Friday, December 24, 2010

Say goodbye to Guam war reparations

Guam's longstanding effort for war reparations ought to have won passage by Congress this year. The island is facing major upheaval as a result of the build-up, and approval of reparations would have been one way for Congress to demonstrate to Guam that it honors the sacrifices that the people of the island have made. But it was rejected, once again, this year. That's probably it for war reparations; it has zero prospects in the next Congress.

Consider the 9/11 health care bill, which began at more than $7 billion, but was chopped down to $4.3 billion. The 9/11 bill will help pay the medical cost of men and women who helped in the rescue. Many have suffered serious health problems, from long-term disability to death, as a result exposure to toxins.

But a significant group of Republicans opposed it for a laundry list of reasons. Among them, that the U.S. didn’t have the money for additional benefits.

U.S. Rep. Madeleine Bordallo said, in published reports, that she will try again next year to win approval of the $100 million war reparations bill and believes she has some key support for it. Bordallo is being strung along.

There will be little interest in the next Congress for bills such as war reparations. Lawmakers are expecting to seek cuts in many programs, including defense-related. Even if Bordallo can find a revenue source to offset reparations, that revenue source is more likely to get assigned to more pressing needs, such as school lunch programs.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The three phases of Guam’s buildup

I loved the headline in the Guam NewsWatch. “Hillary Clinton Spends ‘Productive' Hour on Guam.” Delightful sarcasm, I hope.

The buildup is now is entering several phases. 

One: The first is the babble phase

Guam isn’t registering with the news media and President Obama has crossed it off his list. There’s no interest in the Guam buildup in Washington and the Pentagon knows it.  It’s all done now and the Pentagon has sent out a new team to supervise the buildup.
“We’re not going to build a new Marine Corps base ... and the Marines are going to move here and we have Guam and then we have Marines. We’re going to build a next village on Guam. We want to have a Marine Corps village on Guam and blend into the local culture.” – Marine Corps Times,  comments by the director of the Pacific Division Headquarters Marine Corps.
"You know, people keep saying...'can't you put any of these ranges somewhere else?'" Wood said. "I don't want to be cynical, but sure, you could put the ranges in downtown Agana -- what good would that do for the Marine Corps or the people of Guam? We tried to find the place that has the least impact on the entire island, on the culture, on the people of Guam. The EIS has for the most part identified the Route 15 area. –  Guam NewsWatch.
The babble phase is where the U.S. has what it wants from Guam and officials no longer feel they are under any obligation to say anything that makes the least amount of sense.

Two: The philosophical phase.

This is the phase where Guam’s leaders, such as Gov. Camacho, see the buildup as an overwhelming and indefinable problem and leave the task, as Keats wrote, to the poet “capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”

Third:  The paranoid phase.

With the troops, military and the aircraft carrier parked in the harbor, comes the third phase,  the paranoid phase.

As Guam's military profile increases, so does the fear that something may happen. They go hand-in-hand. At some point, the fear will be processed, buried deep, and become a rarely noticed part of the psychological landscape. But it is still there.
Pacific Daily News:  Guthertz welcomes missile defense system for Guam, Oct. 28, 2010
Sen. Judith Guthertz says she welcomes word that a missile defense system for Guam is in the works.
 “To residents of the continental United States, the possibility of a ballistic missile strike anywhere near them is a pretty remote possibility," Guthertz stated in a press release. But on Guam, "a trigger-happy and nuclear armed regime in nearby North Korea" has already demonstrated that this American territory in Asia is within its range, according to Guthertz, who is seeking re-election. 
Since the announcement of the $15 billion Guam military buildup, those living within the potential bulls eye have wondered how they are supposed to be protected in the event of a shooting war, said Guthertz. 
The buildup isn't about North Korea and a random missile launch. It's about China. It's always been about China, the country no one wants to name (because they own our banks and manufacturing production capability).

Robert D. Kaplan, a frequent and influential writer in DC on global security issues explains why Guam should feel paranoid in an op-ed in the Washington Post.
We underestimate the importance of what is occurring between China and Taiwan, at the northern end of the South China Sea. With 270 flights per week between the countries, and hundreds of missiles on the mainland targeting the island, China is quietly incorporating Taiwan into its dominion. Once it becomes clear, a few years or a decade hence, that the United States cannot credibly defend Taiwan, China will be able to redirect its naval energies beyond the first island chain in the Pacific (from Japan south to Australia) to the second island chain (Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands) and in the opposite direction, to the Indian Ocean. [emphasis added]

Saturday, July 31, 2010

How Guam responded to the U.S. request to 'Please print clearly'

The only thing worth reading in the EIS are the letters and comments from individuals. Decades from now, when the era of flying saucers and teleporting (as in 'Beam me up, Scotty') arrives and the military's idea of "force projection" has moved off planet and from Guam, people will still read these letters to discover what the island thought at this turn in its history.

The EIS isn't a planning document; it's a emotional trigger. The emotional response can appear in almost any issue affected by the buildup.

A good number of people, for instance, cited a fear of crime from this concentration of troops and the off-island populations arriving to support them. (There were 274 letters out of 10,000 on this topic, says EIS comment summary in Vol. 10).

The EIS seeks to mitigate risks, but each risk it addresses compounds fear that the buildup brings too many threats. The mega-risk are geo-political: "Guam’s higher military profile could increase its potential as an American target for terrorists and adversaries during a possible conflict," wrote the Congressional Research Service this year. The EIS answers that concern with an entire chapter that considers a missile defense system for Guam.

The military isn't taking Guam to a prosperous future, it's taking the island back in time, specifically to the Cold War era of the 1950s-1960s when elementary school students were trained to 'duck and cover' and react like turtles in the event of a Soviet attack.

There was a turtle by the name of Bert

and Bert the turtle was very alert; when danger threatened him he never got hurt ...

