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Two Big Disasters in Puerto Rico

President Donald Trump’s most strident critics seemed almost disappointed when two historic hurricanes battered Texas and Florida but things went about as well a one can expect. They well remembered how President George W. Bush, who they had also stridently criticized, had taken such a hit in polls numbers for all the things that went wrong after a hurricane battered New Orleans, but this time around Trump actually got a small bump up after the storms. Yet another hurricane has since battered Puerto Rico, though, and his critics are eagerly finding fault.
The hurricane brought winds that demolished thousands of buildings and rains that flooded most of the ones still standing with several feet of water, and it left the entire island and all of its three and half million inhabitants without electricity. Some of the hospitals and emergency personnel had generators and enough fuel to keep them functioning, but others didn’t, and an estimated 30 people died and hundreds of serious injuries were suffered and many thousands were left homeless and pretty much everyone was in need of food and potable water. Even the best of efforts wouldn’t be sufficient to the challenge, but there are arguments that this time around the efforts haven’t been the best.
The federal government began shipping supplies and rescue workers to the island just behind the storm, and Trump has boasted of the praise he’s received from the Puerto Rican governor, but the mayor of San Juan has tearfully complained it was insufficient and all the cable news networks have somehow found power to broadcast proof of the claim. Some of the deeper-digging stories tell of delays in getting much needed shipments to the island due to regulations that could be temporarily waived by executive order, such as the little-known Jones Act that prohibits foreign-flagged ships from carrying goods between United States ports, and given Trump’s enthusiasm for de-regulating anything he can that seems an oversight. According to news reports Trump is mulling signing those orders, and the military’s top hospital ship and lot more help is currently heading Puerto Rico’s way, and Trump is promising a visit to the island, but Trump’s critics will be able to note that came after a lot of bipartisan criticism and a Hillary Clinton “tweet” about sending the U.S.S. Comfort.
It didn’t help that Trump was “tweeting” five times as many “tweets” about National Football League players and the national anthem than he did about Puerto Rico, and that on one of those occasions he griped about Puerto Rico’s “broken infrastructure & massive debt,” and in another also made mention of the territorial government’s debt “to Wall Street banks which, sadly, must be dealt with,” and although he added that “Food, water and medical are top priorities — and doing well,” that did not play well in Puerto Rico. Trump bragged to the television cameras about the great reviews he was getting from the governor and other unnamed Puerto Ricans, but it only reminded the critics of Bush infamously saying “heckuva job, Brownie” to his soon-to-be-fired Federal Emergency Management Agency director.
This all came in the middle of yet another racial imbroglio that Trump has started up with the NFL and the National Basketball Association, too, so his critics are of course indignantly noting that the swarthy and Spanish-speaking population of Puerto Rico isn’t getting the same treatment as the slightly whiter and more English-speaking people of Florida and Texas. Many of the staunchest Trump supporters we know think of Puerto Ricans as the Sharks in “West Side Story,” and regard them as illegal immigrants with some convoluted legal loophole to be here, and Puerto Rico has no votes in the electoral college, so we have to admit there might be something to it.
Trump is quite right that Puerto Rico irresponsibly ran up an unsustainable debt, and did so without updating an electrical grid that would have been vulnerable to a much milder storm, and is generally almost as badly run as New Orleans and a hundred miles at sea to boot, but this hardly seems the right time to be making those arguments. The federal government has recently passed $20 trillion in debt on Trump’s watch, after all, and both Trump and his cabinet have also been profligate with the taxpayer’s dollar. Puerto Rico was enticed to borrow all that money when dollars started flowing in after the federal government briefly made it a sort of tax haven, was forced to close hospitals and schools and forestall infrastructure projects forbade it to declare bankruptcy on all that debt to Wall Street, and right now Trump shouldn’t be raising questions about he expects them to deal with it.
The good news is that massive shipments of aid and aid workers are on the way, federal dollars to get that power back on earlier than the expected six-month wait are being negotiated, that famous hospital ship is also on the way, and Trump seems to at last realize that he’s responding to an historic public relations disaster.

