‘He’s a racist president’: Mainland Puerto Ricans are furious over Donald Trump’s debt talk amid hurricane crisis
Donald Trump’s response to devastation on the island has been markedly different than to damage in Texas and Florida, notably in his repeated mention of the burden of cost. Puerto Ricans have noticed.
People wait in line outside a bank in Humacao, Puerto Rico, on Friday. Donald Trump’s cost-conscious response to Hurricane Maria is infuriating many with ties to the island. (KIRSTEN LUCE/THE NEW YORK TIMES)
By DANIEL DALEWashington Bureau
WASHINGTON—Claryse Flores’s brother lives in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He texted her Thursday night about the long lines he still faces for water, gas, food.
On Friday, she heard President Donald Trump talk, again, about Puerto Rico’s debts. And she heard him tell a crowd of businesspeople that Puerto Rico’s government would have to help figure out how to pay the cost of the massive rebuilding effort.
suffering and dying, and that’s my family, I’m beyond offended.”
Trump earned broad public approval, polls show, for his enthusiastic response to Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida. But his response to the Hurricane Maria disaster in Puerto Rico has been markedly different, in both actions and words.
The disparity has been noted with intense dismay by many Puerto Ricans on the mainland. As they worry about their families and friends on the island, they have been forced to grapple with a series of apparent passive-aggressive slights from their president.
Some of them say Trump’s response to Maria is another example of the bigotry they saw in a presidential campaign Trump began by calling Mexican immigrants rapists. And some say it is another example of a lingering “colonial” attitude in the federal government’s approach to the island commonwealth the U.S. invaded in 1898.
“It sickens me,” said Angel Vazquez, 30, a graphic designer in Atlanta who moved from Puerto Rico as a child. “He’s a racist president. He was elected because of the base that he was catering to. And he’s just someone who’s following through on exactly what he was going to say.”
“I don’t remember him discussing costs when he came to Texas or when he came to Florida,” said Flores, 37, a New Jersey receptionist of Puerto Rican descent. “I’m not surprised. I followed the election, and I am from New York, so I’ve known the name Trump for a very long time. But when people are
“It’s really hard to talk about bankruptcy and debt when people have no power, no water, no homes, and their entire lives have been devastated,” said Julio Ricardo Varela, 48, a journalist from Puerto Rico who co-hosts the In the Thick political podcast.
Displays sit largely empty at a supermarket in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, on Friday. (KIRSTEN LUCE/THE NEW YORK TIMES)
“Comments like those come across as not only incredibly short-sighted and insensitive, but it just confirms how the United States, as a country, views its colonial territory. Bringing up the debt just brings up old wounds. ‘Yep, we’re a colony. You had to remind us, huh?’ The island’s destroyed, but you had to remind us that we have no control over our destiny. Thank you.”
Since the beginning of the Puerto Rico crisis, Trump has emphasized money matters he did not broach when addressing the crises in Texas and Florida.
It is instructive to compare his tweets, often the most authentic representation of his thoughts.
After Hurricane Harvey, he wrote: “TEXAS: We are with you today, we are with you tomorrow, and we will be with you EVERY SINGLE DAY AFTER, to restore, recover and REBUILD!”
In his first substantive tweets on the Hurricane Maria damage, conversely, he noted Puerto Rico’s pre-existing infrastructure problems. And then he spoke of Puerto Rico’s debt load of more than $70 billion.
“Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble. It’s (sic) old electrical grid, which was in terrible shape, was devastated. Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with. Food, water and medical are top priorities — and doing well. #FEMA,” he wrote.
He suggested Friday that federal support for Puerto Rico’s recovery would not be unconditional, writing: “The fact is that Puerto Rico has been destroyed by two hurricanes. Big decisions will have to be made as to the cost of its rebuilding!”
And then he said it again in a speech four hours later to the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington.
“Ultimately, the government of Puerto Rico will have to work with us to determine how this massive rebuilding effort — it will end up being one of the biggest ever — will be funded and organized, and what we will do with the tremendous amount of existing debt already on the island,” he said, appearing to deviate from his prepared text.
