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

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Trump on the precipice and China's rage

Canada's detainment of Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Huawei's founder, has the Chinese livid. This happened in Canada at the request of the U.S. for the firm's alleged violations of Iran sanctions.

The Chinese government is urging Canada to release Ms. Meng, and it should. The U.S. has other ways to pursue sanctions with multinational firms, and it ought take those routes instead.

If Ms. Meng is extradited to the U.S., China's anger will likely grow. China Daily writes: "Canada has treated Meng as a dangerous criminal, handcuffing her at the airport and making her wear angle restraints after her first bail hearing."

If Ms. Meng is treated the same way we treat cartel drug lords, public opinion in China toward the U.S. may nosedive. It will become harder for the U.S. to resolve trade issues and scale down tensions over the South China Sea and Taiwan.

The Iranian sanctions have never stopped U.S. technology from ending up in Iran. U.S. equipment can arrive in Iran via other Middle Eastern countries.

Meanwhile, President Trump seems thoroughly distracted by the special counsel investigation and now appears vulnerable to impeachment.

Trump, at this moment, seems wholly incapable of resolving the problems with China, and China may conclude this as well. It's best strategy may be to wait and see how Congress responds to special counsel Robert Mueller's forthcoming report. But the immediate problem concerns Ms. Meng, and hopefully Canada will find a way to release her quickly.

And how does this impact Guam? It won't help with Chinese tourism or relations.

This issue will drag on for time. It will wear on Canadian relations with China. The next crisis will be a decision by Canada, not due until sometime in 2020, to extradite Ms. Meng to the U.S. 

Monday, September 3, 2018

The pending U.S. destruction of Pagan and Tinian islands

The U.S. is turning a significant portion of Micronesia into live fire and bombing ranges to train Marines. It has plans to completely take over one island for this purpose and has control of two-thirds of another island.

If people in the U.S. mainland understood the military's plan for Micronesia they might be alarmed. But this is really happening to U.S. citizens living in America's territories.

This is a result of the U.S. Navy’s plans to relocate 5,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam, where the U.S. has three major bases. But Guam -- even at 212 square miles -- is not suitable for this type of live fire training because of its relatively large population of 160,000 plus people.

The 18-square mile Pagan Island was evacuated in the early 1980s because of volcanic eruptions, although a handful of people have reportedly returned. Others want to resettle, but from the government's point of view, Pagan has no legal residents. 

On Pagan, the government will drop bombs as large as 1,000 pounds and turn the island into a ruined "wasteland," say the people of this region. Chemicals from military activities will leech into the soil and water supply, say opponents. 

The situation is a little different for Tinian Island. The U.S. controls 71% of the 39-square mile Tinian, which has a population of about 3,200. The U.S. plans to fire rockets, explode grenades, fire artillery and conduct amphibious landings.  There may be health consequences possibly from hazardous dust, noise and disruption. The quality of life for the people of Tinian will likely decline considerably. Residents worry that many will leave the island. 

The U.S. has been doing what it pleases since Bikini

If this sounds familiar, it should. 

The U.S. has been using the Pacific islands for military development since it forcibly removed the Bikini Atoll natives in 1946, so it could explode nuclear weapons. Not much has changed since.

A collection of indigenous and environmental groups challenged the U.S. Defense Dept. plans, but they recently lost their case in federal court.

This case was decided in the U.S. District Court in the Northern Mariana Island mostly on a single question: Did the U.S. follow its procedures for taking over Pagan Island and stepping up military training on Tinian?

The court ignored the most important issue 

The court, in its 41-page summary judgment ruling released Aug. 31, completely ignored the issue that should have been core to the case: Will the military's plans destroy a way of life, and endanger the health and environment of the people in this region?  

The questions ought to be huge. Instead, the court found that the government followed its processes. As a result, Pagan Island will be as good as erased off the map, and Tinian Island residents may face environmental and health risks. 

The opponents can appeal, but the odds are long.

The groups challenging this want the government to really assess the environmental damage, health risks and spiritual harm this activity will bring. That is what this case should have been about. But the court was unwilling to do so. Instead, it was decided on mostly technicalities: Has the U.S. followed its procedures for creating military bombing ranges?

