Friday, August 20, 2010

Cross roads or cross hairs: either way, nothing will stay the same

It is not accident that Magellan "discovered" Guam. Nor was it skill or even dumb luck. It was the natural winds and currents that swept him and his decimated crew up to the beaches of Tumon Bay back in 1521, almost 30 years after Columbus "discovered" America.

Like as not, it was similar natural events, and the press of mankind ever onward, that washed ashore the first Austronesian forebears of Pacific Oceania to Guam almost 4,000 years ago, a thousand or more years before the Hawaiians and Tahitians and Maoris.

It is Guam's natural resources of high ground, fresh water, abundant fruit and fish, and, most importantly, its natural strategic cross roads of winds and currents between the Pacific Southern and Northern Hemispheres that has attracted mankind from first contact.

Such was the paradise of Guam, and neighboring islands of what are now called the Marianas Islands, which form a lei of lands across the northern reaches of Micronesia, part of an archipelago that extends along an ocean ridge from the Moluccas of Indonesia to Japan, where it continues across other ridges and archipelagos to Russia and along to the Aleutians and North America.
(Click to enlarge; right click to open new window)

That lei of lands essentially forms a curtain, to the West of which lies the whole of the Asian Continent, and, to the East, all the lands of the Americas, Australia and Oceania.

It is quite literally the divide where East meets West.

It was the strategic nature of Guam that attracted Legaspi to come back to Guam in 1565 and plant the Spanish flag, declaring ownership of the island along with ownership of its bemused and befuddled occupants who thought they were its sovereign and independent owners, and who thereafter called the islands the Ladrones named after the Spanish thieves who stole it from them.

No, actually; Guambat made up that last part, because it was Magellan who gave the islands the moniker of Isles of Thieves ("Ladrones") when some of the curious "Indios" stole one of the technologically inferior Spanish landing boats and other items of rope and steel. Guambat supposes it takes a thief to know one.

It was the strategic nature of Guam that persuaded the US to take it as a spoils of the Spanish-American War, along with its befuddled if not bemused occupants who still labored under the conception, despite three and a half centuries of Spanish Catholic rule, that this land was their land from Talafofo to Ritidian, even though the US lacked sufficient confidence it itself to take the rest of Micronesia, thereby allowing the Spanish to sell said rest of Micronesia to the Germans, along with the now totally confused occupants who had for centuries considered it to be theirs, and knew how to sail to Guam and elsewhere in the Pacific in little outriggers on purpose.

It was the strategic nature of Guam that compelled Japan to drop bombs on Hawaii but the next day drop troops on Guam to occupy it for their own purposes, declaring it the property of the Emperor, along with the occupants who had long ago lost whatever bemusement befuddlement they might have entertained, to be replaced with abusement and beheadedness.

It was the strategic nature of Guam that drove the US back to the beaches of Guam to dislodge the Japanese from that strategic part of the world, to the joy and relief of the occupants who figured that at last they would be returned to their possession of the lands they considered their own and who will, someday, be given compensation for all the land the US took in retaking the land they took.

Which is a long way of saying that this little cross roads of the Pacific has, since the arrival of massive naval, air and other military strengths, become the cross hairs of the mighty and mightier when it suits them. And still the occupants sit here with the detached thought that it is still theirs and one day their ancient chiefs will arise and reclaim the hotels and military bases, Chamorro will be spoken on all tongues, and peace and paradise will once again reign over the island.

Guambat is dubious. No other strategic spot on the planet has ever turned back the clock thusly. Permanent residents permanently reside along with the permanent if transitory outsiders, turning both into outsiders in their own lands.

Guambat is hopeful, though, that Guam will not be another Afghanistan or Yugoslavia. Guamanians have, on the whole, accepted the idea of becoming a permanent part of the American Body Politic, and hope that one day the American Body Politic will accept them as political equals and not colonial relics or appendages.

Guambat is sadly aware that Guam will forever be, as long as land and oceans have strategic value, in harm's way of superior forces with ulterior purposes, but hopes that Guamanians will nevertheless be able to leverage a bit of material worth and be recognized for their patriotic integrity, and unique cultural contributions, by formal and equal inclusion in the American Family.

Which seems to have led Guambat down a rhetorical path without a seque to the main topic he had in mind when he started this post, which is about how the military in recent months is being seen as a boon to many US communities who would otherwise be hard pressed by the pressing economic doldrums.

Doldrums, by the way, are those barely-there winds that fail to push a sailing ship along and accounted for the loss of the lives of a significant part of Magellan's crew due to starvation, lack of water and exhaustion after he rounded Tierra Del Fuego and fell into the doldrums on his way to Guam.

Guam is about to have a simply explosive growth of military presence in the next decade, including a gold-rush population boom. It is a daunting reality, but maybe there will be a bit of accommodation taken in these stories.

Rising pay, benefits drive growth in military towns
Rapidly rising pay and benefits in the armed forces have lifted many military towns into the ranks of the nation's most affluent communities, a USA TODAY analysis finds.

The hometown of the Marines' Camp Lejeune — Jacksonville, N.C. — soared to the nation's 32nd-highest income per person in 2009 among the 366 U.S. metropolitan areas, according to Bureau of Economic Analysis data. In 2000, it had ranked 287th.

