Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Gard to challenge Kagen for WI-8

John Gard (R-unemployed) will be challenging Rep. Steve Kagen (D-WI) for the 8th Congressional district seat. Gard unsuccessfully ran against Kagen for the same seat two years ago when now-Ambassador Mark Green (R-Tanzania) unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Governor Jim Doyle.

From the Press-Gazette:

Former speaker of the state Assembly John Gard officially announced his plan to challenge Rep. Steve Kagen, D-Appleton, for the seat this fall, saying he offers a "clear contrast" with the freshman congressman.

Loser, winner. Unemployed, congressman. Yup, clear contrast.

Gard, now a resident of Suamico, officially announced his intention in Green Bay and Appleton on Sunday, although he has been raising money for a possible run for several months.

Promising fiscal order, Gard drew a distinction between the two by saying he would have "voted differently than Steven Kagen did" on a number of issues including immigration, tax relief and abortion.

If I woulda won, I'da voted like a Republican! See, you voted for a librul!!!11!

Actually, I regard Kagen as a rather nondescript, run-of-the-mill Democrat. Being the successful allergist (Dr. Millionaire, they called him) he is, I imagine his views are a bit more nuanced than he lets on, but then again, maybe not. It really could be that he holds the simplistic party-line views he espouses. It's clear to me that he's in a holding pattern right now for Sen. Herb Kohl to retire so he can run for the seat Kohl will be vacating, but then, I imagine that's Gard's ambition, as well. Could we see a Kagen/Gard match-up at the state level? If Gard can remain unemployed for two years and still have the resources to stage another congressional bid, then he apparently has no other ambitions than politics.

Still, at least Gard and Kagen are both better options than the insipid Chad Fradette, currently angling for a state senate seat (not that you could tell from his website; he hadn't updated it for two years, and now it appears that he only decided to update it well after he announced his state senate bid. Tip for Chad: have your shit together before you make the big announcement; that way you can roll it out all at once in a big show. You just look disorganized this way.)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Guam: An object lesson on the U.S.'s designs on Iraq

Rolling blackouts. Serious environmental issues. Resentment of an obtrusive U.S. military presence. An impotent "elected" government consisting of local oligarchs with no legal standing against the U.S. government. An infrastructure facing buy-out by outside investors. Am I describing Iraq? No, I'm describing the island territory of Guam.

The parallels between Iraq and Guam have recently become apparent to me. The glaring difference is the lack of organized resistance against the U.S. military's presence on Guam. The people here largely welcome us here, if begrudgingly at times, whereas in Iraq they were more inclined to shoot rockets at us on their way home from work.

(An aside: even the protesters here are friendly; the first time I saw a group of protesters outside the main gate on my way home from work, I waved at them, and they waved back. It's all good; we know that we're both pawns in this big game, so a healthy perspective on the big picture tends to diffuse any hard feelings which might exist. It's the people with delusions of self-determination who generally get all worked up about these things. Frankly, if anybody should understand the frustration of having their lives dictated to them by an over-reaching, seemingly omnipotent and impersonal bureaucracy, it's a member of the United States military. But I guess some people like being serfs; it's certainly easier than thinking.)

Here's an article from the Pacific Daily News:

The Defense Department has been considering a $1 billion road that would link Andersen and the Navy base on the other side of the island.

But the U.S. military buildup's draft master plan does not include the billion-dollar road.

Bordallo said military planners still are considering whether to build the Andersen-Navy roadway.

Retired Maj. Gen. David Bice, executive director of the Joint Guam Program Office, which oversees the buildup efforts on Guam for the Defense Department, said yesterday the proposed Defense Access Road is not off the radar screen, Bordallo said.

But the road, Bordallo said, "will be considered in the context of decisions yet to be made on housing, training, storage and maintenance areas."

The proposed Defense Access Road could be a helpful way to mitigate traffic with a new, north-south corridor, but the road will have a major environmental impact, too," she added.

You think? As of right now, the drive from Andersen to Big Navy takes nearly an hour during peak traffic times, and significantly less when the roads are clear. It's not abundantly clear whether this "Defense Access Road" would be open to the public or not; I'm betting not. If you look at the history of these major build-up plans, you'll see that GovGuam's role in this has not been "advise and consent", but rather, "Would you like fries with that?"

Shift to Iraq. Anybody who's been there and been briefed at all on the long-term plans for Iraq knows that the U.S. government has no aims on leaving. I think it would be unrealistic to expect any of our Presidential candidates to completely withdraw our troops out of Iraq (including my candidate of choice), mainly because the plans for Iraq are much like our plans for Guam: it is to become the central hub of all U.S. military activity in its part of the world.

