Month: November 2017

Is Puerto Rico Being ‘Ethnically Cleansed’ for the Superrich?

by Harvey Wasserman

originally published  by TruthDig on November 21, 2017

 


A woman shows her pendant featuring a Puerto Rican flag. She lives in a school-turned-shelter after Hurricane Maria destroyed her home. (Ramon Espinosa / AP)

Two months after the Sept. 20 landfall of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico—like the nearby Virgin Islands—is still in a state of horrifying devastation. The help being offered by the Trump administration is thin to the point of being cruel and unusual.

At this point one must ask: Is Trump’s astonishing lack of aid part of a larger plan to cleanse the islands of their native populations, drive down real estate values and create a billionaire’s luxury hotel-casino-prostitution playground à la Cuba before the revolution?

In other words: ethnic cleansing for the superrich.

There is just one piece of good news: Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., has joined Rep. Stacey Plaskett of the Virgin Islands in proposing that Puerto Rico’s electric grid be rebuilt with wind, solar and a network of micro-grids. More than half the original electric grid is still not functioning, with frequent blackouts occurring in areas where the grid is operational.

Amid a widespread green campaign (more on that later), Lieu and Plaskett have asked the public to cosign their letter to the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to “invest in a more resilient energy infrastructure focused on renewable energy technology and distributed generation.”

One major wind farm on Puerto Rico’s south shore did survive Maria intact, as did the solar array of a local greenhouse business. Elon Musk has revived a children’s hospital by shipping in a solar/battery array that is sustaining the few medical facilities in San Juan with reliable power.

But overall, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are in such horrific shape that it’s hard to dismiss the idea that the weak recovery effort might be by design. Consider this:

● Throughout the islands, U.S. citizens are dying due to lack of clean water. Tens of thousands are still without food, clothing, medical care or even basic shelter.

● A CNN survey of Puerto Rico’s burial services found a minimum of 499 deaths in the wake of the storm. That number cannot begin to cover the entire scope of the casualties, as many of the corpses have never made it to funeral homes. The official government death toll is about 65. When Trump visited the island he proudly put it at 16, complimenting FEMA for keeping it so “low.”

● Despite enormous resources available, the Trump administration has failed to deliver even sufficient tarps to cover rooftops that have been shattered or blown away altogether.

● North Carolina activist Ana Blackburn reported on prn.fm radio’sGreen Power & Wellness Show” that her mother, who lives in central Puerto Rico, is feeding more than 100 people per day at a church kitchen that can barely scrap together enough food for everyone.

● She also confirmed widespread reports that FEMA workers are delivering small quantities of bottled water, but nowhere near enough to prevent desperately thirsty locals from drinking contaminated water from polluted streams and even from designated SuperFund sites (hazardous waste dumps), resulting in widespread sickness and death.

● FEMA has been responding to requests for help by handing people without phone service or electricity a flier with a phone number to call and a website on which to fill out an application.

● Many in Puerto Rico have died because most of the island’s hospitals have no power and cannot provide surgery, dialysis and other basic life-saving services. Insulin and other medicines have spoiled due to lack of refrigeration.

● Because so many businesses were destroyed, unemployment is rampant, and the numbers are impossible to accurately estimate, according to the island’s governor. With so many hotels and other attractions wiped out, revenue from the island’s core tourist industry has disappeared.

● Those who do have work restoring power and providing other emergency services return home at night to homes or apartments with no electric power, no air conditioning, no refrigerated food, no means to cook what they have and partial roofs that leak during the frequent rains.

● A New York Times report estimates that at least 168,000 of Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million pre-storm residents have already come to Florida, about half to the Orlando area, and thousands more may be trying to flee. Uncounted numbers of Puerto Ricans have fled to other states. Many, many more are expected to follow.

● Just prior to Hurricane Maria, Hurricane Irma had grazed Puerto Rico and left some 80,000 people without power. They were still blacked out when Maria hit.