— Bud Norman

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Waiting for the Waters to Recide

America went twelve blissful years without a hurricane landing on its shores, but nature seems intent on making up for lost time lately, and the winds of two successive hurricanes have blown everything else out of the news. Last week Hurricane Harvey brought epic flooding to Houston, America’s fourth most populous city, this week Hurricane Irma seems likely to bring high winds and high water to almost everywhere in the state of Florida, where one of out 20 Americans live, and although so far it’s not as bad as feared it’s still very, very bad.
This is enough wind and water to fill the entirety of a 24-hour news cycle on its own merits, but it also brings compelling video footage of brave reporters being filmed by brave but nameless cameramen standing in the whipping winds and driving rains talking about how very, very bad the weather is, and no matter its political leanings no cable news network can resist that ripe opportunity for self-aggrandizement. Those ambitious reporters also find plenty of real heroism in those flood zones, too, featuring muscled first-responders and even more inspiring regular folk, and it always makes for great television. They’ve made a star of that daredevil pilot with the Gary Cooper-esque looks and taciturn speech who keeps flying toward the storm, hunted down a couple named Harvey and Irma Schulte in New Jersey who have been married for 75 years and have taken care of more than 100 foster children and were sad to hear about the storms, come up with some cute footage of the flamingoes at Busch Gardens walking in a straight line to a shelter, and covered pretty much every other angle we can think of.
Such rain and water and the rest of nature’s fury always brings plenty of tragedy, too, and no matter their political leanings all of the news media have also respectfully reported that. There are always human failings that worsen matters, too, and as always the media are on that story, but this time around they don’t seem as gleeful about.
So far the death tolls from these storms have been tragic for all included and anyone who knew and loved them, but they’re also so very much lower than the human cost of past lesser storms that there’s no denying the progress America has made in its ongoing struggle with nature. This should unite the country in a celebration of itself, along with all that footage of first responders and regular folk acting heroically in the worst of circumstances, but it doesn’t give any advantage to either side of the ongoing political divide.
We’ll leave it to President Donald Trump’s most staunch defenders to explain why he deserves any particular critic for things going so relatively well, but his most strident critics seem to find themselves unable to point to anything he’s done to make things worse. They can rightly ridicule his ham-fisted photo-op in dry and inland Texas, where he boasted about the big turnout of storm refugees, and his similarly ham-fisted follow-ups, but we doubt that anyone underwater cared much about that. The federal and state and local officials responsible for dealing with the storms have done their jobs in any case, along with all those remarkably heroic regular folks, despite what you might say about Trump or any other putative Republican.
All of those federal and state and local officials who have performed their duties imperfectly yet relatively well are the hated “establishment,” though, and those regular folk heroically pulling one another from the high waters are conspicuously multi-ethnic, so Trump’s most strident critics on both the most crazed fringes of the left and the more respectable right will have something to work with. Both Texas and Florida are Republican states, the former more so than the matter, but the cities that have been hit hardest skew Democrat, the federal officials involved are the “deep state” that Trump’s staunchest admirers blame for his poll numbers, and after the waters subside it’s going to be a matter of all sides dodging blame, claiming credit, and coming to some solution about how to pay for the rest of the country’s share for the unavoidable cost occasional nature’s fury.
We stubborn climate change skeptics enjoyed those 12 blissful years of no hurricanes landing in America, but all the climate change alarmists seem intent on making up for lost time during the recent disasters, and we have to admit a momentary disadvantage. That argument will continue into the sure-to-come calm days, and we doubt that anyone currently underwater will care much at the moment about that no matter his political leanings.
There was also a devastating earthquake in Mexico the past week, and wildfires in the drough-stricked America out west, Irma wiping out a couple of our impoverished and less-fortified Caribbean neighbors, a densely populous chunk of south Texas will drying out, and God only knowing what sort of natural disasters were occurring elsewhere. With only so much time in a 24-hour news cycle, however, those are relegated to the back pages and the scrollers beneath the radar images of that huge scary storm, and so is the rest of it.
The rest of it includes some intriguing developments in that “Russia” story we’re sure Trump was happy to see downplayed, as well some recently complicated politics deriving from Trump siding with the Democrats over the whole mess about how to keep the government open and with an ongoing line of credit to pay for these storm disasters along with all the rest of keeping the “deep state” and military readying for deployment to the Korean peninsula and the churches and the rest of the pulling one-another-out-of-the-water civil society going. We’re actually hopeful that Trump and those hated Republicans and hated Democrats in Congress will work it out, and that those hated Courts won’t foul it all it up, given how dire the stakes and how completely self-interested are all the parties involved.
After that we’re not as hopeful, but by now we’ve weathered enough storms to know that the waters always eventually recede, and that they reveal whatever they reveal. We have friends in east Florida who have evacuated or riding it out without power and waters lapping at the door, and one who retired a newspaper pension was is safely but discontentedly in an Atlanta hotel room, and the town of St. Petersburg where we happily lived during Kindergarten is next in the storms path, and for the moment that’s the big news.

— Bud Norman