Tag Archives: Trump Administration

The Cynicism of Emergency Aid for Puerto Rico

Newark    There seem to be no limits to the vengeful pettiness of President Trump and his administration.  Nowhere is that clearer than looking at the deliberate obstacles placed in the way of Puerto Rico’s recovery – or lack of it – from Hurricane Maria in 2017 or now the earthquake of 2020.

I’m watching the Puerto Rico story closely.  First, because I keep hoping against hope that we are learning something in dealing with disasters, and now, secondly, because my family was in Puerto Rico, and in fact in Guanica, where the recent 5.9 earthquake struck less than a week before the event.  I had not taken seriously the concerns expressed by daughter and mi companerai when one night in Ponce they had felt wave after wave of small tremors in the runup to what would be a worst event after we had returned home.  My old Latin teacher in high school used to call this a coup de gras, which he, a polio victim, defined as “kicking a cripple.”  Puerto Rico was hardly up off its knees when we were there and friends where optimistic about the report that emergency relief, already allocated by Congress, was finally about to be released.

Well, some $16 billion of the $20 billion allocation was released, now years after the storm, but it was done a bit in the way the sick joke works where a twenty dollar bill is left on the street and when someone bends down to pick it up, a string pulls it away, Candid Camera style.  To actually get the money, Puerto Rico must file a budget, agree to pay less than $15 per hour to workers on any projects, change its land ownership and title rules that are more informal, and, while jumping through all of those hoops, they have to wait while the fiscal review board diddles around with their requests before really, finally letting Puerto Rico have the money.

This is just meanness.  President Trump has been notoriously ill-tempered and tight-fisted with the island.  It seems his perceived prejudice against Muslims also extends to anyone, including citizens of a US territory like Puerto Rico, who speak Spanish.  The claim is concerns about corruption, but it seems undeniable that this is a smokescreen.  After Katrina in a terrible error, Louisiana’s Governor Blanco reacted to similar claims about potential corruption in recovery funds in such a way that federal money for housing relief was held up for what seemed forever, almost crippling the recovery.  Now, Puerto Rico is caught in the same shadowboxing.

The electric grid collapsed again in the aftermath of the earthquake for several days.  Trump insisted that none of the recovery money now kind of being released can be used for that purpose.  On the island, we heard that the issue has to do with an attempt to privatize the system, which likely is supported by the administration.  HUD supposedly had allocated $2 billion for the grid, but once again, HUD under Secretary Ben Carson has gone out of the way to make accessing any money difficult for Puerto Rico.

All talk, no action, dooms recovery.

Puerto Ricans are not allowed to vote in the Presidential election, which means that President Trump couldn’t care less if Puerto Rico and its people rise or fall, live or die.

What a tragedy.  And, an outrage!

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“Say Nothing” and “What You Have Heard is True”

New Orleans     Maybe we have gotten lucky and dodged widening the war in the Middle East after what seems like an impulse killing of one of Iran’s top generals and a key spymaster.  The full story is still unknown.  What were the threats that were so heinous that they moved the United States to embark on such a risky tactical strike?  Who was smart and stable enough in both the US and Iran to use the Swiss to send encrypted messages on back channels back and forth insisting that we both sides needed to deescalate?  What kind of weird global political communications system allows Trump to claim to his base, seemingly without any evidence, that he stood up, delivered a blow, and still wants to take America out of wars around the globe, and allowing Iran to throw twenty missiles at us with sufficient warning that no one was killed, even while claiming at home that they took out eighty Americans with these strikes?  This is a dangerous world!

I read two books over around the calendar turn that were extremely powerful expositions and indictments of the violence that we are capable of as people, when it is a matter of boundaries broken and hate and ideology unleashed.  Both of these books concerned civil wars.

One was Say Nothing:  A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Raddan Keefe.  He focused on the period of the “Troubles,” as the conflict in Northern Ireland between Protestants and Catholics, supporters of England versus those who wanted independence.  The other, What You Have Heard is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance by poet and professor Carolyn Forche’ looks at her time in El Salvador as a young woman during the civil war that wracked that country for so many years as well.

One of the horrors that emerges in reading these well written and researched books is the recognition that there seem to be no accepted rules in civil wars.  Civilians are not only fair game, but often the primary targets.  Torture and mutilation are as common as unmarked graves.  These were civil wars decades before the dominance of the internet, so often the hate and killing were provoked by generational prejudices, class and land divides and inequities, and simple and unconfirmed rumor, all of which deepens the fear I felt over the dry kindling that continues so easily to be set fire by social media extremists.

Say Nothing is the better history, because the book is based on the coincidence of forthright oral histories held at Boston College that became public on the death of various participants in both the project and the Troubles.  It is hard not to conclude that Gerry Adams, former political leader of the Sinn Fein, is a liar and in any other context a war criminal.  What You Have Heard is True can be annoying in some parts as Forche’ oversells her naivete, but, not surprisingly, beautifully written, as you would expect from a poet.  It is hard not be see the behind the scenes lawyer, mediator, and revolutionary, Leonel Gomez, as an unheralded hero in both the war and the peace in contrast to Adams.

These conflicts turn out to be evergreen even as they fade as a twentieth century memories, but civil wars are bloody reminders that we have to fight for peace to prevent the worst parts of our humanity from constantly resurfacing.

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