One Guam, Green Guam or Isle of Fear. Take your pick. Guam is being turned into the new century version of Dr. Strangelove, with missile defenses and sirens against the unknown enemy. A diorama of the planet's future.
If the vision for Guam is one of increasing external and internal threats, what then best describes this world? For an answer, we have this EIS letter by a Guam high school student.* It immediately disarms the reader into believing one thing, and then quickly moves to its real point. It’s the work of a talented writer.
We the people of Guam can benefit from the military build-up. From the jobs, new stores opening, and roads being paved. But the destruction from the build-up will soon eat our island, no more scenic views, beautiful trees, the sky will soon turn to black clouds, we will no longer have oxygen, we will no longer be able to access the ancient Chamorro sites, people’s lands homes, land will be taken away, memories of their childhood, years of hard work maintaining their lives on their lands. We will soon be an island known for being covered with buildings, animal wildlife will fade-away, traffic will only get worse. Crimes will rise drastically. There’s nothing more I can say, but we’ll know when the military is here, their destruction will begin. -- Vol. 10, Individuals Part 11, Page 786
Here is the EIS response to the letter’s most sweeping point (EIS comment reference: I-1929-003): “Potential air quality impacts due to the proposed action are considered to be less than significant. The sky will not turn to black clouds, nor will oxygen be depleted as a result of the military build-up.”
A literal response to black clouds and oxygen depletion are exploding missiles, but in the student's essay the arrival of black clouds is about disappearance and loss. It reminds of this beautiful post by Drea of Waiting for Wonderland about the legend of a very big fish that was eating the island and what the women of Guam did to save it.
The next EIS letter is simply incredible. Here is the whole of it:
I feel like the ko ko bird, who, after thousands of years, lost its ability to fly because there no predators for them in Guam. Natural selection does that to us sometimes, clips our wings even though we may need them in case of invasion centuries later
Thousands of brown wing bodies with underbelly white stripes moves as flashes across the beds of forests, and their shallow nests were built into the ground. Think of open mouths and morning sunlight.
I know two things about Guam. One is that right after World War II the U.S. “accidentally” let the brown tree snake into a cargo ship on its way to Guam. Since the ko ko couldn’t fly they were devoured – nests, chick, origin and all.
The other things I know about Guam is that Spain imported carabao, a species of water buffalo, in the seventeenth century. They have been a national symbol and the herds were plentiful. They are used to pull carabao boats, are ridden in festivals and are silent creatures unless startled. Since they dwindled the U.S. Naval base came to the rescue and offered a preservation “protected” by the military but really ended up serving as a field of extermination. They were contaminating the water supply on the U.S. occupied Naval Base which doesn’t belong where it is to begin with.
I feel like the ko ko bird. My nest was on the ground. I was a flash in the forest. I took to the water. You came in accidentally and saw my natural habitat as a feast, now the nest is decimated and you’re perched in the highest tree looking out over a land you know nothing about but claim with pride – Volume 10, Individuals Part 1. Page 32.
This following letter makes more expansive detailed points about the buildup, but it’s introduction is stirring. The last line is near the end of the letter.
Whenever I got to the beach and take my dog for a walk I cannot help but to admire the beauty that lies right in front of my eyes. The beautiful soft white sand that glimmers when the rays of the sun shines down on them, the magnificent horizon that seems like it never ends and the playful waves that say hi to me whenever I come around. These wonderful creations make me feel like I am living in a paradise. A paradise that the next generation would not be able to see anymore if I let the military buildup take everything away to the place I called my home. … the military buildup is not the hope the island has been waiting for. -- Vol. 10, Individuals Part II, Page 1229.
End Notes:
* Even though these comments are part of a published public record, I left the names out to keep from sending the authors into the search engines. That may be an easily fixed mistake. But because this material is difficult to locate, something ought to be done to improve access to the hundreds of other letters that deserve a wide audience. References at the end of each letter should make it easy to see the original.

These letters were typed from the pdfs, so any errors are mine.

To find PDF files, see Guam EIS Final Documents. Click on Vol. 10 and individual sections will appear. PDFs are large, more than 100MBs each and it's why I didn't link to them directly.

Photo at the top of the page is from: Vol 10, Part 3, Page 124. It is a work by Anonymous, titled: "Please Print Clearly."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

EIS rules out 'Green Guam'

This week Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn said the U.S. will incorporate "green technology" to help meet the military's needs. "Our collective investment in wind, solar, hydroelectric and wave-generated power will make Guam an environmental leader among Pacific islands," he said.

But Lynn's statement is at odds with what the EIS says: Alternative energy sources were considered but discarded for baseload supply as this supply must be extremely reliable. Solar and wind are not reliable enough and there is no currently available economical power storage medium to augment them.

The EIS assessment on the inability of alternative energy to meet the military's needs was included in a comment section. An individual wrote: "Please use solar and wind power. The equipment is available and affordable and the investment will pay for itself." (Vol 10, Individuals Part II, page 264 or web site comment 1349)

Here is the complete EIS response to that comment:
Thank you for your comment. Alternative energy sources were considered but discarded for baseload supply as this supply must be extremely reliable. Solar and wind are not reliable enough and there is no currently available economical power storage medium to augment them. Also alternative energy is very costly. Per the December 2009 “Watts & Volts” newsletter published by the IREA of Colorado, a very sunny state, “A recent study by Tufts University economics professor Gilbert Metcalf states, ‘Solar power currently costs 3.5 to 4 times the price of conventional power,’ but when stripped of subsidies and preferential tax treatment, ‘solar power is between 570 percent and 887 percent more expensive to produce than coal power.” We realize coal power is not available on Guam, but this demonstrates that solar power is not cheap. Both solar and wind require duplicative investments, one for the alternative energy and another for the conventional backup.DoD, however, is mandated to provide a certain percentage of power via alternative energy. So, for new installations, solar water heating and photovoltaics would be considered for new installations. In addition, new DoD development would strive to achieve at least LEED Silver, requiring energy conservation be built into the new facilities. Conservation is the best alternative energy source!
The EIS selective math reference is suspect and its counterpoint to the comment is incomplete. The EIS framed its answer in terms of baseload, which means the minimum amount of power needed for all power needs. Alternative energy is, for now, mostly supplemental.

