Puerto Rico’s American dream is dead

Tyler Cowen writes: President Donald Trump has finally started tweeting about the disaster in Puerto Rico, and his messages show that he — and we as a nation — still haven’t digested the full implications of the post-Hurricane Maria situation. The underlying reality is that the political and economic model for the island just isn’t working any more, and the dream of Puerto Rican economic convergence has been laid to rest once and for all. That in turn says something bad about the rest of this country, namely how quickly we will give up on the possibility of transformational change.

The traditional American dream is that the poorer parts of this country would, sooner or later, start catching up to the richer parts. The American South, after an extreme divergence, gained on the North after World War II. But Puerto Rico never made the same leap, and in relative terms has held roughly steady since 1970.

Worse yet, the island has about $123 billion in debt and pension obligations, compared with a gross domestic product of slightly more than $100 billion, a number that is sure to fall. In the last decade, the island has lost about 9 percent of its population, including many ambitious and talented individuals. In the past 20 years, Puerto Rico’s labor force shrank by about 20 percent, with the health-care sector being especially hard hit. The population of children under 5 has fallen 37 percent since 2000, and Puerto Rico has more of its population over 60 than any U.S. state.

Hurricane Maria has produced conditions unprecedented in recent American experience. Much of the island has no fresh water and no phone service, and the status of the food supply and its accessibility is uncertain. Restoring electricity will take months, the health-care system isn’t functioning, and a major dam may yet break, causing further dangerous flooding.

Those developments will worsen the already dire long-term prospects for Puerto Rico. Tourism no longer exists after the storm, and presumably outside investment will decline in both the short and longer run, due to damaged infrastructure and the possibility that major storms are now more likely as the climate changes. [Continue reading…]


San Juan mayor: ‘There is horror in the streets’


Reuters reports: President Donald Trump hailed his administration on Tuesday for a “really good job” helping Puerto Rico recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria, despite complaints that federal aid has been too slow to reach the U.S. territory.

Trump agreed to boost federal disaster aid to the island, increasing funding to assist with debris removal and emergency protective measures. He said he would visit Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands on Oct. 3.

Critics and some of Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million residents accused the U.S. government of having been slower to respond with water, food and electric grid repairs than it would have been on the mainland, even though the island’s people are U.S. citizens. [Continue reading…]


Nearly half of Americans don’t know Puerto Ricans are fellow citizens

Kyle Dropp Brendan Nyhan write: More than three million Americans in Puerto Rico are struggling to meet basic needs after a devastating strike from Hurricane Maria, but their plight seems to be attracting far less public or political attention than the woes caused by the recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida.

One potential explanation is the congested news environment. Over the weekend, for instance, President Trump reignited a debate over whether N.F.L. players should kneel during the national anthem, crowding the hurricane out of the headlines.

The lack of functioning power and communications in Puerto Rico has also hindered reporting on the storm.

But another explanation is simpler: Many Americans don’t realize that what happened in Puerto Rico is a domestic disaster, not a foreign one.

A new poll of 2,200 adults by Morning Consult found that only 54 percent of Americans know that people born in Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States, are U.S. citizens. [Continue reading…]


Tyranny of the minority

Michelle Goldberg writes: Since Donald Trump’s cataclysmic election, the unthinkable has become ordinary. We’ve grown used to naked profiteering off the presidency, an administration that calls for the firing of private citizens for political dissent and nuclear diplomacy conducted via Twitter taunts. Here, in my debut as a New York Times columnist, I want to discuss a structural problem that both underlies and transcends our current political nightmare: We have entered a period of minority rule.

I don’t just mean the fact that Trump became president despite his decisive loss in the popular vote, though that shouldn’t be forgotten. Worse, the majority of voters who disapprove of Trump have little power to force Congress to curb him.

A combination of gerrymandering and the tight clustering of Democrats in urban areas means that even if Democrats get significantly more overall votes than Republicans in the midterms — which polls show is probable — they may not take back the House of Representatives. (According to a Brookings Institution analysis, in 2016, Republicans won 55.2 percent of seats with just under 50 percent of votes cast for Congress.)