When I was at Baghdad International Airport (BIAP), there was a big push to build up the base as a long-term presence. Sather AB was transitioning from tents to trailers. While I can't go into too much more detail than that, the larger push was to build up, not draw down. Let me be clear: from my observations on the ground, any talk about troop draw-downs are political theater. There was no talk of turning the bases over to the Iraqis at any point. Period. Those bases are for us.

Let's look at some of the other similarities. The government of Iraq is incapable of keeping the peace on its own. Indeed, that very inability is pointed to as the main reason we have to stay. Similarly, the incompetence of GovGuam is pointed to as a big reason why Guam needs to remain a U.S. territory, since clearly they'd be lost without us. I've gotten the impression that many of the locals believe it, too. That, in addition to the horrible treatment they received at the hands of the Japanese during WWII, is a big reason why so many are happy to have us here. But who taught GovGuam how to manage itself? The U.S. Similarly, the U.S. went into Iraq and disbanded all of its existing government infrastructure, even scattering its army to the winds to join on with various militias. Mistake? I don't think so. I think it had its desired intent: justifying our presence in the country by pointing both to its lack of an organized army and to the threat posed by the roving militias. And, of course, neither Iraq nor Guam have a reliable power grid.

Part of self-government depends not only on having people with the management skills necessary to run the government, but also the technical skills to maintain infrastructure. Indeed, it's a truism of any institution that the wrench-turners are and always will be more important than the bean-counters. While Guam does have a number of good technicians (the military bases couldn't run without them), there aren't nearly enough for the island to effectively run as a sovereign nation, or even as a state. Most of the employment opportunity on the island is either on the military bases or in various shops and bars around the island (such as the one I'm typing this blog from now). Just from looking around, there's a lot of wasted potential here, and it's clear to me that the U.S. has intentionally created a cycle of dependency here by never fully enabling the people to take care of themselves.

You want to put Guam on the path to self-government (we know the U.S. government doesn't, but let's just say for the sake of argument)? The first step is a major push to provide children with quality schools. The schools I've seen on island are a disgrace, and that's largely because they're managed by the money pit known as GovGuam. The Department of Education needs to step in and say, "Okay, this is how you run a school district. This is how you maintain a school." Build schools which are conducive to a quality education. Southern High School has been without full air conditioning for 480 days (yes, you read that correctly; nearly a year and four months). Can you imagine trying to pay attention in class in a tropical environment without A/C? It would be unthinkable back home, but it's come to be accepted as the status quo for GovGuam. But this is how the U.S. government wants it. They've even come to building schools on the bases rather than sending the children of military personnel to the local schools.

The next step is a major push for technical education not only in high school, but at the post-secondary level. Two years vocational programs should be offered free of charge to all high school graduates, and they should offer the type of training that would be offered at a technical college in the mainland U.S. I can't speak to the quality of the vocational training at Guam Community College, but based on the major infrastructure problems I see on the island, it's clear to me that GCC isn't adequate to the island's needs.

Meanwhile, individuals looking for a quality liberal arts education should not have to leave the island to find it. The University of Guam nearly lost its accreditation in 2002, and while it's made strides since then, more work will continue to be needed.

Of course, this is all common sense, and nobody needs me to point all of this out. I'm certainly no expert on Guam, having lived here less than two years. But my point is that these problems, and their solutions, are apparent even to somebody like me, who's been here all of 22 months (minus four spent in Iraq). There can only be one conclusion: the powers that be don't want Guam to stand on its own two feet -- neither the federal government, nor the local power brokers who have a vested interest in facing no meaningful challenge.

Far from being a well cared-for territory, what I see around me is poverty reminiscent of East St. Louis with all of the prime real estate being gobbled up either by the military or outside investors. Tumon Bay is hardly visible for all of the hotels which have lined up along side it. Simply put, the island does not belong to the islanders in any meaningful sense, and the only reason I can think of that there isn't more organized resistance to this state of affairs is the amount of crystal meth floating around. (I'm amazed there hasn't been more of a push to drug the population of Iraq; this would be the quickest way to shut down the insurgency. Or are they? See, and I thought it was just the troops we were drugging.)

Of course, the U.S. is a much-more entrenched power on Guam than it is in Iraq. The island is much more accustomed to colonial rule than Iraq, having been a Spanish colony for hundreds of years before the U.S. took over, whereas Iraq had been a sovereign (if emasculated following the Gulf War) nation for a while after shaking off British colonial rule. And, of course, Guam does not possess the means to stage a military resistance against the U.S., but they some are attempting to stage a civil resistance to their subordinate role through the United Nations, although it is doubtful that anything meaningful will come of that.

