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Federal officials accidentally emailed a reporter their plans to spin Puerto Rico.

In a memo leaked last week, Department of Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert recommended White House staff pivot to a “theme of stabilizing” with regard to messaging around the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico.

President Trump, however, appears to have missed that particular update. On Thursday morning, he threatened to pull federal relief workers from the devastated island just three weeks after Maria made landfall.

Meanwhile, most of Puerto Rico is still without power, hospitals are running out of medical supplies, and clean water remains scarce.

Trump isn’t the only prominent Republican refusing to recognize the severity of the crisis. In an interview with CNN on Thursday morning, Representative Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican, accused host Chris Cuomo of fabricating reports of the severity of the disaster.

“Mr. Cuomo, you’re simply just making this stuff up,” Perry said. “If half the country didn’t have food or water, those people would be dying, and they’re not.”

45 Puerto Rican deaths have been officially confirmed so far, and reports from the ground indicate the unofficial number of deaths due to the storm is higher.

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Federal officials accidentally emailed a reporter their plans to spin Puerto Rico.

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You’re probably going to be driving an electric car soon.

While we’re all talking about IQ tests, here’s a math problem: Imagine you’re a tree with 56 apples to take care of. One day, a massive storm comes and knocks out about four of those apples. They’re all on the ground now, kind of smushed.

But one of those apples didn’t have the same advantages as the other ones — too many pesticides growing up, let’s say — and it’s extra-smushed. It is also $74 billion in debt. (You may ask: Who loaned an apple $74 billion? Hedge funds have long embraced predatory lending practices, but that’s a math problem for another time.)

Anyway — as the tree, it’s your job to get those apples back in shape. You decide to allocate $36.5 billion in fallen-apple assistance. But only $5 billion specifically goes to that extra-smushed, indebted apple, and then that apple has to pay it back. It has to share about $14 billion with the other less-indebted and -smushed apples.

Surprise! This isn’t really a math problem — it’s an ethics problem. The tree is the United States government, the apples are all of its states and territories, the smushed apples are Florida, Texas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the extra-smushed apple is Puerto Rico. Donald Trump’s self-lauded aid plan for the ailing and indebted territory is a loan.

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You’re probably going to be driving an electric car soon.

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‘Dammit, this is not a good news story,’ San Juan mayor responds to Trump official.

The recovery effort trudges along after the Category 4 storm destroyed what Irma spared, flattening buildings and tangling power lines. More than 100,000 people live in the U.S. territory, and many of them are now waiting for power, medicine, and fuel.

“It will be a while before this place returns to a semblance of normalcy,” National Guard Chief Joseph Lengyel told Fox News.

Public school buildings are too damaged for students to attend classes, the New York Times reports. The main hospitals will have to be torn down and rebuilt. The power might not be back until December. And authorities have advised residents to boil their water before consumption, fearing contamination.

Making recovery harder is the nearly $2 billion in debt the Virgin Islands is carrying. That’s more per capita than Puerto Rico.

“The economy evaporated pretty much overnight,” one restaurant owner told the Times. Tourism makes up a third of the islands’ gross domestic product. The biggest resorts will stay closed until at least next year, meaning fewer customers for restaurants and bars and fewer jobs.

While attention is focused on the humanitarian crisis affecting millions in Puerto Rico, 40 miles to the west, the Virgin Islands remain mostly out of mind.

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‘Dammit, this is not a good news story,’ San Juan mayor responds to Trump official.

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A week after Hurricane Maria struck, the U.S. Virgin Islands are in shambles.

The recovery effort trudges along after the Category 4 storm destroyed what Irma spared, flattening buildings and tangling power lines. More than 100,000 people live in the U.S. territory, and many of them are now waiting for power, medicine, and fuel.

“It will be a while before this place returns to a semblance of normalcy,” National Guard Chief Joseph Lengyel told Fox News.

Public school buildings are too damaged for students to attend classes, the New York Times reports. The main hospitals will have to be torn down and rebuilt. The power might not be back until December. And authorities have advised residents to boil their water before consumption, fearing contamination.

Making recovery harder is the nearly $2 billion in debt the Virgin Islands is carrying. That’s more per capita than Puerto Rico.

“The economy evaporated pretty much overnight,” one restaurant owner told the Times. Tourism makes up a third of the islands’ gross domestic product. The biggest resorts will stay closed until at least next year, meaning fewer customers for restaurants and bars and fewer jobs.