Environmental and spiritual destruction

Marjorie Daria, a resident of Tinian and a member of the Tinian Women Association, filed this supporting declaration in the court case, and wrote this:

“I have spiritual interests in the preservation of Tinian. As a child I was taught the legends of my people and the spirits that still walk on our grounds, and that certain spirits occupy certain trees.

“Before I enter the jungle, I say a prayer and ask permission to enter. My beliefs compel me to act in ways that protect and respect Tinian. There are a few hidden locations around the airfield that I like to visit on a quarterly basis.

“One of them used to be a military storage facility that was bombed several years ago. Leading to the storage facility is a beautiful walkway encased with trees and branches, where birds sing, and the roots of these trees are entangled along this dirt wall, and the place is spiritual to me, because it reminds me of the damages caused by war and how peace can easily be disrupted.”

"If the Navy is allowed to carry out its plans to station thousands of Marines on Guam, those Marines would have to train on Tinian, subjecting the island to explosives, hand grenades, mortars, rockets, and artillery, and the accompanying noise, pollution, health risks, and environmental damage. It would cause the loss of native species, loss of biological and cultural diversity, loss of agricultural land, damage to the coral reef and other marine resources, loss of access to traditional fishing areas, lost productivity of traditional fisheries, damage to and loss of access to cultural and historical resources, harm to the tourism industry that is vital to the local economy and well-being of Tinian residents, and restrictions on travel between Tinian and Saipan, Rota, and other CNMI islands, as well as travel to Guam and the Philippines. It would make subsistence farming and fishing more challenging and less productive. It would disturb the tranquility of life here.

Daria warned that the military's plan "may well drive many of the people of Tinian away from the island, ripping the fabric of our community bonds"

The risks for people without political power 

The Tinian islanders will face a number of health risks. This include kicking up dust, and because of the types of minerals on the island, it may cause silicosis, a scarring of the lungs. There will be the danger of errant bombs. 

Tinian residents will face restrictions on when they can leave the island, a serious issue for people needing urgent medical care. The environment will degrade, and the risk to coral, sea life and animal life on the island is considerable.

Tinian and Pagan are part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), a U.S. Territory. They have no political representation in Congress.

If the U.S. plan goes through, the military will fully control 24% of the landmass of the commonwealth.

This will likely be the first of many lawsuits. It would not be surprising to see lawsuits seeking reparations for Pagan residents. One can imagine Tinian residents bringing a flurry of lawsuits over environmental damage, health harms and flight restrictions. The U.S. will pay out money, but it will stay with its defense goals. 

Keli A. Tenorio, a former Pagan resident, who wants to return to the Pagan island to live, wrote in a court brief:

“If our people were forced to live with the military on Pagan, the ground would shake, there would be loud noises, and our homes would be in danger of damage. The soil, air and water would be polluted by toxic chemicals contained in the ammunition, bombs, mortars, etc. that the military will dump on Pagan. The chemicals would seep into the water lenses and poison everything. Our wildlife, which we depend upon as our main source of food, will be detrimentally disrupted.

“Just over the ridge to the east side of Pagan, there are forty agricultural homesteads marked out and ready to distribute to our people. It would both ludicrous and foolish to think our people, plants and animals can thrive in such a close, noisy, and dangerous place as a result of continued bombardment from military training activities. Such activities will leave us with no way to feed our families or sustain our cultural and traditional practices,”
wrote Tenorio. 

Connecting the dots to Bikini

In the decades after their removal, Bikini Atoll residents challenged the government in federal court. Although many years separate those residents from present day, the problem is similar. 

A failed federal lawsuit by the Bikini residents, who were seeking reparations, said this:

“On January 10, 1946, President Harry Truman approved the use of Bikini Atoll for three nuclear tests, code-named ‘Operation Crossroads.' One month later, on Sunday, Feb 10, 1946, the American military governor of the Marshall Islands, U.S. Navy Commodore Ben Wyatt, flew by seaplane to Bikini to speak to the people and their leader, Juda, at the conclusion of Bikinians’ church services. 

"Official Navy records reported that Wyatt told the Bikinians 'of the bomb that men in America had made and of the destruction it had wrought upon the enemy” and that the Americans “are trying to learn how to use it for the good of mankind and to end all world wars.” He then asked: “Would Juda and his people be willing to sacrifice their island(s) for the welfare of all men?” The Bikinians were told that they would be allowed to return of their atoll in a matter of months when the United States no longer needed it for Operational Crossroads.”

