Puerto Rico: A Problem Like Maria

I guess we should take a look at the relief effort in Puerto Rico. They are, after all, Americans, just like us Nebraskans. The thing is, it has become so politicized that one hesitates to talk about it. Both the President and his Twitter account and the Democrats need to shut up and get to work. All this noise is doing more harm than good.

Things are getting done, slowly, near as I can tell. Both the ARRL and the Salvation Army have called for Amateur (Ham) radio operators to help restore communications, and are getting a pretty good response, as they always do.

The way Hurricane Maria blew through the island is in many respects the equivalent of the EMP explosion from the NORKs (or others) that we have talked about here in the effects on the US of the destruction of the power grid. That is what happened on Puerto Rico, except that the computers running it may or may not have been but the physical grid was. That is going to take time (and money) to repair. Meantime, without power, there are no communications either. The landlines are fairly obvious, the same things affect them as the power lines. But even cellphones are no good when the towers have no power for a time, and when their battery’s are dead. That’s why the Hams, most of us have portable stations that (at least on low power) can be run on solar, or bicycle chargers or whatnot. Yes, some of it is a rather old model of communications, but not all, we work with almost all forms of emissions that are in commercial service. In fact, Hams developed many of them.

Water distribution has the same problem, you need electricity to pump water, other than diesel, there is no alternative, and I suspect a lot of power in Puerto Rico is diesel powered anyway.

The power grid on the island has been reported as decrepit for many years, and that is part of the reason for the utter destruction. The LA Times tells us:

Puerto Rico officials say it will likely be four to six months before power is fully restored across the U.S. territory of 3.5 million people. The island’s faltering electrical grid, now crippled by the twin blows of Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma, already was struggling to keep the lights on after a history of poor maintenance, poorly trained staff, allegations of corruption and crushing debt.

As recently as 2016, the island suffered a three-day, island-wide blackout as a result of a fire. A private energy consultant noted then that the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority “appears to be running on fumes, and … desperately requires an infusion of capital — monetary, human and intellectual — to restore a functional utility.”

Puerto Ricans in early 2016 were suffering power outages at rates four to five times higher than average U.S. customers, said the report from the Massachusetts-based Synapse Energy Economics.

And then came Maria.

The collapse of the power system has tumbled down the infrastructure chain, making it difficult to pump water supplies — the water authority is one of the power authority’s biggest clients — and also to operate the cellular phone system, which also relies on the power grid.

Residents have been scrounging for scarce fuel to power generators long enough to keep refrigerators and a light or two running. At night, many drag mattresses out to balconies and porches to escape the heat. Hospitals have seen life support systems fail and most business has come to a halt.

Funny how that works, but not funny ‘Ha Ha”. Electricity is quite literally the lifeblood of modern life, without it, we go back a hundred years minimum. That’s why these crackpot renewable energy schemes are so dangerous.

But part of that is also that the island is corrupt, and has been for a long time. From The New York Post:

Jorge Rodriguez, 49, is the Harvard-educated CEO of PACIV, an international engineering firm based in Puerto Rico

For the last 30 years, the Puerto Rican government has been completely inept at handling regular societal needs, so I just don’t see it functioning in a crisis like this one. Even before the hurricane hit, water and power systems were already broken. And our $118 billion debt crisis is a result of government corruption and mismanagement.

The governor Ricardo Rossello has little experience. He’s 36 and never really held a job and never dealt with a budget. His entire administration is totally inexperienced and they have no clue how to handle a crisis of this magnitude.

For instance, shortly after the hurricane hit, the government imposed a curfew from 6 pm to 6 am and then changed it. Now, it’s 7 pm to 5 am, and makes no sense. The curfew has prevented fuel trucks from transporting their loads. These trucks should have been allowed to run for 24 hours to address our needs, but they have been stalled, and so we have massive lines at gas stations and severe shortages of diesel at our hospitals and supermarkets.

I’m really tired of Puerto Rican government officials blaming the federal government for their woes and for not acting fast enough to help people on the island. Last week I had three federal agents in my office and I was so embarrassed; I went out of my way to apologize to them for the attitude of my government and what they have been saying about the US response. When the hurricane hit we had experts from FEMA from all over the US on the ground and I was really proud of their quick response. The first responders and FEMA have all been outstanding in this crisis, and should be supported.

Well, I’m not sure what the cure is for that. We get the government we vote for, and the Puerto Ricans voted for these people. Still, they do appear to be doing their best, but it is not, and never has been, good enough. But even The National Guard can’t show up. From Deanna Fisher at Victory Girls Blog.