Moreover, the person who wrote this comment didn't ask about baseload; all this person wanted was for the military to use alternative energy. The EIS writers decided to not only talk down to this commenter but blow smoke as well.

The EIS is correct in that initial investment in solar is high and the government, obviously, can't use tax credits. But all the lack of tax credits does is to extend the payback period, it doesn't eliminate it. There are other benefits as well that aren't easily calculated

If the military reduces its need for power via solar that in turn reduces the need for additional power generation capacity, and since it is the military's goal to make Guam 'green,' rejecting solar on the basis of something someone at EIS HQ Googled is not sound planning.

The EIS response doesn't rule out alternative energy use. There's a DOD requirement that a certain percentage of generation come from alternative sources, but the overall message here is not "Green Guam," but more of: The DOD will meet minimum requirements.

The EIS response is also not the "Green Guam" message that Lynn and the White House has been handing out, a cornerstones of the PR offensive. It illustrates how out-of-control this buildup is. It has too many moving parts and no one understands how they all work together.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Jurassic Guam

The U.S. planners running the Guam buildup have something in common with the people who operated InGen, the company that created Jurassic Park. They are so confident in their ability to succeed that they are blind to the weaknesses in their planning. John Hammond (the character played by Richard Attenborough), the CEO of InGen, illustrates the problem. Each time a concern was raised, Hammond had a ready answer.
The full fifty mile of perimeter fence are in place? -- Donald Gennaro, a lawyer who represented the investors backing InGen. (He was played by Martin Ferrero).
And the concrete moats, and the motion sensor tracking systems. Donald, dear boy, do try to relax and enjoy yourself –Hammond.
Hammond saw the problems facing Jurassic Park as a checklist. He believed that by mitigating each problem, he could control his park. But Isla Nublar descended into chaos not because of the failure of any one thing on the checklist, but because of a series of unforeseen and unexpected events across a range of issues. Dr. Malcolm’s warning had been plain: complexity increases unpredictability. What Guam and Jurassic Park Share Guam faces a similar problem with the military buildup. The buildup is reshaping Guam and is creating a system that in total is more complex than the list of mitigation strategies it identifies in the EIS.

The dinosaurs on Jurassic Park started eating people only after a series of things of things went wrong: A tropical storm muddied roads at the same time a disgruntled employee was attempting a theft; a flawed security system; computer systems without backups, and, of course, the ability of the dinosaurs to override genetic controls to limit their reproduction. All these things combined to cripple the park.

The EIS doesn’t, and can’t, consider how all the things it seeks to accomplish will interact and what new risks will emerge for Guam.

The Fictional 'No Action Alternative'

Buildup opponents believe that the sum total of the changes the military will bring to the island’s infrastructure, environment and culture, will be too much for the island to bear. But the government has not responded to their concern because it can’t. The EIS doesn’t look at the buildup as a connected system of enormous complexity. Instead, it addresses one issue at a time. The comment responses make that clear.

In its summary of the 10,000 comments about the buildup, the EIS doesn’t recognize, as a category, those who oppose the buildup, the fictional “no action alternative.” The military's planners are as blind and as arrogant as Hammond.

But even in its piecemeal, checklist approach to Guam's future, the EIS analysis can be horribly lame.

John, the kind of control you're attempting is not possible. If there's one thing the history of evolution has taught us, it's that life will not be contained. Life breaks free. It expands to new territories. It crashes through barriers. Painfully, maybe even .. dangerously, but and ... well, there it is. – Malcolm.
A revealing aspect of the EIS is how it reports the buildup's expected population impact. For instance, it estimates that in 2012 “dependents of off-island workers” will number 11,184. Why didn’t the EIS round-off its estimate and provide, as well, an estimated range? (Vol. 1, page 44).

The EIS Uses False Precision to Disguise its Fictions

The intent of precise population figures may be to give the impression to Guam that the EIS planners really know what they are doing, when all they may be doing is masking their uncertainty about the actual impact.

And does anyone really know, for instance, what impact 18,000 or so foreign laborers will have on Guam – a population increase of 10% alone? No.

The EIS talks about the need for recreational activities for foreign workers, cultural sensitivity training and organized outings, but it can’t imagine how those workers will interact with the local population, the environment, and how they may ultimately impact the island. The massive increase in population, not just from foreign labor, defines unpredictability.

The EIS's Failure

In 2000, Bill Joy, then chief scientist of Sun Microsystems, looked at the problem of complexity in an essay published in Wired, titled, Why the future doesn’t need us. One of the things he examined was the anti-technology argument raised by the so-called Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski.

The cause of many such surprises seems clear: The systems involved are complex, involving interaction among and feedback between many parts. Any changes to such a system will cascade in ways that are difficult to predict; this is especially true when human actions are involved.

The difference between problems Joy described and what the buildup will do for Guam, is not a reach. Guam is an island, a world to itself with limited resources, fragile on many levels, and with an environment that is completely interconnected.

Guam is now about to be rearranged by the U.S. government, which has prepared what is at best a grocery list of changes. But the EIS does not know how the buildup will change Guam and what new risks may emerge out of all the changes it will bring. The EIS does not prepare Guam for what’s ahead.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

High velocity small arms and Pagat

The map offers another view of Pågat. The pink areas show the SDZ (Surface Danger Zone) at risk from small arms fire. The U.S. plans to turn Pågat into a live firing range and the People of Guam are protesting it. (Map source is U.S. EIS document)

Pågat isn’t just a place that’s important to Guam. It is important to America. The National Trust for Historic Preservation included Pågat this year on a list of America's Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places. It wrote this about Pagat:

On the northern coast of Guam, ringed by sheer limestone cliffs, lie the remains of an ancient village of the Chamorro, the indigenous people of this island, which is now a U.S. territory. The archaeological riches at Pågat are significant: more than 50 mounds (or middens) containing evidence of day-to-day life and some 20 sets of lattes—limestone pillars, crowned by capstones, that once supported dwellings made of wood and thatch. To see all of this requires heroic stamina. A hike along the trail to Pågat cuts through dense jungle and makes a steep descent past a sinkhole cave filled with freshwater pools. Access to the site and the integrity of its archaeological resources may be threatened by the U.S. military's plans to relocate about 8,600 Marines and 9,000 dependants from Okinawa to Guam.
The people from Washington who delivered the news this week about Pågat would never accept a firing range near their own homes and their families. They most certainly would not let it destroy a historical site. They would protest and fight it with every ounce of strength. And they know it. But this is how the U.S. acts when there are no political consequences, a fact that is as true for Guam today as it was 64 years ago this month for the displaced people of the Bikini Atoll.

