Saturday, January 24, 2009

My First Live Blog Ever!

Joint Guam Program Office Public Meeting
January 22, 2009
Agat, Guam

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6:25 – Took pictures of a lovely sunset. The mayor’s office is right on the beach.

6:27 – Met a member of the JGPO who was there at the Critiquing the Military Buildup Forum I spoke at last November. He asks for my info so that we can meet up. Someone behind me whispers not to give him my real email address. I do though.

6:28 – The Agat Mayor Carol Tayama opens the meeting.

6:30 – John Jackson, executive director of JGPO starts his opening remarks. He invokes early the idea that this military buildup is not a transfer or a new move, but is in actuality a “return.”

6:32 – Jackson builds off his previous point, by admitting that the Marines are actually already here. There are four or five of them in the room right now. One of them in fact is marrying a local girl next month (this is not a joke, Jackson actually said this).

6:34 – A woman is introduced whose hair has more volume than a Metallica album and Madeleine Bordallo put together. Now that the obligatory "Madeleine Bordallo has large hair" joke is out of the way, I can continue.

6:35 – A “cultural affairs” rep is introduced. I ponder for a second what sort of representing or advising she does. Does she tell the JGPO people the sort of inane recommendations that we find in cross-cultural psychology texts or psych warfare reports? “When speaking to a Chamorro male, please refrain from looking him directly in the eye or making threatening arm motions. These will be interpreted as a threat to his manhood. Above all, do not make any disparaging remarks as to the state of the paint job on his truck. Also, do not throw your yori at him, it is considered an insult.”

6:36 – One of Jackson’s central themes emerges. For all who think that the military is not listening to the public’s comments, look at what they’ve done with the Marine’s firing range. First they were gonna have it at South Finegayan, but people complained that that would limit the use of Double Reef and other tourist and recreational sites nearby. So they looked at Orote Point and on Anderson and couldn’t find any space. The fact that they are now planning to put the firing range in Mangilao is a result of their listening to the public.

6: 37 – Jackson mentions the four endangered Chamorro birds that keep the Marines from putting their firing range at Anderson. He does not however, say their names in Chamorro.

6:38 – A point of clarification. The firing ranges that they are planning to build are for pistols, rifles and machine guns, not artillery or bombing.

6:40 – After listening to Jackson for more than 10 minutes, it occurs to me that the military only sees Chamorros as potential opposition, or as a population that needs to be massaged or placated. All of their rhetoric and cultural sensitivity is geared towards them. I wonder what sort of nightmare for them it would be, if suddenly there was a public perception that there were Filipino “activists” out there who were against this buildup.

6:41 – My desire to hear Jackson say the names of the Chamorro birds is vindicated after he pronounces a former Mayor of Agat’s name as “Ba-boot-a.”

6:43 – The Marine Corps is currently asking Congress for $50 million of its own budget to be used to improve Guam’s roads. Like most of the money figures passed around in the meeting its up in the air, with absolutely no certainty involved in its mentioning.

6:47 – Jackson on the cranes at the port. There’s three of them. One of them is good and that’s the one that is working right now. The other words about half the time. And the 3rd only works when it wants to.

6:48 – Delays in the buildup? No delays. The only thing that could throw off the buildup right now are Acts of God.

6:51 – A $750 million carrot is dangled in front of the audience, that could go to anything involving utilities, power, water, waste. But once again, there’s no certainty attached to this figure, its just thrown out there, and then qualified with a vague remark that Federal laws keep the military from giving it to Guam.

6:53 – According to Jackson, studies have been done that say that Guam has plenty of water for everyone, including the anticipated population increase. The problem is that 40-50% of all Guam’s water is lost to problems with the island’s pipes. Probably a good tactic, attack GovGuam for its incompetence and you’ll distract just about everyone on the island, to keep them from asking you for money.

6:55 – In April or May, the DEIS will be out. Mark your calendars and set aside a couple weeks to read it, since it could be as much as 4,000 pages.

6:59 – Full on construction is set to begin in less than a year and a half. The Environmental impact statement and public comment period won’t end for another five months. If the military is serious about this you would think that more would be certain at this point. In Jackson’s presentation the most used word is “looking.” Nothing has been decided, nothing is certain, they are always looking for money, looking for a place to put something…

7:01 – I notice that a woman in front of me has a hydrological and environmental report from Guam made in 1936. I wonder why.

7:02 – According to Jackson, the goal here is to build a new military base, with the least amount of negative impacts on the people of Guam. Someone mutters nearby, what if the least amount of negative impacts means no base at all?

7:04 – Senator Frank Aguon is introduced, as is the Mayor of Piti Ben Gumataotao. I gave Mayor Gumataotao an award last October for having the “mas kinute na tapblerun pulitikat” or “cutest political signs.”

7:05 – The first question is asked, its about roads. Are there still plans for that $1 billion road? What are you doing about the traffic? The questioner apparently works on base and travels from Central Guam to Anderson.

