Amid North Korean nuclear threats, Guam gets protection

ImageFrom the Los Angeles Times:

The Pentagon said Wednesday that it was sending a mobile missile defense system to Guam as a “precautionary move,” as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said North Korea posed a “real and clear danger” to the U.S. military base on the western Pacific island, as well as to allies and other U.S. territory.

North Korea has named Guam and Hawaii as potential targets in bellicose statements in recent weeks, which have increased tension on the Korean peninsula and prompted a series of U.S. military moves aimed at beefing up the American presence in the region and reassuring allies that the United States will come to their aid in the event of an attack.

Despite the concern, North Korea has not demonstrated that its missiles have the range to hit Guam or Hawaii, much less the U.S. mainland. Nor is it known to have a nuclear warhead small enough to be carried on its missiles.

But a senior U.S. official said the decision to send the interceptors to Guam came because of growing concern that North Korea improved the range of its ballistic missiles, possibly giving them the ability to hit the island. He asked not to be identified because he was discussing sensitive intelligence assessments.

Asked about Guam last month, Undersecretary of Defense James Miller said the U.S. missile defense system “provides coverage of not just the continental United States, but all the United States.” But some analysts note that the U.S. military’s own maps show that Guam is not within the geographic reach of the ground-based interceptor.

Guam, in the Pacific between the Philippines and Hawaii, is home to Andersen Air Force Base and U.S. Naval Base Guam.

Defense officials said Guam was still covered by U.S. warships in the Pacific equipped to shoot down ballistic missiles. Sending the ground-based system to Guam beefs up the U.S. defense. The so-called THAAD system, which the Pentagon said would arrive in Guam “in coming weeks,” includes a truck-mounted launcher, interceptor missiles, a tracking radar and a fire-control computer system.


Mouse brigades planning parachute drop over Guam to fight snakes

guam_button_01This spring, the skies over Guam will be blanketed with legions of dead mice parachuting onto the island to combat an invasive snake species.

According to NPR, brown tree snakes have been causing a nuisance on Guam for over 60 years, when they were inadvertently transported to the island as stowaways on US ships, presumably from the continental United States. The snakes’ presence on Guam is decimating the island’s wildlife, and has killed most of the island’s bird species, according to Associated Press reporting.

The plan’s success is premised on the fact that brown tree snakes eat prey that they didn’t kill themselves. As such, dead, thumb-sized mice will be laced with acetaminophen, a primary ingredient in Tylenol, which, when ingested by the snakes, puts them into a coma and kills them.

According to National Geographic, the operation has been done before, perhaps most recently as 2010. Daniel Vice, assistant state director of U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services in Hawaii, Guam, and the Pacific Islands, says that the operation’s goal is to control and contain the snakes rather than eradicate them.

The ultimate objective here is to prevent the invasive species from making its way to Hawaii, where officials fear the snakes will wreak havoc not only on the state’s wildlife, but its tourism industry as well.

As such, the mouse drops will be concentrated near Andersen Air Force Base, where US military aircraft are based. Like the ships that brought the snakes to Guam in the first place, the US military aircraft could inadvertently transport the invasive species to other destinations such as Hawaii.

If Blanche Devereaux were a bird: 62-year-old Albatross has a baby

The Washington Post had a report yesterday that a 62-year-old Albatross on Midway Atoll produced a healthy chick that hatched a few days ago.

Wisdom’s feat makes her the oldest known bird to reproduce, beating the more aptly-named Grandma, who unfortunately hasn’t been seen in a few years and is presumed dead. Wisdom’s feat has all sorts of implications not only for scientists’ knowledge of the Albatross, but also provide new insights on the health of the oceans.

One interesting tidbit from the article reveals that Wisdom is a bit of a cougar who may also enjoy dancing. Per the Washington Post:

Albatrosses mate for life, suggesting that Wisdom probably had to find a new, younger mate maybe twice down the line. They work at a relationship, first by getting their groove on. “They dance together,” said Chandler Robbins, a retired senior scientist at USGS.