After the U.S. had relocated the residents of Bikini to another atoll, U.S. Senator Carl Hatch (D-NM) visited them and said this: "The President knows the sacrifice you have made and he is deeply grateful to you for that."

Hatch then gave the islanders some gifts; a collection of things, some of which may be have been purchased in an airport gift shop. "A pipe, a cigarette holder, matches, a carton of cigarettes and a complete set of photographs of the atomic cloud over Bikini,” reported the New York Times on July 16, 1946.

History doesn’t record what the Bikini islanders thought of these gifts, the matches, the cigarettes and the photos of atomic bombs exploding. But people on Guam may begin to imagine.

The U.S. is treating the People of Guam as it treated the People of Bikini. Guam is not being given a choice as it faces a great loss, and what it will get in return is equally empty thanks.

Bikini residents had no voice and no one in Washington to speak for them. Guam has U.S. Rep. Madeleine Bordallo.

But Bordallo isn't seriously fighting the military's plan for Pågat; there is no resolve in her words.

In Bordallo’s “statement on the Final EIS,” she thanks Nancy Sutley, the chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Dorothy Robyn, and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Jackalyne Pfannenstiel for visiting Guam. “The fact that these high-ranking officials are visiting Guam is much appreciated and shows the commitment of the White House in hearing our island’s concerns.” Why Bordallo would show appreciation to these messengers or inflate their status in Washington is misleading.

The only person in this group with White House influence is Nancy Sutley, the chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. She appears to focus on clean energy and conservation. It is nonetheless gratuitous, as well as meaningless, for Bordallo to suggest that the White House is showing "commitment" to hearing Guam's concerns as they prepare to use Pågat as a firing range.

In Washington, Robyn and Pfannenstiel are mid-level appointees who probably aren't on the White House’s email list for senior advisors. They work for Defense in any case. They were sent to the island not to negotiate but to deliver bad news. They are part of the Obama administration’s Blue Collar appointee workforce.

Bordallo has no power in Washington, but she does have a platform, a voice and means to get a message out. But because Bordallo supports the buildup and appears too close to these officials, her language is not of protest.

On the matter of the Pågat firing range, this is what Bordallo wrote:
“I remain concerned that the Navy still has significant work in addressing the selection of the Pagat cliff line as the preferred alternative for a firing range. I still believe that Tinian is a preferred location for this training.”
Is that the best she could write? That she remains “concerned.”

Bordallo is muting her language because she is not seriously concerned about Pagat.

If Bordallo cared about Pågat she would have written:

“I oppose the use of Pågat for a firing range. It is unacceptable to the people of Guam.”

That would have been start.

Bordallo’s next step should have been to call someone from The National Trust for Historic Preservation Trust to join her for a press conference about Pågat.

To the reporters assembled Bordallo could say:

I want to tell you about a place that is beautiful and sacred to the People of Guam, it is called Pågat, and it is about to be turned into live firing range by the U.S. military. It is something that will scar Guam in many ways, and it is the type of action that no one – no one on the mainland, not in any community, would accept. Why should it be different for Guam?

And then she would show the reporters the video above and the photos below so that they may begin to understand what America does not yet realize.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Guam's looming rental bubble

It was discouraging to read that Sen. Matt Rector has resigned from his office, forced out by opponents. His perspective on the build-up is important as is his warning that it may deliver more economic harm than benefit.

Build-up proponents argue that the military will transform Guam into an economic Shangri-La: an island of full employment and improved standard of living. Rector is a critic of that point of view, and his position finds support in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). Take housing, for instance.

Home ownership on Guam is at 48%, one of the lowest homeownership rates in the United States. It means a large number people are potentially vulnerable to what may be a build-up induced rental bubble. And Guam has a lot of people who are at risk to increase housing costs, according to data in a Guam Housing and Urban Renewal Authority study.

Out of Guam’s population of 175,000 (the figure used the study), there are 13,800 people (2,286 households) or 8% that are considered “hidden homeless,” or living in households in which more than one family share accommodations. There are another 42,500 people “at-risk” (10,600 households) or 24% who would become homeless in three months if their primary income was lost.

In sum, nearly a third of the island’s residents will have trouble absorbing housing cost increases.

The build-up’s proponents argue that new jobs and abundant overtime will mitigate cost of living increases. But that’s not what the DEIS says. This report was written with an enormous amount of wiggle room, and the best it can do is offer scenarios and assumptions.

One possibility, suggested by the DEIS, is that rising prices on Guam and housing shortages will reduce Guam’s desirability to people off-island, creating labor shortages. Wages may increase but prices of goods and services may rise even faster, the DEIS warns. It also suggest: An influx of new workers could cause increases in housing prices and/or crowded housing conditions and homelessness or simply eliminate the ability of new workers to move to Guam.

The DEIS frames the problem:
The essential dilemma of the construction boom period is as follows: Would the island economy generate several thousand housing units for the boom period that may remain vacant thereafter, or would the disincentives for such short-term housing production result in a shortage of housing during the construction period?
A shortage of housing seems likely. The DEIS points out:
The spike in housing demand is expected to last only from 2010 to 2014 … substantial vacancy rates can be expected after the year 2015 and a significant housing glut is possible. This short window of high demand means those building rental housing might expect only up to four years to gain adequate returns on their investment, with longer-term prospects being highly speculative.
The incentives to build new housing isn't there, which means the pressure will be on rents especially for middle income housing.

There isn’t a good outcome here for Guam. Crowded conditions will reduce the quality of life, and while jobs may increase there’s no guarantee that Guam’s residents, those most in need of the work, will fill those jobs. The pressure to supply labor, cheap labor especially, may lead to hiring of visa holding workers in service industry jobs. I realize that the Guam government wants to prevent that from happening, but once the market forces are unleashed this may be hard to control.