7:08 – The military is planning to make a gate off Route 3 which will be used for commercial traffic to ease up the congestion at the front gate to Anderson. As for roads off-base, again some very big tempting numbers, but nothing certain.

7:09 – The $1 billion road is not happening, although Camacho’s people and JGPO claim for different reasons. Each is claiming to have put a stop to that idea.

7:10 – After hearing Jackson talk about the $1 billion road, I wonder if they ever actually had any serious intention of building it. It is actually a very effective PR tool if its not built at all. As Jackson puts it, instead of the military throwing all this money into this one big project that only it will benefit from, we can spread the wealth around to a number of different cooperative projects. As someone points out later in the meeting, so where are your plans to share that $1 billion, becomes no one has heard any specifics about that.

7:11 – Next question. Is GovGuam being forced into making these improvements? An obvious question, but one sadly lost on most of Guam’s media.

7:12 – Tony Lamorena, head of the Governor’s Civilian Military Task Force is quick to chime in: The Governor has stated that the Feds will have to pay for everything that we do to meet their needs. Wow, this is a massive revelation for anyone who has ever heard the Governor speak about the military buildup. I wonder if the Federales know about this?

7:13 – According to Federal law, the Marines have to look at alternative energy solutions for the powering of its new base.

7:16 – Obama supports the buildup. Sorry to all the Chamorro progressives who were hoping for something else. You don’t get to be President of the United States, and the Commander and Chief of the world’s largest military industrial complex, unless you are ridiculously pro-military.

7:17 – The Government of Japan right now is mulling over the first payment it is supposed to make this year towards this Marine transfer: $333 million.

7:18 – Jackson points out to all, that Guam is just one cog in the larger picture of troop and force re-alignment in the region. Japan and the United States have 19 agreements, only one of which involves Guam.

7:19 – Apparently this whole Marine transfer is actually Bill and Hillary Clinton’s fault, as the talk about troop movement actually began under their watch. It was just later actualized by Rumsfeld and Company.

7:20 – There are a lot of people in uniform here. Do they do that on purpose?

7:22 – The third question is a unique one. First of all, its not a question, but rather a warning that the End of Times will take place before the Marines transfer is complete (I’m not making this up).

7:23 – Next question, is an actual question. “What will you do for the people of Guam?” You’re asking us to share our island and our resources. So why aren’t you reaching out and offering us something for this?

7:25 – Senator B.J. Cruz is here and so is Howard Hemsing. In 2007, B.J. Cruz, prior to becoming a Senator pushed for an election referendum on the military buildup. It was an interesting idea, but never got anywhere.

7:26 – A questioner reminds everyone that the military gets the largest piece of the Federal budget.

7:29 – A lot of red tape is involved before local farmers, fishermen and vendors can sell their stuff in the commissaries. UOG received a $300,000 + grant recently to start training locals on how to start the process.

7:31 – So much of the discussion so far from Chamorros is a curious mix of fear, anger, suspicion and patriotism. Questions begin as very direct, what are you doing about this, why aren’t you doing this? Do you know the way we’ve been screwed over before by you? But all the questions end with some expression of love and devotion to the United States and its military. Although you could call this a lot of things, for me its colonization at work. The angry Chamorro psyche in relation to the United States is only angry so long, and it can always be pacified through some often minute or silly form of recognition. It is always looking for any excuse to make peace and to love America and the military again. Although the questions start from a position of feeling angry, upset and disrespected, at the end its clear, my real issue here is that I need you to recognize me, I need you to give me a reason to forgive you and love you again. Given this position, its easy to see why Guam can continue to be colonized just by stamps and quarters.

7:39 – Someone asks if the military can please pay for the new landfill. He also asks if the military can re-integrate the civilian and military schools on island like it used to be. Jackson notes that even if you are stationed in North Dakota and live off base, you’re kids aren’t allowed to attend the on-base schools.

7:41 – To be in Jackon’s position, the key qualification is probably the ability to appear to know about every single dollar of Federal money Guam is getting or could be getting. The reason being that in this meeting and in most meetings of this type the term “federal money” operates like the ultimate spell in a Square Enix RPG. It has the ability to raze the entire field of battle of enemies and hopefully shut everyone up.

7:44 – A question on the port. Namely that so far for all the talk about the military and the need to improve the port, they haven’t done anything, put any money where their mouth is. The new crane that’s coming in was purchased by private companies, who have already raised their prices to pay for it.

7:47 – This is completely unexpected. The next question is “Will the military help stop the Dandan landfill, because it threatens to poison the water for everyone on island?” By the way, for those interested, there is an online petition circulating against the Dandan landfill. You can sign it by clicking here.

7:48 – In 1982, the United States Navy dumped nuclear waste in Apra Harbor. The next question is “Will the military promise not to dump any more nuclear waste in Guam?”

7:49 – Jackson says that there are now 1700 H2Bs on island. The military will need 5,000 – 10,000 more for the buildup.