Although my vacation to Midway last summer was cancelled, stories like this make me even more determined to find a way to eventually make it there.

Hell, if a bird can have offspring at age 62, surely I can find a way to Midway.


NPR’s Morning Edition Airs “Puerto Rico: A Disenchanted Island” Series

NPR is airing a four-part special series on its morning program this week on Puerto Rico, titled “Puerto Rico: A Disenchanted Island” I’ve heard the first two on the drive into work this week and they are well worth a listen (or read if that’s your thing)

Part one of the series, which aired on Tuesday, looks at some of the reasons why Puerto Ricans are leaving the island for a life on the mainland.

Part two, which provocatively asks whether Puerto Rico is the “Greece of the Caribbean?” looks at Puerto Ricans’ motivations for staying put even as the island’s debt increases and the crime and unemployment rates inch upward.

Well, that’s embarassing: Belarus blasts lack of DC voting rights

Well, Belarus–global beacon of human rights and democratic rule–is out with its much awaited human rights report.

Unexpectedly, the District of Columbia plays a starring role. The report notes that “600 thousand of Washington’s residents are not entitled to elect their representatives to the Senate and the House of Representatives.”

Well, it’s hard to argue with the truth. How long will it be before statehood opponents begin to accuse pro-statehood advocates of colluding with Alexander Lukashenko, Europe’s only remaining dictator?

Well, if there’s a silver lining, it’s that the ridiculousness of those White House online petitions has been exposed, thanks to the efforts America-hating secessionists in Dixie. The report states:

In November, people in seven American federal states collected sufficient numbers of signatures necessary for a secession from the USA. The civil petitions have been posted on a White House website’s special section, where people can leave their submissions or join those posted earlier. To begin dealing with a petition, the White House needs to receive at least 25 thousand signatures in 30 days. Once this requirement is met, an official response will be published on the website.

The Texas’ petition gathered more than 125 thousand signatures. The petition points out that the US economic travails resulted from the Federal Government’s failure to reform fiscal policies. In addition to Texas, Louisiana, Florida, North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee have also collected the required numbers.

So far, the White House has not considered the civilian petitions, which can be regarded as violation of the right to self-determination.

Just to be clear, I’m sure the District of Columbia would be glad take replace any of those states as the 50th star on the flag.

Non-states inch closer to US Capitol’s Statuary Hall Collection

The District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the US Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands are one step closer to being represented in the US Capitol. Voting-rights advocates shouldn’t get their hopes up, however.

The US House of Representatives on Monday passed a bill that would allow the non-states to place one statue apiece in the US Capitol as part of the Statuary Hall Collection. According to the 1864 legislation that created the collection, the honor of placing statues in the Hall has is expressly reserved for the states themselves, which, however, are allowed to contribute two statues.

As with virtually all attempts to increase the non-states’ visibility in Congress, the statue issue has not been without controversy. In 2010, with the failed DC Voting Rights Act still a fresh memory, California Representative Dan Lungren (R) opposed District Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton’s (D) bill that would have placed two DC statues in the Capitol, suggesting the move was an attempt to confer “quasi-state status” on the city. The objection here, of course, was that adding two DC statues to the Statuary Hall collection would have given the city equal billing with the states, and therefore set the city on the path to full House voting rights, anathema to today’s Republican Party.

But Lungren isn’t firmly opposed to admitting statues from DC and the non-states into the collection outright; he only opposes conferring symbolic equality on the non-states by admitting their statues to the Capitol. After all, Lungren did introduce the bill that cleared the House today, noting on a previous occasion that statues are important to his constituents.

The House passed similar legislation to Lungren’s bill nearly two years ago, just before the dissolution of the 111th Congress in December 2010. But the Senate, not unexpectedly, let the matter die by not taking up the bill.

Should President Obama sign the bill into law after Senate passage–still an uncertainty–the non-states could move statues into Hall immediately. As far as I know, DC is the only non-state that has actual statues ready to deploy, and it looks like abolitionist Frederick Douglass would have the honor.

