5 Years After Superstorm Sandy, Millions Remain Vulnerable To Future Catastrophes

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By Philip Guelpa for WSWS – October 29 marked the five-year anniversary of landfall by the hurricane known as Superstorm Sandy on the New York/New Jersey coast. The storm resulted in at least 182 deaths in the US and the Caribbean, including 43 in New York City, and caused an estimated $71 billion in losses in the US alone. Half a decade on, many are still suffering the impacts of that storm and much of the population remains vulnerable to catastrophic damage from future storms, preparations for which have barely begun or remain totally unaddressed. Sandy caused severe damage to many coastal communities in New Jersey and New York. And yet, despite the claims of city and state officials, the commitment of resources for reconstruction and storm-protection upgrades has been totally inadequate to address the threat. Even that which has been allocated is far from spent. By the spring of 2015, for storm recovery in New York City alone, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had pledged $5.8 billion. According to the Daily News, two and a half years later, much of that money has yet to be spent, and mandated deadlines for project completion are fast approaching. In the wake of the recent major hurricanes in Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida, already inadequate FEMA funding will be spread even more thinly.

A People’s Recovery: Radical Organizing In Post-Maria Puerto Rico

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By Juan Carlos Davila for The Indypendent – SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — After Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, most telecommunications services collapsed, particularly cell phones and internet providers. People struggled for days to contact their loved ones, and although there have been some improvements, making a call, sending a text message, and connecting to the Internet is still a challenge in most areas. Only certain analog and satellite telephones managed to survive the category-four hurricane, and the landline of Cucina 135, a community center located next to San Juan’s financial center, was one of them. “Having a phone line was an invaluable resource,” said Luis Cedeño, spokesperson for El Llamado, an organization focused on providing support and unifying social movements in Puerto Rico. El Llamado (The Call) is supported by the Center for Popular Democracy and is led by a group of organizers from different sectors, including artists, communicators, social workers and student leaders. The second day after the hurricane, El Llamado began calling Puerto Ricans in the diaspora from the landline of Cucina 135 to organize relief efforts independent of government agencies or big NGOs like the Red Cross. Cucina 135 is based in a small house that has been converted into a communal kitchen and meeting space.

Solidarity In Action: Puerto Rico Relief Efforts Underway In New York

A woman holds a black Puerto Rican flag during a rally in Union Square this October. Credit: Dean Patterson.

By Leninz Nadal for The Indypendent – I grew up in the Lower East Side as a Nuyorican, and this has been a really emotional experience. My extended family lives in the municipalities of Loíza and Carolina in the northeast of Puerto Rico. They do not have power. We spent a lot of time trying to find them. It’s hard to know that my family is in this urgent, desperate situation, and at the same time, I also feel disconnected. There is a lot of guilt and feeling like we can never really do enough. The Trump administration’s mistreatment and lack of knowledge is infuriating. It is so callous. I’ve been really inspired by the Nuyorican and Puerto Rican diaspora coming together. It makes me hopeful that we have a strong resilient foundation. We had a healing space at UPROSE where a lot of people came and were able to grieve and also plan our next steps together. We communicate regularly with folks on the island and are organizing to send sustainable supplies. The groups we are working with are asking about bicycles, quality soil, non-GMO seeds, water supplies and solar panels so Puerto Rico can move toward economic sovereignty. On Oct. 11 we held a rally at Union Square as a part of a national day of action for a just recovery. The following day we sent supplies down with bikes and generators. What we really want is a just recovery for Puerto Rico. We don’t want investment capitalists to further a plan that prioritizes their corporate interests. We want the communities that have been directly affected to determine what needs to be done for Puerto Rico.

Texas City Declares No Harvey Relief Unless Applicants Promise Not To Boycott Israel

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By Emma Fiala for Mint Press News – DICKINSON, TX — The town of Dickinson, Texas is home to just over 20,000 people, an annual crawfish festival, and one of the most absurd requirements for disaster relief imaginable. The town recently made non-support of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign a condition for receiving hurricane aid. How can a small town like Dickinson put forth such a gratuitous disaster relief requirement? In this case, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree — Dickinson is simply following in the footsteps of the entire state of Texas. Recently, Texas banned any contractor who supports the BDS campaign from receiving state funds. In the opinion of Texas Governor Greg Abbott, anti-Israel policies are anti-Texas policies. Despite the head-scratching nature of that claim, at least to many critics in- and out-of-state, House Bill 89 was signed into law in July. The bill specifies that the state may enter into a contract with a business only if that business does not boycott Israel. The bill also takes the extra step of specifying that businesses must “not boycott Israel during the term of the contract” either. The legislation also prohibits the state from entering into a contract with a business that refuses to buy products made in Israeli settlements — settlements that are illegally located on Palestinian land.