● Puerto Rico’s notoriously corrupt public-owned utility soon gave a $300 million contract to a two-year-old, two-person firm based in Whitefish, Mont., to restore a centralized grid. Whitefish is the hometown of Trump’s interior secretary, Ryan Zinke. His son has previously worked for the firm.

● On the ground in Puerto Rico, local workers were ignored in the hiring process. The line workers Whitefish brought in at huge expense were massively overpaid, with high commissions added to their salaries. They were soon showered with rocks and bottles thrown by angry Puerto Ricans. The Whitefish contract was finally cancelled, and the utility chief in Puerto Rico who signed it was forced to resign.

● When Irma and Hurricane Harvey devastated large swaths of Florida and Texas, federal aid and resources poured in with reasonable efficiency. As part of a trans-utility agreement, thousands of trucks and line workers rushed into both regions to restore water and power. Many Texans and Floridians still suffer, but the FEMA response has made a major difference.

● Immediately after Irma ravaged the Caribbean, Trump harped on debts owed by Puerto Rico to Wall Street; critics say this was a pretext for not sending aid.

● Trump also attacked San Juan’s Latina mayor for being allegedly ungrateful and incompetent.

● When he finally visited the island, Trump staged a public meeting at which he tossed packages of paper towels at desperate survivors. He then flew home ahead of schedule.

Trump’s “discovery” that Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are surrounded by water did, of course, complicate his administration’s response.

Critics have inevitably raised the issues of race and poverty—along with a possible ulterior motive. On KPFK-Pacifica’s “California Solartopia” Show, longtime activist Joel Segal, a former congressional aide, discussed with me the widespread efforts by independent, safe energy activists that he has helped organize to see the islands’ electric grid be rebuilt with solar, wind and micro-grids.

These, says Segal, would not feed the global warming that will make future storms so powerful. They also would give the islands a reliable electric system at far cheaper prices than the old fossil burners that powered the islands before Irma and Maria.

But in confronting Trump’s non-response to the humanitarian crisis now gripping the islands, Segal also addresses the possibility that the neglect is deliberate.

“There is ethnic cleansing in PR, not enough food, water, medicine, and medical care. People dying in hospitals,” Segal said. “Why? Because they are black and brown people who speak another language. They are not white, therefore, why care about their well-being?”

Segal speculates that while the proposed GOP tax plan would give the rich a $1.5 trillion tax cut, Republicans in Congress do not want to spend $90 billion rebuilding the Caribbean.

In an email to me, Segal added that the hurricane response also might be about stripping the islands of their inconvenient natives and converting them into yet another billionaire’s paradise filled with Trump-type hotels, casinos and sex trade centers.

Even if they are, as Trump complains, surrounded by water.

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Will Alabama Voters Be Next to Reject ‘Trumpism’?

by Harvey Wasserman

originally published by TruthDig on November 8, 2017

Phil Murphy, right, won the governor’s seat in New Jersey, but during the race, his Republican opponent released a controversial immigration attack ad linking him to a convicted killer. (Screen shot via The Washington Post)

Steve Bannon’s attempted fascist putsch in Virginia and New Jersey has failed.

Is Alabama next? Can the Democrats keep it from being stolen?

Tuesday’s gubernatorial elections in the Garden State and the state “for lovers” were soundly won by moderate Democrats. The elections were widely featured in the corporate media as referendums on Donald Trump.

But the knife cut much deeper. Steve Bannon, the nation’s leading fascist activist-theoretician, offered to campaign for Gillespie, branding him a “culture warrior” in the course of the race. Although Gillespierefused Bannon’s direct aid in the campaign, Bannon praised Gillespie’s adoption of far-right Trumpist ideology and his brutally racist, anti-immigrant ads that reflect Bannon’s extreme right-wing ideology.

Bannon went so far as to say that Gillespie’s swing to the hard right was what made his race competitive. “I do believe Gillespie’s going to pull this thing out,” Bannon said Sunday, two days before the vote. “The lesson of Gillespie is Trumpism without Trump. … We now have forced the establishment to embrace our platform.”