Rather, I would implore local activists to take advantage of the upcoming Guam caucuses to highlight their dubious political status to the rest of the nation, and to the two Democratic candidates vying for Guam's four pledged delegates. With the amount of press attention on every contest, Guam has a unique opportunity to grab some national press attention. Most Americans do not even know that Guam is part of the country, and I think a lot of people would be stricken by the inherent lack of fairness in this group of U.S. citizens not even having a vote in Congress or a say in selecting our President, despite the fact that many have fought in this President's war in Iraq.

I'll close by apologizing for the many digressions in this particular blog, but there were a number of issues I wished to highlight beyond similarities between Guam and Iraq. That particular topic is fairly self-explanatory, and I think it's clear that if you examine those similarities, you'll also start to see them popping up in other U.S. foreign endeavors: create a facade of democracy without helping the local government become self-sufficient and use that lack of self-sufficiency as an excuse to remain in place. In truth, the governments of Guam and Iraq will never become truly self-sufficient until Uncle Sam either helps toward that end or at least gets out of the way.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Change of direction on The Command Post.

Rather than focusing on national issues, the emphasis will be on local issues. Now for me, "local" is relative. For me, "local" could be any number of places I've spent a significant amount of time. Green Bay, where I grew up, or Guam, where I now live, but also St. Louis and South Dakota, where I've spent two and three years respectively, and also, on occasion, Iraq, since my life is now inescapably intertwined with that country.

Here's a taste of something Michael Lujan Bevacqua posted; much more at the link:

In 2005 and 2006, we appeared before the UN Special Political and Decolonization Committee, alerting the UN organ of these two frightening facts: 1) it was recently discovered that the U.S. Department of Interior purposefully killed a presidential directive handed down in 1975, which ordered that Guam be given a commonwealth status no less favorable than the one the U.S. was negotiating with the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands at that time; and 2) a campaign of the Guam Chamber of Commerce (primarily consisting of U.S. Statesiders) to privatize every one of Guam's public resources (the island's only water provider, only power provider, only local telephone provider, public schools, and its only port, on an island that imports 85-90% of its food and where private monopolies of public goods would truly make us captive to the forces of the market) is undermining our ancient indigenous civilization with violent speed. Eating us whole.

Not much has changed since we last were here in New York. Our power provider has been privatized, our telecommunications sold. Our only water provider and one port are under relentless attack. The meager, questionable victories we have had to stay this mass privatization are only the result of indigenous Chamoru grassroots activists who, on their own—with no financial, institutional, or strategic support—holding both their hands up, holding the line as best they can. At great personal cost.

Your Excellencies: Know this—the indigenous Chamoru people of Guam are neither informed nor unified around this military buildup despite dominant media representations. For all intents and purposes, there is no free press in Guam. Local media only makes noise of the re-occupation, not sense of it. The Pacific Daily News—the American subsidiary newspaper that dominates the discourse—has cut off the oxygen supply to indigenous resistance movement. Rather than debating this buildup's enormous sociopolitical, environmental and cultural consequences, it has framed the conversation around how best to ask the U.S. (politely) for de facto consideration of our concerns. Without appearing un-American.

We are not Americans. We are Chamorus. We are heirs to a matrilineal, indigenous civilization born two thousand years before Jesus. And we are being disappeared. Off your radar.

For the last three years, we have appeared before the UN Special Political and Decolonization Committee, alerting the UN organ of a campaign of the Guam Chamber of Commerce (primarily consisting of U.S. Statesiders) to privatize every one of Guam's public resources (our island's only water provider, only power provider, only local telephone provider, public schools, and its only port, on an island that imports 85-90% of its food and where private monopolies of public goods would truly make us captive to the forces of the market). This is undermining our ancient indigenous civilization with violent speed. Eating us whole.

Not much has changed since we last were here in New York. Our power provider has been privatized, our telecommunications sold. Our only water provider and one port are under relentless attack. The very small victories we have had to stop this mass privatization are only the result of indigenous Chamoru grassroots activists, fighting at great personal cost.

All this, and only two years until the end of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism. And no midterm review by the Special Committee on Decolonization. No designation of any expert to track Guam’s progress, or lack thereof, toward progressing off the UN list of Non-Self-Governing Territories. Not one UN visiting mission to Guam.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Going on vacation....

I won't be posting for a while. Life's going on the front burner. That is all.