I started this piece with a view on Matt Rector. He argued for higher wages and challenged Guam’s lawmakers to do more to ensure that island resident get real benefit out of the build-up. He brought a fearless perspective to government. It is a perspective that's still needed in Guam's government.

The build-up will deliver every imaginable ill to the island. It’s artificial and not sustainable development. It will impact the environment, the culture, and cost of the living, and quality of life in extreme ways, and once you cut through the assumptions and scenarios described in the DEIS report, it's hard to conclude anything else.

For additional reading: Please also see: Notes on Jobs & Construction at We Are Guahan.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Buildup in America

Politico this week published a column by U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) that argued that the U.S. should take its $14-$16 billion in Guam buildup spending and instead “build in America.”

Hutchinson appears unaware that Guam is a United States possession, territory, politically disfranchised colony, and the place where “America’s Day Begins."

This prompted a sharp retort from Acting Governor Michael W. Cruz to Hutchinson about Guam’s true status and sacrifices. His point was deserved but ephemeral.

Hutchinson’s mistake about Guam’s status is nothing compared to the colossal mistake of allowing live military firing ranges on Guam, now planned for Pagat, or stripping Apra Harbor of much of its coral or overpopulating the island.

Hutchinson is on the Senate Appropriations Committee and is the ranking member of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Subcommittee and is challenging the military’s plans for Guam as well as the its entire premise of the Pacific and European base strategy. She writes:
Some argue that the U.S. overseas presence provides assurance to our allies and deterrence to our adversaries. History has shown otherwise. Having U.S. troops in Europe did not deter the Russians from conducting military operations against Georgia in 2008. More recently, the U.S. military in South Korea did not deter North Korean aggression against a South Korean naval vessel.
Hutchinson knows enough about Guam to understand that the buildup is “problematic” for the island, and writes:
This proposal is fraught with significant environmental concerns, insufficient infrastructure, an implausible timeline — and staggering costs, now estimated at $16 billion. With these considerable barriers, better basing alternatives should be explored.
Hutchinson doesn't help herself by arguing that the buildup should be “right here on American soil,” and treating Guam as if it were something else. But in doing so, Hutchinson is just revealing, restating or otherwise highlighting the degree of insensitivity, callousness and ignorance in Washington about Guam. It is why the U.S. is putting its firing range in Pagat and could care less, truly, what Guam thinks about it. Guam is being reminded by Hutchinson where it really stands. Honesty comes in many forms and here it is.

Hutchinson's lack of knowledge about Guam's relationship to America is of no consequence in Washington because few know better. But what does matter here is Hutchinson's attack on the very rational for the buildup, something that has been rare in Washington. She is taking this position as a member of the Senate committee that has a lot to say about where the Defense Department spends its money.

Many military bases in the U.S. have been closed, often to local opposition because of the loss of jobs. Hutchinson probably suspects that spending billions on new military facilities on the U.S. mainland, instead of on a politically disenfranchised Guam, may appeal to a broader number in Congress, especially at a time when more stimulus dollars are needed.

It is possible that the Guam buildup fight may have finally arrived in Congress.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Guam’s greatest economic asset

The biggest anchor to economic development on Guam is its government. As its largest and best paying employer, Guam’s government has a supersize primacy in the island’s life and this distorts its decision-making process about its future.

In round numbers, Guam’s total public and private sector payroll is about 60,000 people; of that number about 15,000 receive government-connected paychecks. Federal employment accounts for about 3,600 of that government number.

The military buildup’s demand for additional services will increase the government payroll but this will come at a price. By growing its reliance on the U.S. military, Guam's government is also giving the military more control, directly and indirectly, over the island's future. But this loss of control is coming at the same time Guam's potential to shift away from military dependency is increasing.

Guam’s most important economic asset isn't the military but the increasing number of well-educated young men and women who have made a deliberate decision to remain on the island, despite other options.

Those who remain or return to the island may see their decision as a part of a strong commitment to the island. A larger purpose is assigned the decision. These young people aren’t just thinking about their future, but the island’s future as well and there may be many in this group who appear to oppose the buildup.

To oppose the buildup is to make a statement of faith and self-reliance; it is a bold imagination of possibility. And faith in the possibility of a future apart from the military is more important than an actual economic plan because without former, the latter is impossible.

Putting aside the issues of the buildup’s impact on sustainability, environment, what are the alternatives to the buildup?

Analysis of economic alternatives is where all discussions about Guam’s future seem to fall apart. People can’t imagine something other than the military and tourism as a potential economic pillar. But there may be another option.

Guam’s most underutilized asset may be its communication infrastructure; it’s a hub for undersea cables and its online communications services, I suspect, are among the best in Oceana.

Guam ability to develop its virtual infrastructure, coupled with its proximity to Asia and time zone advantage (relative to the U.S. mainland), seems to offer some possibility for development of businesses that can provide virtual and regional services.

Developing a different kind of future will take a government that can think well beyond a military-dependent future to how it can create a climate that can turn Guam into the Pacific’s mini-Silicon Valley. That will take a government leadership that pushes itself to be creative, imaginative, and forward-thinking about the future. But it is difficult to see how a government focused on counting the buildup dollars is capable of providing inspired leadership on this front.

But the raw ingredients for Guam’s alternatives are there. It begins with a supply of young men and women who have deliberately committed to the island, their home, and by opposing the buildup, are also making a courageous statement about their future. It is no small thing in a place such as Guam to oppose entrenched powers. But as been said for time immemorial, fortune, or in this case, the future, favors the bold.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Guam’s budget and the Eat Me Cake

I saw Alice in Wonderland in 3-D and absolutely loved it. Well, we all know how it ended for Alice (plot spoiler), after she slays the Jabberwocky. She’s out of the rabbit hole, and off for new adventures.

But Alice never made it to her intended destination.

Alice was shipwrecked on Guam and she takes a job with Gov Guam where she subsequently hires the Mad Hatter to help run its finances.

