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What Hank meant…

April 7, 2010

Andersen Air Force Base - Guam

“My fear is that the whole island will become so overly populated that it will tip over and capsize,” – Hank Johnson (D – Georgia) on the potential effects of a military buildup on Guam.

Somehow there were pundits who took Johnson’s words at face value.  Either they chose to ignore Johnson’s figurative intentions, or they were just too dense to recognize it.  Whatever the case, there were people who thought Johnson believed the island would be so populated that the weight would sink Guam to the bottom of the Pacific – the new neighbor to Atlantis.

But fear not, idiots, Guam is not going to sink.  And, contrary to what some may believe, Johnson doesn’t think so either.  So what did he mean?  

Guam High School

For starters, Guam doesn’t have the infrastructure to handle the influx of marines and their families.   For example, the Department of Education projects there to be almost 8,000 more students in Guam schools at the peak of the buildup creating a demand for 532 teachers.  Furthermore, the Department of Education has to fill an average of 300 teaching vacancies each year due to high turnover rates and an insufficient amount of certified teachers on the island.  This means that at the peak of the buildup, the DoE will have to fill over 800 teaching vacancies.  Obviously with an additional 8,000 students new schools will need to be built. According to the DoE, 9 schools will need to be built to accommodate the new students – estimated to cost over $134 million (nearly 70% of the total budget).  Recap: Guam doesn’t have the schools, teachers or money necessary to handle the projected 8,000 new students.

Me being a tourist on Guam

Of course it doesn’t end there.  Tourism, Guam’s second largest private industry and third largest private sector employer, will also be severely hurt.  The Guam Visitors Bureau predicts that the military buildup of Guam will reduce the number of tourist by 10% (80,000 visitors).  With each visitor having a total expenditure of about $1,472 the total economic loss equates to about $118 million.  With the dredging of Apra Harbor for military use could lead to a 10% reduction in marine sports, diving, and subsurface tours (not to mention the environmental concerns).  This means a $4.8 million loss to the island.    With many service employees leaving for higher paying, temporary construction jobs, the GVB believes this will “worsens an already under performing ‘service culture,’ drives up wages and exacerbates the downward spiral of fewer employees assigned to provide good customer service.” Recap: the GVB estimates a 10% reduction in the number of tourists resulting in an economic loss of over $118 million.  Losses in marine based tourism and the service industry will also be felt.  Obviously, losses to such a large industry will have overwhelmingly negative impacts on the island’s economy and overall well-being. (Right, Detroit?)

The horrid implications of the increased militarization of Guam don’t exclusively affect the economy and schools on the island.  Even more can be said about what will happen environmentally and culturally although I’ll save that for another day.  So while the island itself is not going to capsize, the economy, education system, environment and culture are in serious jeopardy of sinking.

Most of my information came from the Grey Papers on education and tourism released by We Are Guahan.  What do you think? As always, feel free to leave your comments.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. Scott permalink
    April 7, 2010 2:05 pm

    Yeah, yeah, I saw the video. There was not a sign of sarcasm or hint of smirk, or any other clue to allow us to decipher that he was anything but literal in his statement. He did not follow the statement with any discussion of economics. All of your pretty words to not disguise the fact that this man thought the island would turn over if too many people set foot on it. Idiot!

  2. Scott permalink
    April 7, 2010 2:07 pm

    Yeah, yeah, I saw the video. There was not a sign of sarcasm or hint of smirk, or any other clue to allow us to decipher that he was anything but literal in his statement. He did not follow the statement with any discussion of economics. All of your pretty words to not disguise the fact that this man thought the island would turn over if too many people set foot on it. Sugar coat it if you like.

  3. April 7, 2010 2:22 pm

    What more hint do you need other than the fact that he said the island would tip over? Anyone beyond the age of 13 knows you can’t tip an island over because, well you know, IT’S NOT FLOATING. It’s not like a boat on water. Maybe I’m wrong in assuming that everyone knows that, but a person with multiple degrees knows that. It was hyperbole to prove a point, not a literal assumption.

  4. Cutty permalink
    April 7, 2010 2:48 pm

    Scott, do you really think that a United States elected congressman really believes that an island could tip over? If you think he was being serious then you’re really insulting the people who voted him in. And what specific “pretty words” are you referring to???