Repression Of Mutual Aid In Puerto Rico

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By Staff of Mutual Aid Disaster Relief – Several police vehicles, an armored tactical vehicle, and law enforcement personnel including swat team pointed their guns at relief workers while surrounding and then entering our base of operations in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico in the early hours before dawn of October 16th, 2017. Law enforcement communicated that they were acting from a call that Mutual Aid Disaster Relief volunteers were engaged in “kidnapping”. After checking everybody’s belongings without consent, they forced volunteers out of what was the Mutual Aid Disaster Relief Puerto Rico hub at gunpoint and the threat of arrest. Law enforcement intimidation also included aggressive questioning of our purpose there and whether or not we were protestors or Antifa, had we ever used the raised fist, if we were distributing propaganda, and if we were planning to overthrow the government.

The Big Picture: 3 Toxic Crises Boiling Over In Florida

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By Dipika Kadaba for The Revelator – A difficult hurricane season unearths issues ranging from cancer hotspots to deadly bacteria. Ah, Florida — home to famous natural landscapes and amazing wildlife, but also to more than 20 million people and billion-dollar industries. Decades of booming development in Florida — all of it built in the path of Atlantic hurricanes — have brought to a head some toxic problems the state still struggles to solve. Every major flooding event, like the one following this year’s Hurricane Irma, leaches toxic waste into people’s homes and drinking water. Florida is particularly vulnerable to storm surges and flooding from hurricanes like Irma. The EPA’s “Superfund” program oversees the cleanup of hazardous waste sites. Ahead of Hurricane Irma, the EPA worked to secure about 80 sites ranked at the highest priority for cleanup from Miami to North Carolina — but Florida alone contains more than 50 Superfund sites at this priority level, with approximately 500 hazardous waste sites in total. Superfund sites in Florida have been linked to increased cancer risk, and experts worry that these sites are vulnerable to flooding and spreading toxic pollution.

A Tale Of Two Islands

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By Vijay Prashad of Frontline – HURRICANES DEVELOP IN THE ATLANTIC Ocean and move across the cold water towards the warmer sea of the Caribbean. All that energy journeys, picking up steam, driving forward with immense force. This September, hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia and Maria thrust themselves into the Caribbean and devastated many of its islands as well as the coastline of the United States and Central America. One meteorologist, Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University, suggested that this September was the most deadly hurricane month since 1893. Changes in the world’s climate, scientists suggest, have made these Atlantic cyclones much more powerful than before. Warming waters increases the ability of the storms to draw in water vapour and to engorge themselves with more energy. These devastatingly formidable storms then drag the rising waters to produce dangerous storm surges that beat against coastlines and produce large-scale flooding. Hurricane Irma, which arrived in the Caribbean Sea in early September, destroyed many of the small islands such as Anguilla, Antigua, Barbuda and St. Martin. Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda said that Barbuda, which housed short of 2,000 people, had become “barely habitable”.

More Trouble Ahead: Puerto Rico's Impending Medicaid Crisis

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By Lara Merling and Jake Johnston for CEPR – Already in the midst of a fiscal crisis, Puerto Rico faces a long road to recovery from Hurricane Maria, a devastating storm it was ill-equipped to handle. The urgent efforts to address both the humanitarian needs and damage caused by the storm must also extend to solving the island’s imminent Medicaid crisis, a preexisting condition that plagued Puerto Rico before the hurricane and that has been exacerbated by it. This paper examines the inadequate federal support received by Puerto Rico for its Medicaid program, and shows that ― barring immediate action from the US Congress ― the territory will not have sufficient funds to continue operating in 2018. While the cost of living is higher in Puerto Rico than the US average, health care services are the only item that is significantly less costly on the island. Using 2016 Medicaid costs and looking at known migration patterns, we calculate what the federal government and states are likely to pay for providing Medicaid for Puerto Ricans moving to US states from 2018 to 2027 using two different migration scenarios.