But the bills weren’t being paid! The Mad Hatter – pointing to his watch – says it will be best to delay tax refund payments.

Why, this watch is exactly two days slow,” explains the Mad Hatter.

[The deficit is being financed primarily by delaying the payment of income tax refunds, which totaled $278M at the end of FY 2008. (Guam Public Auditor Performeter Analysis).]

But then the Duchess of Debt arrived.

The more there is of mine, the less there is of yours,” says the Duchess of Debt.

[Or as the public auditor reported: At the end of FY 2008, the government of Guam’s net asset deficiency increased by $78.2M (59.4%) from the prior year’s $131.5M, indicating a continued deterioration of its financial condition. The increase in the deficit was due to an increase in expenses of approximately $100M, while revenues increased only by $14M.]

Let me see: four times five is twelve, and four times six is thirteen, and four times seven is -- oh dear! I shall never get to twenty at that rate!” says Alice, after reading the report.

Alice then reaches for the Eat Me Cake for help, with its special powers developed by the U.S. military.

Well, I’ll eat it,” said Alice, “and if it makes me grow larger, I can reach the key; and if it makes me grow smaller, I can creep under the door: so either way I’ll get into the garden, and I don’t care which happens!

And the Garden does arrive, delivered by 8,000 Marines who help solve the budget problems.

The Mad Hatter says to Alice, “You used to be much more … ‘muchier.’ You’ve lost your muchness.”

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Guam’s shared history with Bikini

It may seem harsh to compare the military's build-up on Guam to the nuclear annihilation of Bikini Atoll. After all, the U.S. only wants to risk contamination of Guam's water supply and not blow up the island. Let's recognize this as an improvement in Pacific island relations. But the nuclear testing program was arguably one of the lower points in the U.S. treatment of Pacific islanders and is a baseline for evaluating the military's plans for Guam.

From 1946 through 1958, the U.S. exploded 67 nuclear devices, including hydrogen bombs, on the Bikini Atoll. Radiation was spread far and wide, affecting thousands of people living in the Marshall Islands, leaving problems that persist today.

The build-up on Guam gives the island difficult choices about its future. The Bikini islanders faced a difficult choice as well in 1946, and that's our starting point for comparison.

Beware of government PR.

Imagine the task facing the U.S. government on Bikini. It did not want to be seen forcibly evicting the islanders. It had to appear that the Bikini islanders had accepted the relocation as the morally right thing to do. Arriving on the atoll in a seaplane in early 1946 is Navy Commodore Ben Wyatt with the task of convincing the people of Bikini to give up their island. It's a Sunday, shortly after services and Wyatt is there to see the island's leader, King Juda.

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 did not wish to leave their atoll. But, in view of the United States’ defeat of Japan and Commodore Wyatt’s description of the nuclear weapons, they believed themselves powerless to resist the United States decision. (Source: Reparations lawsuit filed by the people of Bikini in 2006).
The U.S. had what it wanted from the Bikini islanders -- their consent, even if it was a fiction. But that was the story, told with the news media's help, to the mainland. In July of 1946, just five months after Wyatt's arrival, a New York Times reporter was flown to the island to witness an unusual ceremony from the Bikini islander's new home, the neighboring island of Rongerik. The headline and a few excerpts follow.

Receives Gifts as His People Are Hailed for Sacrifice -- Juda to See Next Test.
RONGERIK, Marshall Islands, July 16 -- King Juda of Bikini, head of a community of 167 souls who voluntarily gave up their native island to make way for the atomic bomb, today received the official thanks of the President of the United States in a colorful ceremony.
Representing Truman was Sen. Carl Hatch, (D-N.M.), who reportedly said this: "The President knows the sacrifice you have made and he is deeply grateful to you for that. You have made a true contribution to the progress of mankind all over the world, and the President of the United States extends to you, King Juda, his thanks for all that you have done."
As the message was translated to him, King Juda, dressed in a Navy fatigue uniform, nodded his acknowledgement. Then came a burst of applause from all the men, women and children seated behind him in a semi-circle.
King Juda was also presented with several gifts, "a pipe, a cigarette holder, matches, a carton of cigarettes and a complete set of photographs of the atomic cloud over Bikini."
Don't ask, don't listen

The U.S. didn't seek Guam's consent for the buildup. It did not ask whether it is "willing to sacrifice their island" for it (i.e. risk the water supply, the loss of 70 acres of coral, noise from live fire ranges, additional land losses, and other impacts) and assumed it would have enough political support.

But awareness and opposition to the build-up was already building by the time Vice President Dick Cheney visited Andersen Air Force Base in 2007, it just wasn't being heard in Washington. A petition circulated by the group Nasion Chamoru opposed the increased military presence. “We believe that increased militarization will put our families, friends and relatives who are living on Guam in harm’s way rather than provide safety and stability,” the group said in a statement prior to Cheney’s visit. (Navy Times)

This petition was well in advance of the environmental build-up studies and the Congressional Research Service’s recent assessment that "Guam’s higher military profile could increase its potential as an American target for terrorists and adversaries during a possible conflict."

The subsequent growth of We Are Guahan and the outpouring of concern at the recent hearings demonstrate that this build-up opposition is broadening and deepening. It is also a movement looking beyond the environmental and infrastructure issues to question the very future of the island, its identity and the legacy it wants to leave for its children.

Sen. James Webb's focus is on mitigating environmental and quality of life impacts, and not the transcendent issues. He let President Obama's administration know, after his recent visit, that the military is asking too much of the island and giving it too little in return. Webb's goal is to help Guam get millions of dollars for infrastructure help and a slower pace of development, but he wants an outcome that ensures that the Guam build-up is realized, which he calls an "issue of national strategy."

The colonialist pay a visit Shortly after Webb's report, which included his assertion that the build-up is a "win" for Guam, the White House unveiled "One Guam, Green Guam," in advance of President Obama's visit. Its goal for Guam is to bring the island "to an end state that’s politically, operationally, and environmentally sustainable," according to the White House briefing.

