Monday, January 14, 2013

Don't Blame the Local

Karlo Dizon had a column in the PDN yesterday that disappointed me.

I was told by so many people during the election last year that Karlo Dizon is smart and someone with a real future in Guam politics. When I heard him speak during the campaign I found his emphasis on data and statistic to be interesting and in a way refreshing, but also worried that this would make him too "wonky." The eternal debate that takes place within voters is whether to vote for someone who is 1. better/smarter than they are, 2. someone they see as their equals, 3. someone that they see as being inferior to them and therefore makes themselves feel superior. For someone like Barack Obama, many people vote for him because of that feeling that he is more intelligent and articulate than they are and that is the way a leader should be. For someone like George W. Bush, alot of his popularity comes from the feeling of him being equal to or inferior to voters. Bush was safe, he didn't make you feel stupid, but actually made you feel good about yourself, in a very twisted and strange way.

To portray yourself as capable and intelligent means to walk a very thin line. Voters may feel inspired by you and see you as a leader, or they may feel alienated by you. I saw this dynamic very much at play in how Dizon interacted with the public.

I was disappointed because while I have been told so much about the intelligence of Dizon, his column in the PDN didn't illustrate this. In fact, this column seemed to indicate the opposite.

The column, as I'll paste below, is titled "Many Away Military Relocation." It talks about the responses to the military buildup during the most recent scoping meetings held over the summer. He divides the comments that were provided into different groups, and argues that clearly the majority of Guam's people support the military buildup and that it is only a small minority who actually oppose it. As he writes, "the [military buildup] has been held up because of the reservations of a vocal few."

He goes on to provide an economic portrait in relation to the United States and proposes that the buildup be a good way to shore up the island economically. It would have brought in new demand, new jobs, new spending and helped diversify the local markets. He even throws in a line about patriotism and concludes in a customary way by invoking the durability of Guam's people, who have been capable of surviving so much in the past. Your are meant to infer that the buildup, in its negative conceptualizations, is just one of those things the people here have shown they are adept at accepting and enduring.

I will grant that Dizon's article is much more intelligent than most who have written similar sort of "let's get the buildup up started and stop messing around!" pieces. Others have written columns or letters which are simply embarrassing. Their inability to recognize basic facts about the universe when they are attempting to articulate their position makes you wonder if someone has to help them brush their teeth in the morning. Dizon isn't in that camp, but there is an intellectual weakness in this column, an accepting of a certain ideological narrative about the buildup that has long since been disproven and is almost pointless to even ground your argument upon. It is one thing that make an argument that the buildup will be good for Guam. That is something you can assert and it can be debated and different sides can bring in their points. It is not something where my side or any other side can claim the definitive truth on the matter. Even if I feel that the negatives of the buildup far outweigh the positives, I have to admit there are positives and so there is alot of room in this discussion for many sides to air their concerns or push their ideological positions.

What is problematic about Dizon's column and so many others is the way they incorporate the local aspects into their analysis of the military buildup and the way it was proposed and the way it was protested and the reasons why it has stalled and sputtered in terms of happening. I have written about this extensively on my blog and in my Marianas Variety column.

The way some people talk about the buildup and how if only we hadn't protested so much, and if only we had appeared more appreciative and not listened to that crazy minority, then so many of our problems right now would be solved and we'd be so much happier. This sounds like so many family stories about the one chance that they had. That piece of land they sold. That opportunity they didn't take. These personal counterfactuals always haunt us, but they are rarely true. It is true things could have been different, but how does your obsessiveness over that missed opportunity prevent you from recognizing the reality around you? Or dealing with it? How do these lamentations over how Guam shouldn't have been against the buildup or was never really against the buildup prevent people today from seeing things as they are, and instead trap them in a ridiculous fantasy where they feel like they should take responsibility for mistakes that don't really exist?

That may have been incredibly abstract, but this is the nature of the fantasy. It is akin to the way that people on Guam blamed Angel Santos and Nasion Chamoru for "chasing away" the US Navy and leading them to downsize and close NAS in central Guam. This belief has very little to do with the historical reality, but it gave people something to think about and talk about, that they felt was real in a visceral way, it was just unfortunately a massive waste of time if you were actually trying to understand why the bases were closed. The same goes for the military buildup. In a colonial situation it is natural to see the stain of negativity, the source of societal breakdown as always originating in a local context. We are predisposed to blaming ourselves for things, even if the truth is spitting in our face and showing us otherwise.

