Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Buildup/Breakdown #10: Chumilong

For those who don't know, the word "chumilong" is Chamorro for "to become equal."

One of the most interesting things to come out of the DEIS comment period and the flurry of activist activity that has taken place, is that after four long and frustrating years, the media does actually start to treat the buildup is an issue which has more than one side. For years, the Pacific Daily News set the tone making primary any positive information related to the buildup and generally minimizing any possible negative issues. The Marianas Variety to its credit often has problems talking about an issue in a very full or complete way. They tend to give one side of the story in most of their pieces, and then another completely different story in another piece. Part of this comes from their regular printing of press releases.

In general though, the buildup, even if it has "some questions or concerns" there was still this impression that it was nearly all good, and that the voices of those who say it is good are the big and important words of story, while those who disagree, are the quiet, almost irritating comments at a story's end. They are there in the story, but not in a balanced way, they tend to be the concluding remark, short, sweet, without much basis or evidence, presented in such a way that you can't really take it seriously. Those who supported the buildup were crafted into the prose of a news piece with authority, with commonsensical weight and seriousness to their statements. Those who were cited as the other side of the issue, those who were critical or resistant, tended to be characterized in less serious ways, and sometimes were quoted in ways that were barely critical.

In May of 2006 I wrote about this on my blog in a post titled "How the Interests of the Military Become More Than Our Own:"

It has been only recently that apprehensiveness about the arrival of these 8,000 Marines is being recorded by the island's leaders. Prior to that, the discussion seemed to follow the two most pathetically simple forms imagineable, first the delusional "what will we do with all that cash!?" and second, "how can we be good hosts and fix up the island for their arrival?!" I remember clearly the initial articles in the PDN covering this military increase. It was truly pathetic, because the only real critique the PDN offered in contrast to all the excitement and hoopla over the economic windfall of these 8,000 bodies and their families, was 1. our infrastructure sucks we can't support them, even though we love them! 2. they better respect!

Media teaches complex lessons in what appear to be very simple statements. First of all, the first critique is hardly a critique at all, since given the universe of statements that these sorts of remarks enter into, they only make the case that more military is not just good, but necessary. The Chamber of Commerce and other rabidly capitalist
organizations in Guam gain their super powers not just from the sacrifice of Chamorros on the altar of war and colonialism, but because of the way the eternally crumbling infrastructure of Guam, plays into their arguments of the need for the military. By saying that the poor infrastructure of Guam is an argument against the influx of Marines, you are actually arguing for their arrival, because of the way it is commonly understood that it is only an arrival such as this which can cure those sorts of material ills. The paradox here being that only the arrival of these Marines can fix the problems which prevent their arrival.

The second reason I've pasted below direct from the October 31st, 2005 article in the PDN, "Marines Welcomed Warily,"

Byron Garrido, 43, of Yigo said he is not excited to see the shift of Marines to Guam. "At first, I thought it would be good, but then think back to the past," he said describing how he has seen fights break out between local residents and military personnel. Garrido said he hopes military officials will brief all troops who move to Guam about the culture on Guam and how to respect that culture. "Respect, learn where you are at," he said. "You are not in the states, this is Guam."

Here we encounter a similar problem, where the critique leaves unscathed a number of assumptions that must be tampered with.

Through the laundry list of reasons why we should support this miltiary increase we see a very important dash of culture/history (love of the US from liberation) mixed with a deluge of real-world/material factors most importantly economic. On the otherside of the issue, we have a very large dose of culture (respect us!) but little to no mention of the negative (or less than rosy) impact of the Marines in economic or material terms.

One thing that the media tends to teach very well is to what realms of life authority and value belong to, or emmanate from, and to where else should this authority be connected to. Take for example this common justification for voting for Felix Camacho in 2002, "he's a businessman, he'll know how to fix the island's economic problems." Underwood on the other hand was a teacher and therefore will only know how to fix the schools. These assumptions are actually pretty ridiculous for so many reasons, I feel like my brain would try to escape through my eye sockets if I even try to explain why. A connection like this however is common in the media, especially in a newspaper such as the PDN which is tied very closely to the Chamber of Commerce and other business interests in Guam (in other words, articulate that those who want control over the economy (for profits, for their business), should have the most control over it (but only because they have the know how to help all of us).

What we are meant to learn from the PDN coverage of the pros and cons of this and nearly all military increases, is that the positions of those in favor and support for the increase are bolstered and justified through "real world" arguments. Stone cold economic indicators and facts. Those against the increases appear in the media without any such support. There is no economic data to support whatever they say, common sense is definitely not on their side (there is for example no argument that if they don't respect our culture, interest rates will fall). The only argument they really do have is a cultural one, which as I've most recently started to write about after reading The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories by
Partha Chatterjee, seems to always crumple beneath someone who proposes to speak on behalf of the "material" or the "real" world.
As the island has shifted in the past two and a half months, so too has the media. There has been an equalizing effect. It may be small at times, and so people may not even notice it or be aware of it. It doesn't keep the PDN from still regularly reminding the people of Guam at their are owned by the United States and should just do whatever they can to embody that life as "the tip of America's spear." Nor does it keep them from writing buildup articles, which only for those who are really paying attention, can see them as angry retorts against some errant discourse floating around out their that irritates the editors. But what it has done is created far more space than before for the other side of the debate. What it has done is created a more frequent possibility that an opposing view on the buildup will not only be reported, but be in some cases, given the same amount of weight as a supporting view. I have to admit, that after years of unofficialy blackouts from news outlets on certain topics and on certain groups, it has been freshing to see an insurgent grassroots group treating like such a major player, or as something which could even be considered as opposition to the Chamber of Commerce.


