The great debate is on: How many Puerto Ricans will migrate from the island to Florida over the next year? That is much on the minds of everyone from Central Florida to Puerto Rico, from everyday people to politicians.
“More are coming?” remarked a non Hispanic white stranger to a friend who was wearing a tee-shirt that stated “Florirican,” a new term, much like “Orlando Rican,” which we’ll be hearing more often in the days and weeks to come.
Volunteering at a phone bank, I spoke with about a dozen families in Puerto Rico who were interested in relocating to Florida, most deeply worried about medical care they aren’t getting for themselves or loved ones, including cancer treatment and dialysis. Some had lived in Florida before.
Others are upset about the prospects of no work for months. “I can’t earn money here,” said one man whose wife had given birth to a boy two weeks ago. A woman said, “I work as a [private] physical therapist but I have no work now.”
A young mother of three explained that the children’s father was helping to relocate the family. She didn’t seem daunted by the approximate $3,000 price tag of first and last month’s rent plus security deposit for an Central Florida apartment.
In a series of tweets, President Donald Trump has politicized the hurricane tragedy in Puerto Rico, where 3.4 million Puerto Ricans are desperately coping without water, electricity, work, cash, low food supplies and much more.
When Harvey flooded Houston, Trump didn’t tweet about the city’s lack of zoning codes and its growth-at-all-cost plan to pave over its plains, which caused huge water runoff and flooding. It was not the moment to blame the flood victims, who had lost nearly everything, for their leaders’ poor political decisions. Indeed, Trump has visited Texas twice since Harvey struck the state.
When Irma smashed into Florida, Trump didn’t tweet about how the dismantling of growth management and other protections over eight years has opened up the state for disaster. Or how the weakening of nursing home rules in a state with the highest population of elderly in the nation may have led to the deaths of 11 people in a South Florida nursing home whose license should have been yanked years ago.
Now comes Puerto Rico, with the worse hurricane disaster in the modern history of the United States, and instead of sending more water, food and aid, Trump blames the victims for the poor political decisions of their leaders, tweeting on Monday:
Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble…It’s 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
This right here is the morally bankrupt equivalent of former President George W. Bush’s words to former FEMA chief Michael Brown for a job well done – not! – shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi in 2005. “Brownie, you’re doin’ a heckuva a job.”
“Brownie” ended up resigning from FEMA when the images of unattended needs and massive suffering during and post Katrina were plastered all over television and newspapers.
Puerto Rico Not Doing Well
Mr. President, Puerto Rico is not doing well. Hurricane María is way bigger than Katrina. More aid is needed. Where is the water, food, fuel, electricity? Even Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is complaining about the response.
He is asking for Defense Department help for more search-and-rescue missions. In other words, a week after Hurricane María made landfall people are still missing. About 24 of 78 municipalities have not been declared federal disaster areas. Cell communication is down in 92 percent of the island, per the Federal Communications Commission. The gas pumps are still dry. It’s unlikely Puerto Rico can repay FEMA aid.
Do Your Job
There will come a day when we can tackle the issues of poor zoning and construction in Houston, weakened regulations in Florida and poor infrastructure and high debt in Puerto Rico. But this is not that day.
Do your job. Tend to the needs of the men, women and children drowning in this tragedy in Puerto Rico – or get the heck out the way.
I’m experiencing a case of the Puerto Rico “bailout blues” after a recent conversation with a friend went like this: “Well, you guys want a bailout but you don’t pay federal taxes and you can’t have it both ways.”
After the rant dust settled down, I concluded: Must we always start from scratch?
Must Puerto Ricans everywhere always start from scratch when it comes to the subject of Puerto Rico? Are we doomed to a relive a Groundhog Day set to 1898? Are we forever to shout, “Remember the Maine!” – even to the President of the United States whose Twitter rant about Puerto Rico this week was woefully wanton?
Low on the Radar
It must be disconcertingly so, for knowledge is not required for opinions to be formed or uttered. But it doesn’t always have to be this way.
Trump tweets 1 and 2:
Puerto Rican Parade
All of this serves as a perfect backdrop to Saturday’s Puerto Rican Parade through Downtown Orlando, preceded by busloads of Puerto Ricans returning from a Tallahassee tour earlier in the week.
The events serve three purposes – to remind the Orlando community of our presence, to build up our self image and self esteem, and to entertain ourselves. I worry that the third purpose may cast the longest shadow.
“Don’t forget ‘the ask’ ” – shorthand for, what do you want? – I reminded a participant of the Tallahassee tour. Make sure you ask for what you want. What do you want?
What if the bomba y plena signifies nothing? What is the cost of a failure to launch? What is the point, to paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, of walking loudly and carrying no stick?
