guam who work in computer and mathematical occupations, with annual mean wage of $47,690, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. This pay rate is well below mainland wages for similar work, except, perhaps, in rural areas.

But Guam has plenty of service-sector jobs. There are, for instance, 6,200 employed in food preparation and serving alone. The mean wage is $18,270.

With few exceptions, such as health care, jobs on Guam pay well less than $50,000, and that makes Guam residents particularly susceptible to housing price increases.
Source: Guam Bureau of Labor Statistics
Wage levels are unlikely to change all that much with the buildup. Island employers will likely quickly import workers. Island residents may be competing for employment with military spouses.

The forward impact of the buildup may already be taking root. There's clearly increasing commercial interest in Guam, especially now that tourism is rebounding as people from Korea, Taiwan, China discover the island. The island's most recent economic development outlook reported near record high construction activity.

In a normal world, economic growth, and decreasing unemployment, is a good thing. People want jobs, and it may encourage more of the native born population to remain on the island. But Guam is not like the U.S. It’s an island, and as distant as one can be from the mainland. It’s a different world with clear limits, economically and environmentally, and it’s worrisome to think about how those limits might be tested in the years ahead.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

U.S. climate change coordinator for Guam, Marshall, etc., should be on Guam or nearby

The U.S. is hiring a "climate change coordinator" to cover all its islands, and then some. This person will have responsibility for coordinating federal policy as it pertains to climate change, for Guam, the Marshall Islands and others under the Compacts of Free Association. 

This person will be based in Washington, and will occasionally travel to meet with officials of these various islands. This is a mistake. The person picked for this job ought to be working from the islands most affected.

There is something to the Washington's inside-the-beltway mentality. That's my experience. This area is rich with policy wonks, and discussions always steer in the direction of the big global geopolitical view. This creates distance from the voices of the marginalized, and that includes the residents of Guam and Marshall Island residents and others.  

Since the low lying islands are experiencing the impact of climate change and rising seas firstly, it makes sense to have the climate change coordinator actually stationed in this region. In that way, this person could become attuned to the subtle, and irreversible, adaptations and impacts that island people are dealing with. 

Alternatively, the U.S. could make it a priority to hire someone from one of these islands who could speak to the impacts and urgency of climate change. 

What U.S. lawmakers and policy makers need are people who really understand this issue from an emotional as well as policy point of view. Ultimately, a climate change coordinator will also be an educator for the uniformed and an effective person will also be one who is living with the consequences. 



Job Title:Climate Change Coordinator
Department:Department Of The Interior
Agency:Office of the Secretary of the Interior
Job Announcement Number:OS-KN-15-MM1290203(DEU)

SALARY RANGE:

$76,378.00 to $118,069.00 / Per Year

OPEN PERIOD:

Monday, January 26, 2015 to Monday, February 9, 2015

SERIES & GRADE:

GS-0301-12/13

POSITION INFORMATION:

Full Time - Term NTE 3 Years

PROMOTION POTENTIAL:

13

DUTY LOCATIONS:

1 vacancy in the following location:
Washington DC, DC View Map

WHO MAY APPLY:

United States Citizens

SECURITY CLEARANCE:

Public Trust - Background Investigation

SUPERVISORY STATUS:

No

JOB SUMMARY:

The Department of the Interior is devoted to protecting and preserving the natural resources of this great nation, including National Parks, Landmarks, and the well-being of communities, including those of Native American, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and affiliated Islanders.
This position is located in the Washington D.C. office of the Department of the Interior (DOI), Office of Insular Affairs, Policy Division. The Office is responsible for coordinating federal policy with respect to the U.S. Insular areas of American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and administering and overseeing U.S. Federal assistance provided to the Freely Associated States of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau under the Compacts of Free Association.

The incumbent of this position works closely with senior management and will have primary responsibility for coordinating Federal policy and implementing national and local strategies in the insular areas to help them plan and prepare for the impacts of climate change.

This is a term appointment in the competitive service and will be for a period not to exceed 3 years with possible extensions up to a total of 4 years without further competition. Appointments to this position, will not convey permanent status in the Federal service.

Salary Range Information:
GS-12:  $76,378 - $99,296
GS-13: $90,823 - $118,069
* First time hires to the Federal government normally start at the lower salary range of the grade level.
This vacancy is also announced as OS-KN-15-MM1290204(MP) for those applicants who wish to apply and be considered under Merit Promotion procedures.

TRAVEL REQUIRED

  • Occasional Travel
  • Travel will be required to meet with insular area officials to evaluate and coordinate Federal policy and to implement national and local strategies in the insular areas to help them plan and prepare for the impacts of climate change.

RELOCATION AUTHORIZED

  • No

KEY REQUIREMENTS

  • You must be a U.S. Citizen.
  • You will be subject to a background/suitability investigation/determination
  • You must submit ALL required documents and a completed questionnaire.
  • You will be required to have federal payments made by Direct Deposit.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The real benefit of buying local on Guam

This video, by Kuam News, explains how buying local delivers many benefits to the local economy. Even if something cost a little more, everyone, in the end, gains. This is great explanatory journalism. The video: Understanding where you money goes in Guam's economy.