Here are some points to consider when discussing the military buildup and its local aspects. If someone is attempting to circumvent these points then they are not accepting the truth of things, plain and simple. 

1. The breakdowns or "hold up" in terms of the military buildup have little or nothing to do with what people on Guam feel or want. They are all related to problems elsewhere. Even if the island had offered lap dances to every Marine that was supposed to be transferred, the breakdown in the process still would have happened because the ultimate decisions are made based on factors of which Guam is a minute part, just simply territory that can be utilized.

2. This is a problem in and of itself, and one reason people began to become critical about the buildup. How could you support something so massive happening to the island and we not having any real say or power in the process?

3. Whether people support or the buildup or not is irrelevant in terms of whether or not it is good for the island. These are seperate issues.

4. The majority of concerns and critiques that were raised by those questioning the buildup have been vindicated over and over again. Whether or not they are a majority or minority, the critics of the buildup were absolutely right. The buildup was unworkable and terribly planned. Proponents of the buildup attempted to pretend otherwise or that there was nothing to worry about. The critics said it wouldn't work and would cause problems and they have been right.


"Many await military relocation"
 by Karlo Dizon

The July 2012 Public Scoping Summary Report released for the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on the military relocation categorized the concerns of 355 individuals who attended the scoping meeting at the University of Guam field house.

Eighty-four of the comments were on preferred alternatives by the respective speakers. Fifty-six, comprising the second highest category, expressed dissatisfaction with the appropriation of land near Route 15, currently being occupied by a race track. These commenters indicated that street racing would increase should the race track be taken away, and 151 others expressed their reservations via e-mail or post.

In sum, roughly 500 individuals, or about 0.3 percent of our community of 180,000, felt compelled to attend the meeting or express their opinion despite widespread invitation by the Department of Defense. Of those solicited, 10 percent indicated recreational concerns.

The level of public participation at the scoping meeting reflects the recurring truth that, empirically speaking, the people of Guam have mostly been supportive of the relocation. The project has been held up because of the reservations of a vocal few.

With half the GDP per capita of the continental United States, Guam has long been burdened by lower quality of life compared to the mainland despite prices that are high in comparison. Most middle-class families across the island have viewed the relocation not with animosity but with curiosity because of its possibility of a break from the norm.

Primarily, many anticipated its promise of job creation and industrial growth.

Whether directly or not, the initial projected relocation of over 20,000 servicemen and their families -- an injection of 20,000 new middle- to upper-middle-class consumers -- would have jump-started the expansion of new markets, from retail to finance. Although concerns over environmental harm and cultural preservation remain valid, those in the community witnessed firsthand instead companies setting up local branches of mainland corporations who would otherwise not have invested in an economy that has stagnated beyond tourism and customer service.

While news of tourist highs and unemployment lows in fiscal year 2012 are certainly welcome, growth nevertheless is still constrained within few sectors. Young people seeking professions beyond retail, service or GovGuam still must pursue opportunities elsewhere.

Rapid market expansion as expected by the initial relocation plans would have shaken up established economic bases of power. New demand would have demanded new supply, sparking new sources of competition that would have cracked the island's oligopolies, from health care to consumer retail. As in any other context, significant economic change would have lead to significant political change as well.

Despite the cuts, many in the community remain in silent anticipation of the relocation. We have always been an island proud of our military service and our tradition of patriotic loyalty to the United States.

Time will tell whether the recent election, encompassing the legislative to the congressional races, was a referendum on our leaders' approach to the relocation. But if Guam's varied history has proven anything, it is our people's capacity to embrace and eventually inculcate transformative change.

Karlo Dizon serves as committee director for the Committee on U.S. Military Relocation, Homeland Security, Veterans' Affairs and the Judiciary under Sen. Frank Aguon Jr. and was a candidate for delegate to Congress. He holds a B.A. in political science from Yale University and a master's in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.

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