U.S. President Donald Trump defended his administration's response to Puerto Rico's hurricane destruction, saying the federal government is fully engaged but he said, "nothing's left," and they are "starting from scratch" to rebuild. (The Associated Press)
He concluded: “We will not rest, however, until the people of Puerto Rico are safe. These are great people. We want them to be safe, and sound, and secure, and we will be there every day until that happens.”
Trump’s repeated references to costs are not the only part of his administration’s rhetoric that have raised the ire of Puerto Ricans. His relentless praise for his own performance, and that of the federal emergency agency, has infuriated Puerto Ricans who note that much of the island remained without drinkable water nine days after the storm made landfall.
The Associated Press reported Thursday that the federal government was invisible in some areas outside the capital. CBS reporter David Begnaud tweeted Friday: “Desperate Puerto Ricans are using Clorox containers to fill work drinking water. As one woman said, ‘I don’t even have a bucket.’ ”
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz reacted emotionally to the words of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, who said Thursday that “it is really a good news story in terms of our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have taken place in such a devastating hurricane.”
“When you’re drinking from a creek, it’s not a good news story. When you don’t have food for a baby, it’s not a good news story.”
Some Puerto Ricans are less aghast at Trump’s rhetoric than what they see as Trump’s reluctance to take action. They noted that Trump immediately waived the Jones Act, an obscure protectionist law which limits shipping, after Harvey and Irma but not after Maria. Before Trump relented, he said he was hesitant because “a lot of people that work in the shipping industry” wanted him to hold off.
Trump has repeatedly cited praise for the response from Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello. Rossello, however, has also called for more aid, telling NBC on Friday that the effort is “not where it needs to be.”
Puerto Ricans do not get to vote in presidential or congressional elections. But the disaster could have significant political implications — and they could hurt Trump.
Puerto Ricans whose homes and livelihoods have been destroyed could choose to join the large Puerto Rican community of Florida, potentially making that state more Democratic-leaning.
“You either solve the problem in Puerto Rico, or the problem will show up in the other states in the mainland,” Varela said.
Trump slams Puerto Rico mayor for 'poor leadership', says 'they' want everything 'done for them'
President Donald Trump slammed the mayor of Puerto Rico's capital city for "poor leadership" a day after the mayor criticized a Trump administration official's positive assessment of the situation in the hurricane-ravaged U.S. territory.
Trump also suggested politics lay at the heart of the critical comments by San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, claiming that she has "been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump."
He suggested officials or people on the island -- it is not clear exactly who the president is referring to -- are not doing enough themselves to recover from the crisis left by Hurricane Maria, that "they want everything to be done for them."
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Saturday, September 30, 2017
Friday, September 29, 2017
|Trump’s key promise to “drain the Washington swamp” has just suffered from another big blow of corruption and abuse of taxpayer funds. When HHS Secretary Tom Price was bold enough to use private jets for his many utterly useless government travels he brought evidence to the fact that whatever swamp Trump had in mind to drain, is deeper than ever. While Tom Price used 1Mill. for his travels, unemployment and poverty continued unabated throughout the country. And it is only thanks to the democrates vigilance demanding an investigation that Trump had no other way out than to accept Price’s resignation. |
It is amazing how many scandals have haunted this so-called government since Trump’s election. The swamp with its murky waters is now so deep that it will be utterly impossible to drain.
Thursday, September 28, 2017
Trump's lack of empathy about Puerto Rico is staggering
Raul A. Reyes(CNN)
After spending the weekend feuding with football players and trashing Sen. John McCain, on Monday night President Donald Trump turned his attention to the devastation still faced by several regions in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
"Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble," he tweeted to his 39 million followers.
Just what is wrong with the President's tweets about these areas struggling through a tremendous recovery?
Let's begin with Puerto Rico, an island of 3.4 million American citizens (more than many states) that has been plunged into darkness for the foreseeable future. But it wasn't until Tuesday, six days after Maria hit Puerto Rico, that Trump made a substantive late-to-the-disaster statement during a press conference with the Spanish foreign minister at the White House.