The Jacksonville metropolitan area, with a population of 173,064, had the top income per person of any North Carolina community in 2009. In 2000, it ranked 13th of 14 metro areas in the state.

The USA TODAY analysis finds that 16 of the 20 metro areas rising the fastest in the per-capita income rankings since 2000 had military bases or one nearby.

Soldiers, sailors and Marines received average compensation of $122,263 per person in 2009, up from $58,545 in 2000. After adjusting for inflation, military compensation rose 84% from 2000 through 2009. By contrast, compensation grew 37% for federal civilian workers and 9% for private sector employees during that time, the BEA reports.

"It's booming here," says Mona Patrick, president of the Jacksonville-Onslow (N.C.) Chamber of Commerce. Construction is robust, she says. Extended-stay hotels are full of military contractors.

The Marines have added 10,000 active-duty personnel at Camp Lejeune since 2000 for a total of 48,000, plus 5,000 civilian employees.

Places without links to the military were the decade's biggest losers

NC military cities top others in average income
Steady paychecks and a growing flow of Pentagon dollars pushed average pay in North Carolina's two largest military communities beyond bigger metro areas like Charlotte and Raleigh.

The military dollars have powered civilian businesses, said Kristie Meave, spokeswoman for the Fayetteville-Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce.

"People are using that income to pay for everyday goods, such as groceries, to eat out," Meave said. "They're also buying luxury items with this money, which keeps our retail industry doing very well."

Federal figures showed seven of the country's top ten metro areas for greatest growth in personal incomes were powered by military paychecks. Besides Jacksonville and Fayetteville, the military towns that saw rising household revenues were Manhattan, Kan.; Elizabethtown, Ky.; Lawton, Okla.; Clarksville, Tenn.; and Killeen, Texas.

County income growth near top in nation
Personal income data released Monday provide strong evidence that the Fort Knox Army post has sheltered Hardin County from the Great Recession.

Total annual income in the Elizabethtown Metropolitan Statistical Area increased last year by 5.2 percent — the fourth largest growth out of the 366 MSAs in the United States.

“That’s huge,” OneKnox Executive Director Brad Richardson said.

While most of the nation’s income dropped last year, areas near military installations fared well. The Base Realignment and Closure initiative provided Fort Knox with extra boost — not only in new jobs but also in major construction projects.

“The Defense Department is not in a recession,” said Mark Needham, special assistant to the governor for BRAC. “They’re fighting two wars.”

And what is important to note is that this is not a peculiarly American phenomenon, as this current article from the UK attests.

Report highlights importance of bases
FORRES and the rest of Moray are more economically dependent on the RAF than anywhere else in the United Kingdom, according to a new study.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) have released an executive summary of a draft report which details the economic and social importance of RAF Kinloss and Lossiemouth to the district.

As well as looking at issues directly connected to the bases, it also examines their wider impact on Moray.

It states that 15 percent of all NHS staff in Moray have spouses or partners connected to the bases. This rises to 25 percent in midwifery, district nursing and cardiology.

According to the summary, RAF Kinloss households represent 3.1 percent of Moray's total population. Broken down further, this is 3.4 percent of the of working age population and 5 percent of the district's under-16s. The report also states: "They also form a significant part of the school rolls in the Forres area."

The document also says the "relatively high wages of military personnel" have a significant impact on Moray's economy. It says the average gross military wage at RAF Kinloss is more than £36,000 per year, which it says is significantly higher than civilian wages in the district.

In total the air force supports 5,710 jobs, 16% of full-time employment in Moray, which bring in £158.3 million in wages every year.

"This work provides a factual base to ensure that those seeking to make or influence the decisions are well-informed," said Calum MacPherson, HIE's Area Manager for Moray. "Due to the scale and long term presence of the RAF in Moray the two bases are woven into the surrounding communities, not least because they support at least 16 per cent of local employment. The threat to the economy and population in the region is therefore more acute in Moray than other region in the UK."

Moray MSP Richard Lochhead meanwhile emphasised the social importance of the RAF bases to Moray. " The contribution of our local RAF bases in Moray goes much further than just employment, there are significant numbers of people employed in the health and social care sectors who are spouses or partners of serving personnel and the loss of those skills would be extremely detrimental," he said.

"The RAF forms an integral part of Moray life and the bond with the local community is extremely strong. That integration is something that it is hard to put a price one but which is impossible to replicate. The UK Government must recognise all of these factors which contribute to an effective armed forces and give their backing to Moray's bases."

Councillor George McIntyre (Fochabers Lhanbryde), Moray Council's convenor said: "This independent review confirms just how integral the RAF bases are in Moray.

"In addition to the economic input, the RAF personnel and their families play a vital role in the communities in the region with significant contributions to volunteer and charity work. It is vital the decision makers consider the economic and social consequences of the defence review."

And, while Guam is getting millions and millions of dollars to upgrade its port, water, sewer, roads, hospital and schools, back on the Mainland, Spending on local projects plummets
States and local governments are slashing spending on schools, roads, offices and other construction projects so fast that even federal stimulus money hasn't filled in the gap.

Investment in infrastructure is on pace to drop almost 7% this year to $269 billion, according to a USA TODAY analysis of federal data. That would be the first decline in state and local construction spending since the Census Bureau started tracking in 1993.



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