Monthly Archives: September 2017

6 posts

Waiting for Hurricane Irma to Hit

Gov. Rick Scott, a Navy veteran, likes to wear a Navy cap during hurricane briefings./screen shot

It’s all over but the waiting for Hurricane Irma. After the hustle of preparation, there is nothing to do but wait for the hurricane to hit Central Florida. We are now experiencing the outer bands dropping rain in the Orlando area as the hurricane makes a second landfall near Naples in southwest Florida.

Which has left me thinking, a hurricane is a lot like a political campaign – a hive of activity right before the main event, similar to campaign mode, followed by the quiet of the hurricane itself, akin to election day when there’s nothing more to do but wait till all blows over.

There are other political parallels, particularly in dress. Have you noticed there’s a uniform look that goes with the theater of hurricane watch and preparation, much as there is a campaign look, one that  is not too distracting and states, “Look at me. I’m taking care of business.” And not too delicately, “Vote for me!”

Hurricane  Irma Uniform

Gov. Rick Scott likes to sport a baseball cap with “NAVY” written across the top (he is a Navy veteran) while surrounding himself with what appear to be a bevy of National Guard officials in full uniform, which makes me wonder, don’t they have something more urgent to do? But, of course, they are lending “urgency” to the press conference itself.

Other elected officials wear polo shirts with emergency management or state/local government  insignia. Sometimes the hurricane costume involves a bomber jacket of sorts. President George W. Bush preferred this look.

Trump’s hurricane look. /White House Flickr stream

When President Donald Trump visited Texas twice, he wore a uniform of khaki pants and white polo shirt and loose navy jacket, his man-of-the-people look. Thankfully, his cap didn’t say MAGA but “USA.”

Folks criticized Melania Trump‘s six-inch heels, although she wore them on her way to Air Force One, not in Texas. A change of hurricane wardrobe involved white Adidas sneakers and a baseball cap stating “FLOTUS.” On the second visit, another cap read “TEXAS.”

And, to be fair, all presidents and first families do this.

Disaster Wear

TV reporters have a disaster look of their own: baseball caps and jackets with their station’s logo. And they do silly things like stand in the wind as it tosses them about and is about to blow them away. Or stand in floodwaters, marveling, “Look how deep the water is!”

When I lived in Nevada, it became a joke to guess which newbie reporter would land the plum assignment of standing in the middle of the season’s first snowstorm in Truckee, Calif., to earn their reporter street cred. Frozen before there was “Frozen.”

Meteorologists do their own thing, taking off their jackets but never the tie. This is a  roll-up-your-sleeves moment. Working hard here! I get it; broadcast is visual.

Read But Not Seen

Print reporters are not seen but read, although this, too, is changing, with videos and audio reporting. Still, they are not nearly as visible. But every newsroom – print and broadcast – is jolted with energy during disasters or crises.

Reporters under disaster duress. /screen shot

Reporters, editors, news producers and others are working very long, almost non-stop hours, under stressful conditions. They don’t see their families and eat mountains of junk food to stay energized. Elected officials and administrators do too.

Because woe to the governor, county mayor or mayor who doesn’t make a show of protecting and keeping their constituents safe or, at the very least, empathize as people lose their homes and, possibly, everything they own.

Show Concern

So, go ahead. Show concern and empathy. Wear the hurricane uniform. If not, you can expect to get hammered, and rightly so, as soon as everyone is high and dry.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Puerto Rico Day of Reckoning Is Here

A crumbling building in historic Old San Juan, a symbol of Puerto Rico’s collapsed finances and reduced public employment. /Maria Padilla

SAN JUAN – People still applaud when their flight lands in San Juan, Puerto Rico. As one plane arrived, a passenger added, “Yo soy boricua” and the remaining passengers picked up the chant, “pa’ que tú lo sepas!”, an age-old chorus Puerto Ricans often sing in praise of themselves.

It’s all good considering the turbulence the island is enduring due to its enormous debt – over $70 billion – and the humiliation of an unelected, congressionally imposed fiscal oversight board whose purpose is to steer the island through its fiscal storm.

Which is to say, down on the ground the going is very rough.

Day of Reckoning

The fiscal year that began in July brought a new reckoning: more proposed cuts in public employment and reforms of government pension plans effective September 1. This on an island  reeling from a decade-old economic recession that has sent hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans packing to Florida and elsewhere since 2006, a historic migration.

Newly elected Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is going mano a mano with the Financial Oversight and Management Board over control of government, insisting the personnel cuts are “unnecessary” because the administration has made plenty of adjustments. Some mayors are even talking about civil disobedience.

The fiscal board, meanwhile, filed suit in federal court to force the governor’s hand. The outcome may determine who really is in charge. Huge hint: It’s the fiscal board.

Let’s be clear: Rosselló is attempting to put political distance between his administration and the inevitable shrinking of the government’s size and services. The fiscal board states 135,000 government workers are likely to be affected by a shorter work week, a number so high as to wither the political aspirations of the governor and his political party. In comparison, Florida had fewer than 100,000 full-time state workers, as of 2016.

Employer of Last Resort

For decades Puerto Ricans of all political stripes looked to the central government as employer of last resort – and the politicos gleefully complied. Voters will punish any governor who reverses course, as they have in the past.

Political posturing aside, people know deep inside there is no safe landing. This visitor couldn’t buy a treasury stamp (comprobante) in Dorado because the employee didn’t work Fridays. Plus, many municipal workers – another 55,000 employees – clock fewer hours as budget shortfalls have forced mayors to act.

But, in an absurd move that postpones the inevitable, the legislature declared “dead” a much-talked about consolidation of the island’s 78 municipalities that govern a shrinking population of 3.4 million people. That is more than Florida’s 67 counties and 20-plus million residents. Some mayors are forced to join hands. Several municipalities pitched in to collect the garbage of the town of Toa Baja (pop. 5,685), west of San Juan, one of the island’s most financially pinched. And the forecast is, some municipalities may disappear with or without reform for lack of funds.

In the southwest town of Cabo Rojo, residents must buy the town’s orange garbage bags to help pay for waste collection, a first. No orange bag, no pick up, according to the policy, which also encourages recycling. Certain residents reported that people are throwing garbage to the roadside to avoid buying bags, but this visitor didn’t detect anything out of the ordinary.

Stiff Upper Lip

The average Juan and Juana appears stiff-lipped, even graceful, under pressure as they plug away remembering others whose jobs have already vanished.

Workers, from a public school cafeteria worker and auto rental agent to a restaurant owner, seemed jittery but determined – nervous because they don’t know what’s coming but also determined to see things through.

The cafeteria worker dismissed any worries about losing her job, even though initial student registrations appeared to be down by 30,000. “We’ll see,” she commented. The auto rental agent was cautiously optimistic, glad that more travelers were arriving and renting cars. (Hotel occupancy was up 4 percent and hotel room taxes jumped 12 percent in July.)

Even collection of the dreaded 10.5 percent sales and use tax rose nearly 2 percent to $213 million in July over the same period a year ago. General tax collections were up 8 percent. Yes, picking the pockets of the puny 40 percent of the labor force that works is quite popular. Any layoffs, however, would shrink it further.

The bar-restaurant owner, whose parents opened the business located steps from the governor’s mansion decades ago, was all action behind the bar. “We have to work,” he said. “We have to work to push the country forward.”

Applause, please.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

This article was published September 1, 2017, in the Orlando Sentinel. See the story here.