"All available resources, including the military, are being marshaled to save lives," he said. And "we have been really treated very, very nicely by the governor and everyone else." He allowed that the people of Puerto Rico "are important to all of us."
That would have been more convincing had Trump to that point not been essentially silent about the chaos there, though he did also note in a tweet Monday: "its old electrical grid, which was in terrible shape was devastated."
Taken with his, and his vice president's, failure to visit the island thus far (Trump announced Tuesday that he would go next week -- "some people say, I read it this morning, it's literally destroyed") this seems to be an attempt to deflect accountability away from his administration's role in the recovery effort. As of Monday, according to an article in New York magazine, party leaders "were waiting for a formal disaster request from the Trump administration."
But Trump tweeted on: "Much of the island was destroyed, with billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with."
How ironic that in the wake of a catastrophic disaster, our President feels the need to mention what Puerto Rico owes to its creditor banks, particularly given his own history of multiple bankruptcies. Our fellow Americans on the island are facing unprecedented, horrific living conditions and this is what Trump finds noteworthy.
Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States, and its people are US citizens, although most Americans do not know that. Although they are Americans, Puerto Ricans on the island do not have a voting member of Congress to advocate for their interests. If only they could count on the President to amplify the fact that they need help -- and they need it quickly.
Instead, this past weekend it was left for island officials to plead their case directly to the media, and for former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to call for the US Navy to be sent to the island to assist in relief efforts.
Sure, Trump did offer, regarding the disasters, that "food, water, and medical supplies are top priorities." The fact that he tweeted these sentiments made them appear an afterthought. Until Tuesday, days after Maria made landfall, Trump did not mention the plight of the US Virgin Islands, which have been virtually destroyed, at all.
Which brings us to the states Trump DID mention in his tweets — although it's unclear whether he knew what he was talking about. Mr. President, Texas and Florida are not "doing great." They were doing great before two hurricanes walloped them, but it will be a long time before they are back to pre-Harvey and pre-Irma conditions.
In southeast Texas, many families are coping with the loss of their homes and possessions and figuring out how and where to live now. City and state officials are already sparring over how to fund the ongoing cleanup efforts. And according to news reports, relief has come slowly for smaller towns along the Texas coast.
Florida is in a similar predicament. The state, especially Miami, was lucky to dodge the full force of a Category 5 hurricane. Still, thousands of people were without power for days, and they, too, are salvaging their lives and getting to work on rebuilding. Thanks to Irma, Florida's tourism, agriculture, and insurance industries are reeling. Sunshine State residents are facing unexpected property damage and financial losses, with many planning to apply for federal assistance. A FEMA disaster recovery center opened in Miami-Dade County just this week.
Trump's casual — and ludicrous — pronouncement about how "great" Texas and Florida are doing after two severe weather events downplays the long road ahead for these states, and amounts to an abuse of his position as chief executive with the power of the bully pulpit.
The risk is that the short-attention-span American public and media will soon move on to the next big story and forget about our fellow Americans' suffering. Though it may come as a shock to the President, this is not all about him; just because he has visited Texas and Florida post-storm does not mean things are going well there.
Puerto Rico Gov.: There will be mass exodus 00:42
In contrast to the very personal ways that Trump often engages in Twitter when he is on the attack, his tweets about storm damage in the country he leads, particularly when it comes to Puerto Rico, have an oddly impassive tone, as though he were an observer.
Yet he is the chief executive, with the power to elevate a national discussion or issue, literally, at his fingertips. That he has taken nearly a week to do so in the case of Puerto Rico only adds to the perception that he cares little about Latinos; no wonder 67% of Latinos disapprove of the job he is doing as President.
Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands all deserve continuing attention and concern from our President. Trump's tweets stand as their own shameful disaster
Monday, September 25, 2017
|What most common-sense people already knew when the deplorables elected Trump for President is happening now: Mr Blabbermouth Trump still has a problem with knowing when to speak and when to shut the F””k up. His rhetoric has brought the US, and with it the world, to the edge of a nuclear war with North Korea. And nobody knows who else is gonna join the crazy game of death. And the deplorables are still cheering him on as if they are looking forward to be wiped off the face of the earth by a nuclear cloud. But what else can we expect of the dumbest scum of the earth?|
When Trump says North Korea is not gonna be around much longer, it must sound like a declaration of war to the North Korean leadership. It would to any other nation with a little selfrespect.