How The Vietnam War Prepared Puerto Ricans To Confront Crisis

Members of Movimiento Pro-Independencia de Puerto Rico picket the White House in March of 1965. (Claridad / Biblioteca Digital UPR Río Piedras)

By Michael Stewart Foley for Waging Nonviolence – This week, as Puerto Ricans feel once again like a White House afterthought, it is hard not to conclude that Puerto Rico matters to Washington only when mainland political and business leaders need to conscript the island itself for some larger financial or military purpose. Consider the impact of Vietnam War policy on Puerto Rico. Thanks to a new Ken Burns documentary and Hurricane Maria, the headlines have us talking simultaneously about Vietnam and Puerto Rico for the first time in 50 years. Today, few Americans remember the impact of the Vietnam War on Puerto Rico. Yet the war struck the island with the force of a political hurricane, tearing at Puerto Rico’s social fabric, raising the same questions of colonialism that are again in the news in the wake of Maria, and fueling its independence movement. Not unlike Puerto Rico’s recent fiscal crisis, the Vietnam War brought into sharp relief the island’s unequal status as a territory of the United States, particularly after President Lyndon Johnson escalated the war in 1965. Draft-age men in Puerto Rico were subject to the Selective Service Act and called for induction into the U.S. military — even though they had no representative in the Congress that passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution…

America Not Immune From Chaos

Hurricane Irma as seen from space. (NASA photo)

By Ann Wright for Consortium News – “Exceptional” America views itself as largely immune from devastating storms and the violence that infect much of the world, but recent weeks show that there is no protection against natural and human catastrophes, writes Ann Wright. Over the past two months – between natural disasters and the actions of a heavily armed gunman firing from a high-rise hotel – citizens of the United States have faced the kind of havoc and violence that people in other parts of the world have been enduring routinely. Of course, other places in the Caribbean suffered their own devastating blows from these major hurricanes: Cuba, Barbuda, Dominica, Antigua, British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, British Virgin Island, St. Martin, Monserrat, Guadaloupe, St. Kitts and Nevis.Sunday night’s mass shooting in Las Vegas killed 59 and left more than 500 wounded. In previous weeks, American citizens have faced loss of life and massive property damage in Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands from Hurricanes Maria, Irma and Harvey. In other parts of the world, one-third of Bangladesh has been under water from monsoon rains; parts of Nigeria have been flooded; Mexico has endured killer earthquakes.

Puerto Rico Needs More Hurricane Relief Now ― And New Deal With Debt Relief

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By Mark Weisbrot for Buzz Feed News – More than 40 percent of Puerto Rico is without clean water, and the vast majority has no electricity. Many hospitals and operating rooms are not functioning, and the threat of a public health crisis looms. On Wednesday, 145 members of Congress took the unusual step of writing to President Trump and asking for more Department of Defense resources to be immediately deployed. Puerto Ricans are US citizens, and Puerto Rico is legally entitled to the same federal relief and reconstruction aid as Texas or Florida. But Puerto Rico is also an “unincorporated territory” of the United States ― or, as many would say, a colony. Although Puerto Ricans can be drafted to serve in the US military, and are subject to other obligations of US citizenship, they do not have voting representation in the US Congress. Therein lies the problem: Puerto Rico’s political status not only prevents these US citizens from securing their legal rights, but even worse, it allows them to be treated very badly, over and over again, and not have the sovereignty to chart a different course. That different course is desperately needed, because if Puerto Rico is to have a future, it will need a whole new economic plan that allows it to recover. This would include, at a minimum, the cancellation of most of its debt, which is not going to be paid in any case.