While attention is focused on the humanitarian crisis affecting millions in Puerto Rico, 40 miles to the west, the Virgin Islands remain mostly out of mind.

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A week after Hurricane Maria struck, the U.S. Virgin Islands are in shambles.

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A volcano in Bali could erupt at any minute. More than 75,000 people have evacuated.

The devastation wiped out 80 percent of Puerto Rico’s agricultural production, according to Puerto Rico’s agriculture secretary, Carlos Flores Ortega. The New York Times visited farmer José A. Rivera after the winds flattened his plantain, yam, and pepper fields.

“There will be no food in Puerto Rico,” Rivera, told the Times. “There is no more agriculture in Puerto Rico. And there won’t be any for a year or longer.”

Food prices will surely rise on the island, although the loss of crops will not necessarily mean people will starve. Puerto Rico imports about 85 percent of its food. Even so, the storm damaged the infrastructure used to distribute imported food, like ports, roads, and stores.

On CNN, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló pleaded for aid from Congress. “We need to prevent a humanitarian crisis occurring in America,” he said. FEMA and the Coast Guard are working in the territory.

Flores, the agriculture secretary, appeared to be looking for a silver lining. This may be a chance to rebuild the island’s agriculture so that it is more efficient and sustainable, he told the Times.

As climate change accelerates, we can expect the rate of disasters like this to accelerate as well.

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A volcano in Bali could erupt at any minute. More than 75,000 people have evacuated.

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Maria has plunged Puerto Rico into a humanitarian emergency

The rain and winds may be over, but Maria’s impact on Puerto Rico is only just beginning.

The storm’s rains fell at a rate exceeding that of Hurricane Harvey in Texas with wind speeds exceeding that of Hurricane Irma in Florida. In the span of 24 hours, Maria knocked out Puerto Rico’s entire power grid, 95 percent of cellphone towers, the bulk of the island’s water infrastructure, as well as roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, airports, and seaports.

Officials warn it may take up to six months to fully restore power. In some communities, 90 percent of homes and businesses have suffered “complete” damage. To make matters worse, more than 40 percent of Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million residents live below the poverty line, making the uphill climb to recovery even more steep.

All indications are that Hurricane Maria has inflicted one of the most extreme and catastrophic weather events in American history. If the aid response is not swift, the situation in Puerto Rico has all the makings of a major humanitarian crisis.

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“There’s a humanitarian emergency here in Puerto Rico,” Ricardo Rossello, the territory’s governor, said. “This is an event without precedent.”

For now, the grim reality is that many Puerto Ricans are on their own. Over the coming days and weeks, first responders will fan out across the island. But many residents will likely begin their recoveries on their own. And if they sustain seemingly minor injuries while doing so, those could go without proper treatment. The sweltering tropical weather could enhance heat-related illnesses. In addition to removing a lifeline for critical-care patients, like those on dialysis, the lack of electricity also means that banks and ATMs will remain closed until further notice — making it more difficult for people to get the resources they need. Supplies of fresh food may start to dwindle.

But perhaps the biggest impact on human health in Puerto Rico will be the lack of clean water. On Twitter, climate scientist Peter Gleick urged the U.S. government to dispatch an aircraft carrier to Puerto Rico. The primary purpose: Not as a landing strip for bringing in supplies, but for its ability to purify massive amounts of water.

After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the nuclear-powered USS Carl Vinson was able to produce 100,000 gallons of clean water per day near the capital Port-au-Prince. In addition to supplying fresh water by whatever means necessary, Gleick says a massive public education campaign should begin immediately focused on preserving human health, particularly on water and sanitation.

“Everything else is secondary,” Gleick told Grist in an interview.

U.N. peacekeepers who came to aid in Haiti’s recovery ended up jumpstarting a cholera epidemic that killed more than 10,000 people. Puerto Rico has had just a single case of cholera since the mid-1800s, but other water-related illnesses, like dysentery, could become a major problem.

Initial estimates of damage to the island exceed $30 billion. That’s roughly one-third of Puerto Rico’s annual economic output — making Maria the rough equivalent of a $500-billion disaster in New York City or a $700-billion disaster in California. With the Puerto Rican government already saddled with more than $70 billion in debt, help is going to have to come from outside the island.