When will people learn that the best solution is to lock up their leaders in one single prison cell and let THEM fight it out right there, while the rest of us can continue with our lives. But as history teaches us, it has never been like that and will never be.
Monday, September 18, 2017
|This is the incredible story of a man and his ship wanting to prove the nearly impossible. It is also the story of his ship going home after having spent 80 years in a foreign country on the bottom of the sea.|
The man’s name was Roald Amundson, a Norwegian, obsessed with exploring the polar region.
As the leader of the Antarctic expedition of 1910–12, which was the first to reach the South Pole, on 14 December 1911, he was a key expedition leader during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. In 1926, he was the first expedition leader for the air expedition to the North Pole, making him the first person, without dispute, to reach both poles. He is also known as having the first expedition to traverse the Northwest Passage(1903–06) in the Arctic.
In 1918 Amundsen began another expedition. This time the plan was to try the North-East Passage. The goal of the expedition was to explore the unknown areas of the Arctic Ocean, strongly inspired by Fridtjof Nansen's earlier expedition with Fram. The plan was to sail along the coast of Siberia and go into the ice farther to the north and east than Nansen had.
Amundsen planned to freeze the Maud into the polar ice cap and drift towards the North Pole (as Nansen had done with the Fram), and he did so off Cape Chelyuskin. But, the ice became so thick that the ship was unable to break free, although it was designed for such a journey in heavy ice. In September 1919, the crew got the ship loose from the ice, but it froze again after eleven days somewhere between the New Siberian Islands and Wrangel Island.
After two winters frozen in the ice, without having achieved the goal of drifting over the North Pole, Amundsen decided to go to Nome to repair the ship and buy provisions.
During the third winter, Maud was frozen in the western Bering Strait. She finally became free and the expedition sailed south, reaching Seattle, Washington, in the US Pacific Northwest in 1921 for repairs. Amundsen returned to Norway, needing to put his finances in order.
In June 1922, Amundsen returned to Maud, which had been sailed to Nome. He decided to shift from the planned naval expedition to aerial ones, and arranged to charter a plane. He divided the expedition team in two: one part was to survive the winter and prepare for an attempt to fly over the pole. This part was led by Amundsen. The second team on Maud, under the command of Wisting, was to resume the original plan to drift over the North Pole in the ice. The ship drifted in the ice for three years east of the New Siberian Islands, never reaching the North Pole. Maud was seized by creditors in Seattle and sold at an auction. The Hudson's Bay Company purchased the ship to supply its Arctic outposts. After refitting in Vancouver, and with a new name, Baymaud sailed for the Western Arctic in June 1926. It never returned. After freezing in for the winter of 1926-1927, the ship was moored close to shore and used by the Hudson's Bay Company as a floating machine shop, warehouse and wireless station.
Baymaud developed a leak and sank at its anchorage in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, Northern Canada, in the winter of 1930. A small portion of the ship remained above the ice and water, and the masts, rigging and cabins were stripped from the hull. The rest of the ship was allowed to settle into the water.
An Idea Is Born
The idea of bringing “Maud” home took hold in 2011, during a 3 weeks visit to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, in August 2011 when “Maud” was surveyed extensively over and under the water both with still photographs as well as film. Maud was still in a satisfying technical state to be saved, despite having spent the last 80 years at the seabed.
But the removal of Maud from it’s icy location was not to happen without a fight against the Federal Government of Canada which at first denied the Norwegians the removal of the ship, citing polar region’s cultural interests, but the Norwegians were holding the title to the ship and finally the action lifting the ship got underway, starting preparations in 2014.
Maud submerged at Cambridge Bay, Nunavut
A float is brought into position to lift Maud
Maud resurfaced after 80 years
Yesterday, the expedition posted the following on their Facebook page:
MAUD HAS REACHED GREENLAND
Sunday, September 17, 2017
Months after President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, states and cities are offering their own forecast for reducing global warming: We got this.
