Friday, July 31, 2009

The Akaka Bill, The Chamorro Tribe and Decolonization

Alot of people who are working towards decolonization on Guam, and I mean this primarily in a political status sense, usually don't think very concretely about how it would actually happen or what it would entail. There is alot of emphasis on what is deserved or owed to Chamorros, but less talk about how we can make it happen and what we would need to do, and who we would need to get involved. Todu ma konfotme na bula na debi di u macho'gue, lao manu na gaige i diniskuti put hafa este siha yan taimanu sina ta na'fanhuyong este na guinife?

The United Nations is always named as having a role in this, but while it provides the framework for how to do it, it isn't a major player or force in any way. Gi este na kinalamten, kulang daffe'. The UN is what is always has been, a symbolic force, which can be used for great good or evil if powerful nations are inclined to use it, and not much else the rest of the time. That's why, the United Nation's has been calling for the decolonization of Guam for decades now and it hasn't had any effect on whether or not Guam will get decolonized.

All of the serious work would have to be directed towards Guam's government and community and different parts of the Federal government. The Department of Interior, which will soon get Chamorro Tony Babauta as Assistant Secretary to the Insular Areas, would be key since they are one of the government organs which can claim to own Guam. The US Congress which has legal authority and power over Guam is also crucial. The most important starting point there would be the committee which Babauta used to work for the House Committee on Natural Resources, under which we find the Subcommittee on the Insular Areas, Oceans and Wildlife and its Chairwoman Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo from iyo-ta gof bunita na isla. Also playing a role in this will be the Department of Justice, which will be asked by practically everyone what the precedent is for something like this, and not just the racist accusations, which are the thing usually mentioned (that a political status vote violates the US Constitution since only those politically defined as Chamorros could vote). One of the key issues will be determining what sort of precedent there is for Guam becoming independent should that status be chosen. One of the strangest things I've ever heard, but I'm sure would become a common antagonistic talking point in this issue is that independence would be impossible for Guam to pursue, since that strategy has been tried once before and failed miserably. The precedent that this talking point refers to is the Civil War with the South seceding from the United States. Whatever the Department of Justice states, it would probably use this example to argue against it, saying that there is no legal, domestic framework to allow such a thing to take place.

In other words, even getting the Federal Government to work with us on this issue, and keep them from simply shutting it down or denying it (which is the usual tactic) seems like an almost impossible task. There is a whole nasty taranas waiting for Guam the halls of American political power. There is alot of homework to be done before we could make anything like this happen, and there is one example which has been in the halls of Congress for more than a decade now, that we should study up on, and pay close attention to. I'm referring of course to the Native Hawaiian Reorganization Act, or as its more commonly known as The Akaka Bill.

The Akaka Bill is nothing like working towards decolonization. It represents, by most definitions the complete opposite. Decolonization is about creating some sort of process to mitigate the effects of colonization and create the conditions where the way forward can be defined by those who have been historically denied the right to self-determination in their own lands. The Akaka Bill represents an act of closure and legal engulfment. Native Hawaiians can make a very real and very compelling case that they are a colonized people. There is no way of denying this and there is no way of arguing, at least legally or morally that the fact that Hawai'i is a state, has lots of military bases or has lots of white people affect that pure fact in any way.

The Akaka Bill is a means of further legalizing the colonization of Native Hawaiians, by further subsuming them in mas taranas of American legal fictions, to hurl out a couple more makkat na shovelfuls of dirt burying their claims to sovereignty. The Akaka Bill would provide further evidence of the colonization of Hawai'i being resolved, in that it would reduce Native Hawaiians to another type of Native Americans. Another tragic community for whom sovereignty in almost every sense is reduced to a definition that the Supreme Court of the United States, the Governor of the state that claims you, or the Department of Interior determines for you. In some senses, there might be some benefits to Native Hawaiians having Native American status, it would mean that there would be more legal protection or Federal funds for Native Hawaiians programs. From the perspective of politicians I can understand why people in Hawai'i would want to support this, since its one of those ways in which you can appear to be working for a particular voting/ethnic group. The Akaka Bill represents a smaller and easier solution to a problem that few want to admit to and even less want to deal with.

Last year, a group called The Chamorro Tribe lobbied the the Guam Legislature introduce a resolution calling on the US Congress (which has control over the rights of those who live on Guam), to grant recognition as Native Americans to the Chamorro people. A bill was drawn up, and Senator Judy Guthertz's main argument for this effort was that it would afford Chamorros and the people of Guam more power and more access in terms of being respected, heard and getting Federal funds. The bill was later withdrawn when people began to question if the appearance of the tribe movement was tied to the efforts of some to legalize casino gambling on Guam.

The argument from the Chamorro Tribe itself was that since Chamorros are already American citizens and since there is no other way of seeking a different political destiny or status (can't be independent and too far away and too small to be a state), they might as well get the Federal recognition as an indigenous people of the United States. By obtaining this status, they would have more political power and more rights and in a far better position than the colonized status they are in now, since it would above all formalize their US citizenship. For someone who knows some about the history of Native Americans and their current relationship to the Federal and to state governments, its almost na'chalek, lao mas na'triste to hear somebody advocate that becoming Native American in status is a great way to obtain more rights and protections. Lao bai hu sangani hamyo, hafa i bali-na este na tinilaika estao kontat ki kontra i lai i casino gambling? Este na i mas impottante yan gaiprobecho na rason para ta fa'Natibu Amerikanu hit. Mas taibali yanggen machappak este.
Troy Doney's post from the website Reznet titled "Chamorro People Fight for Rights, Recognition" although obviously written by someone who isn't very knowledgeable about Chamorros or their status, echoed some of my concerns.

I've never heard of anyone pursuing Native American status because they wanted rights. It sounds counterintiutive, like binge eating for world hunger. I guess new things can be found under the sun.

"The Indian Naturalization Act would automatically naturalize us, thereby making us legal constitutional citizens of the United States and affording us all protections and rights under the Constitution of the Untied States," said Frank J. Schacher, chairman of the Chamorro Tribe.

The Chamorro Tribe are indigenous to the Mariana Islands, a part of the American territory of Guam. While they are represented in states like Hawaii, California, Texas, Washington and Nevada, the bulk of the Chamorro Tribe is on Guam (65,000) and the Northern Marianas (19,000).

Since Guam won't be made a state, the Chamorro Tribe has decided to pursue America citizenship through the Indian Naturalization Act. I may not be sure of the INA process, but I do know that there are 562 federally recognized Tribes and Tribal entities. Not many of those are getting a good deal from the U.S. Indian Country is still plagued with economic dearth, a healthcare crisis, denial of human rights, institutionalized racism/apathy, endless suspicion of gambling-based schemes and a myriad of other societal challenges. I'm still amazed to read that there's a group out there who wants to become Indians so they can be respected by the United States.

It's like some weird alternate universe, where up is down, left is right and Native Americans don't have to fight for their basic human rights every step of the way.
I wish the Chamorro Tribe luck in their pursuit to join Indian Country. There's a large number of federally unrecognized tribes who have claims just as valid as the Chamorros', though, so I hope they aren't in a rush.

I also wish the Chamorro Tribe luck, because if they accomplish their goal, it's only a matter of time before they have something the U.S. wants or do something the U.S. doesn't like. Then they'll see just how solid their rights are in the eyes of the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches.


Both the Akaka Bill and the efforts of the Chamorro Tribe seek place a colonized and an indigenous people even further under the control of their colonizers. They are interventions meant to secure a place for Native Hawaiians or Chamorros, to help give them a space, a voice, a framework through which they can perceive more clearly their status or their rights. But this thinking is built first, on the premise that there is nothing beyond the United States, that there can be no sovereignty for its indigenous and colonized people save for what it allows, and second, that the United States Federal Government or the United States general has a good track record in terms of treating its indigenous people and is anggokuyon nu este na kosas. These are both two things which I frankly don't accept, and should never be the limits by which a colony of anyone defines their future. You can argue that no other country in the history of the universe would be a better colonizer, but you haven't changed the argument with that assessment, you've just admitted to colonialism, but attempted to make an excuse for it. Attempted to justify it or argue that there are some countries who should control undemocratically and hypocritically other places, since they are best colonizers that history can afford.

