Sunday, July 26, 2009

Act of Decolonization #14: Asut na Ga'lagu Siha

I gave a joint presentation last week on Chamorro sovereignty. at a Pacific Educational Conference at UOG along with fellow island intelligentsia and all around intellectual radicals, Victoria Leon Guerrero, Dr. Lisa Natividad and former Guam Senator Hope Cristobal. The room was packed full of teachers from Guam and around Micronesia who wanted to know more about what the presenters meant by Chamorro sovereignty. Ya-niha i fina'nu'in-mami. In na'hassuyi siha put este na asunto siha.

In my part of the presentation I talked something I often discuss on this blog, the cultural vs. the political, or the way in which colonized people or minorities tend to be reduced to exotic, flavorful cultural practices in their communities, while another superior culture, generally the colonizer or as Pat Buchanan likes to say "white folks" get to be in charge of The Culture, or the political culture. This Culture is the gatekeeper culture, the one which gets to decide where everyone else's claims begin and end, and in general gets to decide what the limits and rules are in a society. Whoever is in charge of the political or the political culture tends to be in charge, are perceived to be the one's who should be in charge, the one's who can get things done, the one's who can be universal, can look past their particular interests and be for all people. Those mired in culture are supposedly unable to be embody this universality, they are stuck in their particular culture or identity. Its why a Latina has to make extra gestures to prove that she won't be in power just for Latino or Latina people. Or why a black Presidential candidate has to take extra care to ensure that he is not assumed to be only a candidate for black people, but one for white people and all people as well.

In the case of Guam I talked about how we take sovereignty away from the Chamorro, or from Chamorros by accepting a cultural existence for ourselves and leaving the political issues, whether they be how to organize a government, how to manage resources, how to run an economy, how to run a health care system, how to have a criminal justice system, all up to others, most notably the colonizer or the United States of America. If we look around Guam, we see plenty of brown people of all shapes and colors, cultures a plenty, even more languages and bula'la'la' food. Guam is a melting pot, with an indigenous people at its center, but surrounded on all sides by so many different types of people primarily from the East Asian and Micronesian region. But, if we look at the political side of the island (and by this I don't mean politicians or politics in the usual sense), if we look at the way the island is run, its curious to see how this island of brown people can function as an almost overwhelming testament to the United States and its way of doing things. Guam is truly a colony in that all of the structure of how it governs of runs and understands itself is imported often times in an almost shameless and taitingo' way from the United States.

For those interested in Chamorro sovereignty, I said, it is all about making the Chamorro political. It is all about articulating what a Chamorro political philosophy is. Its about finding out what Chamorro ideas of governance, economy, health care and laws are. And this doesn't mean just finding out what Chamorros did five hundred years ago, but what Chamorros can do now. What a Chamorro would do today, with its the creativity and vision that its 4,000 years of existence and centuries of colonization and adaptation provide it? What sort of plans can it make for its future given its unique existence and obligation to protecting not only its culture and history, but the rights of those who call themselves Chamorro, and to lead in terms of governing and protecting the islands they call their homes, and fixing the problems that plague them.

In response to my setting up my talk by saying that the island's political dimension are determined by the United States one person in the audience spoke up and argued that its not true because we have suruhanus and suruhanas, or traditional Chamorro healers, that we can still see and visit when we are sick.

I understood the point that the person was trying to make. The colonization of our island isn't complete, we still have things which we can call our own, and so you shouldn't say we are so Americanized when we have indigenous things still out there. This argument however did not counter my points in any way, but actually helped make them for me. It provided another example of the cultural and the political, and how Chamorros are divided into the small, minute, exotic edge, but not the one that gets to define the island they live on.

I responded that, yes its true that there are traditional healers still around, but first, how many are there and how many people actually regularly go to them? How much influence do suruhanus have on defining health care on Guam, or providing an example or an argument for how health care should be? Are suruhanus, their practicies and their values such as bartering or natural healing the norm on Guam? Are they making the decisions about how we pay for health care, how we run hospitals, how doctors run their clinics?

The answer is obvious if we see things clearly enough. Surunanus have little to none influence over how the island's system of health care works. In fact their most notable purpose is to argue that something indigenous exists, but have absolutely no impact on how we decide to set up a health care system for Guam society. They aren't political forces, not because they can't be, but because we don't allow them or anything else to be. Instead when we look at Guam, we have the same atmario health care system that the United States has. We have accepted that the way the United States does things is the way we should do it on Guam, and although people may not like it no one questions it, and few people are actively working to change it and articulate a Guam based or a Chamorro based idea of health care.

I personally think we should, and that is one of the reasons that I am so committed to helping develop a Chamorro studies program at the University of Guam, so that it can start this sort of work, so it can draw up ideas, blueprints, maps, argue some possibilities and start to stir in people's minds what sort of philosophical ideas for governing our islands we can come up with.