Puerto Rico, partly because of its unique relationship as a United States territory, faces a long and complicated recovery. The United Nations, which does not typically support recovery efforts in developed countries, has not yet issued an appeal for aid. The U.S. federal government should pick up most of the tab through grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which Congress will have to approve. So far, Maria’s impact in Puerto Rico has received only a fraction of the news coverage as Harvey’s landfall in Texas and Irma’s in Florida. That could potentially weaken public support for a multibillion-dollar aid package.

A lingering crisis could motivate a mass exodus to the U.S. mainland. But relocation is expensive, and those without the means to move could risk being left behind to shoulder an even bigger burden by themselves.

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Maria has plunged Puerto Rico into a humanitarian emergency

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Hurricane Maria poses a catastrophic threat to the Caribbean

This post has been updated to reflect Maria’s upgrade to Category 5.

The already miserable hurricane season is about to get worse, as Hurricane Maria barrels toward a storm-weary Caribbean.

Maria rapidly strengthened to a Category 5 hurricane on Monday, packing winds of at least 160 mph as it neared the eastern Caribbean island country of Dominica — one of the fastest intensifying hurricanes in history. Meteorologists with the National Hurricane Center warned that the storm would likely keep growing stronger as it moves closer to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, home to more than 3.5 million people. Ocean waters on its path are much warmer than normal, and atmospheric conditions are nearly ideal for a storm to intensify.

The latest forecast takes Maria ashore in Puerto Rico early Wednesday as a Category 5 — a worst-case scenario. Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló declared a state of emergency to help the island prepare and speed the flow of disaster aid.

All this comes less than two weeks after Irma struck the Caribbean as one of the strongest hurricanes in history. The damage from Irma in the U.S. Virgin Islands was so severe that local officials, whose economy depends on tourism, have told visitors to stay away. Cruise ships have been put into service as rescue vessels. In some of the hardest hit islands, like Barbuda, Anguilla, and St. Martin, recovery could take years.

Even though the wounds of Irma are still fresh, it’s important to remember that a hurricane as strong as Maria is exceedingly rare in the Caribbean. According to weather records dating back to 1851, no Category 5 hurricane has ever struck Dominica. Hurricane David, in 1979, was the only Category 4 to do so. That storm ruined the local economy and left roughly three-quarters of the population homeless.

Irma was a powerful Category 5, but its center moved past Puerto Rico without a direct landfall, so although the island experienced massive power outages, Irma could have been much worse.

Maria will likely be much worse.

Weather models show Maria crossing the center of Puerto Rico at peak strength, becoming the first Category 5 to do so since 1928, and only the second in recorded history. The result could be catastrophic, with heavy rainfall leading to inland flooding and landslides, winds in excess of 170 mph battering coastal cities, and storm surge of six to nine feet inundating homes and businesses along the shoreline.

It’s impossible to overstate how serious a storm like Maria is. The U.S. Virgin Islands’ Governor Kenneth Mapp warned of high winds and torrential rain and called on islanders to prepare, even as relief supplies for Irma continued to pour in. “If your home is damaged,” he said, “do not ride out this storm in your home.”

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Hurricane Maria poses a catastrophic threat to the Caribbean

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Britain just went a whole day without burning any coal for electricity.

Ten years ago, Mark Magaña was a D.C. lobbyist, when the Bipartisan Policy Center hired him to rally Latino support for an ill-fated bill to limit corporate carbon emissions. As Magaña soon found, there was no network to tap. Even within green groups in Washington, most Latino environmentalists didn’t know each other.

“The more I got into it, the more I saw the individuals in D.C. were very isolated,” Magaña says. “If I went to a green reception, maybe I’d be the only Latino in the room. Maybe there’d be one other, but I wouldn’t know them.”

In response, Magaña founded GreenLatinos, a national network of Latino environmental advocates that connects grassroots efforts with power and money in Washington. So far, the group has convinced the Environmental Protection Agency to close several contaminating landfills in Puerto Rico and brought attention to the Standing Rock pipeline protests in the Spanish-language media.

Diversity is the future of the environmental movement, Magaña says. “Now it’s investment time, investing in the communities,” he says. “They will be the environmentalists of the future.”


Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.

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Britain just went a whole day without burning any coal for electricity.