But once Gillespie lost, both Trump and Bannon attacked him for not fully embracing their positions or their presence. Trump was the first sitting president to not campaign in a Virginia governor’s race since Richard Nixon during Watergate. As the defeat became clear, Trump tweeted from Asia that Gillespie did not represent him.

With immigration as a pretext, Virginia and New Jersey voters wereshowered with visual and textual images portraying blacks and immigrants in race-baiting, fear-mongering terms.

Similar images were spread in the 1988 presidential campaign of George H.W. Bush against then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. They linked Dukakis to a pardoned black criminal named Willie Horton. Bush won the election but lost his soul.

The public relations guy responsible, Lee Atwater, issued an apologyjust prior to dying of brain cancer.

Tuesday’s victory in New Jersey was predictable. The truly awful Chris Christie left the state in ruins. His mean-spirited incompetence was staggering on more fronts than can be explained in a single article.

The victory in Virginia was less clear. The current corporatist Democrat governor was term-limited. The state has drifted to the Democrats in recent years. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton won Virginia in 2012 and 2016, respectively, and it has two “blue” U.S. senators. But 2010 gerrymandering gave both state legislative houses to the GOP.

To become governor, the Bush-style Republican Ed Gillespie took to vicious hate-mongering. A victory by Gillespie would have given the GOP an iron grip on the 2020 redistricting process.

Virginia’s 11 congressional seats are split seven to four for the Republicans. The Legislature at Richmond has been firmly in GOP hands, but may be flipped to the Democrats. Hopefully, a fair redistricting process will follow.

But what really matters is that in the former capital of the Confederacy, home of Robert E. Lee, an overtly racist campaign failed. “Trumpism”—using immigration and other cover issues to scream a racist rant—was rejected. This was actually a vote on hate. Thankfully, both Virginia and New Jersey said no.

As an underscore, both Virginia and New Jersey elected African-American lieutenant governors and two Latinas defeated incumbent Republicans for seats in the Virginia legislature. That state’s first transgender candidate also won a seat.

Meanwhile, Democrats took control of the Washington state Legislature, establishing a “Great Blue Wall” against Trump along the three West Coast states—Washington, Oregon and California.

But the next big test will be in Alabama on Dec. 12. The special election to fill the vacated U.S. Senate seat of Jeff Sessions, now Trump’s attorney general, will pit Judge Roy Moore against Doug Jones, a moderate Democrat.

alabama

Moore is the quintessential Bannon fascist. His raucous career has been defined by race hate and Biblical babble. His Deep South defeat would signal the failure of Trumpism’s core bigotry on its ancestral soil. It would also swing a crucial seat in the U.S. Senate, significantly altering the balance of national power.

Alabama is about a quarter black. To win there, the Democrats must confront a computerized Jim Crow assault aimed at disenfranchising blacks. With a Republican governor and secretary of state, the Democrats must painstakingly monitor every ballot, electronic and otherwise.

Alabama’s electoral system now features electronic machines that in many cases offer a ballot image that can be recounted. In a close race, these could make all the difference.

But the Democrats have been slow to act.

Virginia Democrats were urged by election protection activists to prepare for legal action in case a close vote proved vulnerable to theft. But according to a leader of Progressive Democrats of America who was active in the fight on election night, the party did no such thing.

Furthermore, one NAACP organizer in Virginia complained that the party failed to contact key black senior centers to ensure that elders came out to vote. A group called Carpool Vote ferried black voters to the polls.

In Alabama, the party will have to do better in mobilizing its grass-roots supporters, and will need every pixel possible from the state’s electronic voting machines.

In recent congressional elections in Montana and Georgia, Democratic candidates lost close vote counts that might well have been rigged. Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson, along with numerous experts, have expressed the belief that the June race in Atlanta conceded by Democrat Jon Ossoff was stolen.

Given the Virginia/New Jersey rejection of hate, Alabama is now in play. The Democrats have shown they can beat Trumpism.

In Alabama, they also must show they’ve learned some lessons from recent elections.

