Political Mayhem Thursday: Puerto Rico, Tragedy, and the Jones Act
It could be that (like me) you have come across references to the Jones Act in relation to the ongoing crisis in Puerto Rico in the wake of two hurricanes. This Wall Street Journal article does a pretty good job of describing what that is:
President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he was weighing permitting foreign-flagged vessels to ship relief supplies from U.S. ports to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico, but noted U.S.-based maritime carriers opposed the move.
Mr. Trump’s remarks came after a group of House Democrats and Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona asked the Department of Homeland Security to waive the restrictions, contained in a 1920 law called the Jones Act, which they say will burden the relief effort and increase the cost of bringing critical supplies to islanders.
“We’re thinking about that,” Mr. Trump told reporters when asked if he would lift restrictions on foreign vessels’ operations, “but we have a lot of shippers and a lot of people... who work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted. And we have a lot of ships out there right now.”
The act, regarded as one of the cornerstones of U.S. maritime policy, requires that goods shipped between U.S. ports be carried by vessels built in the U.S., majority-owned by American firms and crewed by U.S. citizens. The Department of Homeland Security hasn’t waived the act for Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria last week.... In a letter sent to the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday, [Sen. John] McCain criticized the department for waiving the Jones Act in the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, but not for Puerto Rico. Mr. McCain has long sought a repeal of the Jones Act.
“It is unacceptable to force the people of Puerto Rico to pay at least twice as much for food, clean drinking water, supplies and infrastructure due to Jones Act requirements as they work to recover from this disaster,” he wrote in the letter sent Tuesday evening.
If the Act was waived for Houston and Florida, it is hard to understand why it wouldn't be waived for Puerto Rico, which appears to be in the worst shape of the three.
So, last weekend the Juggalos marched on Washington to protest their group being classified as a "gang." Of course, if listening to bad music and swilling Faygo makes you a gang, my journalism class in high school was a gang. For those of you who haven't been following along, the Juggalos are followers of a band from Detroit, the Insane Clown Posse. Frankly, that name always seemed redundant, since clowns always seem pretty insane in the first place.
Here's a report on the festivities... and I have to say I approve of the sign that said "The FBI listens to Nickleback."
President Trump has been focused on insulting professional football players who protest police brutality against black Americans. Meanwhile, Americans in Puerto Rico are suffering in rapidly deteriorating conditions in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Trump has said nothing about that.
I remember once a Texas practitioner explained to me how things went in the Supreme Court of Texas: "The corporation beats government and the individual. The Government beats the individual. That pretty much sums it up." It wasn't totally true, but it was a pretty good predictor of outcomes.
A similar formula applies to Trump: If you want to predict his take on something, it is a good bet that if he can find or create a racial, gender, or ethnic line he will oppose minorities and women.
I wish that wasn't true. But we can't pretend it's not.
Sometimes I find myself around celebrities. There are some of them I really admire (usually writers or teachers), but some of them... I don't really get it. Our nation sometimes seems oddly in thrall to celebrities, and especially actors and athletes.
Here is something I don't get: Why is it that if there is a hit show, they trot out an actor or actress to go on a talk show? The interviews are usually vapid and meaningless; rarely is there even much insight into them acting in that particular thing. Often that movie or television show is written by people who base it on a book-- can't we hear sometimes from the people who actually constructed the story?
And religious celebrities-- horrifying! Jerry Falwell Jr., Joel Osteen... and there are so many people out there doing much more selfless, important work.
What I find especially discouraging is being around celebrities who really do see themselves as more important than everyone else in a room or a building or a city. They may be excellent at their work-- often they are-- but that is true of a lot of people in that place, usually. In that circumstance, I usually just ignore them.
Sometimes, of course, I do come across one of those people whose work has genuinely affected me. In that circumstance, I will go up to them, shake their hand, and say something like "Bob, I admire your work." then I go do something else.
Today is a big rivalry game-- St. Thomas v. St. John's-- here in Minneapolis. It's a real Division 3 showdown, and a a big deal to the people who went to those two schools.
I know my friends at Baylor will scoff at this, but it really is pretty fun. Plus... no $4,000,000 coach salary. No $4,000+ student fee tacked on to tuition to underwrite the football program. No horrifying sex scandal.
And, for the first time, the game will be held at the Twins stadium, Target Field, in front of a crowd of over 30,000.
So, I wrote a piece for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune about the Detroit Homecoming last week-- it ran yesterday, and you can read it here. Then a publication in Michigan, Deadline Detroit, ran a piece about the piece I wrote (you can read that one here). So, it should be no surprise that I have going home on my mind.