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Both sides of buildup debate release lists:
Chamber, Coalition post 14 separate reasons on their Web sites
By Amritha Alladi
Pacific Daily News
January 19, 2010

Increased crime rates, stresses on the public school system, and more sex and drug trafficking are reasons the Guåhan Coalition for Peace and Justice says the military buildup's economic opportunities will be overshadowed by its negative impacts.

Responding to the Chamber of Commerce's "14 Reasons Why We Need the Military Buildup," the Guåhan Coalition of Peace and Justice released "14 reasons Why We Don't Need the Military Buildup."

According to the list posted on the Chamber's Web site, the relocation of 8,000 Marines and their 9,000 dependents to Guam will provide revenues "our government desperately needs ... in order to provide services our people depend on." The list includes a revenue surge, infrastructural improvements and investments in health-care facilities and equipment as benefits resulting from the buildup.

Yet the coalition argues there is no mention of the 26,000 jobs that will no longer be needed by 2017, according to Audrey Ward, a member of the coalition.

Among the things listed by the coalition of what the draft EIS doesn't provide are solutions for job competition between Guam residents and 9,000 military dependents scheduled to arrive.

"There are no training options outlined in the EIS to help unemployed Guamanians better qualify for buildup jobs," the coalition list states. "The military will not be helping locals get any of the positions they are offering."

Neither has the local government, for the most part. The bulk of job training being offered in connection with the military buildup has been provided by the Guam Contractors Association's Trades Academy, with some construction-related programs at Guam Community College.

The coalition also says tourism will be hindered by an increase in crime.

Plus, some tourism expansion opportunities also may curbed, too, according to Gary Hiles, chief economist with the Guam Department of Labor.

"Increased military activities will open up new economic opportunities, but at the same time, will limit or preclude operation or expansion of other productive economic activities which could employ a large number of people in more labor intensive activities, such as tourism, due to increased land use and access restrictions and create costs of opportunities lost for other activities," Hiles said.

However, Gerry Perez, the general manager of the Guam Visitors Bureau, has said that the island has been starved for cash in recent years to make necessary upgrades to the island's infrastructure and tourism attractions; the buildup would not only widen Guam's tourism market, but help fund some of those improvements, he said.

"The military buildup will stimulate new markets, attract higher-spending business travelers and generate more income to pay for improvements in public service," Perez said.

Hiles also said while the buildup will bring more jobs to the island and more revenue to the government of Guam, it will also create substantial additional capital investment for infrastructure and increased operating costs in public safety, health care and education.

But if some residents have been strongly opposed to the buildup's negative effects on the local culture and environment, local businessman James Adkins said they haven't suggested any other viable alternatives that will solve Guam's economic problems.

"We have to have something to bring cash money back onto the island," Adkins said in late December. "We are spending more money than we are bringing in."

According to Ernie Galito, deputy general manager at the Guam Visitors Bureau, Guam's proximity to Asia and its status as an American territory opens up possibilities to develop other industries.

"Guam could develop finance, insurance, arbitration or ship registry industries," Galito said. "Of course, much of the market study work has yet to be done, but these examples would seem to be the most viable opportunities outside of tourism."

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Chamber's support for buildup meets criticism
by Heather Hauswirth
KUAM NEWS
2/1/10

Guam - The back-and-forth between the Guam Chamber of Commerce and the We Are Guahan Coalition over fourteen points in support of the military buildup has created a bit of friction between members of the island's business community and coalition members who feel that the buildup will marginalize the people of Guam. With time ticking for comments to be submitted on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement and buildup plans underway, we delve into the two-step the Chamber has to dance with all the special interests.

For president of the Guam Chamber of Commerce David Leddy, the Chamber's list of fourteen reasons why Guam needs the military build up is entrepreneurial in spirit. "As with any island-based economy with very limited natural resources, our options are limited, and the military economy has always co-existed with the tourism economy so we presented the fourteen reasons simply to demonstrate the positive attributes that could be derived from its growth," he said.

However, We Are Guahan members don't see eye to eye with the Chamber. They fired back with a fourteen-point rebuttal of reasons we do not need the military buildup. The Coalition boasts some 3,000 members, including Facebook fans. Cara Flores Mays is a core member who works as a self-employed web developer.

"As a businessowner, I do stand to benefit from the buildup, however I don't think it is good for our island. There is the idea that there will be more tax revenue coming in, and of course there will be more tax revenue, but there will also be a huge increase in service demand," said Mays.

Mays says the Coalition's concerns are many, but from an economic standpoint they fear the very heart of the island's economy would be in jeopardy. "I would say there needs to be a balance between what is best for the community. I don't know how the tourists will feel about it, but we will no longer be able to promote ourselves as a family friendly destination if our red light district grows," she said.

The Chamber president meanwhile welcomes differing opinions but wants it clear that the organization is against land condemnation. "Our Chamber members are people who live and work here in Guam and make their living in Guam. The Chamber though it's the voice of the business community, the local business community- first and foremost we are an advocate for our community and we do not want the people of Guam marginalized in this buildup process," said Leddy.

Yet Mays maintains that the Chamber's math overall just doesn't add up, saying, "If you balance the increased revenue with the increased demand and that's just a small portion of it, I'm just wondering how the Chamber manages that equation and how we end up benefiting from the increased tax revenue. I'd like to see that done; I'd like to see the math done on that."

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