Douglass was chosen in 2006 after the city held a contest to select two historical figures to represent the city. The vote itself wasn’t without controversy, however, as the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities ultimately passed over jazz musician Duke Ellington–runner-up to Douglass in the vote–and instead commissioned a statue of French architect and Revolutionary War veteran Pierre L’Enfant, who in the early 1790’s drafted the initial plans for the design of the District of Columbia (Ellington, however, was later immortalized on the District’s quarter as part of the State Quarter program).

But with only one statue allowed under the legislation passed by the House, Douglass is no doubt the wiser choice. His efforts to end slavery in the United States aside, Douglass actually meets the Statuary Hall requirements that all persons immortalized be former citizens of the localities they represent. I could be wrong, but I don’t think L’Enfant ever actually resided in the District of Columbia–he was kicked off the DC planning project  after only a few months after it began and left what would become the District well before the city was incorporated in 1801. L’Enfant died penniless in 1825 on a farm outside the city in Chilium, Maryland.

If anyone knows what statues Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the US Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands would contribute to the collection, please let me know!

Republicans, media flip out over Democrats’ stance on Israeli capital, ignore own capital

Anyone paying even passing attention to the Democratic National Convention this week no doubt heard about the Republican Party losing its collective mind over the Democrats’ failure to mention Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in its party platform. The omission was seen as a departure from the Democrats’ traditional stance, as the party since 1992 had included language recognition of Jerusalem in its platform. Officially, the US government still recognizes Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital, where the US Embassy is located.

The outcry, amplified by the national media, was so great that the party buckled and at President Obama’s urging amended the platform to include language on Jerusalem. Before this could be done, however, cable news viewers were treated to some delegate drama reminiscent of the days when conventions were less predictable than the heavily scripted affairs they are today.

Meanwhile, the news media made nary a mention of both party’s collective yawn when it came to addressing the antiquated status of their own country’s capital, the District of Columbia. As noted on this blog, the Republicans defeated an attempt by the DC GOP to include language in the party platform advocating home rule and Congressional voting rights for the city, while the Democrats for the third time since 2000 left support for DC statehood out of the platform. DC news outlets covered the issue pretty well, but the national media mostly ignored it.

The obscene amount of attention devoted to this faux controversy must have been disheartening to the DC Democrats, who had descended on Charlotte intent on making the country (and even their own party) care about the District’s plight as a city beholden to the whims of Congress.

DC Mayor Vince Gray, who earlier in the week had to miss speaking at a DC budget autonomy rally due to a police cordon in downtown Charlotte, finally had a chance to speak directly to the country about DC when he cast District’s votes for President Obama during the DNC roll call vote, decrying taxation without representation as he did so. But by the time Gray made his appeal, it was midnight on the east coast, the networks had tuned out, and most people who hadn’t already been watching Honey Boo Boo on TLC earlier in the evening probably were by that time catching it on their DVR’s or had already gone to bed.

The lack of attention given to DC during the conventions is even more surprising given the fact that the issues DC leaders habitually rail against–unfair taxation, unencumbered federal control over local affairs–are issues that have had national resonance ever since the Republicans decided to begin disliking debt and federal spending.

Well, now that the conventions are over, at least the country can rest assured that both major political parties are on the record as supporting Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Unfortunately, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans seem willing to invest half as much effort in ensuring that the capital of their own country is afforded the status it deserves.

Fortunately for them, the rest of the country doesn’t seem to care.

Non-States Roll Call, part II – the Democratic National Convention

In a follow up to our post on how the non-states branded themselves at the Republican National Convention in Tampa last week, we take a look at how Democratic delegates from the non-states introduced themselves during the Roll Call vote in Charlotte.

American Samoa: Geography was front and center for Democrats and Republicans from America’s southernmost territory, as Democratic delegates last night echoed their Republican peers by branding themselves as “the only part of the United States south of the equator” In a bit of progressive flair, the American Samoan Democrats pointed out that the territory is “the land of our nation’s cleanest air.”