The White House needed a new approach. Opposition on Guam to the build-up is increasing, thanks in part to the Draft Environmental Impact State Statement (DEIS) which makes it clear that protecting the island's environment is not the government's top priority. [The U.S. Environmental Protection assessment helps support that conclusion.]

The White House sent Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the Council on Environmental Quality, to Guam to lay a new groundwork for selling the build-up. Sutley appears at a press conference with a number of other federal officials and then says "what you see here is a commitment from the federal family." (Marianas Variety, March 23, 2010).

The phrase "federal family" is not something a U.S. official would typically say stateside. Ms. Sutley was probably attempting to show genuine concern. But it's also a paternalistic expression that reinforces a painful fact for Guam: it is a second-class citizen, unable to deal with the federal government either as a sovereign nation or state.

The U.S was similarly paternalistic with Bikini residents, who were led to believe that they could one day return to their island and that they would be cared for until such time. The Bikini islanders "agreed to leave their atoll on the understanding that the United States would provide for them while they were away from their homeland and would protect them against the loss of their lands." (Bikini reparations lawsuit).

Done Right, versus What's Right

The U.S. government is pursuing two separate goals in the build-up. The first goal is the build-up and achieving the strategic objective. The second, less important goal, is a sustainable build-up. This is one of the things the Bikini islanders learned in their experience. Once the nuclear testing began and the strategic objective achieved, their lives took a turn for the worse despite U.S. promises to the contrary.

Supporters of the build-up want U.S. assurances that it will be "done right," meaning that there is sufficient money and planning to offset its environmental and infrastructure impacts. Whether those impacts can be addressed is unsettled. But the deeper issue of "what's right" for Guam is not a question that will be considered by White House. And the reason for this is clear.

The U.S. government's primary objective for Guam isn't "One Guam, Green Guam," but the build-up. Everything else is secondary and misdirection.

Had the Bikini islanders understood that the only thing that mattered was the evacuation of the island and not their futures, who knows how they might have responded. All anyone can do today is wonder what King Juda thought when he was handed pictures of the atomic bomb exploding on Bikini, part of the thank you gift from his new federal family.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The rich irony of changing Guam’s name to Guåhan

In his State of the Island address, Gov. Felix Camacho calls for returning Guam’s name to Guåhan.

The governor is right to seek this name change for the island. As he pointed out in his speech, Guam is the name set in the Treaty of Paris in 1898. It’s an artificial rebranding of the island and an exercise of colonial power.

But why is the governor making this recommendation now, at this particular point in Guam’s history?

The credit may belong to the people behind We Are Guåhan. It is a movement of many young and well educated residents passionately concerned about preserving the island’s cultural heritage and enriching it. They are questioning the very foundations of Guam’s direction and are unwilling to cede the island’s future to the military. There are nearly 2,000 people who have signed up as members of this group on Facebook and their numbers grow daily.

A cynic might suspect that the governor’s name change proposal is intended to diffuse or at least muddle one of We Are Guåhan’s most important assertions, that the build-up poses grave risks to island’s culture and identity. But Camacho may not be acting politically. He runs an island where one-out-of-four paychecks is government issued, either through the federal government or Guam’s government. Government spending is a pillar of the economy. In his speech, he argues: “Like many of you, I have raised my children here, and this is the place my grandchildren call home. We all want safer streets, an improved educational system, and a job market that allows our people to better support their families.” He doesn’t see economic alternatives for improving his children’s future but understands, nonetheless, the risk to his legacy and the island by backing the build-up, which he is attempting to mitigate by forcing the U.S. to extend the build-up timeline, improve its financial support and not dredge Apra Harbor. By recommending the island’s name change, the governor is arguing that the island can absorb the build-up as well as preserve its cultural identity. This is also known as the having your cake and eating it too argument.

In his speech, Camacho makes it clear that the build-up will have irrevocable impact.
“Life as we know it will be changed forever and we must ensure that we protect our environment, manage our limited resources, and preserve our culture.”
Later, in his remarks arguing for the island’s name change the governor says:
“As we quickly move in to this time of rapid growth and development that may forever change our island, our sense of identity, family, and place – it is important that we reaffirm our identity as a people.”
That’s a strong statement by the governor and a clear warning about what’s in store. The build-up “may forever change our island, our sense of identity, family and place ...” The governor is speaking from fact. Guam faces the risk of being gradually turned into a combination of island theme park and strip mall as a result of build-up, and the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (which I’ll show shortly) explains how.

The most enthusiastic supporters of Guam’s name change, ironically, will be the build-up supporters, including the U.S. government. (It would not surprise me if President Obama voices support for it during his visit next month.) Support for the name change will be, for build-up supporters, a means of demonstrating sensitivity to Guam’s cultural identity without having to make any concessions on the build-up. They may see support for Guåhan as a way to soften opposition.

But, conversely, build-up opponents might argue that if Guam is to change its name, Guåhan must also be a statement of the island’s future and its hopes, otherwise it’s a shallow rebranding and as artificial as the name Guam. The name change can’t be separated from the build-up, because the build-up undermines the culture, which is the very thing the name change seeks to reaffirm. The build-up's population increase will dilute the political power of the Chamorro population that may set it on a path that is less independent and increasingly deferential to U.S. wishes.