While leaders outside Washington have been implementing measures for decades when it comes to combating carbon emissions and promoting green energy, the Trump administration’s rolling back of federal environmental protections has spurred localities around the country to step up in what experts say is an unprecedented effort.
Since Trump took office, there's been a downpour of legislation, amendments and resolutions aimed at curbing carbon emissions that are in line with key tenets of the Paris climate pact, the landmark global coalition meant to curb emissions that cause climate change.
"We’re really seeing a groundswell of activity," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune told NBC News.
Environmental activists hold placards during a demonstration to protest President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord deal on June 1.
"The U.S. is moving strongly and irreversibly forward to transition to clean energy and to take on the climate crisis seriously, even if there is an absence of leadership coming from the White House," Brune added. "Because of the president’s and Congress’ intransigence when it comes to climate change, local governments are looking to do more."
To date, 377 mayors have joined together in a group called Climate Mayors, pledging to honor carbon emissions goals set by the Paris deal in their own cities. Under Paris, the U.S. had committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.
Another group, America’s Pledge, was created in July by California Gov. Jerry Brown and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to help organize states, cities and businesses in their efforts to bring down greenhouse gas emissions. Their group now includes officials from 200 cities and counties and nine states.
Actions supporting those goals have emanated from state capitals and city halls with rocket speed.
More than 370 bills of varying scope — all related to climate change, emissions reductions, carbon capture and green jobs — have sprung up in 41 states and Puerto Rico, proposed by Democrats and Republicans alike.
At least 50 of the measures have been enacted, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and 200 are still pending.
Some states have tackled the issue comprehensively.
In Hawaii, for example, the state’s Democratic-controlled legislature adopted or passed a series of measures, including making chunks of the Paris pact state law, allocating millions of dollars for emission reductions programs, and taking a step toward mandating climate change education in the state’s public schools.
In California, Brown extended in July his state’s cap-and-trade program, which makes businesses in the Golden State pay for their carbon dioxide emissions to 2030. It had been due to expire in 2020.
Under the program, limits are set on the amount of carbon dioxide a company is allowed to emit and auctions are held in which companies bid against each other for permits that allow a specific amount of emission. The cash from the auctions goes to a state greenhouse gas reduction fund.
Other states have taken a narrower approach.
In Maine, for example, the politically divided Legislature worked across party lines to issue $5 million in bonds to pay for prediction models for the state’s coastal zones that will help monitor "sea level changes in order to mitigate the impact of help prepare for rising sea levels" caused by climate change.
Maryland’s Democratic-controlled state Legislature passed a bill to incentivize farming practices that reduce runoff and emissions.
Even more action is taking place at the city level.
"There’s literally nothing more important than saving the planet, and now it’s cities leading the effort," Long Beach, Calif., Mayor Robert Garcia told NBC News. "That’s the world we live in with Trump having withdrawn from Paris."
A new survey of more than 100 American cities with at least 30,000 people, released exclusively Sunday to NBC News by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, found that nearly two-thirds of the cities are procuring green-fleet vehicles for city use and public transportation.
About two-thirds of the cities have also made commitments to require energy efficiency in all government buildings, and 63 percent have installed public charging stations for electric vehicles. Another 23 percent said they’re considering programs that would result in the installation.
The survey’s results "indicate the desire of cities of all sizes to do more to meet the challenges of clean energy and sustainable development," Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales and Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said in a joint statement.
And innovation keeps coming.
Last week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who’d committed in 2014 to cutting the city’s emissions by 80 percent by 2050, announced a first-of-its-kind proposal that would require owners of all aging buildings over 25,000 square feet, including apartments, to meet new greenhouse gas emission standards.
While climate experts have celebrated the progress, they've also been quick to point out that states and cities had been active on the issue long before Trump took office.
"They weren’t just sitting on their hands," said Jackson Morris, who manages on climate-mitigation policies for the eastern U.S. for the National Resources Defense Council. "(Trump) lit a fire under them, it added another layer of urgency."