But regardless of whether or not I agree with the Akaka Bill, there is much that Guam can learn from it. From the way its been treated over the years, the problems its run into, the strategies that have been used to get it this far. Its a case study that can help Chamorros when the day finally does come that self-determination and decolonization for Guam reaches beyond just the activists on Guam, or even just Guam alone, but becomes something that must be addressed in Washington D.C. or elsewhere. It is for that reason that I was intrigued when I came across this article below from The Hawaii Independent. It covers the five key players right now who will be crucial in deciding whether the Akaka Bill passes this time or fails again.

One thing that activists often forget (and not just on Guam, but anywhere) is that the rightness, morality or justice of their cause does not necessarily mean your side will win. Just because they are right does not mean they will win their fight, or that they will see the change that they want. The arc of history being long and the idea that it bends towards justice, might provide some solace for those who believe that truth is the ultimate magical weapon, and that all one need do is be secure in their belief and proclaim it, but when faced with insurmountable odds, almost impossible odds, such as the task that faces those who wish to decolonize Guam, you need far more than truth. You need strategy, you need allies, you need pressure, you need to work and you need to be prepared for your desire, your dream to be swept up into the chaos of the world, that it will be challenged, it will be changed, it may even be compromised, but you must keep fighting.

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The Akaka Bill's 5 Most Important Players
Jarrett Keohokalole
The Hawaii Independent
7/28/09

It has been a long, hard road for the Akaka Bill, which has seen nine years of controversy both at home and in Washington with numerous attempts and failures to get the bill to the President’s desk. But Sen. Daniel Akaka is hoping that in this go-around the new faces in Washington will hold the key to success for the bill.

Democrats control the House of Representatives and the Senate by wide margins, as well as the White House. In this new world of DC Democrat domination, Sen. Akaka and the rest of the Hawaii Congressional delegation believe that 2009 will be the year his dream of Native Hawaiian recognition will become a reality—if certain players on Capitol Hill are on board.

In Washington, things aren’t always as they seem. The bill came frustratingly close to passing in 2006, when Sen. Akaka was confident he had secured the two-thirds majority he would need in the Senate to block a filibuster of the bill. Things looked promising until President George W. Bush sent down a memo days before the vote indicating that he would veto the bill if it passed. The majority quickly vanished, as did the bill’s chances.

The newest version of the Akaka Bill is currently in a holding pattern in both the House and Senate, as both Sen. Akaka and Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-HI, the bill’s sponsor in the House of Representatives, gear up for what they hope to be the final push to get the bill passed.

For his part, Abercrombie has in past attempts mustered strong support for the bill from both Democrats and Republicans in the House. The bill actually passed in the House twice before eventually fading in the Senate.

President Obama has indicated that he will sign the bill if it reaches his desk, so the Senate appears to be the last major hurdle the bill needs to clear.

Sen. Akaka has had less success developing bipartisan support for the bill in the Senate. On several occasions, different tactics allowed by Senate rules have been employed by Senate Republicans to stall or kill the bill, sometimes by unnamed Senators who refused to identify themselves. Though they have lost ground in the Senate, Republicans can still put up a fight regardless of support from the Democrat bloc.

Their most powerful tool up to this point has been the filibuster, where Senators deliberately debate the bill for an indefinite amount of time to prevent a vote. A senator can motion to end the debate in order for a vote to take place, but a two-thirds majority is required to do so. This equates to 60 votes in the Senate, which Sen. Akaka has been unable to gather up to this point.

The new political environment in Washington presents both opportunities and problems for Sen. Akaka.

Aside from the Hawaii Congressional delegation and the President, there are several key groups of senators that will play an important part in the life or death of the bill. The following are five individuals from each of these factions to watch for. They may hold the key to either the long-awaited success of the Akaka Bill, or it’s again celebrated demise:

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5. Sen. Al Franken, D-MN – The Freshman

Sen. Al Franken is one of the fresh faces in Washington that Sen. Akaka hopes will tip the scales in his favor. Franken represents the much heralded 60th vote for the Democrats in Senate, giving them a filibuster-proof “supermajority.”

There are ten new senators in this session of Congress, eight of which are Democrats. According to Office of Hawaiian Affairs administrator Clyde Namu’o, the Democratic Caucus has indicated support for the bill. However, expecting bloc support for the bill from these new senators is not guaranteed.

Todd Gaziano, Director of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies for the Heritage Foundation (a conservative public policy institute), believes that while there are more Democratic votes in the Senate than there were in 2006, the numbers aren’t going to add up the same way.

“It doesn’t necessarily change the vote tally completely from the last time the Akaka Bill was in the Senate,” Gaziano said.

He believes that while the new Democratic majority means more Democrats in Congress, it also means that there are more Democrats who are representing traditionally Republican states. These senators, along with other Democrats who will be running for reelection in 2010, may be be squeamish about supporting more controversial legislation at the same time that health care, energy, and other divisive issues are being debated.

It remains to be seen whether these new senators will support the bill or not, and with so many other high profile issues stealing the spotlight, it’s unlikely that we’ll see anyone take a position until they have to. So Sen. Akaka can’t be sure which way any of them are leaning until the bill hits the floor of the Senate for debate.

That is with the exception of Franken. He and Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM, also a freshman senator, are both members of the Committee on Indian Affairs, where the bill will be heard and debated before it reaches the floor of the Senate.

Being on the committee gives Franken and Udall a chance to review and bring up concerns about the bill before the other six freshman Democrats have their chance on the floor of the Senate. This should provide a clue into whether either of them intend to support the bill or have reservations about it.

The Democrats do hold a majority in the Committee on Indian Affairs, and it should pass through without issue.

If Franken or Udall have issues with the bill, they’ll be the first of the freshmen Democrats in the Senate to make them known.

4. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-NE – The Blue Dog

Sen. Nelson is a prominent conservative Democrat who serves with Sen. Akaka on the Senate Armed Services Committee and with Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-HI, on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

Conservative Democrats, sometimes known as “Blue Dogs,” are currently key players in the health care debate. Blue Dogs in the House have threatened to block the legislation because of its price tag, and Nelson has come out in opposition of the bill and also attempted to delay it in the Senate, a clear break from the party that has been applauded by conservatives and vilified by liberals.

Gaziano believes that Blue Dogs may also balk at the thought of supporting another potentially controversial piece of legislation while they are fighting their own party and the President on health care.

“Blue Dogs are being forced to vote on a lot of things and they don’t like it,” Gaziano said.

On the other hand, Nelson could be a key ally for Sen. Akaka in negotiating bipartisan support for the bill. He was part of a group of Republican and Democratic senators who were able to broker a deal to pass the Economic Stimulus bill earlier this year and has worked on several occasions with Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, to reach compromises between the parties.

Although Nelson did vote for cloture in 2006, it does not confirm that he is in favor of the current version of the bill, or even if he was in support of the latter version. That particular vote simply meant that he would allow the bill to come up for a vote.

3. Sen. Harry Reid, D – NV – The Senate President

Does he really want to talk about the Akaka bill right now? Senate President Harry Reid certainly has a lot on his plate. Just last week he admitted that Congress will not meet President Obama’s deadline on health care, meaning that if the issue is resolved, it will not be before Congress reconvenes in the fall.

Reid also needs to bring the energy bill before the Senate, which narrowly passed in the House of Representatives and should be hotly contested in the Senate.

Assuming the Akaka Bill passes out of committee, what will be interesting to see is when Reid decides to bring the Akaka Bill to the floor of the Senate.

Ilya Shapiro, a Senior Fellow for the Cato Institute (a Washington DC based conservative public policy research institute), believes that Republicans would only be able to stall, not kill the bill.

“If he [Akaka] can convince the party leadership to make this a higher priority, then it could happen this year,” Shapiro said.

And that’s a big “if.”

At best, Shapiro believes the bill will have to wait its turn until the President’s legislative agenda has been addressed.