And because of the quirks of the 2018 Senate map, Democrats are extremely unlikely to reclaim that chamber, even if most voters would prefer Democratic control. Some analysts have even suggested that Republicans could emerge from 2018 with a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority.

Our Constitution has always had a small-state bias, but the effects have become more pronounced as the population discrepancy between the smallest states and the largest states has grown. “Given contemporary demography, a little bit less than 50 percent of the country lives in 40 of the 50 states,” Sanford Levinson, a constitutional law scholar at the University of Texas, told me. “Roughly half the country gets 80 percent of the votes in the Senate, and the other half of the country gets 20 percent.” [Continue reading…]


Eric Reid: Why Colin Kaepernick and I decided to take a knee

Eric Reid writes: In early 2016, I began paying attention to reports about the incredible number of unarmed black people being killed by the police. The posts on social media deeply disturbed me, but one in particular brought me to tears: the killing of Alton Sterling in my hometown Baton Rouge, La. This could have happened to any of my family members who still live in the area. I felt furious, hurt and hopeless. I wanted to do something, but didn’t know what or how to do it. All I knew for sure is that I wanted it to be as respectful as possible.

A few weeks later, during preseason, my teammate Colin Kaepernick chose to sit on the bench during the national anthem to protest police brutality. To be honest, I didn’t notice at the time, and neither did the news media. It wasn’t until after our third preseason game on Aug. 26, 2016, that his protest gained national attention, and the backlash against him began.

That’s when my faith moved me to take action. I looked to James 2:17, which states, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” I knew I needed to stand up for what is right.

I approached Colin the Saturday before our next game to discuss how I could get involved with the cause but also how we could make a more powerful and positive impact on the social justice movement. We spoke at length about many of the issues that face our community, including systemic oppression against people of color, police brutality and the criminal justice system. We also discussed how we could use our platform, provided to us by being professional athletes in the N.F.L., to speak for those who are voiceless.

After hours of careful consideration, and even a visit from Nate Boyer, a retired Green Beret and former N.F.L. player, we came to the conclusion that we should kneel, rather than sit, the next day during the anthem as a peaceful protest. We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.

It baffles me that our protest is still being misconstrued as disrespectful to the country, flag and military personnel. We chose it because it’s exactly the opposite. It has always been my understanding that the brave men and women who fought and died for our country did so to ensure that we could live in a fair and free society, which includes the right to speak out in protest. [Continue reading…]


Is the crisis in Puerto Rico becoming Trump’s Katrina?

Abigail Tracy writes: For three days, Donald Trump has been focused like a laser beam on the alleged ungratefulness of professional athletes kneeling during the National Anthem to protest racial injustice, tweeting 17 times on the subject. Over this same period, the president has not once expressed solidarity or support for the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, where millions of Americans are reportedly without food, water, electricity, or shelter, in what officials there warn is quickly becoming a humanitarian crisis after Hurricane Maria destroyed much of the island’s infrastructure. More than 10,000 homes and 80 percent of the island’s transmission and distribution infrastructure were reportedly destroyed when the powerful storm tore through the Caribbean. Some have predicted it might take four to six months for electricity to be fully restored to the 3.4 million people living on Puerto Rico.

The president’s apparent disinterest in the national disaster, after his high-profile tours of the damage from Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida, has not gone unnoticed. Ricardo Rosselló, the governor of Puerto Rico, is pleading for help from the Trump administration and Congress. “We need to prevent a humanitarian crisis occurring in America,” Rosselló said in an interview with CNN on Monday. “We need something tangible, a bill that actually answers to our need right now,” warning that if the island doesn’t get aid soon there will be “a massive exodus to the (mainland) United States.” [Continue reading…]


Puerto Rico’s agriculture and farmers decimated by Maria

The New York Times reports: José A. Rivera, a farmer on the southeast coast of Puerto Rico, stood in the middle of his flattened plantain farm on Sunday and tried to tally how much Hurricane Maria had cost him.

