Friday, February 29, 2008

Asking the wrong questions on the build-up

Marianas Variety, February 15, 2008

The military officials' Joint Guam Program Office and its contractor for the military build-up Overseas Environmental Impact Statement have sent out a set of questions that indicate just what they are looking for in fulfilling their responsibilities under the National Environmental Protection Agency.

While a number of their inquiries will yield some information on what people think the impact will be, and while they are looking for existing data (i.e. things the Government of Guam already knows), they show no evidence of having a sociological or social imagination or framing of the problem.

Here are just a few of the problems.

A great number of the questions are framed as if the goal, at best, were to understand how to get more money into the pockets of Guam businesses and get more labor access with the least conflict for military construction.

In other words, the questions are not "how will military spending, military construction, and military operations help or hurt each of the different kinds of people on Guam (different demographically and different in terms of vulnerability to impacts or likelihood of losing or making money or health or confidence in the future and the self)?"

Instead, the underlying questions and concerns are mostly those of the military itself and some of the more powerful business people. They include underlying questions like "how can we get enough people to do the building and who would cause the build-up the least trouble?" not, "how much will inequality grow during the build-up?"

Or, "how can we reduce 'racial conflict'? as we go about the military build-up?" not, "how bad is existing racism against people of Guam within the US military and the groups who will be brought in as labor, and is it likely to get worse or better?" The difference between "racial conflict" and "racism" of course, is the difference between acknowledging or denying that racism exists.

Section II includes a military frame or a "military definition of the situation" by focusing on military spending, not costs like road wear, use of local recreational facilities, and tax revenue, not tax losses.

The focus on high-paying, high profit construction jobs rather than low-paying retail or service jobs¡½the real long term jobs that would stay in Guam¡½also matches the military myopia and bias that Tec Inc. has taken on in this study.

There is no explicit attention to population growth as a problem in and of itself, or the many other social and health and environmental issues that last year's public meetings made them well aware of.

The final sign that this is not a social impact assessment is Item IX which says as much. Their goal is not to understand actual impacts but just list "Chamorro interests and concerns." This is flat out insulting.

The general question we should be asking then is: What is your falsifiable hypothesis about the social impact of the build-up?

And the final question is how much this for-profit corporation will make for this work; what kind of expertise do the people who come to do the work have in the required full range of social sciences; and, who pays their wage?

Can we rely on the military's JGPO to find out real answers for Guam and its people? How do we get this military contractor to make meaningful sense of their social-economic impact assessment as a part of this EIS/OEIS? As it is currently designed, it is quite outrageous.

Hope A. Cristobal

Former Senator, Guam Legislature