“The Bikinians did not wish to leave their atoll. But, in view of the United States’ defeat of Japan and Commodore’s Wyatt’s description of nuclear weapons, they believed themselves powerless to resist the United States decision.”

The Bikinians gave up their land -- which remains uninhabitable to this day -- because of America’s geopolitical interests. They were powerless, and the fate had been decided. The same thing is happening again in Micronesia.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Trump administration is reckless and arrogant on climate

The Trump administration has decided that climate change is a hoax. It is telling future generations they have nothing to worry about. 'Hey, it might get a little warmer, but you'll like it and so will the plants. This talk about a 4F-6F degree rise by the end of the century is just nonsense. Kids: You'll be just fine.'

And people get upset about the so-called "alarmist?" The opposite of this is what the Trump administration is giving us: People who are so arrogant and reckless that they simply do not care.

The Trump administration position is just shocking. It is going to allow more electric generation via coal and it is going to fight the tough vehicle emission rules in California. 

Fortunately, the U.S. military has adopted a position that climate change is real and will lead to world-wide disruption. Not surprising. The military requires people who are smart, disciplined, have integrity, character, and can respond to rapidly changing situations. They don't imagine the world as they want it to be, they deal with the world as it is. 

That's why the U.S. Navy will rely on solar for part of electrical generation needs on Guam. Economically it makes sense, especially on Guam. But I tend to believe that morally, the Navy thinks it's right thing to do as well.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Guam's support of a Nobel Peace Prize for Trump isn’t about Trump

A Nobel Peace Prize for President Donald Trump? I can honestly see Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo making a tactical decision to sign a letter – along with six other Republican governors – to support a Nobel Prize for Trump for his efforts on North Korea.

For sure, Trump and the South Korean leadership has made progress. North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, seems interested in achieving something. But achieving what? There is a lot of uncertainty ahead.

When Guam was under missile threat from North Korea, Calvo took the opportunity to tell people about Guam. That was to Guam's plus. A lot of people have no real understanding about Guam and its relationship to the U.S. Calvo made effective use of the national stage.

But signing this letter seems to carry the rah-rah Trump campaign a little too far. Maybe signing the letter was calculated.

Guam is highly dependent on the federal government and you don't want to get on Trump's bad side, especially if you have zero political clout in Washington.

But backing Trump for a Nobel Peace Prize? Maybe Calvo genuinely believes Trump deserves it. But based on what, exactly? All we have is a tentative meeting ahead and a reduction in tensions that can easily dial up.

The real reason I suspect Calvo signed that letter is because the federal government has enormous control on Guam and the region.

Will Trump proceed with plans to turn beautiful Pagan Island into a military bombing range?

Will Trump bring the military build-up to Tinian?

Will Trump escalate Guam's military buildup and bring environmental ruin?

Does Trump even care about Guam? I suspect this is what worries Calvo.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Guam, ban the plastic bags!

Washington DC imposed a 5 cent fee on plastic bags in 2010. A few years later, a survey was taken to assess the impact. Source: District Dept. of the Environment

Guam should be credited for considering a ban on plastic bags. It doesn't need the blight.

In Washington DC they took a middle-of-the-road approach and imposed a 5 cent fee on the bags. The idea was to discourage their use. It seems to be working.

A lot of people can afford the 5 cent fee, but the fee was also coupled with awareness about the impact of the bags on the environment. It took effect in 2010, and since then surveys find that 80% of DC residents are using fewer bags. Environmentalists have reported a positive impact on the local rivers.

A ban is more extreme, but in Guam's case it's the best course. This is one of the most beautiful places in the world, but it's going to be stressed more than ever in the years ahead.

The military build-up will stress on all aspects of the island's environment. Banning the plastic bag is a way of fighting back and taking control. Hopefully the military exchanges will act in a similar manner, if they aren't doing so already.

People will complain, for sure, but they will adapt.

The petition makes a compelling case for action.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

PSA: March for our Lives

This is the most important thing to happen in some time. The students who are organizing this are truly the best we can be, and deserve tremendous credit. Congress has failed to deal with anything related to gun control. It couldn't even bring itself to ban bump stocks. Inaction translates to disregard for the lives of innocents.

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.