Once the bill does get to the floor, it will take time to argue the bill – but will that time be available?

2. John McCain, R-Arizona – Republican who voted for cloture in 2006

Twelve Republicans in the Senate voted to invoke cloture in 2006. There are a variety of reasons these Republicans did this. Several, like Inouye’s longtime ally Sen. Ted Stevens, R - AK, supported the bill.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R – AK, is a co-sponsor.

Other senators reportedly exchanged votes for support of their own legislation. The question is, will these senators do it again?

Of the twelve Republicans, seven are still in office. Senators Chuck Hagel and Pete Domenici retired, while the other three were defeated, two by Democrats. One of the defeated senators was Norm Coleman, who was beaten by Franken.

Of the remaining seven, McCain is the most well known. He also serves on the Indian Affairs committee.

The reason McCain and the other Republicans who voted for cloture are so important is that for many of them, their stance on the bill is unclear. Again, a vote for cloture doesn’t necessarily mean a vote to pass it.

McCain was originally opposed to the bill, but apparently changed his opinion of the legislation after Gov. Linda Lingle lobbied congressional Republicans to support it.

In 2006, Sen. Akaka was four votes short of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture—with these twelve Republicans supporting it. According to a source familiar with the situation, Sen. Akaka had 61 senators pledge to vote for cloture but ended up with only 56 after Bush issued the veto threat, so it’s likely there were several more Republicans who initially gave Sen. Akaka the green light.

If McCain and the remaining Republicans who supported the bill in 2006 do so again in 2009, Sen. Akaka would very likely have the votes to put the Akaka Bill to a decision.

1. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona – The Leader of the opposition

If there is one person in Washington who has been most responsible for the stoppage of the Akaka Bill these past nine years, it would arguably be Kyl.

“Jon Kyl is the leader of the efforts against the Akaka Bill,” Shapiro said.

Kyl is the minority whip and thus the number two ranking member of the Senate. He has been a staunch critic of the bill since it was first introduced. He has testified several times that he believes the Akaka Bill will promote the creation of an unconstitutional race-based government.

In 2004, the bill stalled in the Senate because a senator who had declined to identify himself (which is allowed by Senate rules) placed a hold on the bill. OHA later discovered that the anonymous Senator was Kyl.

There are other Republican Senators, such as Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Ten, that stand in opposition of the bill. But a Senate insider who declined to be named said that the bill once again may come down to Sen. Kyl.

With all of that said, in 2006 Kyl was in fact one of the twelve Republicans to vote for cloture. This apparently happened as a result of a trade off with Sen. Akaka. When asked about the vote for cloture, Kyl said, “I made a commitment, and I honor my commitments.”

However, the vote simply meant that Kyl would not filibuster the bill.

According to Gaziano, even if cloture is voted on and passed, Sen. Kyl still has one valuable ally on his side that will ultimately determine the fate of the bill: time.

The process of invoking cloture can only take place after a minimum amount of debate and amendments have been argued on the Senate floor. If Democrats try to rush things, Kyl can stir up a hornet’s nest of opposition by using delay tactics including shutting down the Senate.

“It might take a week or slightly more to get the cloture vote,” Gaziano said.

Once cloture is invoked, Senators are allowed another minimum amount of time to testify before the motion is put to vote, which could take up an estimated 50 to 80 hours of additional floor time. “The Senate normally doesn’t meet for 50 hours in a week,” he added.
Gaziano pointed out that if Democrats try to bully the bill through on the floor, Republicans in the minority can shut down all committee hearings while the bill is being debated on the floor, forcing the Senate to grind to a halt to debate a single bill.
In addition to the President’s ambitious package of legislation, the majority of time Congress spends in session is already spoken for by the myriad of mandatory authorization and appropriation bills that are required to be passed in every session.

So if Kyl does decide to press the issue when the Akaka Bill hits the Senate floor, will Democrat leaders be willing to invest a week or more of valuable floor time to get the bill passed?

“It could happen, but it would be very costly to liberals to spend that time,” Gaziano said.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

So is Sarah Palin now a community organizer with no actual responsibilities?

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has now officially become former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. She had announced her resignation last month.

She stepped down yesterday, in a very fiesty and somewhat angry speech which vigorously defended America's men and women in uniform (although she didn't really mention from whom she was defending them), and attacked all the not real Americans out there, especially those in Hollywood or in the media.

Kada nai kumuentos Si Palin, guaha taotao gi i media, pat giya Hollywood ni' ha kehahayi, lao ai adai, ti nahong este na klasin kuentos kontat ya-na na u Presidente un diha! Ti nahong i taotao ni' sina un pugi ni' este na klasin kuentos. Hunggan guaha meggai gi entre i "manmagahet na Amerikanu siha" ni' sina mansinehyo ni' este na lalalu na setmon siha, lao put hafa i otro na taotao? Gi i fino' Ingles ma sasangan na guaha Agaga na States yan guaha Asut na States, yan este na klasin kuentos mafa'tinas para i Managaga na taotao siha. Lao mas meggai i Manasut na taotao, yan mas meggai i Manasut na States siha. In fin, kalang klaru i inatan-na Si Palin yanggen para u President i minalago-na. Ti hinassosso-na put taimanu na sina ha puga' i hinasson i otro taotao.

For all the "Palin posts" that I've written over the past year, you can click here. I should be grateful to John McCain for picking Sarah Palin as his running mate, because last year, during the election, I talked about issues of gender and feminism far more than the rest of the years combined that I've had this blod.

The title of this post however comes from one of the first taklalau posts that I wrote about Sarah Palin. Titled "Why Obama Has a Vision, While Palin Doesn't...Or Why I'm (sort of) a Community Organizer," it was written in anger and frustration just moments after hearing Palin's acceptance speech for the nomination of VP for the Republican party. She made alot of strange statements in that speech, none more so then her bewildering and unnecessary attack on community organizers.

In an effort to boost her own credibility (when so many were saying she had no experience) but also tacha or attack Obama at the same time, she made the following statement, "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities." This was just one of so many, what comedian Edward Izzard calls "pearls of nutcaseness," that have "clunked" from the mouth of Sarah Palin since her appearance on the American national stage.

In honor of her most likely temporary departure from limelight, I thought I'd post below some of the more memorable pearls that Palin has given to us over the past year. This list came via the blog Perrspectives, and is titled "A Look Back at the Sarah Palin Hall of Shame."

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"It may be tempting and more comfortable to just keep your head down, plod along, and appease those who demand: "Sit down and shut up", but that's the worthless, easy path; that's a quitter's way out." (July 3, 2009)

"I think on a national level, your department of law there in the White House would look at some of the things that we've been charged with and automatically throw them out." (July 7, 2009.)

"It's all for Alaska." (Asked by Time why she resigned, July 7, 2009).

"In what respect, Charlie?" (Asked by ABC's Charles Gibson if she agreed with the Bush Doctrine, September 11, 2008.)

"Let me speak specifically about a credential that I do bring to this table, Charlie, and that's with the energy independence that I've been working on for these years as the governor of this state that produces nearly 20 percent of the U.S. domestic supply of energy..." (Misunderstanding Alaska's 3.5% share of U.S. domestic energy production, September 11, 2008.)

"We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America." (October 16, 2008.)

"A task that is from God." (On the war in Iraq, June 8, 2008.)

"I think God's will has to be done, in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that." (June 8, 2008.)

"To me, it motivates us, makes us work that much harder. And it also strengthens my faith, because I'm going to know, at the end of the day, putting this in God's hands, that the right thing for America will be done at the end of the day on Nov. 4. So I'm not discouraged at all." (Asked if she was discouraged by polls showing the McCain-Palin ticket trailing, October 22, 2008.)

"As for that VP talk all the time, I'll tell you, I still can't answer that question until somebody answers for me what is it exactly that the VP does every day?" (August 1, 2008.)

"That's something that Piper would ask me!...[T]hey're in charge of the U.S. Senate so if they want to they can really get in there with the senators and make a lot of good policy changes that will make life better for Brandon and his family and his classroom." (asked by third grader Brandon Garcia what the Vice President does, October 20, 2008.)