  5. Will permalink
    April 8, 2010 6:16 pm

    After watching the clip and seeing Hank Johnson take 2 full minutes to describe the dimensions of Guam, fail to figure out how to calculate or even estimate its total area (length x width anyone? Heck, even pi*radius^2 if he wanted to get fancy…) he then makes the infamous statement about the island tipping over with the exact same tone as his previous blabberings. I hope to God he is joking but even if he is, what an idiotic way to make his argument.

    How can you honestly say that the military base will hurt the Guam economy? This sounds like a gigantic stimulus to the local workforce. Not only will the base need to be built, but more schools as well. Who do you think will build these things? Who do you think will work at the schools and base? Where do you think the 8,000 family members of the solders will go and spend their money?

    Basically you are saying you would rather take a small hit in tourism (how this base will decrease tourism in the 1st place is beyond me) for almost 10,000 permanent residents who will most definitely have higher median incomes than the locals and even more expendable income. You think the U.S. military is going to build a huge base and not worry about the infrastructure? This whole thing is going to dump millions and millions into Guam, how is this a bad thing?

  6. April 8, 2010 7:27 pm

    Thanks for reading Will. Your points are well taken. So a few reasons why tourism would be hurt:
    1) Guam’s tourism appeal is largely cultural. 80% of Guam’s tourists are from Japan and it is extensively branded as a get away from a hectic Japanese lifestyle. So relocating some 8,000 military men & women and their families will change that image.
    2) As I mentioned – 40% of tourists participate in some sort of aquatic activities. The dredging of Apra Harbor and closures and new restricted uses is estimated to reduce these activities by 10%. These numbers are presented by the Guam Visitors Bureau. Granted, I’m not sure how they calculated these numbers, but the GVB’s business to attract tourists to the island, so it would be in their best interest to bring people to the island.

    Of course, family and friends will visit the new military men & women, but not nearly to the same degree as the Japanese visit. That’s just a fact of proximity and price. It would also help to know the layout of Guam, and to be honest I was surprised that they only accounted for 80%. I thought it would be closer to 95%.

    Of course there will be a need for construction workers. Of course there will need to be more teachers, but it’s a limited workforce. I’m not sure more people will be employed. I think maybe just replaced – for lack of a better term.

    By the way, could your argument work for healthcare?

  7. Scott permalink
    April 8, 2010 7:52 pm

    The real question if if the congressman really thought the island would tip over. Watch the video – preceding the comment he talks about the dimensions of the island, also like a very, very confused man. Nothing in his demeanor or body language indicates that he is anything but serious. When he was answered in a manner that indicated he was being taken literally, he did not correct the situation, but started talking about how overcrowding the island would affect the coral reef (possibly when the island capsizes? Of course that is what he meant!). The “pretty words” I mentioned was the well-written long excuse that this article was for Johnson.
    I wasn’t trying to insult the people that voted him in. I am sure they had no way of knowing that Johnson thought islands could capsize, as I doubt that was brought up during the election.
    Again, WATCH THE VIDEO. Does he literally mean that the island will turn over? I’ll let you decide (but the answer is yes). Very funny, but very sad. We pay this guy a lot of money.

  8. April 8, 2010 8:42 pm

    No matter if he thinks this is true or not, it is not really the point. (Although the title of this post and some of the arguments I make for Johnson may say the contrary. But my post isn’t about whether or not Johnson believes an island can capsize, but why a military buildup is bad for Guam.) The argument isn’t if he really believes an island can capsize, the argument is whether a military buildup would be good or bad for Guam. For me the answer is no as do legislatures on Guam. To fight over whether or not Hank Johnson believes an island can capsize is a distraction from the real issue here.

  9. Josh permalink
    April 8, 2010 8:58 pm

    Guys, listen to what he says. He is concerned about the environmental impact. Yes, he said he is concerned it might tip over. But, the point he is trying to make is that he is worried about what will happen to the environment of the island, which is one of the greatest identities of the island. Destroying its environment would essentially destroy its identity. That is what he is concerned about. His saying the island would tip over was not to be interpreted literally.


    • Damon permalink
      April 8, 2010 11:02 pm

      Hafa Adai. I think you make your point well, Justin. I know you would agree that Hank ain’t the sharpest knife, even in a drawer of dull knifes, and that he may or may not be serious (or even sober, which is my bet); but you also know that this is not the real issue. It ain’t what matters. Most of your post is not about good ol’ Hank. The real issues are many: but the big one is the basing itself.