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UN Report Says UK Economic Policies are a Violation of Human Rights

Mother Jones

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The hits keep on coming for the UK. Amid swirling acrimony and indignant finger-pointing in the aftermath of the nation’s vote to leave the European Union, a UN body piled on this week with a damning assessment, declaring the UK’s austerity policies to be in breach of international human rights obligations.

The UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights wrote that it was “seriously concerned about the disproportionate adverse impact that austerity measures, introduced since 2010, are having on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups.” After fielding testimony from the Just Fair Consortium, a human rights alliance representing over 80 British and international charities and community groups, the committee issued an unequivocal assessment, condemning austerity policies for their impact on homelessness, unemployment, health care access, and discrimination against women and minorities, among other things. The report catalogs various concerns, including:

• “Persistent discrimination against migrant workers in the labour market”
• The minimum wage, which “is not sufficient to ensure a decent standard of living…does not apply for workers under the age of 25”
• A rise in “temporary employment, precarious self-employment, and ‘zero hour contracts'”
• “The increase to the inheritance tax limit and to the Value Added Tax, as well as the gradual reduction of the tax on corporate incomes,” leading to “persistent social inequality”
• “Persistent underrepresentation of women in decision-making positions in the public and private sectors”

Economic anxieties and Britain’s austerity regime provided a key backdrop for last week’s Brexit referendum, and may have motivated many who voted to leave the EU.

This is Britain’s first review by the UN body since 2009, whose report is one verdict on the austerity agenda pushed by many countries in the wake of the financial collapse. According to a statement from Jamie Burton, chair of Just Fair, the UN’s conclusions are beyond argument: “It is clear that since 2010, ministers were fully aware that their policies would hit lower income groups hardest…without offering any long term gain for the pain they inflicted.”

The verdict also gives extra firepower to those questioning austerity measures already imposed on the economies of Greece and Argentina, or that might be put in place in debt-wracked Puerto Rico. Despite the resounding terms of the UN’s report, Mark Blyth, Eastman professor of political economy at Brown University and author of Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea, doubts it will convince countries to reconsider deep cuts to social spending. “This is just more evidence that should matter—if evidence mattered,” Blyth told Mother Jones.

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UN Report Says UK Economic Policies are a Violation of Human Rights

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Congress Once Again Fails to Fund the Fight Against Zika

Mother Jones

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The fight against the Zika virus stalled in Congress on Tuesday when Senate Democrats blocked a Republican bill they said was stuffed with unpalatable measures, including a provision that barred Planned Parenthood from the emergency funding. With the $1.1 billion funding bill now dead in the water, lawmakers could fail to reach a compromise before they leave for a seven-week recess next month.

It has already been more than four months since President Barack Obama first submitted a request for $1.9 billion in emergency funds to combat the mosquito-borne virus, which has been linked to devastating birth defects.

Congress’ failure to respond to the crisis drew criticism Tuesday from the American Public Health Association. “We know Zika could cause hundreds of US infants to be born with preventable birth defects—if we don’t intervene,” the organization’s executive director, Georges Benjamin, said in a press release. He added that the latest bill was “both late and inadequate.” Obama criticized Congress for its lack of progress last month, saying, “They should not be going off on recess before this is done.”

The GOP bill passed the House last Thursday under unusual circumstances: The vote took place over the shouts of Democrats holding an all-night sit-in in an attempt to force a vote on gun control. Democrats sharply criticized the Zika bill for preventing emergency funding from going to the women’s health organization Planned Parenthood, a favorite target of conservatives, even though the Zika crisis affects pregnant women. They also objected to a provision weakening regulations on pesticides.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Monday described the bill as “nothing more than a goodie bag for the fringes of the Republican Party.” Republicans, meanwhile, blamed Democrats for the holdup. “It’s really puzzling to hear Democrats claim to be advocates for women’s health measures when they are the ones trying to block the Zika legislation,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Tuesday’s vote was 52 to 48, short of the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster.

As the partisan squabble stretches on, the Zika crisis is only growing. The disease has spread quickly in Puerto Rico, where the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned this month it could result in “dozens to hundreds of infants born with microcephaly in the coming year.” Nearly 2,000 cases have been reported in US territories, the vast majority of them contracted locally, according to the CDC. A total of 820 cases have been reported in US states. One of those was contracted in a lab; all the rest resulted from travel.

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Congress Once Again Fails to Fund the Fight Against Zika

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