Stand With Puerto Rico -- Not The Banks

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By Wenonah Hauter for Food and Water Watch – It’s been one week since Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, and nearly half of Puerto Ricans now lack access to safe drinking water and much of the island is still without power. This is a calamity that means lives are still at risk today, long after the disaster itself. Hospitals there are running off of generators, and fuel to power them is running out. Puerto Rico needs immediate humanitarian assistance before many more lives are lost thanks to America’s latest climate catastrophe, and reconstruction aid to help them rebuild their infrastructure. The hurricane only made a bad situation much, much worse: Puerto Rico has been reeling from austerity measures for years that were put in place by Wall Street, which has been calling to recoup the debt. One of Donald Trump’s first responses to the mounting humanitarian crisis was to remind people of the “billions of dollars” the territory owes to the bank, “which must be dealt with” – signaling what the priorities will be. Given the role the banks have played in guiding our decision makers to put profits before people, it’s not surprising. For the past 100 years, Wall Street and the massive corporations they back have guided policy on everything from energy to agriculture, with disastrous effects for our food and water. It has come with toxic pollution, higher prices for consumers, massive wealth inequality and a warming planet.

Puerto Rico Rejects Loan Offers, Accusing Hedge Funds Of Trying To Profit Off Hurricanes

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By David Dayen for The Intercept – PUERTO RICO HAS rejected a bondholder group’s offer to issue the territory additional debt as a response to the devastation of Hurricane Maria. Officials with Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority said the offer was “not viable” and would harm the island’s ability to recover from the storm. The PREPA (Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority) Bondholder Group made the offer on Wednesday, which included $1 billion in new loans, and a swap of $1 billion in existing bonds for another $850 million bond. These new bonds would have jumped to the front of the line for repayment, and between that increased value and interest payments after the first two years, the bondholders would have likely come out ahead on the deal, despite a nominal $150 million in debt relief. Indeed, the offer was worse in terms of debt relief than one the bondholder group made in April, well before hurricanes destroyed much of the island’s critical infrastructure. Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority suggested that profit motive rather than altruism was the bondholder group’s real goal. “Such offers only distract from the government’s stated focus and create the unfortunate appearance that such offers are being made for the purpose of favorably impacting the trading price of existing debt,” the agency said in a statement.

Revolutionary Medicine: The Change We Need

Supporters of single-payer health care march in Sacramento, Calif., in April. (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

By Michael Pappas for Truth Dig – It’s time to start talking to our patients about climate change and the structural causes of disease. Hurricane Harvey has devastated Texas, leaving many dead, thousands with homes destroyed and billions in damage to infrastructure. Hurricane Irma pummeled the Caribbean and Florida at the same time that Hurricanes Katia and Jose were picking up strength in the Atlantic and threatening Mexico and the Eastern Caribbean. Forest fires are destroying regions of the Pacific Northwest. Meanwhile, in Nigeria, over 100,000 people have been forced to leave their homes because of widespread flooding, and in Southeast Asia over 1,200 have died due to historic flooding, which has left over one-third of Bangladesh under water. These disasters did not come out of the blue, though. They are just a few examples of what results from an economic system that knows no limits. If the medical community wants to start addressing the systemic causes of illness, instead of just addressing the results that manifest themselves in various degrees of illness for suffering patients, we will have to make addressing the structural aspects of disease central to everyday medical practice. In medicine, we are often told not to “politicize” health care issues, not to be “too controversial” because “X” residency may not want to accept you, or “Y” employment opportunity may not want to hire you.

Pope Calls Out Climate Deniers In Wake Of Hurricane Irma, Harvey

Hurricane Irma struck Florida on Sept. 10 with powerful winds and a storm surge as Houston was still draining from 50 inches of rainfall from Hurricane Harvey. Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

By Marianne Lavelle for Inside Climate News – With the lives of Texans and Floridians upended by back-to-back superstorms, one thing hasn’t been shaken: climate change denial. Hurricane Harvey, which broke the continental U.S. rainfall record with its deluge of southeast Texas, and Hurricane Irma, one of the most powerful tropical cyclones ever recorded, epitomize the consensus science warnings of heightened risks in a warming world. The last peer-reviewed National Climate Assessment, in 2014, highlighted extreme precipitation and the increasing intensity of Atlantic hurricanes as looming perils for the United States. In the wake of the storms, Pope Francis and other leaders urged officials who deny the reality of climate change to open their eyes. “You can see the effects of climate change with your own eyes, and scientists tell us clearly the way forward,” Pope Francis said Monday, stressing that leaders have a “moral responsiblity” to act. But “when you don’t want to see, you don’t see,” he said. “History will judge those decisions.” Miami’s Republican mayor also called on President Donald Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to acknowledge the role of climate change, saying “If this isn’t climate change, I don’t know what is.