"I told Congress, 'Thanks, but no thanks' on that Bridge to Nowhere." (September 13, 2008.)

"Ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to help shore up the economy- Oh, it's got to be about job creation too. So health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions." (Asked by CBS' Katie Couric why it makes more sense to give the $700 billion bailout to big financial institutions rathen than struggling families, September 25, 2008.)

"Um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me over all these years." (Asked by CBS' Katie Couric what newspapers and magazines she reads, September 30, 2008.)

"They're our next door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska." (Asked by ABC's Charles Gibson "what insight into Russian actions" the proximity of Alaska provides her, September 11, 2008.)

"Well, it certainly does, because our, our next-door neighbors are foreign countries, there in the state that I am the executive of... We have trade missions back and forth, we do. It's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia. As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there, they are right next to our state." (Asked by CBS' Katie Couric to explain her foreign policy credentials, especially regarding Russia, September 25, 2008.)

"John McCain and I, we love you and thank you for spending a few minutes to talk to me." (Talking with Canadian radio prankster posing as French Presideny Nicolas Sarkozy, November 1, 2008.)

"I'll try to find you some and I'll bring them to you." (Asked by CBS' Katie Couric to cite "specific examples in his 26 years of [John McCain] pushing for more regulation," September 24, 2008.)

"Well, let's see. There's, of course in the great history of America there have been rulings, that's never going to be absolute consensus by every American. And there are those issues, again, like Roe v. Wade, where I believe are best held on a state level and addressed there. So you know, going through the history of America, there would be others..." (Asked byCBS' Katie Couric what Supreme Court decisions besides Roe v. Wade she disagrees with, October 1, 2008.)

"Fair or unfair, I think she does herself a disservice to even mention it...When I hear a statement like that coming from a woman candidate with any kind of perceived whine about that excess criticism or, you know, maybe a sharper microscope put on her, I think, man, that doesn't do us any good. Women in politics, women in general wanting to progress this country. I don't think it's, it bodes well for her -- a statement like that...It bothers me a little bit hearing her bring that attention to herself on that level." (On Hillary Clinton's complaints about her treatment by the media, March 2008.)

"How sad that Washington and the media will never understand; it's about country. And though it's honorable for countless others to leave their positions for a higher calling and without finishing a term, of course we know by now, for some reason a different standard applies for the decisions I make." (July 4, 2009.)

"I want to make sure that Americans do understand that there is a little bit of disappointment in my heart about the world of journalism today...And I don't want any individual journalist to take it personally but--I have such great respect for the role of the media in our democracy, it is a cornerstone, it allows the checks and balances. But only when there is fairness and objectivity in the reporting." (November 5, 2008.)

"For the most part, absolutely, media persons, reporters, have been absolutely right on and there has been fairness and objectivity. There have been some stinkers, though, who have kind of made the whole basket full of apples, once in a while, smell kind of bad." (November 7. 2008.)
"If [the media] convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning, for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations, then I don't know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media." (Misunderstanding the First Amendment, October 31, 2008.)

"I respect Carrie [Prejean] for standing strong and staying true to herself, and for not letting those who disagree with her deny her protection under the nation's First Amendment Rights." (Misunderstanding the First Amendment again, May 13, 2009.)

"Letterman certainly has the right to 'joke' about whatever he wants to, and thankfully we have the right to express our reaction. This is all thanks to our U.S. Military women and men putting their lives on the line for us to secure America's Right to Free Speech - in this case, may that right be used to promote equality and respect." (Still misunderstanding the First Amendment, June 16, 2009.)

"This is to provide notice to Ms. Moore, and those who re-publish the defamation, such as Huffington Post, MSNBC, the New York Times and The Washington Post, that the Palins will not allow them to propagate defamatory material without answering to this in a court of law." (Not understanding the First Amendment via lawyer Thomas Van Flein, July 4, 2009.)

"This is not a man who sees America as you see it and how I see America...Our opponent though, is someone who sees America it seems as being so imperfect that he's palling around with terrorists who would target their own country." (On Barack Obama, October 4, 2008.)

"There's no question that Bill Ayers via his own admittance was one who sought to destroy our U.S. Capitol and our Pentagon. That is a domestic terrorist. There's no question there. Now, others who would want to engage in harming innocent Americans or facilities that uh, it would be unacceptable. I don't know if you're going to use the word terrorist there." (Asked by NBC's Brian Williams, "Is an abortion clinic bomber a terrorist?" October 23, 2008.)

"I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities." (September 3, 2008.)

"God bless Barack Obama and his beautiful family." (November 5, 2008.)

"I say God bless George W. Bush." (November 13, 2008.)


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.

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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.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Two Ways to Kill a God

The gof na'chalek lao gof na'triste lokkue' book Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut ends with the following paragraph.
If I were a younger man, I would write a history of human stupidity; and I would climb to the top of Mount McCabe and lie down on my back with my history for a pillow; and I would take from the ground some of the blue-white poison that makes statues of men; and I would make a statue of myself, lying on my back, grinning horribly, and thumbing my nose at You Know Who.

For those of you who don't know the book, you should read it, it is a tragic commentary on everything from religion, to colonialism, to the fallacy of objective science. At this point the whole world has been radically altered by a substance called ice-nine, which when is touched to water changes its composition so that it can be solid ice even at room temperature. The protagonist is stuck on the island of San Lorenzo, surrounded by the once ocean, which is now a world of tornadoes. He has become a disciple of Bokononism, a religion from the same island whose its prophet Bokonon openly admits is all bola bola yan dinagi.

He meets a few remaining survivors on the island, but the majority of people have all died from the ice-nine. Some of them encouraged by Bokonon, a survivor himself, who when asked by an angry mob what all the chaos means, he informs people that God is most likely telling them that its time for them to go and so they should show him the courtesy as their maker and just die. They comply. At the end of the novel, the protagonist, who has been religiously reading the never completed set of Books of Bokonon, spots Bokonon and rushes up to him to ask him what he is doing. He is writing the last words of his series of books, and hands to the protagonist a paper with the above excerpt.

His final message, is that he has none, this world is made in such a way that there can be none. The things which men build cannot save them from their own stupidity, and therefore God who made men deserves no credit or happiness either. He doesn't deserve their respect or their love. He deserves to feel the stupidity of his creations, he deserves to feel the fool, and so Bokonon's metaphorical final act, would be to hulague Si Yu'us or stick his tongue out at God, and politely inform him that he did not win. That all God can claim is longevity, durability, and nothing more, and thus he will always recall the statue of man thumbing his nose, even should the statue made of ice-nine crack and turn to dust, it will always be there in the eternal memory of God. A small, but nonetheless bitter challenge to the best laid plans of Gods.

I only read three manga regularly nowadays, via fanslations or scanslations that I find on the internet. The first, as most know is Naruto, which is a youth ninja manga, whose main characters suck, but whose world is filled with awesome supporting characters (ko'lo'lo'na Si Kakashi). The other two are for much more mature audiences, due to their violence, Berserk by Kentaro Miura and Gantz by Hiroyu Oku. Both of these series have been around for a while, with Berserk first published in 1990 and Gantz in 2000.

My interest in both of these mangas stem from the impulse that Vonnegut ends his Cat's Cradle with, an interest in challenging the very order of the world, or in staining or ripping out the seat upon which God sits. The odds against which the main characters struggle in both manga are insurmountable, they are literally contesting and fighting against superhuman and sometimes divine forces, unstoppable and incomprehensible. Yet little by little, the writers and the characters make headway, they provide small little hints, clues, little nudges by which the impossible is shifted across the line towards the unlikely, but somehow possible.