Click to enlarge

It’s so bad that not even their National Guard can show up for duty.

But nine days after Hurricane Maria, a striking trend has emerged: Less than half of the 8,000 members of the Puerto Rico National Guard are on duty. Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, the top U.S. officer overseeing military operations on the island, attributed this to a combination of factors. Many personnel are dealing with the devastation in their own lives, he said, and some are providing help in their full-time jobs as police, firefighters or other first responders rather than through the Guard.

The comparatively small number of Guard troops on duty in Puerto Rico appears to underscore a disconnect between pleas made on the ground by civilians on the ground since the storm, and the federal government’s relatively modest response at first. It also may have slowed awareness of how bad the destruction was, with fewer personnel responding early and cataloguing needs. […]

And the problem is not that the supplies aren’t present – as you can clearly see behind the mayor. The problem is getting the supplies where they need to be.

Col. Valle is a firsthand witness of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) response supporting FEMA in Puerto Rico, and as a Puerto Rican himself with family members living in the devastation, his passion for the people is second to none. “It’s just not true,” Col. Valle says of the major disconnect today between the perception of a lack of response from Washington verses what is really going on on the ground. “I have family here. My parents’ home is here. My uncles, aunts, cousins, are all here. As a Puerto Rican, I can tell you that the problem has nothing to do with the U.S. military, FEMA, or the DoD.”

“The aid is getting to Puerto Rico. The problem is distribution. The federal government has sent us a lot of help; moving those supplies, in particular, fuel, is the issue right now,” says Col. Valle. Until power can be restored, generators are critical for hospitals and shelter facilities and more. But, and it’s a big but, they can’t get the fuel to run the generators.

They have the generators, water, food, medicine, and fuel on the ground, yet the supplies are not moving across the island as quickly as they’re needed.

“It’s a lack of drivers for the transport trucks, the 18 wheelers. Supplies we have. Trucks we have. There are ships full of supplies, backed up in the ports, waiting to have a vehicle to unload into. However, only 20% of the truck drivers show up to work. These are private citizens in Puerto Rico, paid by companies that are contracted by the government,” says Col. Valle.

Eventually,  it will work out, but not without a lot of angst and pain for all concerned, both aid givers, and aided. The real question is, will Puerto Rico learn from the disaster, as we all learned from Katrina, or simply keep on with same old, same old, and we have to do it all again in 5, 20, or 50 years. That’s their part of the story.


Don’t Know Much About History!

(LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)”][Andrew Carnegie, William Jennings Bryan and o...This is going to be a bit of a rant, so I’m going to post a disclaimer or two. First although my majors in college were Electrical Engineering and US History with a specialty in the military, I didn’t finish, so I guess I no historian. Of course, by that standard, neither was Edward Gibbon. Second this post was brought on by a blogfriend of mine over at Practically Historical, he’s good, I always enjoy his posts, although he occasionally infuriates me! I probably do him, too.

He’s had a couple of posts up lately claiming that Thomas Sowell is a lousy historian. Link Here. He has a point although the specific article he points out is substantially correct. Link Here. I also somewhat disagree with Dr. Sowell here, when he says:

The spark that set off this war was an explosion that destroyed an American battleship anchored in Havana harbor. There was no proof that Spain had anything to do with it, and a study decades later suggested that the explosion originated inside the ship itself.

But Roosevelt and others were hot for intervention before the explosion, which simply gave them the excuse they needed to go to war against Spain, seizing Puerto Rico and the Philippines.

My disagreement here is that Roosevelt  was being more of a navalist than a Progressive here (that came later, mostly when he was President). He, after studying Mahan’s The Influence of Sea Power upon History, felt that the isthmian canal needed to be built and that we would require coaling bases for the fleet, read that as Hawaii and Puerto Rico/Cuba. You did notice that we still own Gitmo, right? Other than that what Dr. Sowell says fits what I know.

He also takes issue with what Dr. Sowell says is a chronic oversupply of historians, why, I don’t know, it’s been so since I was in college and apparently still is.

In his next post he does a fair amount of postulating of things that historians by and large ‘know’, which may or may not be true in the real world. Let’s take them one at a time.