Thursday, September 14, 2017
|For the first time in 300 years, there’s not a person on Barbuda |
Barbuda has been left completely devastated by Hurricane Irma. An estimated 95% of Barbuda’s structures are damaged, and the entire island of around 1,800 people has been evacuated.
“The damage is complete,” says Ambassador Ronald Sanders, who has served as Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the U.S. since 2015. “For the first time in 300 years, there’s not a single living person on the island of Barbuda — a civilization that has existed on that island for over 300 years has now been extinguished.”
According to Sanders, Irma was “the most ferocious, cruel and merciless storm” in the island’s history. The hurricane was 378 miles wide when it descended on Barbuda, which is just 62 square miles.
“This was a huge monster,” he says. “The island and the people on the island had absolutely no chance.”
Evacuees from Barbuda were sent to Antigua, which did not suffer the same level of damage from Irma.
“We’ve had most of the people we’ve brought over to Antigua in shelters,” says Sanders. “We’ve tried to make living accommodations as good as humanly possible in these circumstances. Fortunately, we had planned ahead for this hurricane, and we had ordered supplies in from Miami and the United States before the hurricane hit.”
Though Barbudan evacuees are safe, Sanders says the situation is not ideal — people are living in cramped quarters in government facilities and nursing homes, including some 500 school-aged children. Now that school is back in session, Antigua must find room for these students.
“The situation is unacceptable, and it’s costly,” he says. “We’re going to have to keep this going for sometime because Barbuda’s not going to be rebuilt in a hurry, and when we do rebuild it, we’re going to have to rebuild to massive hurricane standards. This is going to take a while. There is no electricity there, there is no potable water anymore, there is no structure in which people can survive. We have a mammoth task on our hands.”
Sanders says the world must step up and help Barbuda.
“We are a small island community — the gross domestic product of Antigua is $1 billion a year,” he says. “We cannot afford to take on this responsibility by ourselves. Barbuda is not just a disaster, it’s a humanitarian crisis. We are hopeful that the international community will come to our aid, not because we’re begging for something we want, but because we’re begging for something that is needed.”
Right now, initial estimates suggest that Barbuda will need about $200 million to recover. Antigua and Barbuda will create a sustainable development plan for rebuilding Barbuda, Sanders says, adding that he hopes the global community will provide humanitarian recovery aid.
“We have declared a state of emergency in Barbuda because it is a complete disaster and uninhabitable,” he says. “We cannot cope with our own resources alone.”
In addition to financial aid, Sanders says the global community must also stand up to climate change.
“We believe climate change is here to stay — it’s a reality, despite all of the naysayers,” he says. “We know that these things have occurred as a result of the profligacy of the countries that are rich, and have abused the system. We, unfortunately, who contribute less than naught point naught percent of pollution of the world’s atmosphere, are the world’s greatest victims.”
Thursday, September 7, 2017
By ERIC HOLTHAUS
August 28, 2017
In all of U.S. history, there’s never been a storm like Hurricane Harvey. That fact is increasingly clear, even though the rains are still falling and the water levels in Houston are still rising.
But there’s an uncomfortable point that, so far, everyone is skating around: We knew this would happen, decades ago. We knew this would happen, and we didn’t care. Now is the time to say it as loudly as possible: Harvey is what climate change looks like. More specifically, Harvey is what climate change looks like in a world that has decided, over and over, that it doesn’t want to take climate change seriously.
Houston has been sprawling out into the swamp for decades, largely unplanned and unzoned. Now, all that pavement has transformed the bayous into surging torrents and shunted Harvey’s floodwaters toward homes and businesses. Individually, each of these subdivisions or strip malls might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but in aggregate, they’ve converted the metro area into a flood factory. Houston, as it was before Harvey, will never be the same again.
Harvey is the third 500-year flood to hit the Houston area in the past three years, but Harvey is in a class by itself. By the time the storm leaves the region on Wednesday, an estimated 40 to 60 inches of rain will have fallen on parts of Houston. So much rain has fallen already that the National Weather Service had to add additional colorsto its maps to account for the extreme totals.