      The basing has been very controversial in Guam. Families are split, and tensions have been high. People need jobs, and many are patriotic (and disproportionately veterans), but people also know what they are in for. One third of the Island is already in military hands, which makes it one of the most militarized places on earth. It will be an instant target in any war, just as it was in 1941, when Chamorros knew better than any others–bar Filipinos–the price that had to be paid by those ruled by America. Most–especially the women of Guam–know that the basing will have severe social and cultural costs.

      Official estimates are that the rebasing on Guam will bring at least 60,000 people to Guam (some official estimates range up to 80,000). In this clip the Admiral is only referring to personnel and dependents when, as anyone who pays attention knows, most of the servicing of the military and especially base facilities is privatized. In Guam this is through corporations such as KBR and Raytheon which means that while many jobs will go to locals, the prize jobs, the high paying ones, rarely will. (This is the same pattern as with corporate tourism).

      Think about this: 60,000+ moving to an island with, at present, only 170,000. Add to this the nature of bases, and base culture. One of the stark realities of military bases in a society like Guam, or many other places, is that they are devoutly and purposefully segregationist. It is their nature, and their purpose. Bases have fences and are built to keep people out: we all understand that. But life inside and out are very, very different: different laws, privileges and resources. Inside the wire goods have set prices, electricity is cheap, water is clean, schools are good, everybody gets health care (‘socialized medicine’, I believe it is called sometimes). Outside the base, goods are expensive, health care spotty, education underfunded (and you can bet KBR engineers won’t send their kids to Guam local), electricity and gas overpriced, and things come and go; and, to state the obvious, the soldiers are not obedient and disciplined, but all too often–though by no means always–drunk, horny and on the prowl.

      If you know _why_ the base is being shifted to Guam the point should be crystal clear. The rebasing and base-building is directly due to the closing down of Okinawa as a U.S. base. This is due to decades long protests by Okinawans at the military basing there. The U.S. bases in Okinawa led to longstanding difficulties for Okinawans, and between them and the Japanese government, and between the Japanese and U.S. governments. The lightning rods, but only part of the problem, were crimes by U.S. military personnel (Chalmers Johnson calculated 2 sex crimes leading to court martial per month by U.S. military personnel on Okinawa. Per month.) Honestly, how would you feel in this situation, whether in Guam or Okinawa? People made their choices, even though they were not easy.

      You’re right, Justin, that another, and for you and I, compelling, and critical dimension to this is that Chamorros are already less than 40% of the population of Guam. A plurality in their own land. And they are now looking down a further swamping. Sorry, but Hank just ain’t the issue.

  10. Will permalink
    April 8, 2010 10:24 pm

    The guy spends a minute and a half to describe the dimensions of the fricken island, and then asks the general what an estimate of the total area of Guam is.

    Josh, lets say I describe an object to a 6th grader that is 10 meters wide at its widest point and 20 meters long, and then I ask the 6th grader to estimate the area of the object, how do you think he would fare? I would assume better than this sorry excuse for an elected official. This is the reason why I wouldn’t put believing that an island could tip over past this guy.

    Justin, you make some very good points that I didn’t think about, but I have a hard time believing a large military base would deter the Japanese form visiting the island. I’m sure the same argument was made about the military bases in Hawaii, when the fact of the matter is that people are going to visit a beautiful tropical island regardless if there is a military base there. I have been golfing in Fort Shafter which is located in Honolulu, these bases are very isolated but I guess I must defer to the tourism bureau of Guam since they are the experts.

    I have no idea how this relates to health care at all, that is another massive topic all to itself. I think you are trying to say that the healthcare bill will create jobs or something like that when actually all it does is create another massive entitlement that we can’t pay for while at the same time decreasing the quality of care for 270 million Americans. You also never addressed my question I posed to you in our previous facebook argument. Can you name a major government program that you think is financially solvent and provides a quality service?

    When Medicare was passed in 1965, it was passed on the belief that it would cost $700 million, the ACTUAL cost of the program in 1966 was $4.1 billion (7 times more). We spent $599 BILLION in 2008.

    The new health care program will cost $1 trillion according to the CBO, how much do you think it will actually cost? $5 trillion? $50 trillion? At what point does bankrupting the country outweigh social entitlement programs?

  11. Scott permalink
    April 9, 2010 12:08 am

    The real issue here IS, as your article is titled, what this guy meant. What is concerning about the statement, and the reason that it is an internet sensation, is that you can tell the guy is not using sarcasm. If he were just being sarcastic, we would have never heard of the incident. It’s because millions of people out there can tell that this guy is an idiot, was drunk, or is suffering from a mental ailment of some kind that we are even having this discussion.