In Berserk the main character Guts, hopes to find a way to kill a God. In the early volumes of Berserk, Guts followed a heroic character named Griffith, the white hawk, who led a band of mercenaries who eventually won a war that had lasted for more than a hundred years, and brought peace to Midland. Griffith carried a Behelit, which is a sort of icon of potential divinity, those who carry it can potential become Gods or beings of great power. After having been caughter having sex with the king's daughter (which was part of his larger plan of ruling the kingdom), he is imprisoned, tortured and crippled. Guts and the other mercenaries, known as The Band of the Hawk rescue Griffith, but after seeing Guts and another soldier, Casca, the only band's only female, in love with each other he becomes angry and jealous. Soon after, the sky becomes black and the entire Band becomes trapped by an army of demons. Griffith's Behelit begins to cry and he is informed that if he is willing to sacrifice the lives of all of those who love him, namely the Band of the Hawk, he will become Femto, a part of the Godhand. He agrees and the Band of the Hawk are all, save for Guts and Casca devoured by demons.

After this massacre of all his friends and the betrayal of Griffith whom he adored and respected as a friend, Guts vows to kill Griffith and all demons he can. The manga since then has all been about Guts surviving in the life where he has been branded as a demon sacrifice, and is constantly hounded by supernatural forces who have been promised his blood. The character of The Skull Knight, who is shrouded in mystery but is someone who regularly appears to save Guts and others from danger, is the figures who gives clues as to the whole picture of the universe and ways in which they might challenge Gods or wreck the evil design that Femto and the Godhand are weaving.

A few weeks ago, Berserk went on hiatus as a long arc ended and the world has drastically changed, with Griffith returning to human form and returning to earth to revive the Band of the Hawk. All on earth, inhuman and human are drawn to his light, as he promises order to the world. As one of the inhumans admits, to be close to Griffith is like being drawn close to the chest of God. With his arrival, the different worlds of magic and humanity are colliding together, and the mystical, the beastly, the demonic is quickly spilling over into the world of humans.

The next issue of Berserk won't be out until September, which is only a month of two more than Miura usually makes readers wait for new issues, so its not actually that bad. I'm looking forward to what sort of elaborate web he weaves in order to make it possible so that a the Gods can be challenged and that Guts can strike a blow for all of mankind who are the chaff which is grounded to bits in the war machine of the Gods on earth. Guts has attempted to strike down Griffith when he was a God before, and although he survived and earned the respect and admiration of the other members of the Godhand, he came nowhere close to even worrying them.

The other manga of this nature is Gantz. Gantz is a strange manga, which at first I admit seemed really odd and weird when I started reading it, but soon burrowed under the skin and into my skull and then colonized my brain with its strangeness. The story for those who don't know is priceless and so interesting.

In a room in Tokyo, there is a smooth black ball. When people die, that ball captures them as data and brings them into that room. There is tells them that their lives are over and what they do now is entirely up to the black ball. The ball, whose name is Gantz, gives them info on a demon, or an alien or a creature of some kind and tells them that they have to get rid of it, it then gives them armor and weapons and send them back into the world to kill it. Since most people Gantz takes have no idea what's going on, they naturally end up dying very quickly once they are sent out. Those who survive though return to the regular world and live their lives until Gantz calls upon them again.

For volumes, the action takes place like this. A group of people are sent out to kill a monster, not knowing who is sending them, why they are doing it, and never really understanding the rules either. So long as you are the slightest bit alive when a mission is completed, you will be returned to that room completely brand new. For each alien you kill, you receive a certain amount of points, and upon gaining a hundred points, you can choose to either 1. have your memories erased and returned to the world. 2. be given a bigger and badder weapon to fight with. 3. Remain ensnared by Gantz, but bring back to life someone whose data is stored in Gantz's memory.

As the series goes on, the enemies get harder and harder and even though for each mission, Gantz says there is one enemy to kill, each time there are in reality dozens or hundreds that have to be taken out. There is a plot behind all of the fighting, but the characters learn about it in only small doses. A factory is revealed where thousands of Gantz balls are being made. Tokyo is not the only place with Gantz balls, but there are to be found all over the world. An explanation is offered for the whole mess, but soon revealed to be a lie. In the final issues of the most recent arc it is revealed that if you say "catastrophe" near Gantz a timer is revealed which shows how much time is left until this "catastrophe" takes place.

The characters live and die with this uncertainty and ignorance as their backdrop, with almost no comprehension of why they are doing this, who is making them do it, who they are killing. God is mentioned repeatedly, but he is absent, a quiet or silent puppeteer, unwilling to reveal his secrets. Thus paradoxically, the presence is felt even more forcefully, almost violently. The characters, devoid of the illusions that make the lives of most humans liveable and comfortable, bear on their shoulders the weight of the world, the void that God is supposed to sit at, in its center, but who is always conveinently absent.

They live with the feeling of the invisible structure of the world, dig like a rusty knife into their back. Berift of any illusions as to their own sovereignty or control over things, they are forced to swallow the lessons on the true nature of God like it is some disgusting medicine.

During the battle in Osaka, when the Tokyo Gantz team and a team from Osaka must fight together to take down a monster, Nurarihyon, who himself is worth 100 points, Kato, one of the main characters, when he stands before the creature, about to be obliterated, like everyone else apparently, he takes a moment to ask why? Why are we doing this, do you know, we don't, we know what we are supposed to do, we are forced to do it, but no one tells us anything. Gantz won't tell us, perhaps you our enemy knows why we fight? Here's the dialogue from Chapter 276.

Kato: I want to ask you one question

Nurarihyon: Hu hu Hu Hu (breathing)

Kato: And I want you to answer. Why..are we here? Why do we have to kill you?

Nurarihyon: Hu Huuu Hu (breathing)

Nurarihyon: That's your question? You question it then?

Kato: Do you know? None of us want this. No one does.

Nurarihyon: Hu huuu hu (breathing) Do you believe in God?

Kato: Answering my question with another question?

Nurarihyon: Is God...like a person? What does he look like?

Kato: I...I don't know. I've never thought about it.

Nurarihyon:
You should consider this to be equivalent to an act of God. Hu huu hu (breathing) Trying to change things is futile.
Gantz is on hiatus until October, which is an insane long time to wait, since Oku ended the last chapter in such an insane way. Some alien presence has appeared on the earth and destroyed the United States, and the only hope for the world are the black suited people from Gantz. The catastrophe is about to begin. Or not really about to begin, but will begin in a few months. Lana, maolekna na bai hu nangga esta ki makpo i series, pues bei taitai todu. Ti ya-hu este na munanangga!

"You should consider this to be equivalent to an act of God. Trying to change things is futile." Such an idea could be a motto for both mangas, in that both struggle in a world and against forces for which they don't know most of the rules. Guts literally struggles against Gods, while the characters of Gantz fight against forces which might as well be Gods, or God in the form of some unknown figure who torments them and like Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter and Allanon from the Shannara books rolled into one, who frustratingly refuses to reveal anything until the very end. It is always interesting to see what a writer can come up with to find a way out of these impossible situations, and is there a way in which you can surprise people, give them something they didn't consider, or find a new way of looking at something.

To kill a God takes great care in any world, and so its no wonder that these mangas are on hiatus.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

More Than Meets the Eye

After watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen last week, and just a little over a year until my 30th birthday, I eventually ended up finding a creative way of taking stock of the long road that I've traveled to this point, and how the mythology of Transformers has followed me there. As I walked out of the film I said to my sleeping daughter Sumåhi, "Gof suette yu', kao un tungo' sa' hafa? Sa' gi este lina'la'-hu, "privileged" yu' na hu egga' na mapuno' Si Optimus Prime dos biahi, ya hu egga' na mana'la'la' ta'lo dos biahi."

For those who don't speak Chamorro my message was "I'm so lucky and do you know why? Because in my life, I've been privileged enough to watch Optimus Prime die twice and come back to life twice." And for those of you who don't speak the language of Transformers, Optimus Prime is the leader of the Autobots, the good half of the Transformers world, with the Decepticons and their leader Megatron occupying the bad half.