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Harvey is a lifelong activist who speaks, writes and organizes widely on energy, the environment, election protection, social justice, grass-roots politics and natural healing, personal and planetary.

He hosts “California Solartopia” at KPFK-Pacifica and “Green Power & Wellness” at prn.fm. He edits nukefree.org, solartopia.org and has taught history, diversity and ecology studies at numerous colleges. With Pete Seeger and David Bernz, he co-wrote the Grammy-winning “Solartopia Song.”  Follow Harvey Wasserman on Twitter @Solatopia

 

 

Will the Trump/Bannon GOP Steal Virginia…and American Democracy?

by Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman

Ed Gillespie

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie

 

A big chunk of American democracy is riding on Tuesday’s Virginia election.

The outcome could turn on how well Democrats protect the right to vote….and the right to have the votes accurately counted.

If Democrat and anti-Trump activists do not work to guarantee everyone’s access to the polls, they could very well lose the election.  The GOP has perfected the use of Jim Crow tactics to prevent from voting countless black, Hispanic and other ethnic citizens by electronic and other means.  The Democrats have been weak at best at protecting those votes.

They can also expect a “last minute surge” for Republican candidates, followed by “glitches” in electronic voting machines, especially in rural areas where election boards are controlled by Republicans.  If experience in states like Ohio, New Mexico, Wisconsin and elsewhere are any indicator, ballots will be “found” for the Republicans and “lost” for the Democrats in key swing districts.  These could easily determine the outcome.

They can also expect a “last minute surge” for Republican candidates, followed by “glitches” in electronic voting machines. As election protection activist Mimi Kennedy puts it:

” Georgia’s Special Election ‘glitched’ last April, when  Democrat Jon Ossoff’s totals went over 50% in his House race in the 6th District. That majority would have given him the seat outright. But tabulation in large Fulton County “glitched” for two hours, and when it came back up, Ossof fell below 50% and never recovered. This prompted the runoff election in June, which Ossof’s opponent – Georgia’s Republican former Secretary of State – won by a squeaker margin. When a lawsuit was filed to do forensics on the runoff, Kennesaw State University, which handles Georgia elections, wiped the servers clean but told nobody for months. When forced to admit the destruction of election records, the data managers called it “routine housecleaning.” 

“It is predictable that in rural areas of Virginia, where election boards are controlled by Republicans, problems might arise. For many of these counties, the return to paper ballots is brand-new. Ballots must still be counted by software. Experience in states like Ohio, New Mexico, Wisconsin and elsewhere indicate that “glitches” will occur, be blamed on unforeseeable error, and will benefit Republicans, not Democrats, in key swing districts.  Experience also shows that questions asked in such cases will go unanswered, and results, however anomalous, will stand.”

So far, the Democrats have been notoriously lax in fighting against such disenfranchisement and vote count theft.

According to election protection specialist John Brakey, Virginia now has electronic machines that provide ballot images.  These, he says, must be preserved after the election for purposes of a meaningful recount.  It is not yet clear if Democratic operatives are prepared to go to court or do whatever else is required to guarantee such scrutiny. If not, they may once again find that precautionary measures were the only way to avoid more losses from “glitches” that can never be rectified.

Much more is at stake here than just a few statewide offices.

With the governorship will come control of the state’s re-districting—“gerrymandering”—-process for a decade to come.  Should the Trump-right Republican Ed Gillespie become governor, he will conspire with the GOP-controlled legislature to re-draw the state’s Congressional and legislative districts in 2020.

In a state that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016, there are eleven Congressional districts. Gerrymandering has given seven seats to Republicans, four to Democrats.  Thus a fair, non-partisan redistricting process in 2020 could shift as many as three or four seats in the US House of Representatives.  That won’t happen if Gillespie is elected.

Despite a statewide Democratic majority, both houses of the Virginia legislature are controlled by Republicans.

This election will also determine Virginia’s next secretary of state, who will have control over voter registration rolls and vote counts in upcoming elections.