    So are we supposed to think that he said one thing, but then tried to do a zig-zag out of the way when it was brought to light how ridiculous the statements were?

    “No matter if he thinks this is true or not, it is not really the point. (Although the title of this post and some of the arguments I make for Johnson may say the contrary…”

    – Exactly.

    • April 9, 2010 8:15 am

      Scott you still aren’t getting the point here. This blog is about overlap of the Pacific and America. This post is about what a military buildup in Guam means for the people of Guam, the economy of Guam, etc. I just used the Hank Johnson incident as a sort of primer. I appreciate you reading and I definitely appreciate your comments, but you are missing the point.

      Well said and thanks Damon. I was going to expand on this “drunk, horny, and on the prowl” mentality, but decided not to. I remember when I was hanging out in Tumon. A Navy ship had dry docked and it was the first time these men and women had been off the ship in months. It was crazy. It was dirty, there were fights everywhere, and as a tourist it was quite intimidating. This isn’t actually a critique on service men & women. I understand how this happens, but it happens.

      Yeah Will, I asked rhetorically. I understand they are two completely different topics. I was just being cheeky. By the way, I’m extremely happy with my University of Michigan education. 😉

  12. Scott permalink
    April 10, 2010 10:53 am

    I got the point, and as I said it is well written. However, I don’t believe that this is What Hank Meant, so that idea is misleading.

    “Somehow there were pundits who took Johnson’s words at face value. Either they chose to ignore Johnson’s figurative intentions, or they were just too dense to recognize it. Whatever the case, there were people who thought Johnson believed the island would be so populated that the weight would sink Guam to the bottom of the Pacific – the new neighbor to Atlantis.

    But fear not, idiots, Guam is not going to sink. And, contrary to what some may believe, Johnson doesn’t think so either. So what did he mean? ”

    So in this section you actually defend Johnson and call others that suggest (as I do) that he was serious “idiots” and “dense”. So I thought I would reply. I will say again that if you watch the footage believe anything other than that this man was serious you should be on some sort of medication or already are. That’s why it’s all over the place, because it’s obvious.

  13. April 10, 2010 11:16 am

    I know what I wrote, and admittedly it may have distracted from the real argument. But that’s exactly what it is: a distraction. But why can’t you get past the humor or horror of what you perceive to be stupidity and focus on the issue at hand? I wanted to focus on the real issue and used Johnson as a segue.

  14. Scott permalink
    April 10, 2010 11:21 am

    I can, it’s just fun to yank chains from time to time. I do admire your ability to admit that your writing may have distracted – I was purposefully trying to start a heated debate, but you have remained calm and collected and have tried to correct yourself and direct me back into the direction you meant for your reader to go. Bravo!
    As far as the article, I never thought about the school system. I am sure that there will be lots of new money floating into the government, but it will take a while to reach the schools, and the students will be there right away. That will be a struggle on the budget, no doubt.

    • April 10, 2010 11:25 am

      Well obviously it did distract. I don’t really care if Hank Johnson is an idiot or not. In fact it was a great way for me to start a dialog, but I have no stake in his being an idiot or not. I have a stake on what happens to Guam. I care much more about what happens to Guam. I have family and other interests there.

  15. May 16, 2010 8:35 am

    Wow, what a post!!

    Jg my heart goes out to you and your families, because I fear your beautiful islands identity and ecology will be ruined by the military machine, you may be compensated financially but it’s of little consolation.

    Damon is also absolutely spot on, exactly where the focus of this blog should be!

    Unfortunately some people like Scott, get caught up in the tabloid stuff. Scott’s amazing statement ” it’s just fun to yank chains from time to time” says it all really, you showed amazing grace and dignity in the face of such ignorance, sorry Scott but you’re a plum!!

    Respect and Peace!

  16. Scott permalink
    May 16, 2010 12:35 pm

    Adam, the point was that the article’s title was misleading in the assumption that Hank meant something else other than the island would sink with a bunch of new people on it. The fact that I believe this is not based on tabloids, but the actual film footage of the man saying this with total conviction, and not wavering from it once confronted – in fact, he described how the tipping of the island might endanger the local coral reef. That is the true ignorance of the title of the otherwise well-written article. By the way, you people crack me up when calling someone else ignorant and then acting all nice about it.


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