Carnegie’s steelworkers weren’t exploited, they practically whistled their way to the mills everyday– Maybe professor Sowell should visit Western Pennsylvania sometime…

Were they exploited, I don’t know, I doubt they thought so, it was a hard and dangerous job, certainly but, it also paid a hell of a lot more than farming 40 Acres with a mule. From Notable Biographies comes this:

Carnegie’s absence from the United States was a factor in the Homestead mill strike of 1892. After acquiring Homestead, Carnegie had invested in new plants and equipment, increased production, and automated many of the mill’s operations, cutting down the number of workers that were needed. These workers belonged to a union, the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers, with which the Carnegie Company had established wage and work agreements on a three-year basis. Carnegie believed that workers had a right to bargain with management through their unions. He also recognized the right to strike, as long as the action was conducted peacefully. He viewed strikes as trials of strength, with peaceful discussion resolving the conflict.

I also note that at the Homestead Strike which I suspect he is referring to, Frick (Carnegie’s partner) disregarded his instructions.

Monopolies were  good because they made money for shareholders–  Rockefeller couldn’t put everyone on his board, let’s just ignore all the regional refineries that he crushed.

Ida Tarbell be damned, she knew about as much about business as Obama. The Standard had a huge market share because it was an efficient business. It’s cost of production was unbelievably low. Did it get rebates from the railroad? Yep, because it provided the tanks and agreed to ship, for example, 500 carloads per month instead of 1oo one month and 900 the next month and handle the loading and unloading. That saved the railroads (a lot of) money.

Kerosene prices to dropped from 58 to 26 cents a gallon from 1865 to 1870. Competitors disliked the company’s business practices, but consumers liked the lower prices. That’s no way to run a monopoly though, a monopoly is supposed to keep prices high. Like Carnegie, Rockefeller reinvested a lot of earnings in the business.

The FDA stands in the way of the consumer economy– Oh yes, the Pure Food and Drug Act is all wrong.  We want formaldehyde in our milk, talc in our aspirin, and diseased pork on our plates.

Well, to start with FDA has nothing to do with pork (well the kind you can eat, anyway) or milk, that would be the USDA.  Talc in your aspirin probably wouldn’t hurt you all that much but, I don’t know. If you want to be an uneducated shopper and buy cough syrup that is nothing more than thickened brandy well, I fail to see how it’s my problem, that the government should steal my money to that. Meantime if Jonas Salk had been born fifty years later than he was, the vaccine would still be in trials (probably forever) and the polio epidemic would still be ongoing.

If the FDA had stayed within its original mandate it might have been a good thing overall but, it didn’t. It’s become crony capitalism running rampant.

Child labor teaches youngsters about a strong work ethic– Nothing says ‘life changing affirmation’ like a 14 hour shift…..at age 11.

Hard to answer this one, I have no idea what alife changing affirmation’ is. I didn’t do a 14 hour shift at age 11 either, I did an eight-hour shift at 13 every non holiday when school was out (and loved the money and respect I got for doing a man’s job). Not to mention mowing 5 acres of yard on the weekends and whatever else the folks could talk me into doing. Most of my friends, however, started working far earlier (and harder) than I did, they lived on farms and as soon as they could control the tractor, they were working.

Workplace regulations steal money from shareholders–  Triangle Shirtwaste fire …enough said.

Ok, he has a point here but, not as clear-cut as he apparently thinks. From Wikipedia:

The company’s owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, who survived the fire by fleeing to the building’s roof when the fire began, were indicted on charges of first- and second-degree manslaughter in mid-April; the pair’s trial began on December 4, 1911, Max Steuer, counsel for the defendants, managed to destroy the credibility of one of the survivors, Kate Alterman, by asking her to repeat her testimony a number of times, which she did without altering key phrases. Steuer argued to the jury that Alterman and possibly other witnesses had memorized their statements, and might even have been told what to say by the prosecutors. The defense also stressed that the prosecution had failed to prove that the owners knew the exit doors were locked at the time in question. The jury acquitted the two men, but they lost a subsequent civil suit in 1913 in which plaintiffs won compensation in the amount of $75 per deceased victim. The insurance company paid Blanck and Harris about $60,000 more than the reported losses, or about $400 per casualty. In 1913, Blanck was once again arrested for locking the door in his factory during working hours. He was fined $20.

This had a lot to do with building codes being upgraded (and even enforced, if you couldn’t afford the bribe). It led to major changes in the National Electric Code (NFPA 70) and to the Life Safety Code (NFPA 101). I don’t think that’s what Dr. Sowell was referring to, however. I think what he meant is like here in town where a business has to supply Muslim chaplains and prayer rooms for a small minority of the workers.

And that pretty much covers that. Like I said I like his blog work and I’ll bet I’d enjoy taking his classes (whether he’d enjoy having me in them might be a different story!)

My biggest trouble with a lot of professional historians is simply that living in academia, they have no conception of the real world, a lot of economists have the same problem, by the way.

OK, sir, come on over and prove me wrong.

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