District of Columbia: DC Mayor Vincent Gray’s impassioned speech harkened back to the nation’s founding in resistance to taxation without representation, and could have been lifted right out of a Republican speechwriter’s notebook. Before casting the District’s votes for President Obama, Mayor Gray asked all Americans to help “bring justice and equality to the District of Columbia.” Gray’s appeal for DC voting rights stood in stark contrast to the DC Republicans’ roll call speech in Tampa. After their suggested amendment to the GOP platform calling for DC voting rights and home rule were roundly rejected by the Republican platform committee, the DC GOP meekly stated they were excited to cast their votes for candidate Mitt Romney.

Guam: Guam voiced support for President Obama’s plans for a military buildup in Guam that is “done right.” The military’s increased presence in Guam is part of the larger US strategy to rebalance military forces to the Asia-Pacific region. After lauding Obama’s support for medicare and working families, the Guam delegation voiced support for Obama’s belief in the territory’s “right to self-determination.”

Northern Mariana Islands: No delegation present, as the territory did not hold a Democratic Party primary or caucus.

Puerto Rico: Unlike the Republican Puerto Rican delegates, the Democrats made no reference to statehood. Instead, the territory’s Democrats gave a shout out to the Supreme Court’s first Latina justice, Sonia Sotomayor, who is of Puerto Rican descent and is an Obama appointee. The Delegation called Obama a “good amigo” of the people of Puerto Rico.

US Virgin Islands: In front of a nearly-empty convention hall at 12:48 AM Eastern Time, US Virgin Islands Democratic Party Chair Emmett Hansen, on behalf of the “proud Caribbean Americans” of the US Virgin Islands (USVI), called on the country to support the territory’s aspirations to one day cast votes for president in the general election. Currenly, the District of Columbia is the only non-state to have this distinction. Hansen wrapped up his short speech with a bit of a tourist pitch, casting the territory’s 12 votes from “the hills and windmills of St. Croix, the wonderful shopping in St. Thomas, and the beautiful jewel St. John.”

American Samoa, American football

The 2012 NFL season got underway Wednesday night when the Dallas Cowboys defeated the New York Giants 24 to 17 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

One presence that will be greatly missed this season is former linebacker Junior Seau. Fans were shocked a few months ago when Seau, a 12-time Pro Bowl selection, was found dead in his California home. A medical examiner’s report ruled that he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.

Aside from being one of the greatest linebackers to ever play the game, Seau was one of professional sports’ most famous athletes of American Samoan descent. Although he wasn’t born in the distant American territory, he spent several years there as a kid before returning with his family to California to enter grade school. According to his player bio, he didn’t speak English until age seven.

His feats and outsized presence on the field, not to mention his charitable work off the field, were sources of pride for American Samoans both in the continental United States and in the South Pacific. Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, probably the league’s most well-known active player of American Samoan descent, described Seau as an inspiration to Samoan youth.

To many, Seau was proof that American Samoans could make it big in one of the mainland’s most popular sports. T.J. Taimatuia, a University of Hawaii sophomore linebacker, probably summed up the sentiment of other American Samoans with dreams of making it to the NCAA or going pro when he recently described football as a “meal ticket off the island.”

There’s a tendency in this country to view such aspirations as noble, but ultimately unrealistic. I think most people would cite Americans’ habit to glamorizing professional athletes as the root cause of such impractical dreams. After all, the odds are stacked against us. Only about 200 collegiate players ever make it to the NFL every season, and NCAA fans are no doubt familiar with the Home Depot add campaigns that remind us that the vast majority of NCAA athlethes go “pro” in something other than sports.

But, Taimatuia’s description of football as a meal ticket off the island has a little more credibility for American Samoans.

According to Wikipedia, about 30 of the NFL’s nearly 1,700 players were of American Samoan descent during the 2010 season. A 2002 ESPN article claimed that 200 American Samoans play Division I NCAA football, although that number has no doubt grown in the last decade.