Republican control of the governorship and secretary of state’s office would be very bad news for those fighting the hate-based regime of Steve Bannon and Donald Trump.   Trump has been asked by the GOP to not campaign in the state.  But fascist theoretician Bannon has called the election a referendum on “Trumpism without Trump.”

Bannon, Gillespie and their GOP operatives have saturated the state with vicious, blatantly racist anti-immigrant ads reminiscent of the infamous “Willie Horton” smears run by George H.W. Bush in 1988.  Such fascist scare tactics allowed Bush to beat Michael Dukakis.  GOP strategist Lee Atwater later apologized for those ads shortly before he died of brain cancer.

This year the Trump/Bannon GOP has saturated Virginia with horrific racist and anti-immigrant messages.  They’re also using them in New Jersey, where there is a governor’s race, and elsewhere.  Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Ralph Northam, has responded by saying he will oppose sanctuary cities in Virginia.

But the race has now become a test of how effective such hate-based propaganda can be.

It will also be a test to see if the Democrats are willing or able to protect the right to vote.  And if they can guarantee a fair and accurate electronic vote count after those ballots are cast.

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Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman co-wrote The Strip & Flip Disaster of America’s Stolen Elections: Five Jim Crows & Electronic Election Theft (freepress.org, solartopia.org).  They broke most of the major stories about the GOP theft of Ohio’s 2004 presidential election.   Follow Harvey Wasserman on Twitter @Solartopia.

Can Democrats Stop Virginia, Alabama Elections From Being Stolen?

by Harvey Wasserman

originally published at TruthDig on November 2,  2017

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez

Donald Trump’s primary enablers, the corporate Democrats, may be poised to blow it again in upcoming elections in Virginia on Nov. 7 and Alabama on Dec. 12.

Both races are critical to stopping the Trump onslaught, and if the Democrats don’t act, the GOP could steal them. Independent election protection activists are working to reach the candidates and state parties. Their success or failure in preventing the theft of these two key elections will say much about the American future.

The Virginia governorship will be a key pivot in upcoming battles over gerrymandering. The far-right candidate, Ed Gilllespie, who now is running about even with Democrat Ralph Northam, could conspire with a GOP-controlled legislature to rig districts for the next decade.

In Alabama, a U.S. Senate victory for Roy Moore—a former judge with a history of racism, sexism and homophobia—would super-charge fascist theorist Steve Bannon’s ongoing putsch. Polls show Moore running even with Democrat Doug Jones for Jeff Sessions’ vacated seat.

In both states aggressive campaigns to disenfranchise voters of color could make the difference. The presence of easy-to-hack electronic voting machines also demand intense scrutiny from an active, engaged Democratic Party.

But the charisma-free trio of Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and Tom Perez appear incapable of opposing the Trump lunacy.

A new report entitled “Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis” by media critic Norman Solomon and other progressive activists explains what killed the Democratic Party and makes clear that the corporate Democrats in the Senate, House and party prefer Trump running wild in the White House over the social democrats represented by the nation’s most popular politician, Bernie Sanders.

The social democrats are the 30 million or more Americans who supported Sanders in last year’s primaries. They are the sole grass-roots force preventing a total Trump fascist coup.

But the Perez-led Democratic National Committee has purged Sandernista social democrats across the board. The party machinery is now in the hands of corporatists with no connection to the grass-roots activists who were once the soul of the party and embody its only chance to get back in power.

The Clinton corporatists long ago sold the party infrastructure to Goldman Sachs. As wealthy militarists, they stripped the DNC of any meaningful connection to the aggrieved grass roots of the dying American working and middle classes. Their core commitments are far closer to those of Donald Trump than they are to Bernie Sanders. They are far more comfortable with Trump in the White House than they would be with Sanders or someone else truly committed to social democracy.

They are also more than willing to let the GOP steal elections, since the Democrats have effectively won every presidential election since 1992.

But in 2000, Al Gore let Florida Gov. Jeb Bush steal the presidency for his brother George W. In an election allegedly decided by 537 votes, Gov. Bush stripped more than 90,000 primarily black and Hispanic voters from the registration rolls. He then flipped some 20,000 digital ballots from electronic machines in Volusia, Fla., and other counties at critical moments in the election night vote count.