Harvey is infusing new meaning into meteorologists’ favorite superlatives: There are simply no words to describe what has happened in the past few days. In just the first three days since landfall, Harvey has already doubled Houston’s previous record for the wettest month in city history, set during the previous benchmark flood, Tropical Storm Allison in June 2001. For most of the Houston area, in a stable climate, a rainstorm like Harvey is not expected to happen more than once in a millennium.
In fact, Harvey is likely already the worst rainstorm in U.S. history. An initial analysis by John Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas state climatologist, compared Harvey’s rainfall intensity to the worst storms in the most downpour-prone region of the United States, the Gulf Coast. Harvey ranks at the top of the list, with a total rainwater output equivalent to 3.6 times the flow of the Mississippi River. (And this is likely an underestimate, because there are still two days of rains left.) That much water—20 trillion gallons over five days—is about one-sixth the volume of Lake Erie. According to a preliminary and informal estimate by disaster economist Kevin Simmons of Austin College, Harvey’s economic toll “will likely exceed Katrina”—the most expensive disaster in U.S. history. Harvey is now the benchmark disaster of record in the United States.
As with Katrina, Harvey gives us an opportunity for an inflection point as a society. The people of Houston didn’t choose this to happen to them, but what happens next is critically important for all of us.
Climate change is making rainstorms everywhere worse, but particularly on the Gulf Coast. Since the 1950s, Houston has seen a 167 percent increase in the frequency of the most intense downpours. Climate scientist Kevin Trenberth thinks that as much as 30 percent of the rainfall from Harvey is attributable to human-caused global warming. That means Harvey is a storm decades in the making.
While Harvey’s rains are unique in U.S. history, heavy rainstorms are increasing in frequency and intensity worldwide. One recent study showed that by mid-century, up to 450 million people worldwide will be exposed to a doubling of flood frequency. This isn’t just a Houston problem. This is happening all over.
Weather patterns are also getting “stuck” more often, boosting the chances that a storm like Harvey would stall out. Some scientists have linked this to melting Arctic sea ice, which reduces the strength of the polar jet stream and weakens atmospheric steering currents that can otherwise dip down and kick a storm like Harvey on its way. To be sure, a storm like Harvey might have been possible in the absence of climate change, but there are many factors at play that almost assuredly made it more likely.
Adapting to a future in which a millennium-scale flood can wipe out a major city is much harder than preventing that flood in the first place. By and large, the built world we have right now wasn’t constructed with climate change in mind. By continuing to pretend that we can engineer our way out of the worsening flooding problem with bigger dams, more levees and higher-powered pumping equipment, we’re fooling ourselves into a more dangerous future.
It’s possible to imagine something else: a hopeful future that diverges from climate dystopia and embraces the scenario in which our culture inevitably shifts toward building cities that work with the storms that are coming, instead of Sisyphean efforts to hold them back. That will require abandoning buildings and concepts we currently hold dear, but we’ll be rewarded with a safer, richer, more enduring world in the end. There were many people in Houston already working on making that world a reality even before Harvey came.
If we don’t talk about the climate context of Harvey, we won’t be able to prevent future disasters and get to work on that better future. Those of us who know this need to say it loudly. As long as our leaders, in words, and the rest of us, in actions, are OK with incremental solutions to a civilization-defining, global-scale problem, we will continue to stumble toward future catastrophes. Climate change requires us to rethink old systems that we’ve assumed will last forever. Putting off radical change—what futurist Alex Steffen calls “predatory delay”—just adds inevitable risk to the system. It’s up to the rest of us to identify this behavior and make it morally repugnant.
Insisting on a world that doesn’t knowingly condemn entire cities to a watery, terrifying future isn’t “politicizing” a tragedy—it’s our moral duty. The weather has always been political. If random whims of atmospheric turbulence devastate one neighborhood and spare another, it’s our job as a civilized society to equalize that burden. The choices of how to do that, by definition, are political ones.
Climate change hits the vulnerable in a community hardest. It is no different in Houston with Hurricane Harvey, where even if an evacuation would have been ordered, countless thousands of people wouldn’t have had the means or ability to act. There is simply no way to safely evacuate a metro area the size of Houston—6.5 million people spread across an area roughly the size of Massachusetts.
