Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Conflicts of (Business) Interests

The media on Guam seems obsessed with the conflict of interest represented by Matt Rector being both a Senator in the Legislature and the President of the Guam Federation of Teachers. I don't see anything inherently wrong with this inquiry, it is something which can be questioned and should be looked at, but I think its almost hysterical how narrow or selective the idea of "conflict of interest" is in this case, (and the way it is usually conceived of). In any community, the ideological glue that holds it together will always mark the interests of some as being a conflict or something which will taint the governance of said community, whereas a myriad of other equally or more dangerous interests will go unnoticed, or worse yet, be seen as essential or positive.

So in this case, the idea that a Senator is the President of a labor union on Guam becomes the ultimate sin, whereas the fact that various businessmen on island have repeatedly obstructed legislation or passed legislation on Guam meant to support themselves and protect their profits is considered to be the norm and acceptable.

Guam is an interesting place, because even though it has almost no consciousness about labor movements, labor history, or even an awareness of what unions or what they have historically done or can do, a surprising majority of people seem to have strong negative opinions about them. Since being elected as a Senator, there has been so much everyday vitriol directed at Rector and GFT, and while I know alot of it has to do with Rector's personality, so much of it is hidden behind some taitiningo' argument about labor unions taking over, or pushing people around. As a historian I'm tempted to make some sort of remark now about how a sort of feeble devotion to rich people has emerged on Guam, from the Spanish era, the American era up until today. Or how people on an island, which supposedly has nothing, thus comes to worship those who can build from this nothing, an empire of commercial ventures. I do find it odd how an island in which so many hover below and around the poverty line, can worship and make so many excuses for the wealthiest. Perhaps one day I'll study this, and do an in-depth study of labor movements and unions on Guam, and draw some conclusions about why Guam would be so pro-business without any obvious reasons.

Otro fino'-ta, my earlier remark wasn't to say that Guam has no labor history, but merely that so few people know about it, even if they are connected to it or tied to it in some intimate way, such as family members who protested racist treatment of Chamorros in the late 1940's, strike members of the GFT in the 1980's, members of the Chamorro Labor Union or CHELUS. Guam's progressive historical dimensions are almost tragic sometimes, different generations and different manifestation of political action cut off from each other, so that children or grandchildren of those who participated in events such as the Guam Congress Walkout don't even know what the event was or that they have any link to it.

I'm pasting a video below in which Senator Rector answers a question about his potential conflict of interest and he side-steps the question a little bit, but in a very effective way. He is able to reframe the issue in a particular way, so that it helps make clear why the media on Guam and certain interests are so invested in attacking Rector.

First of all, I should note that if I were Matt Rector I wouldn't have remained the President of GFT after being elected to the Legislature. In my mind it would make things too complicated and make it too easy for people to dismiss me. But that doesn't mean that Rector should step down, he has made his decision and he has been very up front about it. I think that is what makes the difference in this instance. Whenever an issue arises that affects people who own lots of property or own businesses or employ many people, you don't see prominent politicians recuse themselves or say that I have a vested interest on this particular bill and so I can't be expected to act impartially here. This is precisely what should happen for every discussion of every bill any legislature acts upon, but imagining it taking place is almost making me tear up from laughter. Its such an obvious, but ridiculous thing to consider.

Regular people may complain that the politicians are all in it for themselves, or just in political office to line their own pockets, but on any particular issue the media and most people are completely silent when they actually do it. They either don't know it or aren't paying attention.

With Rector his conflicts are very clear, everyone knows he is the President of GFT and that he is a Senator, when he acts, everyone knows it and sees it. The same can't be said for most other politicans, who put up a huge facade of being for all and not for just a few, but then shroud or keep quiet their own particular interests. If you believe that Rector is totally out of line by being in both positions that's fine, but I'd ask you to widen your view a little bit. There are plenty of other conflicts out there, and just because they don't stick out or aren't as openly admitted to, the way Rector's affiliations are, that in truth actually makes them even more dangerous.


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