Here’s the stick Federico de Jesús of the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration is using to help secure up to $900 million in Medicaid funds for the island’s deep-in-the-hole health care system as well as to beat back Trump and likeminded pols:
“If (Congress) includes extending current Obamacare funding under Medicaid for Puerto Rico, that wouldn’t be a bailout to the Commonwealth, it would actually be saving money for state and federal taxpayers who would otherwise face an even more massive influx of Puerto Ricans moving to the US [boldface mine], where health care is 3 to 4 times more expensive than in the Island,” said De Jesús.
In Spanish this is called summoning “El Cuco” or ghost or nightmare, as in your worse ghost or nightmare is coming – hordes of Puerto Ricans at your doorsteps! Be afraid.
But doesn’t this paint Puerto Ricans as being unwelcome, unwanted, unwashed? And … aren’t there already more Puerto Ricans in the 50 states, mostly Florida and New York, than on the island of Puerto Rico? More or less 5 million versus 3 million?
Couldn’t the numbers be leveraged for better effect or result? Wouldn’t it be more empowering to state, “Over 5 million Puerto Ricans live in the states. All are citizens and each can vote – for or against you. Take your pick” ?
Wouldn’t it be more powerful for busloads of Puerto Ricans to go to Tallahassee in January or February before the Florida Legislature is in session, when committees meet and bills are being drafted?
No More Puerto Rico ‘Bailout Blues’
And wouldn’t it be great if people like the Rant Woman and Trump were better informed so Puerto Ricans wouldn’t have to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous comments?
Here’s the thing. We have nocontrol over the Rant Women and Trumps of our times. Sure, they are ignorant and disheartening. I won’t look at Rant Woman the same way again.
I opted to move past Rant Woman. I unshackled myself from 1898. I remember the Maine even if she doesn’t.
If the Puerto Rican community minds its politics and business, whatever that may be, the know-nothing Rant People of the world would sit up and take notice when the results start marching in. Which they will. Guaranteed.
April Fools Day is a good time to get for real about the issue of fake news.
You’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. But it’s not always easy to recognize – or even admit – it’s fake news, especially if it checks all the boxes that readers may want to believe.
Here’s one fake news that made the rounds of my Facebook feed in February with this screaming headline: “MICHELLE OBAMA DEMANDS AMERICANS PAY UP TO GIVE HER MOM A CUSHY $160K PENSION.”
Fake News about the First Family
The only person in the first family to earn a pension is the president. Not even the first lady, each of whom works for free, gets a pension – much less a first mom, such as Marian Robinson, mother of Michelle Obama.
And yet some people want to believe it because it feeds into their house of cards.
Other examples include the ping-pong pizza story, which falsely accused Clinton associates of leading a pedophilia ring from the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor. Sounds too ludicrous to be believed, and yet a gunman entered the establishment and fired his assault rifle. Luckily, no one was injured but the gunman was arrested.
“I got put on the fake news beat probably because there is so much of it,” said Joshua Gillin, a panelist and staff writer forPolitiFact Florida and the Tampa Bay Times.
Politifact is a go-to website to find out whether a news item has merit. Others include Snopes and FactCheck.
Scary thought: Gillin noted that most fake news is not even produced in the United States, which speaks to the issue of the 2016 presidential election and whether Russia or Russian hacks colluded with the Donald Trump campaign to spread fake news about HiIlary Clinton. Three investigations – House, Senate and the FBI – are underway to get at the truth.
Richard Foglesong, Rollins College professor and forum moderator, asked an intriguing rhetorical question:
“Is the First Amendment part of the solution or part of the problem?”
The First Amendment protects free speech and, if you’re a public figure, the bar is set high in this country against suing. Clamping down on most free speech is difficult because it’s nearly impossible to ban.
Detecting Fake from Real
That’s why readers need to be more critical of what they read. To pass itself off as real news, fake news almost always has some, if not all, of these characteristics, according to Gillin.
A public figure or a person you know – Michelle Obama in the fake pension story. (Note the unattractive photo too.)
Some kernel of knowledge – Most people would be familiar with the first family and/or understand that presidents receive a lifetime pension after leaving office.
Wild baseless claim with fake supporting details – Michelle Obama “demanding” a pension for her mom.
Comments – Usually in outrage. “This is all we need now, FREELOADERS,” wrote the Facebook poster. Thankfully, most commenters grasped the flakiness of it. “This is so funny!” mocked one reader.
Fake news is not new. It’s been around for millennia. However, the lightning speed at which news travels these days, especially on social media, makes it particularly troublesome.
“Fake news engenders an uninformed electorate,” Gillin said.