“How do you calculate everything?” Mr. Rivera said.

For as far as he could see, every one of his 14,000 trees was down. Same for the yam and sweet pepper crops. His neighbor, Luis A. Pinto Cruz, known to everyone here as “Piña,” figures he is out about $300,000 worth of crops. The foreman down the street, Félix Ortiz Delgado, spent the afternoon scrounging up the scraps that were left of the farm he manages. He found about a dozen dried ears of corn that he could feed the chickens. The wind had claimed the rest.

“There will be no food in Puerto Rico,” Mr. Rivera predicted. “There is no more agriculture in Puerto Rico. And there won’t be any for a year or longer.”

Hurricane Maria made landfall here Wednesday as a Category 4 storm. Its force and fury stripped every tree of not just the leaves, but also the bark, leaving a rich agricultural region looking like the result of a postapocalyptic drought. Rows and rows of fields were denuded. Plants simply blew away.

In a matter of hours, Hurricane Maria wiped out about 80 percent of the crop value in Puerto Rico — making it one of the costliest storms to hit the island’s agriculture industry, said Carlos Flores Ortega, Puerto Rico’s secretary of the Department of Agriculture. [Continue reading…]


Hot, isolated, and running out of supplies, parts of Puerto Rico near desperation

The Washington Post reports: In the heat and humidity here in the central mountains, Meryanne Aldea fanned her bedridden mother with a piece of cardboard Sunday as the ailing woman lay on her side, relieving a large ulcer in her back.

The 63-year-old mother, Maria Dolores Hernandez, had cotton stuffed in her ears to keep flies out, since her now screenless windows were letting all sorts of bugs in. The gray-haired diabetic woman spoke with her daughter about her worries: that she would run out of prescription drugs, that they were almost out of generator fuel to keep her insulin refrigerated and to run the fans at night. With all the heat, she feared that her ulcer would become infected.

But she worried most about her daughter’s home on the floor above hers, which was destroyed by Hurricane Maria. The shrieking winds had ripped off the zinc roof and the pounding rains had soaked the unprotected rooms below. While the outer concrete walls were mostly intact, everything else was ruined, covered by dirty tree branches, leaves, glass and debris.

Aldea reached out to hold her mother’s hand.

“Relax,” she said. “It’s okay.”

Four days after a major hurricane battered Puerto Rico, leaving the entire island in a communications and power blackout, regions outside San Juan remained disconnected from the rest of the island — and the world. Juncos, in a mountainous region southeast of the capital that was slammed with Maria’s most powerful winds, remains isolated, alone, afraid. [Continue reading…]


Trump provokes widescale protest among players — in the NFL, and beyond


Megan Garber writes: Terrell Suggs took a knee.

Leonard Fournette took a knee.

At a game played in London on Sunday afternoon, many of their fellow Ravens and Jaguars took a knee.

Before the Lions met the Falcons in Detroit on Sunday, Rico LaVelle sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” And then he took a knee.

They were replicating the gesture of Colin Kaepernick, the former 49ers quarterback who, starting in 2016, had been kneeling during the pre-game singing of the national anthem. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick explained. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” Kaepernick’s 49ers teammates, Eric Reid and Eli Harold, took a knee. The Beaumont Bulls, a high school team, took a knee. Their collective protests, however, had been limited—deviations from the norm.

This weekend, however, the kneeling became a movement: Kaepernick, after President Trump mocked the notion of athletes talking politics during a rally on Friday, was joined in his quiet protest by an unprecedented number of his fellow football players. And also, in spirit, by many of his fellow athletes. And by several NFL franchise owners. And by the NFL itself. On Sunday evening, during its primetime games, CNN reported, the league will re-air a one-minute ad, produced for the Super Bowl earlier this year, created to “demonstrate the power of football to bring people together.”