Gore did seek a recount in four counties. But when the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to stop it, he conceded. Gore won the nationwide popular vote by more than half a million. He eventually won a recount in Florida. But despite his hundreds of millions in personal wealth, he’s never done anything to fight the corruption of our electoral system. Instead he’s joined the corporate chorus blaming Ralph Nader for daring to run a campaign that had zero impact on Gov. Bush’s theft of the 2000 election.

hio in 2004 John Kerry was the rightful winner of an election stripped and flipped by Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, who now sits on Trump’s Jim Crow Presidential Commission on Election Integrity to institutionalize election theft on a nationwide basis. Despite his personal millions, Kerry has never lifted a finger to make sure such a theft never happens again.

With Barack Obama, the grass roots rose up to put him in the White House. But the party shunned them once in office, and sat silent while the GOP took a thousand federal, state and local offices, many of them through illegal registration stripping and electronic vote flipping.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by some three million votes. She won the exit polls in Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, more than enough to claim the presidency. Despite her immense personal wealth (or maybe because of it), she’s said nothing about any of that. Instead, she’s blamed her failures on James Comey, Vladimir Putin and Bernie Sanders.

Now the Democrats, having purged the Sanders/activist wing from the DNC, continue to lose elections under dubious circumstances. They threw in a winnable Georgia congressional race without a single challenge to obvious stripping of the voter rolls and serious inconsistencies in the electronic vote count. As with Gore, Kerry and Clinton, the corporate Democrats conceded without a whimper.

In Virginia and Alabama, the Jim Crow GOP is working to disenfranchise every likely Democrat.

But a new generation of voting machines will provide ballot images that could be scrutinized. Thus far, the corporate Democrats have no legal team in place to protect the registration rolls or examine the electronic vote count.

The national party, of course, claims to have no money. Bernie Sanders was able to raise millions with small donations. The social democrats might do it again if there was a party worth supporting.

But the corporations that bought the Clintons now have Trump in the White House. They don’t need the DNC. And having purged the grass-roots activists, the corporate Dems can’t raise the kind of funds that Bernie did.

If the Democrats somehow win in both Virginia and Alabama, the Trump rush to total power could be impacted.

That’s why each and every GOP disenfranchisement must be challenged. A well-organized, heavily funded legal team must scrutinize the electronic ballots after the inevitable GOP theft.

And both Democratic candidates must refuse to concede until every vote is counted and recounted.

The brain-dead corporate DNC shows no willingness to do anything like that. So Schumer, Pelosi and Perez need to stand down, and let independent election protection activists do their work.

Until they do, Donald Trump will once again run wild, with no effective opposition, leaving the GOP free to steal every election for the foreseeable future—with potentially apocalyptic consequences.

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Harvey Wasserman is a safe energy activist and radio talk host based in Los Angeles. Tune in for California Solartopia on Thursdays at 6:30 pm on 90.7 KPFK-fm in Los Angeles.  Harvey’s Solartopia! Our Green-Powered Earth is at www.solartopia.org. and you can follow Harvey in Twitter @Solartopia

Swamp Tales: Puerto Rico Cancels $300 Million Trump Crony Electrical Grid Rebuild Contract

by Harvey Wasserman

originally published on The Progressive on October 30, 2017

estamos de pieA flag hangs from a highway overpass in Caguas, Puerto Rico declaring “Estamos de pie,” or “We are standing.” October, 2017.