What spurred this thought in my mind is all of the debate that's going on in the United States right now over health care reform and what kind of universal or hardly universal overhaul will take place during Obama's term. The debate is getting uglier and uglier as the majority of Republicans and a surprisingly brodie segment of Democrats are taking the bold and aggressive action of ensuring that nothing happens on the issue. The rhetoric of those resisting this reform is almost mindless. You have Republicans who oversaw huge taihinasso yan mana'i gusto spending for almost eight years suddenly acting like pious figures of financial temperance.

You also have the stupidest talking point in the history of the world getting wide circulation amongst "regular people" and actually getting some traction. You have those resisting any government intervention into health care management scaring people by noting that if Obama got his way, then some government bureaucrat might be in charge of whether or not you get a medical procedure. Kao dipotsi na'ma'a'nao este? I don't know about how scary this is, because any thinking person would know that having a government bureaucrat in charge of whether or not you get a procedure done is far better than having someone representing a predatory profit entity making those decisions. One of the two doesn't have to worry about profits, stock markets or anything else, and frankly I think I'd rather have that person approving my health care.

I came across this column below from The Washington Post which articulates very well, the strangeness of the position of "Blue Dog" or centrist Democrats who are becoming the largest obstacle to getting any meaningful health care reform.


The Can't Do Blue Dogs
By Harold Meyerson
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
The Washington Post

Watching the centrist Democrats in Congress create more and more reasons why health care can't be fixed, I've been struck by a disquieting thought: Suppose our collective lack of response to Hurricane Katrina wasn't exceptional but, rather, the new normal in America. Suppose we can no longer address the major challenges confronting the nation. Suppose America is now the world's leading can't-do country.

Every other nation with an advanced economy long ago secured universal health care for its citizens -- an achievement that the United States alone finds beyond the capacities of mortal man. It wasn't ever thus. Time was when Democratic Congresses enacted Social Security and Medicare over the opposition of powerful interests and Republican ideologues. In fact, our government used to actually pave roads, build bridges and allow for secure retirements by levying taxes on those who could afford to pay them.

To today's centrist Democrats, this has become a distant memory, a history lesson they cannot grasp. The notion that actual individuals might have to pay to secure the national interest appalls them. In the House, the Blue Dogs doggedly oppose proposals to fund universal coverage by taxing the wealthiest 1 percent of the nation's households. Their deference to wealth -- whether the consequence of our system of funding elections or a byproduct of the Internet generation's experience of free access to information and entertainment -- is not to be trifled with.

Centrist Democrats' opposition to health reform verges on the incoherent. A caucus (the Blue Dogs) formed ostensibly to promote balanced budgets now disapproves of the proposed taxes that would cover the expenses of the new programs. The congressional centrists say, commendably, that they want to squeeze more economies out of the system, but they oppose giving more power to an agency that would set the payment scales for physicians.

Congressional incoherence grows even worse on other issues. How to explain, for instance, the widespread congressional support for a bill that would require General Motors and Chrysler to keep all their dealerships open? This legislation is co-sponsored by numerous Republican conservatives who actually opposed the administration's efforts to keep General Motors and Chrysler in business. "Distribution, sí; production, no!" is by any standard a loony battle cry.

The Republican opposition to President Obama's push for health-care reform, on the other hand, makes clear political sense. If they can stop Obama on health care, as South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint recently noted, it "will be his Waterloo." Why Democrats of any ideology want to cripple their own president in his first year in office, and for seeking an objective that has been a stated goal of their party since the Truman administration, is a more mysterious matter.

Is the additional tax burden on small businesses their concern? If so, good news: The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has found that only the top 4 percent of those businesses would be affected by the surcharge that House Democratic leaders proposed, and that's based on the original proposal, before Speaker Nancy Pelosi altered it to include just the wealthiest fraction of the top 1 percent of Americans. Would such a tax impede an economic recovery? In downturns this severe, it's been broad-based consumer spending and public-sector investment that have revived the economy. Private investment doesn't jump-start a revival of purchasing; it follows it.
But the big picture here, of which the resistance to reforming health care is just one element, is our growing inability to meet our national challenges. Almost all of the major nations with which we trade, for instance, have quasi-mercantilist policies that lead them to champion their own higher-wage growth industries, often in manufacturing. In America alone are such policies considered anathema. In consequence, as the Alliance for American Manufacturing reports in a new book, we shuttered 40,000 factories from 2001 through 2007 -- the years, ostensibly of prosperity, between the past two downturns. The diminution of manufacturing, which employs just 11 percent of the U.S. workforce, may please Wall Street, which looks with disfavor on decent-wage domestic production, and Wal-Mart, which tripled its purchases from China (from $9 billion to $27 billion annually) during roughly the same years those American factories closed, but it poses a clear threat to the nation's economic, and even military, power.

But act on behalf of the nation as a whole, even if it means goring Wall Street's or Wal-Mart's oxen? Perish the thought. Pass a health-reform bill that will cover 45 million uninsured Americans and slow the ruinous growth of health-care spending? Not if somebody, somewhere, actually has to pay higher taxes. Hey, we're America -- the can't-do nation.

As our former president might put it, Heckuva job, Brownies.

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