7:52 – There is serious amount of buck passing on the Dandan issue. Everyone is deferring the question to someone else. I have literally never seen this much Federal and local government cooperation before, as they help pass the buck, until the question is finally not answered in any way shape or form.

7:53 – The buck eventually rests with Guam EPA. The eventual non-answer is that there is an “ongoing study” which is being studied on the issue. Please go to Guam EPA’s meetings to learn more about this study and to find where the buck was eventually lobbed to.

7:54 – Next question. Someone from Santa Rita says that the best looking girls on Guam come from the south. I am anticipating a question on possible sexual misconduct of Marines and the protection of local women.

7:56 – Apparently there was no question attached to the remark about the south’s hot daughters. The gist of the remarks is that we all need to remember how many Marines, Army and Navy men died to liberate Guam in 1944. A shiver goes up my spine, whether this man meant it or not, he just offered the daughters of Agat to the Marines as payment for liberating Guam.

7:57 – It took almost 90 minutes for someone from the audience to mention the eternal debt of Chamorros to the military. I’m glad I didn’t place a bet on this, I would have certainly lost.

7:58 – Chamorro Elvis Haircut sighting!

7:59 – Last question. The question is prefaced with the fact that it will “be forceful” and direct. I’m expected a very tough question, but it turns out that there’s no question at all. It turns out to be a very forceful “thank you,” with the questioner remarking that, no matter what happens to us the Federal dollars always come to save us.

8:02 – Okay, now, it’s the last question. Senator Cruz makes some very good comments, about how the Government of Guam is in financial crisis, but there is so much pressure to prioritize what the military needs and not what Guam needs. The attempted $1 million a week extortion from the Federal Receiver being a case in point. Cruz also asks the obvious. If you’re not building that $1 billion road, then why aren’t you giving us the money? Where is it?

8:03 – I know that people on Guam complain about the Legislature being useless, but I am inspired by their recent willingness to push on the military buildup. To ask the tough questions that the Camacho people aren’t.

8:06 – The meeting ends early so that people can meet individually with the JGPO people.

8:07 – Oh wait, it almost ends. Somebody complains that this is a public meeting and so during the advertised time, the discussion should be public. The Mayor and the JGPO relent.

8:09 – A blunt, all out scathing critique from a young Chamorro activist. Echoes some of Senator Cruz’s points, but focuses on the vagueness of the military’s promise and also brings in the issue of respect and self-determination for the Chamorro people.

8:13 – Jackson’s response is forcing me to relive part of the movie Frost/Nixon. When Richard Nixon wants to control the interview with David Frost, he rambles. And its not incoherent rambling, but very deliberate, foggy rambling, meant to make people forget what the hell was going on prior to this fog rolling in.

8:15 – Jackson accidentally refers to Madeleine Bordallo as “Madeleine Albright.”

8:17 – I am mystified at the way Jackson completely dodges the question. Firstly he reformulates the question on respect and self-determination and not being consulted on the buildup into this, “if I’m paraphrasing your question correctly, I believe you are asking, what’s in it for Guam?” Second, he says any other issues you go to your representative or President Obama.

8:20 – A question on whether or not GovGuam can get some money from the Obama stimulus package. Jackson says that Madeleine is trying, but who knows if it’ll survive. Ah, the life of a non-voting delegate.

8:23 – In response to a question on whether or not the comments at these meeting mean anything or have any impact, Jackson responds that 1. “yes they do, see the firing range issue” and 2. “JGPO has a sucky website, sorry.” The questioner creates the image of this military buildup being a train that is rushing past us all, and our comments and criticisms just bounce off of it as it roars by, unfazed.

8:24 – Earlier Jackson was saying “looking” a lot. Now he’s saying “talking” a lot. As JGPO is “talking” to everyone about this military buildup.

8:25 – Meeting is over. Don’t forget that the draft EIS comes out in April or May.

8:35 – As I’m walking out of the Mayor’s office, I see Howard Hemsing and a uinformed black Navy man talking intently. I wonder what they’re talking about?

5 comments:

Kel Muna said...

A huge pet peeve of mine is this:

"Although the questions start from a position of feeling angry, upset and disrespected, at the end its clear, my real issue here is that I need you to recognize me, I need you to give me a reason to forgive you and love you again."

Sounds to me like it's all sleight of hand! Mike, great insight...are meetings like these open to videotaping? How do you find out about these meetings?

ñalang said...

really important post. please keep doing these (or, tag someone else to do them if you can't go)--this is by far the best way to get out info about these meetings. i certainly don't trust the pdn to do it, and i'm sure the mv doesn't have the resources to. and if that wonderful jgpo website isn't working, then what's its duty to publish the comments or public sentiment?

Neil said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cfmike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
neil said...

Mike,
Thanks for coming to the meetings this week. I hope we can get together this week to discuss some of the issues that you brought up. Send me an email.

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