It all happened slowly, until it all happened quickly. “Last week across the entire NFL,” the Associated Press reported, “only four players knelt or sat, and two stood with their fists raised. In the nine early games Sunday, AP reporters counted 102 players kneeling or sitting, and at least three raising their fists.” (Later in the day, the AP modified its estimate to “more than 130.”) [Continue reading…]


‘America has done a terrible job of telling the truth about racism’

Jamiles Lartey writes: If one set out to crown a symbolic epicenter for the 400-odd year odyssey of white supremacy in the US, they would be hard-pressed to do better than Montgomery, Alabama.

It was at the statehouse in Montgomery that Jefferson Davis was first inaugurated as the president of the Confederacy in a bid to preserve the institution of slavery and in defense of the inferiority of the black race. It was here too, nearly a century later, that Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat, and a young Martin Luther King launched his first direct action campaign: The Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Indeed the official city seal tells some of this story in ironic juxtaposition, nesting its claim as “Cradle of the Confederacy” inside that of “Birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement”.

But there’s a deeper racial history here too, one that often gets buried in favor of the hagiography of leaders and legends like Davis, Parks and King. Montgomery was also for a time the central hub of the domestic US slave trade, and that’s part of why writer and activist Bryan Stevenson thinks is a perfect place for a “new kind of museum” entitled From Slavery to Mass Incarceration that will trace the untoward history of racial capital through generations and simultaneously shine a light on the legacy of US racial terrorism.

“It all begins with enslavement and the ideology of white supremacy and what follows is lynching, segregation, and many of the issues that we’re dealing with today,” Stevenson told the Guardian. [Continue reading…]


Racist currents still run deep in White America

Larry J. Sabato writes: A new Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted in conjunction with the University of Virginia Center for Politics finds that while there is relatively little national endorsement of neo-Nazis and white supremacists, there are troubling levels of support for certain racially-charged ideas and attitudes frequently expressed by extremist groups. The survey also found backing for keeping Confederate monuments in place, the removal of which has become a hot-button issue in communities across the country.

As is often the case, these survey results can be interpreted in two quite different ways. On the one hand, despite the events in Charlottesville and elsewhere, few people surveyed expressed direct support for hate groups. But on the other hand, it will be disturbing to many that a not insubstantial proportion of those polled demonstrated neutrality and indifference or, worse, expressed support for antiquated views on race.

The large-sample poll (5,360 respondents for most questions) was conducted from Aug. 21 to Sept. 5 in the aftermath of a neo-Nazi rally and counter-protest on the Grounds of the University of Virginia and in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia on Aug. 11-12.

Among the questions, respondents were asked if they agreed or disagreed with statements asking whether white people and/or racial minorities in the United States are “under attack.” Notably, 14% of all respondents both 1) agreed that white people are under attack and 2) disagreed with the statement that nonwhites are under attack.

Nearly one-third of respondents (31%) strongly or somewhat agreed that the country needs to “protect and preserve its White European heritage.” Another third (34%) strongly or somewhat disagreed with the statement, and 29% neither agreed nor disagreed. [Continue reading…]


‘Racism is as American as baseball’ banner unfurled at Fenway Park

The New York Times reports: Four fans were ejected from Fenway Park after in Boston they unveiled an anti-racism banner over the Green Monster on Wednesday night.

“Racism is as American as baseball,” the sign said.

The banner was unfurled in the fourth inning, just above an advertisement for Foxwoods Casino. Umpire Joe West consulted with the police and security about the sign because it was in fair territory. It was taken down and the fans were removed peacefully within minutes.

No arrests were made in the incident.

The Red Sox said in a statement: “During the fourth inning of tonight’s game, four fans unfurled a banner over the left field wall in violation of the club’s policy prohibiting signs of any kind to be hung or affixed to the ballpark. The individuals involved were escorted out of Fenway Park.”

Sam Kennedy, the team’s president, told The Boston Globe that the fans “felt connected to the Black Lives Matter movement.”