Alone these numbers don’t mean much, but keep in mind that American Samoa’s population is, according to the 2010 Census, only about 55,000, or the size of a small American city. Some sources estimate that a boy born in American Samoa is 40 to 56 times more likely to play in the NFL than someone born on the mainland. And, although not all of these players were born and raised in American Samoa, the news media would take note if Terre Haute, Indiana—population 60,000—had such close ties to 30 active NFL players.

So how did this come about?

Like cricket in southeast Asia and the West Indies, or rugby in places like Australia and New Zealand, football owes its popularity in American Samoa to western colonization.

The American presence in what is today American Samoa dates back to the 1870’s, although the US government did not formally annex the territory until 1900. By 1940, a few American Samoans had made their way to the US mainland and found spots on college and professional team rosters. Players like Al Lolotai, Charles Ane, and Bob Apisa paved the way for people of American Samoan descent in the early days, but the sport’s popularity didn’t really explode in the territory until the late 1960’s, when government-controlled television widely introduced the sport.

Television itself debuted relatively late in the islands because for the first 60 years of US rule, American naval administrators mostly pursued a policy of non-interference in American Samoan’s traditional, centuries-old way of life. Save for the construction of roads and some basic public schools, the US government for decades made no widespread attempt to modernize the territory.

But with the advent of John F. Kennedy’s “New Frontier”—an effort to eradicate poverty and lift American living standards through an array of government spending programs—Washington altered its approach to American Samoa, and in 1961 the federal government launched a programmatic effort to modernize the islands’ economy and educational standards. Allegedly, after reading a Reader’s Digest article which detailed the territory’s poor economic state, President Kennedy tasked H. Rex Lee—a civil servant who had spent most of his career in the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs—with stimulating social and economic change in the territory.

A central element of Lee’s program was reforming the territory’s schools and education system, including by introducing educational television network that could be beamed into the territory’s classrooms. The network was inaugurated in October 1964, and according to a program list found in Wilbur Schramm’s academic work on the subject, by 1965, 25 minutes were devoted to “Physical Education Activities” every Monday morning.

The high schools that H. Rex Lee established were organized in 1968 into an athletic league, and, according to former Sports Illustrated executive editor Richard Johnston, the territory-wide TV station was used to broadcast football training films. In line with longstanding practice, Lee’s changes were introduced with an eye to preserving fa’a Samoa–or the traditional, Samoan way of life–an approach that allowed Samoans to accept Lee’s reforms as additions to American Samoan culture and not “substitutes for it,” according to Schramm.

Eni Faleomavaega, American Samoa’s delegate to the US House of Representatives, Congress, made this point in a 2002 ESPN interview, when he described contact sports like football as “inherent in the Samoan character.” In fact, Johnston says that in the sport’s early days, before the rules were fully understood, the enthusiasm and exuberance that the territory’s residents brought to the game produced sometimes ludicrous results, like the time when 21 players–from both teams–tackled the ballcarrier. Maybe Polynesia’s familiarity with and passion for rugby–which Faleomavaega described as Samoans’ first love–was to blame.

By the 1970’s, when commercial television became popular throughout the territory, professional football had found its way onto American Samoan television sets. Within a few years, the territory’s residents were cheering on players like Mosi Tatupu who had followed Al Lolotai to glory on the mainland.

When ESPN asked Junior Seau in 2002 why American Samoans are so disproportionately represented in football’s top ranks, he said he believed it was “tied to the work ethic within the home,” and “not taking anything for granted.”

Johnston’s SI article from the 1970’s records similar sentiment. Back then, Al Harrington, an American Samoan of Hawaii-Five-O fame who also played football at Stanford University, likened American Samoans’ drive to make it big in football to pursuing the American Dream.

“We think hard work and merit will pay off,” he told Johnston, adding that for American Samoans, “football and other sports have provided a way toward fulfillment of the dream.”

For this small, football-crazy American territory in the South Pacific, this holds true today, as American Samoans continue to make their way in the world by by merging fa’a Samoa with elements of mainland America.