The symbolism of the worst flooding disaster in U.S. history hitting the sprawled-out capital city of America’s oil industry is likely not lost on many. Institutionalized climate denial in our political system and climate denial by inaction by the rest of us have real consequences. They look like Houston.
Once Harvey’s floodwaters recede, the process will begin to imagine a New Houston, and that city will inevitably endure future mega-rainstorms as the world warms. The rebuilding process provides an opportunity to chart a new path. The choice isn’t between left and right, or denier and believer. The choice is between success and failure.
Sunday, September 3, 2017
As they return to Washington this week from their August recess, House Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee have their work cut out for them. Their job is to draft a major tax-cut bill for Congress to pass, ideally by year-end, to avoid closing out 2017 without a single big legislative win. The policy objective is to steeply cut tax rates for businesses and wealthy individuals. The political aim, and the point of President Trump’s speech last Wednesday, is to persuade the men and women in the Trump working-class base that a tax cut for the wealthy would be good for them, too.
It would not be, and to pretend otherwise, as Mr. Trump did, is to substitute propaganda for discourse. Mr. Trump’s claim that tax cuts will propel economic growth and lift wages ignores the consensus view of economists, which is that multitrillion-dollar tax cuts, as envisioned by Mr. Trump, are not a stable or reliable way to do either.
The president’s claim also defies history. Wages have long stagnated, despite tax cuts in the 1980s and 2000s, while profits, shareholder returns and executive pay have soared. Profits, whether lifted by favorable economic conditions, by tax cuts or by both, have not translated into employee raises and have instead been used for other purposes. One is to buy back stock, which lifts share prices and, by extension, executive compensation. Following a huge one-off corporate tax cut in 2004, big piles of corporate cash were also used to pay dividends to shareholders, settle legal issues and finance severance packages for layoffs.
Of all the ways that corporations have spent their profits recently, business investment has generally been low on the list. Higher wages have been even lower, if they make the list at all. It would be foolish to expect anything different if a new set of tax cuts increased corporations’ already healthy profits. Any advantages for middle-class Americans would amount to crumbs from the banquet table.
Then, too, there is the budget issue. Mr. Trump has proposed cutting the top corporate rate from 35 percent to 15 percent, a point he emphasized on Wednesday despite warnings from his economic advisers that a cut that sizable would cause the deficit to explode. Separately, he and his advisers have also proposed ending taxation on the foreign profits of American corporations, even though such profits are often actually earned in the United States and simply relabeled as foreign through the use of complex accounting maneuvers.
Proposed tax breaks for working people, in contrast, include relatively modest reductions in tax rates, a more generous standard deduction and tax relief for child care expenses. A recent analysis of Mr. Trump’s proposals by the nonpartisan Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center generously assumed that policy makers would end popular write-offs, including the deduction for state taxes, to offset the cost of the cuts. Even then, the analysis showed that the proposed Trump tax cuts would lift after-tax income for the top 1 percent of taxpayers by at least 11.5 percent (or an average annual tax cut of $175,000), compared with a barely perceptible 1.3 percent for taxpayers in the middle (or $760 in average tax savings).
Over all, the cuts, paired with loophole closers, would cost at least $3.4 trillion in revenue in the first 10 years and $5.9 trillion over the following decade. The question is how House Republicans will deal with those potential deficits. Many of them have built their reputations as fiscal hawks. Even if they were inclined to set aside their professed aversion to deficits to pass a big tax cut, their scope for deficit financing has now been narrowed by the floods in Houston, which will force them to borrow and spend for relief and recovery efforts. That is a responsible thing to do in an emergency. Borrowing to cut taxes — akin to taking cash advances on a credit card — is not responsible, in good times or bad.
The fixation on tax cuts is regrettable, because corporate tax reform is a worthy goal. Done right, it would lower the top corporate tax rate to 25 percent or so, bringing it more in line with the rates of other developed nations. It would also raise revenue by eliminating special-interest loopholes and enacting a small per-trade tax on financial transactions to account for the growth of financial markets in the nation’s economy. As yet, there is no sign that Republicans are prepared to take that sensible path.