One of the protesters, maintaining anonymity, emailed a statement to several news organizations that said in part: “We are a group of white anti-racist protesters. We want to remind everyone that just as baseball is fundamental to American culture and history, so too is racism.” [Continue reading…]


Want to fix America’s health care? First, focus on food

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Poor diet hurts our health and our wallets.
Lukas Goja/Shutterstock.com

By Dariush Mozaffarian, Tufts University

The national debate on health care is moving into a new, hopefully bipartisan phase.

The fundamental underlying challenge is cost – the massive and ever-rising price of care which drives nearly all disputes, from access to benefit levels to Medicaid expansion.

So far, policymakers have tried to reduce costs by tinkering with how care is delivered. But focusing on care delivery to save money is like trying to reduce the costs of house fires by focusing on firefighters and fire stations.

A more natural question should be: What drives poor health in the U.S., and what can be done about it?

We know the answer. Food is the number one cause of poor health in America. As a cardiologist and public health scientist, I have studied nutrition science and policy for 20 years. Poor diet is not just about individual choice, but about the systems that make eating poorly the default for most Americans.

If we want to cut down on disease and achieve meaningful health care reform, we should make it a top nonpartisan priority to address our nation’s nutrition crisis.

[Read more…]


Why do Americans know so little about the world the U.S. has shaped?

Ishaan Tharoor writes: In a recent excerpt from her new book, American journalist Suzy Hansen described her bemusement when a friend in Istanbul suggested to her that the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, had been somehow planned by the U.S. government.

“Come on, you don’t believe that,” said Hansen.

“Why not?” snapped back her friend, identified as Emre. “I do.”

“But it’s a conspiracy theory.”

Emre laughed and said: “Americans always dismiss these things as conspiracy theories. It’s the rest of the world who have had to deal with your conspiracies.”

This pronouncement prompted Hansen, an accomplished storyteller and reporter who has written powerfully about recent political events in Turkey, to reflect on what may underlie her friend’s animus. Her much-acclaimed new book, “Notes from a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World,” is a memoir of a young American who moves abroad and slowly grapples with how the rest of the world sees her nation — and how little her nation really sees the world.

She looks in particular at the extent to which U.S. foreign policy has shaped politics, societies and the fates of ordinary people elsewhere. In one anecdote, when Hansen asks an Iraqi man what his country “was like in the 1980s and 1990s, when he was growing up,” he replies: “I am always amazed when Americans ask me this. How is it that you know nothing about us when you had so much to do with what became of our lives?” [Continue reading…]


Requiem for the Sunshine State

Dexter Filkins writes: If you grow up in Florida, you watch the natural world around you disappear. It’s just a fact you live with. The verdant, miles-long stretch of dune and palm, rustling to the beat of the waves? Paved over. The brackish stream that flows from ocean to intercoastal, giving life to manatees, alligators, and tarpon? Turned into a parking lot. The swath of live oak trees, the Spanish moss clinging to their branches like the mists from a Faulkner novel? It’s an apartment complex called Whispering Pines.

It doesn’t matter when you moved to Florida. Ever since the nineteen-sixties, the stream of people pouring into the state has been relentless: an average of eight hundred newcomers a day. All of them need places to live. Where I grew up, in Cape Canaveral, the destruction of nature happened so fast that it was often disorienting; passing a stretch of woods for perhaps the eight-hundredth time, I would stare at the backhoes and cranes and wonder what had occupied that space only a week before. On a few occasions, my teen-age friends and I got so angry that we scaled the fences of construction sites and moved the survey points that were marking the spot for the next foundation—the next pour of cement. We failed, of course, to stop what the builders were building, or even to slow it down. The joke among us was that every housing development in Florida was named to memorialize the ecosystem it replaced: Crystal Cove, Mahogany Bay, The Bluffs. For about a year, I lived in an apartment complex, paved from end to end, called “In the Pines.”

It’s useful to remember this now, as Hurricane Irma lays waste to much of Florida: the destruction of the state has been unfolding for decades, and, for the most part, it wasn’t done by nature. It was done by us. [Continue reading…]


Millennials in the U.S. are more welcoming of refugees than the global average

Quartz reports: Millennials in the US are more accepting of refugees than many of their peers elsewhere, according to a World Economic Forum (WEF) survey of people aged 18 to 35. A majority of young people around the globe would welcome refugees to their country, according to the report, although the strength of this feeling varies by place.