I grew up with Transformers, it was one of my favorite cartoons that me and my brothers would watch religiously, and one of the few from which I can still recall major details and the names of almost all the characters. (The same cannot be said about He-Man, Thundercats or even the Smurfs). The animation style for the television show was good for the time, but still forgettable, and I now realize the the actual reason that I find Transformers so awesome and cool, is actually because of the movie that came out in 1986, for which the animation was violent and fantastic. Its entirely possible that the mental innocence of my brother Jack and I, was lost because of this film and its first violent scene where a space ship full of Autobots, whose names I know, were all brutally massacred (Ironhide, Brawn, Ratchet, Prowl). But just when you think that the moral balance of the universe will finally be restored when Optimus Prime appears thwarting a Decepticon attack on Autobot City, by literally blasting them all to pieces, suddenly, out of nowhere, the completely unpredictable and unacceptable happens, Optimus Primes dies!

He later came back, but at least until he did, it was as if the world had somehow taken on a new hue of mortality. I soon began to live in constant fear over what else, that I previously had felt was immortal, or without the possibility of disappearing, would soon be wrenched from me. The implicit rules of the universe first dictated that no one would ever die in a cartoon tv show, and secondly that if anyone ever did die it would be a "red shirt," and never a main character or heaven forbid, the only decent Autobot, in terms of fighting ability, height and overall manliness.

It was almost surreal, as I saw Optimus Prime die and return to life in the latest Transformers movie, reliving the importance that the movies, the shows and the characters have had in shaping me over the years. But after watching Revenge of the Fallen, which like most summer blockbusters, is a massive, expensive, special effects heavy monster of a movie, another thought occurred to me about how I've changed over the years, and also how Transformers has changed as well. This most recent film, like the one from two years ago, while being a love letter to geeks such as myself, is just as much a love letter to the United States Armed Forces.

Military forces in the original Transformers were much like military in most sci-fi worlds, featuring larger than life alien forces, a joke. But not the military in the world of Transformers today. Large segments of the film are like extended recruitment videos, showing off all different facets of the overall awesomeness of the United States military. Scenes go overly long because of the sleek visuals that show buff guns, rad planes and deadly spydrones of the forces that fight alongside the Autobots. The human forces run like well-oiled, well-disciplined bad ass machines of defense and destruction. Even the human qualities that the military prides itself in being magnificent at providing life lessons in are there, loyalty, honor, discipline, and naturally these values are all displayed in clear contrast to the wimpering, simpering, spineless nature of civilian politicians, making the universe of the military even more clean, clear and crisp.

I absolutely enjoyed the transforming of some of my favorite Transformers into live-action CGI titans, who stab each other in the face and do high kicks, but the hyper-military aspect was so unsettling. I constantly felt like I was watching some twisted wet dream of a Pentagon marketing director. It felt like I was actually watching a Transformer's movie that was constantly being colonized by a G.I. Joe movie. I kept waiting for Cobra Commander to shriek from the background somewhere, or worse yet David Keith or Gary Sinise's voice to appear from somewhere blocking out the voices of the Autobots, informing us that we too can be "Army strong."

G.I. Joe was a show that I also loved as a kid, but as I've grown older and become more peace minded and become less enchanted with the glories of war machines and war-makers, I've distanced myself from those sorts of creative works, which might as well as commercials for the military. I don't have any problems with positive portrayals of the military or what it can do or does, I have no problems with it being involved in good stories, but I loathe it when the story becomes a vehicle for advertising or showcasing the military. Where you can even tell at points, that the director, the producer, the writer, or someone on the creative side of making the film has bended things, twisted it in such a way to appease the Pentagon or appease the Department of Defense. Alot of directors or studios make these sorts of choices since it can save you millions of dollars. If you play ball with the Department of Defense, if you let them edit your film and your story then can provide you access to billions of dollars worth of hardware and even living and breathing soldiers as extras.

Transformers and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen are both extreme cases where the catering to the military is explicit and front and center, with no apologies whatsoever. Ti mandadagi yu', the credits list more military consultants than there were actors in the film, and I was left wondering at the film's end, how much of the armed forces of the United States military are called to active duty every few years, just to star in Michael Bay's films?

But in other films, you can almost tell when some sort of script change or edit has taken place, where the picture of the military doesn't need to be perfect, but somehow is. Where a crazy civilian politician did something, that maybe a crazy military general should have. Where the military should have been pasted, wiped out and made to look like rank amateurs but something intervened to make them seem less inadequate and pathetic. Where the military as an institution and in terms of the behavior of individuals within it seems so much less violent, less racist, less sexist and way more restrained than anything you'd imagine. If you watch some movies carefully, you can feel these sorts of inconsistencies, these pulls that something isn't quite right. The reason that you might feel them is, the same reason that earlier versions of the Matrix from The Matrix Trilogy failed; its because the representations are unreal since they are too ideal, all the stains have been removed and you are left with an incredibly unrealistic and laughable representation. Its not that I'm against showing the United States military in a good light, but I'm against any representation that shows it in this perfect light, that refuses to show the less laudatory aspects, and not just the violence against others, but the violence that the military facilitates from within itself or within the nation, such as against the environment or against women.

I hope that in the next Transformers film, the director and the Pentagon agree to show some of the less than stellar aspects of military operations or military presence. So for instance in this film, the island base of Diego Garcia was featured very prominently in the film, as a fortified, high tech and almost impregnable fortress. I hope, that the next time the audience is introduced to Diego Garcia and all the fantastic work against the world's enemies that the military is conducting there, they also find a way to mention the shameful history of displacement of the island's people, that led to the creation of a US military base there. Or the next time you see any base in a film, I hope that they somehow work into the dialogue or plot of the film some statistics on the cancer rates on and around the base, or list the number of Superfund sites that are there and will most likely never be cleaned up. I would really like to see a commercial for military recruitment that features vets that have been poisoned by Agent Orange or depleted uranium. I would love to see the ad person who got that assignment and I would love to see what sort of treatment or storyboard they would come up with for it.

But this is one key way in which I have changed over the years, how I have developed a "critical" eye, that sometimes prevents me from enjoying violent, militaristic, testosterone bleeding films in any comprehensive sense, because some critique in me gets triggered and ends up coloring the film in a certain way. Perhaps, if an earlier version of me had watched Revenge of the Fallen last week, things might be different and I would have found another way to appreciate or relate to the hyper-militaristic hue of the movie. But, I can never really know for sure, since all I can know is that this is how I ended up. And all I can do is enjoy the schizophrenic ride movies like Transformers take me on. Where one moment I am cheering on the glorious manliness of Optimus Prime and his laying waste to a group of Decepticons, and then the next I can bemoan how ridiculous yan taisensia it is that in this Transformer's universe, tiny little flesh and bone soldiers in desert camo can somehow take on menacing, hulking Decepticons.

Otro fino'-ta: Roger Ebert's review of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is gof na'chalek, and funnier than several comedies I've seen recently. Here's a gem from the piece:

"The human actors are in a witless sitcom part of the time, and lot of the rest of their time is spent running in slo-mo away from explosions, although--hello!--you can't outrun an explosion. They also make speeches like this one by John Turturro: "Oh, no! The machine is buried in the pyramid! If they turn it on, it will destroy the sun! Not on my watch!" The humans, including lots of U.S. troops, shoot at the Transfromers a lot, although never in the history of science fiction has an alien been harmed by gunfire."

Monday, July 20, 2009

Wars Stories from Chamorros at the Tip of the Spear

One of the most comprehensive pieces written about Chamorros and the complexity and everyday violence of their struggles today. Its long, but worth the read.

**********************

War Stories and the Chamorus: journalism and militarization on the tip of the spear.
By Beau Hodai
Special to News From Indian Country
July 2009

It was a typical day in the jungle, though more overcast than the constant island diet of endless blue skies and fluffy white clouds; humid-- drizzling rain that would materialize from the sticky mist in the air, a breeze stirring through breadfruit and banana leaves.

I was at the family home of Navy Hospital Corpsman Second Class Anthony Carbullido, Jr., whom the Department of Defense had recently listed among the dead to be routed back from Afghanistan to Guam through Dover, Delaware-- the victim of an improvised explosive device.

Family and friends of the corpsman were seated in rows of folding chairs under a glowing green fiberglass awning reciting the rosary, “may eternal peace and rest be unto Tony…” a dull, sleepy drone mixed with the static rain.