The swampish saga would be hard to invent. In early October, Puerto Rico’s Energy Power Authority awarded a $300 million tax-funded contract to reconstruct the island’s hurricane devastated power grid to a two-person, two-year-old firm based in the small Montana hometown of Trump Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. The company is financially backed by a major donor to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
About eighty percent of Puerto Rico is still without power. Many hospitals are still dark. Local citizens needing medical treatments such as surgeries or dialysis have been forced to flee to places where electric power is available.
Puerto Rico’s power grid centers on antiquated oil, gas, and coal generators, the median age of which is forty-four years. Just two percent Puerto Rico’s juice came from wind and solar. One wind farm, on the south side of the island, survived Hurricane Maria largely intact, as did at least one small commercial solar array.
For Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million residents, restoring power is a matter of life and death. But the $300 million dollar contract was handed, with no public hearings, legislative discussion or long-term planning, to Whitefish, an obscure company from rural Montana.
At least one Zinke relative—his son—has worked on part-time contract for Whitefish. Zinke claims he had nothing to do with the deal.
Anti-Trump sentiment is rampant throughout the island, fed by a lack of concern expressed by the President for Puerto Ricans’ dire situation, and capped by a recent visit in which he pitched paper towels to a crowd of bewildered local residents. When San Juan mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz questioned the contract with Whitefish, the company threatened to stop work, then apologized.
The Puerto Rican power company’s contract astoundingly exempted Whitefish from official audits, stating, “In no event shall [governmental bodies] have the right to audit or review the cost and profit elements.” It also waived “any claim against Contractor related to delayed completion of the work,” meaning Whitefish was empowered to pretty much take as long as it wanted to complete the job.
Whitefish wasted no time deploying a gold-plated battalion of high-priced contract workers into the island. Each was granted $1,000 travel expenses for each flight to and from the island. The workers’ contracts called for $80/day in food expenses and $332/day for lodging. Wages were set at $240/hour for a foreman and $227/hour for linemen doing jobs for which prevailing U.S. wages are about $43/hour for supervisors and $23/hour for linemen. In other words, the deal reeked of Trump-era crony capitalism. When word spread, angry locals showered Whitefish workers with rocks and bottles.
But that was not the worst of it. Whitefish appeared to be rebuilding the wind-ravaged grid along exactly the same lines that existed prior to the storm. In other words, the company was reconstructing what was wiped away a month ago, and what would be virtually certain to be wiped away again by the next hurricane.

Since Maria, a lively public dialog has erupted over how to rebuild the island’s power system with sustainable design. Tesla’s Elon Musk sent in a shipment of Powerwall batteries designed to service solar-powered arrays. Tesla also installed a solar/battery/micro-grid array to make the Hospital del Nino entirely self-sufficient.
Musk has been in discussion with Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rosselló about rebuilding the region along renewable lines, with windmills and photovoltaic panels powering a network of micro-grids that would give towns, neighborhoods and buildings a resilient safety net capable of weathering the inevitable next storm.
Multi-billionaire Richard Branson, whose private Necker Island was ravaged by recent storms, has also called for a “Green Marshall Plan” to rebuild the Caribbean with renewable energy. In a recent New York Times op-ed, coauthored with green energy guru Amory Lovins, Branson wrote that by solarizing and decentralizing the region’s grids, “we can stop blackouts caused by monster storms while also saving fossil fuel and reducing emissions of the greenhouse gases that warm the planet and make these storms more likely and destructive.”
Since Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria roared through Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean, smaller nonprofits and activist organizations have also been focused on the vision of a totally green-powered master plan.
On Sunday, October 29, amidst a firestorm of local and Congressional inquiries,The New York Times reported that Governor Rosselló had canceled the Whitefish contract. The company claims to have already spent millions. The court cases will undoubtedly churn up numerous storms of their own.
But the uproar should also focus on the growing demand that the electric power systems in Puerto Rico and the rest of the Caribbean be reconstructed around renewables and microgrids, rather than fossil-fired central distribution networks.
Most likely those systems will not be built by Trump cronies flown in at huge expense, who then must dodge rocks and bottles being thrown by angry locals.

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Long-time Progressive contributor Harvey Wasserman is a safe energy activist and radio talk host based in Los Angeles. Tune in for California Solartopia on Thursdays at 6:30 pm on 90.7 KPFK-fm in Los Angeles.  Harvey’s Solartopia! Our Green-Powered Earth is at www.solartopia.org. and you can follow Harvey in Twitter @Solartopia

 

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