Nearly 90% of US of respondents to the WEF survey said they would welcome refugees to their country, compared with 72% globally, according to the survey of 15,990 respondents.

The findings come as the number of refugees admitted to the US was reduced by nearly half in the first three months of Donald Trump’s presidency, versus the final three months of the Obama administration, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Trump has sought to cap the number of refugees the US takes in at 50,000, although much has hinged on the Supreme Court’s view of the president’s “travel ban” executive order. [Continue reading…]


America’s getting more tolerant and haters hate it

Albert Hunt writes: Sure, there were a lot of haters in Charlottesville. That shouldn’t obscure some better news, which is that the U.S. is becoming a more accepting and tolerant nation. Unlike President Donald Trump, most citizens don’t equivocate when asked their opinion of the hate groups that descended on Virginia two weeks ago.

One of the most interesting changes over the years is in attitudes toward interracial marriage. In 1968, a year after interracial marriage was given constitutional protection, 73 percent of the public opposed these unions, including one-third of African-Americans. Only 20 percent approved of them. By 2013, the last year Gallup’s pollsters asked the question, attitudes had dramatically reversed: 87 percent of poll respondents approved of interracial marriage and only 11 were opposed.

According to the Pew Research Center, 7 percent of Americans consider themselves multi-racial. This is an accelerating trend embraced by young people.

While most multi-racial people say they’ve been targets of racial slurs or jokes, almost none think their status is a liability. One in five, the Pew survey finds, say it’s an advantage, while three-quarters say it has made no difference in their daily lives or career.

The Pew Center’s conclusion: Multi-racial Americans “are at the cutting edge of social and demographic changes in the U.S. — young, proud, tolerant and growing at a rate three times as fast as the population as a whole.” [Continue reading…]


Robert E Lee, George Washington and the trouble with the American pantheon

By Erik Mathisen, Queen Mary University of London

When the US president, Donald Trump, was asked to clarify his position on the violence that unfolded in Charlottesville, Virginia during a press conference at Trump Tower in New York, he poured gasoline on a raging fire.

In a comment about the historical monument to Confederate general Robert E Lee, which had become a flashpoint in the protests, Trump remarked:

This week it’s Robert E Lee … I wonder is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?

For years, a debate about Confederate monuments has been growing in intensity, setting protesters and city counsellors around the country against activists who see the monuments to southern civil war heroes as a part of the region’s heritage – even though the majority of them were erected long after the war. Indeed, most were put up around the beginning of the 20th century, as African-American disfranchisement began to well and truly bite across the country and in the 1950s and 1960s, largely in reaction to the civil rights movement and desegregation. Though they might hold a civil war figure aloft, monuments to the Confederacy commemorate white supremacy in marble. This is the message. The rest is historical window dressing.

A few of these statues make this fact plain. Most do not. All of them trade in a historical bait and switch. The statues memorialising the Confederacy gave segregationists the historical justification they needed to act, while at the same time allowing them to cast their efforts in a regional history of lost causes rather than white supremacy and the perpetuation of slavery.

But Trump’s stance also raise questions about not so much whether monuments ought to be taken down, but the company that Robert E Lee keeps in the pantheon of the republic’s most important civic icons. Here too there are problems, but not only the ones you might think.

On the surface, the president’s remarks make no sense to anyone who has read in any depth about American history. Thomas Jefferson wrote the document that set the American colonies down the road to independence. He was a president, as was George Washington. Lee was a decorated soldier – but a founding father he was not. He renounced his citizenship, joined a cause to break up the Union and stood at the head of the Army of Northern Virginia which inflicted incredible damage on the United States and killed tens of thousands of American soldiers. Washington and Jefferson helped to build the republic. Lee was out to destroy it.

[Read more…]