I was seated in one of the chairs, as were my photographer and his girlfriend. To the side of the house, under a separate awning, large tables were being set with large trays of traditional Chamorro food. A pit-bull puppy pawed at the kitchen door, leaving streaks of red clay as more family members prepared food inside.

I had arrived on Guam less than a month before to work for the island’s largest newspaper, the Gannett-owned Pacific Daily News. My assigned beat was “health and environment,” and while the Carbullido rosary service did not exactly fall under the banner of that beat, it was assigned to me as one of my co-workers, who was usually assigned to rosaries and military funerals, had said he needed a break from covering such functions, as the process of extracting a story from a grieving mother is-- at best-- draining.

In the darkened living room of the family home I was made to understand this sentiment all too well as I held my little recorder in the mother’s face and asked her how she felt about her son’s death.

Aurora Carbuliido, the sailor’s mother, said that her son’s death was the realization of her fears as a mother of a sailor involved in active duty.

“I’ve seen past pictures and past articles (of troops who have died in combat) and it scared me because my son is over there,” she said.

“This is a hard situation to be in,” his father said. “It’s hard to believe that this is happening to us.” (From: “Family, friends mourn sailor: Acting governor orders flags to half-staff,” Pacific Daily News, August 9, 2008).

It should be noted that the idea that what a person is quoted as saying in a newspaper is accurate is not necessarily accurate; as the photographer haggled with the father about his desire not to be photographed, Mrs. Carbuillido spoke of her son and her fears in the present-tense… “and it scares me because my son is over there.” The idea that they would be shoveling clay into their son’s face sometime in the weeks to come had not yet hit home.

There had been a steady succession of these stories, as Cabullido was the 17th casualty from Guam and the 29th from the northern Marianas region since the outset of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001.

This succession has given Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, with a population of under 300,000, the dubious honor of being the region of the United States with the highest number per capita of such casualties.

This is comparable to a city the size of Spokane taking the same blow in the “War on Terror,” but with one large difference: in the insular world of Micronesia, everybody is related in one way or another to everyone else. Few get out. It is because of this that one family’s pain ripples out through the entire community.

A brief history of Guam to bring you to this point:

Guam, the northern-most island of the Marianas Archipelago, known to the Chamorus who occupied it as Guahan, was dubbed the “Island of Thieves” by Ferdinand Magellan when a group of natives attempted to steal one of his ships during his 1521 landing.

In 1668, the Jesuit Padre San Vitores, began colonization of the island for the Spanish crown.

San Vitores was promptly killed in 1672 by a Chamoru chief named Matapang for baptizing his daughter without permission. Matapang was eventually killed in turn.

At the time of Spanish colonization, there were 175,000 Chamorus on Guahan; 100 years into colonization, the population had dwindled to 1,500.

Following the Spanish-American War, Spain ceded the island to U.S. forces in 1898, at which time it served as a small military outpost.

In 1941, Japanese forces invaded the island. Fortunately, U.S. citizens on the island were evacuated prior to the occupation. Unfortunately, all Chamorus were left behind to face three years of forced labor and life in concentration camps around the island. A further 300 Chamorus died during this period. Scars from this period can be found throughout the island in the form of old munitions and tunnels bored though hillsides by Chamoru slave labor for the Japanese.

On July 21, 1944, the U.S. Marines retook the island in the bloody Battle of Guam. Today, Liberation Day warrants a week-long barbeque party along the island’s main drag, Marine Corps Drive, in the capital of Hagatna.

In 1950 the Guam Legislature passed the Organic Act, which laid the foundation for local government as it is now and established Guam as an unincorporated territory of the United States.

Today, Catholicism extends to every facet of life on-island and the Archdiocese of Hagatna holds heavy political sway. The word “Matapang,” which, at the time of San Vitores’ death meant “to be made pure by cleansing,” means “silly” or “foolish” in modern Chamorro, which is a polyglot of English, Spanish and Chamoru.

The word Guahan, which meant “we have”, has long since been replaced by the bastardized “Guam,” which means nothing; and every day the most mournful cacophony I have ever heard rings out of the synth bells atop the Basilica of the Archdiocese of Hagatna, echoing off the cliffs and out into the Philippine Sea like a funereal music box opened for a dead child.

At present, a full third of the island’s land mass of 209 square miles is occupied by either Andersen Air Force base or U.S. Naval Base Guam. Guam is often proudly referred to as the “tip of the spear” for U.S. military operations, as it is the furthest military outpost from the U.S. mainland. Many bumper stickers also proclaim: “Guam: where America’s day begins,” or “SPAM!”

Guam has no exports, virtually no agricultural production (due in large part to military contamination of the land and water—much of this contamination has been attributed to nuclear weapons testing that took place in the Marshall Islands from 1946 to 1962, the effects of which were documented in a 2005 report filed by the National Research Council under the National Academies of Science. Because of this, legislation has been introduced repeatedly—and with little success—by Guam Congressional Delegate Madeleine Z. Bordallo to include the territory in the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act) and no other line of production. Outside of federal subsidies, the main source of revenue on-island is in the trade of Japanese tourist dollars—a revenue stream that has been dwindling in recent years.

This dead-end environment leaves the military as the only viable option for many young people looking to get out.

Following the recitation of the rosary, while waiting to interview Carbullido’s parents, I spoke with several of his friends, his siblings and some of his cousins.

As I was speaking to his teenage brother, one of his cousins joined us.

“What do you think? Still planning on joining up?” the brother asked the cousin, a man in his early twenties clutching a pale blue Bud Lite can.

“Yeah,” he said, raising the can and tilting his head.

“This doesn’t change your mind at all?” asked the brother.

No, the cousin replied; there really wasn’t much other choice for him—no other way out, or up-- even if it meant coming back in a box.

Unfortunately for those whose families could not afford private school tuition or cannot afford higher education and who are products of the Guam Public School System, even the military option appears to be closing on them.

A recruiter for the Guam Army National Guard told me in an interview at the time that, while he has seen an increase in interest in military service in the region, increasing numbers of young people educated on the island have been unable to pass the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Test.

GPSS is, by far, the GovGuam line agency beset by the most demons—which is considerable, given that GovGuam could be likened to a boondoggle of contemptuous, incompetent snakes, each trying to bight the other’s head off in the perennial battle over the territory’s small annual budget.

Last year the office of the Guam Attorney General closed down several of the system’s schools, citing exposure of students to raw sewage, asbestos and fire hazards.

All but one of the schools have been reopened to date, but the department has still been unable to fill its staffing needs, students still continue to perform well below national standards and at a 2008 budget hearing a GPSS employee told the Guam Legislature that teachers in the system actually had a higher absenteeism rate than students.

But, even if enlistment is not an option, many still see the Department of Defense as Guam’s Savior.

In 2006, the DoD announced plans to relocate some 5,000 Marines and their dependents from the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa to a new to-be-built base on Guam.

The estimated impact of the shift, or “military buildup,” as it is commonly referred to, when considering the number of workers to fill jobs created by the need to expand both civilian and military infrastructure, translates to at least a twenty percent population boom over the course of a few years, set to begin (tentatively) in 2010. Some believe that a twenty percent population increase is a conservative estimate and set the number much higher.

Many members of the Guam business community and government are bedazzled by what they anticipate to be a cornucopia of new possibilities in profit and employment offered through the expansion.

Many of these dazzled individuals are the same ones who advertize in, and thereby underwrite, the island’s news media, chief of which is the same Gannett-owned Pacific Daily News that I covered the Carbullido rosary for.

When my editor changed Aurora Carbullido’s quote, he also buried it at the back of the article. He had placed canned statements from the island’s acting governor and congressional representative before not just statements from the grieving mother, but of all the corpsman’s family members.

“We extend our sympathies and prayers to all his family, friends and loved ones,” said Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo…

“Anthony will rest in the hearts and minds of a grateful people humbled by his ultimate sacrifice,” said Acting Governor Mike Cruz in a statement yesterday. “I have ordered all government… agencies to fly flags at half-staff in honor of…”

This same editor had lectured me on previous occasions about putting the statements of “real people” above whatever hollow canned crap you may get from the desk of a politician. This rule apparently did not apply to cases involving a military death.