From the DEIS (Vol. 2, Chapt. 16):

Minoritization: Overall, the analysis indicates a sustained increase of approximately 33,500 people on Guam. Most of these people would have political rights as U.S. citizens. Therefore, their sustained presence could affect Chamorro culture in a number of ways, politically and culturally.
Firstly, a reduction in Chamorro voting power would impact certain political issues important to the Chamorro population. The incoming population would presumably be disinclined to vote for further moves away from the U.S., and this may affect the success or failure of future plebiscites involving Guam‘s political status. … Another goal of Chamorros has been political self determination, and for some Chamorros, total sovereignty.
While it is by no means certain that Guam residents would ever vote for full independence even if the military buildup does not take place, the addition of more non-Chamorro voters may make efforts at sovereignty less viable.
On a more purely cultural level, while the loss of the Chamorro language has been occurring for years on Guam, it may be accelerated with the military build-up.
Guam‘s integration into the larger English-speaking American society has been correlated with a loss of the use of Chamorro language in everyday life. A survey of Chamorro residents (Santos and Salas 2005) Guam and CNMI Military Relocation Draft EIS/OEIS (November 2009) found that 90% said the language was a source of pride, and students are learning to read and write the language with more comprehension than most of their elders. However, younger people are much less able to speak and comprehend the spoken language than their elders. Younger people speak the language primarily just with older relatives, not among their peers.
This loss of language skills is a common occurrence where a more dominant culture influences a minority culture.
In a recently published book by Martin Jacques When China Rules the World there is an excerpt from an interview with Hung Tze, a Taiwanese publisher, who addresses the importance of language:

Language is essential to form an idea – as long as you keep your unique language, you keep your way of creating ideas, your way of thinking. The traditions are kept in the language.
On the importance, beauty and wisdom of the language on Guam, I have gleaned many insights from the wonderful writing of Michael Lujan Bevacqua.

There are some 4,000 years of history in the Chamorro culture and broader question for the U.S. government is just what strategic ends are being served by the build-up.

The governor, in his speech, points out that Guåhan means, ‘We have’ – and we have the right to do so.” The context Camacho gives the name is one of strength, of assertion and bold activism, which is the right message to send in the face of the U.S. government's plans. Even though the Guam government appears to support the broad goal of the build-up, I can't help but wonder whether the governor's name change proposal is a sign, a signal of some doubt about it. It opens a new artery in the build-up debate to ask indirectly but nonetheless for the meaning of Guåhan and “We have” at a time when there appears much at risk.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

There is no Guam build-up battle in Washington

Guam's U.S. Rep. Madeleine Z. Bordallo made some comments on the Guam build-up at hearing this week of the House Armed Services Committee. Her office issued a press release about it.

I put in italics my take on her press statement.

Rep. Bordallo wrote:

Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo today addressed Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Join Chiefs of Staff, during a House Armed Services Committee hearing today in Washington, D.C. on the Fiscal Year 2011 defense budget.

It's to her credit that she attended this hearing. Her attendance was probably optional and Guam's build-up, within the scope of the overall defense budget, is a small line item and of little interest to most in Congress. Bordallo, in a manner, showed the flag.

During the hearing, Congresswoman Bordallo shared concerns raised by members of the community at recent town hall meetings regarding the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).

This means that the concerns on Guam about the build-up have reached her. Her comment may be a sign that she recognizes the opposition's depth.

Specifically, Congresswoman Bordallo expressed her continued opposition to the use of eminent domain by the Department of Defense (DoD) for land acquisition and suggested that the DoD should look into building within their existing footprint on Guam.

Is eminent domain the problem or the military's expansion of land it controls? It's really not clear from this, but suggesting that the U.S. build within its existing footprint is something even build-up supporters are likely to back.

Congresswoman Bordallo also expressed concerns regarding the aircraft carrier berthing and the potential damage to coral reefs during the dredging process.

The aircraft berthing is only one of many, many problems cited in the DEIS and by the build-up's opponents. Why focus on that one alone?

Secretary Gates stated that the Department of Defense would work with Guam stakeholders to “have transparency and for us [Department of Defense] to take into account the views of the people of Guam.”

Gates is blowing smoke. Of course the DOD will say that it will take into account the "views of the people of Guam."

Admiral Mullen further stated that these, “are major moves that we want to get right.”

'...get right,' in what respect?

“I along with Chairman Skelton and others have repeatedly stated that we need to get this military build-up done right,” Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo said today.

Bordallo is expressing clear support for the build-up.

Bordallo continues: “The Draft Environmental Impact Statement released by the Department of Defense, in its current form, insufficiently addresses concerns raised by our local government, our community, and stakeholders on Guam."

That's a strong statement, but it could have been much stronger. Bordallo could have raised the long list of issues created by the build-up. She could have told Gates of the deep fears that the build-up will erode the culture and quality of life on Guam. She could have suggested that the build-up may exceed the capacity of Guam, environmentally and culturally, to handle it.

I took this opportunity today to share some of these concerns with Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen during a House Armed Services Committee hearing. Both Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen agreed that this military build-up must be done right, and most importantly, that the concerns of our community must be taken into account before we get to a Final Environmental Impact Statement.”

Bordallo is trying to represent the concerns of those who oppose the build-up without worrying its supporters. The opponents have little to hope for.

What Bordallo could have said is that the DOD's decision to allow only 90 days to comment on its 10,000 page build-up impact statement is insulting and a living example of U.S. colonialism, and something that no mainland community would tolerate.

She could have said:

"I urge you, Sec. Gates, to pull back on the build-up and to set aside the funding for it in the 2011 budget until independent environmental and economic studies are completed and the people of Guam have had a chance to really assess the build-up's impact. There is nothing so urgent that requires the people of Guam to give up so much so quickly and there is no reason why they should have to."

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Obama's visit to Guam

President Barack Obama will visit Guam sometime in March and the importance of his visit to the military build-up can’t be understated. But it’s really hard to know what to make of his visit or how it might affect the build-up.

Obama’s visit may be very short, and his exposure to the build-up may be entirely from the military's perspective. His trip may be little more than a briefing and a meeting with the troops before moving on. Some of this may depend on whether the White House wants to get the president involved in the build-up debate, particularly since the Pentagon seems to be set on it no matter what issues or concerns are raised.

But the president will be likely briefed about the build-up, and hopefully his briefing papers will include this column in the Marianas Variety by Brian Schaible, a marine biologist, who succinctly outlined some of the many problems the build-up will create for Guam.

If Obama stays more than a few hours and meets with local officials, then I hope that this meeting includes people who have expressed concerns so that the president gets a complete view of the build-up's impact.

The U.S. officials in charge of the build-up on Guam are middle managers. They have no power of consequence. Their mission is to minimize obstacles and concerns to the build-up. My expectation is that the U.S. will make a number of adjustments to the build-up plan in response to opponents, but these changes will be mostly cosmetic and malleable. The only person with power to change this is President Obama, so that’s why it will be important he gets a full range of views.