Cases when the rule did apply, by PDN/Gannett standards, were when you’d be handed a press release on some banal item, such as “Healthy Snack Food Month,” or “Infant Automobile Safety Awareness Month,” from some ad hoc task force. You’d then be given your orders to go over to the shopping center down the block, get three “reactions” from “real people,” then march back to the newsroom and churn out six to eight inches of copy by combining all or parts of the press release with the quotes.

That is Gannett journalism: the best in fast food, bulleted coverage—as pioneered by U.S.A Today.

My theory then, as this editor in the most gently condescending tones, explained the role of “real people” to me, is the same as it is now in hindsight; Aurora Carbullido’s reaction was too real. It was the visceral reaction of a shocked mind to an inconceivable pain. And this pain was brought about by involvement with the Department of Defense, the same DoD that so many underwriters looked on as a messiah that would finally put them on the map. This is why the quote of a grieving mother was altered and buried.

The statement that journalism at such a paper is only an incidental byproduct that suffers from this ad-driven editorial policy could be considered libelous if—for one, it was not true—or if it was not the Gannett modus operandi by definition:

The company was started by Frank Ernest Gannett, who in 1906 began buying small newspapers in New York state...

... These newspapers were usually the only ones published in their city and so could be run very profitably. The company’s growth was further spurred by the attention it paid to advertising and circulation and by its tight control of costs...

…This pattern of buying up all the newspapers in an area, slashing subscription rates to levels which (according to critics) only a national conglomerate could sustain, and then raising advertising rates once control over the local market had been secured brought Gannett severe criticism as well as lawsuits. Smaller community and privately owned newspapers have charged the media giant with predatory practices and violations of antitrust laws. Not helping Gannett’s image was the frank admission of brash business tactics by former Gannett chairman Allen Neuharth in his autobiography, Confessions of an S.O.B. (1989). (From, “Gannett Co., Inc.” as defined by Encyclopedia Britannica, 2009).

So it should have been no surprise when the PDN refused to cover any story outlining the long shadow of rape and assault allegations that accompanied the history of Marines stationed in Okinawa and whose arrival was being staged on Guam.

The same co-worker who had declined to cover the rosary and myself had been pressing our editors to do a story on this history, as there had been virtually no coverage of it in Guam media to that point.

Nothing ever came of it; each day we logged on to the program that contained the daily budget and found that the item had either been pushed back or removed entirely.

Eventually, unable to stomach their editorial policy any longer, I jumped ship and went to work for the PDN’s only competition, the Marianas Variety.

One day my old co-worker said he had given up trying to get the story into the PDN following an especially heated exchange between himself and the managing editor on the subject of the Okinawa Marines story in which he said the editor had indignantly exclaimed, “I have friends and family in the military!”

Military censorship

I had been holding the story up to that point out of respect for my friend, but on hearing that he had given up trying to run it in the PDN, I decided to run with it.

I set out to get some information on the allegations from the Navy and the Joint Guam Program Office, which had been set up by the DoD to act as a civilian-military liaison to pave the way for the Marines. It seemed that once the Navy had figured out I was going to write a critical article, my phone calls and emails went unanswered.

The Variety finally ran an article—despite lack of cooperation on the part of the Navy—in November highlighting the grave concerns of many Guam senators over the violent history of the Marines in Okinawa.

At about that time the Navy’s public information officer met with the Variety’s general operations manager, saying that I was harassing him and that he thought I didn’t know what I was talking about. He said the Navy did not keep any records of allegations against its service members and suspected that I had not done my research.

Given the Navy’s reticence on the issue, I cited numbers directly from the Okinawa prefecture government website, as well as data compiled by Japanese activist groups:

“A report filed this year by an activist group, Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence, documented over 400 alleged cases of rape, abduction, assault, murder and other forms of abuse committed by U.S. forces in Japan from the period of their post-war occupation to the present.”(“Concerns raised over Okinawa incidents: part 1” Marianas Variety, October 30, 2008)

“(T)here have been more than 5,076 cases of crime caused by the SOFA (Service of Forces Agreement) status people since the reversion of Okinawa to mainland Japan (1972). This number includes 531 cases of brutal crimes and 955 cases of assaults. Thus, there is fear amongst the people of Okinawa as to whether or not security for their daily lives can be maintained and whether their property can be preserved."(From “Concerns raised over Okinawa incidents: part 2,” Marianas Variety, November 7, 2008—as quoted directly from the website of the government of the Okinawa Prefecture.)

In December, following the story on the Okinawa Marines, I wrote an article for the Variety entitled “DoD’s ‘mystery’ project puzzles Guam officials,” which examined a tip I had received that JGPO was looking to convert about 650 acres currently belonging to the Chamorro Land Trust Commission and 250 acres belonging to the Ancestral Lands Commission—which was currently occupied by Guam International Raceway-- into a firing range.

On January 15, Variety reporter and editor, Mar-Vic Cagurangan, wrote a follow-up article, based on a written statement from JGPO Operations Director, Lt. Col. Rudy Kube, confirming the suspicions.

On April 28, the Variety received payment from JGPO for their role as a ‘watchdog’ paper when Variety reporters were barred from attending the “Guam Industry Forum III,” while all other media outlets on-island were granted access.

Variety reporter, Jennifer Naylor Gesick, wrote:

Onsite industry forum personnel notified the reporting staff that the ban was on a “federal level” and was issued as a “government order” from U.S. Marine Corp Capt. Neil Ruggiero with the Joint Guam Project Office...”

The ban was in effect in all venues, as confirmed by Variety reporters in the field. Press passes were printed for every media company on island, except for the Variety...

... Ruggiero argued that Variety could have attended the event as a business if the publishers had registered with the forum.

“Marianas Variety was given the same opportunity as anyone else, they just chose not to be paying registrants, [Pacific Daily News] chose to pay and they were allowed access,” he said...

...However, any media covering the event was allowed in free.

In response to claims of a violation of the freedom of the press in restricting access to the forum, Ruggiero responded that “the press who only stays one session is allowed in free.” That accommodation was not extended to the Variety.

Ruggiero also said that a Variety columnist was given access to represent the paper.

Variety columnist Jayne Flores confirmed that she was given a pass, but Ruggiero later said, “I told her she could not come as Marianas Variety or write any news for them.”

(From “Variety banned by JGPO,” Marianas Variety, April 29, 2009)

Gesick went on to quote Ruggiero, who is the public information officer for JGPO, as saying that the ban on Variety reporters was in effect because he felt part of Kube’s statement had been published out of context, although he did not challenge the veracity of the story.

Despite this lack of cooperation with media outlets willing to report any story critical of the DoD’s plans for the island, events in which the public have been able to ask questions of those involved with the proposed buildup or voice their concerns have drawn large crowds.

The large turnout at such forums suggests that those who are concerned for their island’s future in light of such weighty developments are not marginal or fringe groups as the dismissive attitudes of the DoD and the PDN would suggest.

At a forum held in November at the University of Guam, panellists from both the Civilian-Military Task Force, which works under the auspices of the Office of the Governor with JGPO, as well as members of the community working toward Guam’s self-determination stated both their progress and concerns with the buildup.

Panelist Mike Bevacqua of Famoksaiyan said every resident of Guam—regardless of their position on the buildup—needs to realize that the buildup will affect them personally. He encouraged residents to take a more proactive role in the course of their and Guam’s future.

“It is taking place because we are America, and it’s taking place because we’re not. It is not only something that takes place because of our geographic position, but our colonial status as well...”

“...It is also taking place because we are one of the few American communities where a unilateral announcement by the DOD that it intends to drastically affect life in your community and cause a population increase of 34 percent is met with excitement, celebration and a frightening lack of questioning...”

“...and this military buildup is predicated on the fact that you live in a colony and you can be treated as an object for the subject of the United States, as a weapon of the warrior of the United States military. This is the United States military sharpening the tip of its spear.”

(“Military buildup forum draws huge crowd,” Marianas Variety, November 20, 2008)

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