Let's haiku about that this week... I can go first:
So many people
In that familiar place now
Filling up with life.
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable recipe, and have some fun!
Penny Mae Cormani died in Utah, her family sang Mormon hymns — “Be
Still My Soul” — and lowered her small coffin into the earth. The latest
victim of a drug epidemic that is now taking 60,000 lives a year, Penny was just 1.
parents and the police are encountering toddlers and young children
unconscious or dead after consuming an adult’s opioids.
the children’s hospital in Dayton, Ohio, accidental ingestions have
more than doubled, to some 200 intoxications a year, with tiny bodies
found laced by drugs like fentanyl. In Milwaukee, eight children have
died of opioid poisoning since late 2015, all from legal substances like
methadone and oxycodone. In Salt Lake City, one emergency doctor
recently revived four overdosing toddlers in a night, a phenomenon she
called both new and alarming.
a cancer,” said Mauria Leydsman, Penny’s grandmother, of the nation’s
opioid problem, “with tendrils that are going everywhere.”
these deaths represent a small fraction of the epidemic’s toll, they
are an indication of how deeply the American addiction crisis has cut.
communities from Appalachia to the Rocky Mountains and beyond are
feeling its effects at all ages. In August, in the latest sign of the
direness of the situation, President Trump said he would declare the
opioid crisis a national emergency, a move that could allow cities and states to access federal disaster relief funds.
children died of opioid intoxication in 2015, according to the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention, up from just 16 in 1999. By
comparison, gunshot wounds kill four or five times as many children each
But at hospitals like Primary Children’s in Utah, drug overdoses now outstrip gun injuries among young people.
are no pill parties happening in preschools,” said Dr. Jennifer Plumb,
the emergency doctor who recently treated four opioid-sick toddlers in a
night. “These kids aren’t making a choice because they are trying to
get high on a substance. It’s that the pills are everywhere.”
Unlike infants born with addiction, these children are coming across heroin and other drugs in the days and years after birth.
In Philadelphia this summer, a 9-month-old rolled onto a needle while in bed
with her father. Kyleeh Isabella Mazaba, 20 months, died after drinking
methadone left in a water bottle in the family van. James Lionel
Vessell Jr., 2, swallowed oxycodone pills he found in a purse on his
mother’s bed. And in early August, Kentucky officials treated an infant
and three emergency responders believed to have been sickened by
carfentanil-laced heroin that traveled through the air.
If you didn't care about this much before, it's time to plug in.
To tackle this, there has to be a drastic reduction in the number of opioid pills sent into homes and the amount of illegal drugs on the street. The big Pharma companies will fight that hard, as will addicts, but it really must be done. I've written about this before, and will again. But will our nation be willing to try new tactics?
On his own blog, my Dad reflected yesterday on the week gone by:
The life cycle
of something is the series of developments that take place in it from
its beginning until the end of its usefulness or its death.
This past week I seemingly experienced the completion of my life
cycle and then was given a chance to start a new one. I don”t know why.
I was scheduled to have hip replacement surgery this past
Wednesday. Unfortunately I went into anaphylactic shock and my body shut
down completely. I was aware that life was passing out of me. Through a
ton of good luck and good emergency medical help my heart and lungs
were revived after five minutes, and I miraculously survived. Except for
the pain from the pounding that I took during CPR, there will be no
It will take me a while to get a handle on what I am supposed to do
with my life now. I will be slowing down a bit while I try to process
what happened to me this week.
This morning I get to give the sermon at First Covenant in Minneapolis (please come-- we start at 9:30). I hope that I won't be overcome with emotion, with gratitude.
Yesterday afternoon, I sat in my parents' backyard under the big tree around a round table on a rickety chair. My Mom and dad and my brother were there. We ate pizza and salad and drank a red wine that my brother had brought, from a vineyard in Gigondas that my parents knew. I had stopped at the market and bought little tarts, lemon and pecan. We talked and laughed-- especially my mom-- and took in what might be the last day of summer. The light moved and faded as the afternoon turned to evening. The picture above is from yesterday.
It was normal. It was extraordinary. It was a gift, and I know that, and am grateful. My heart is full.
Wednesday was supposed to be pretty fun. I was headed back to Detroit for the Detroit Homecoming, a pretty awesome event that gathers Detroit expatriates. You can read about it here.
That same morning, my dad was going in for a hip replacement. Lots of people have that done, and it is fairly routine. Except, this one wasn't. During the pre-op, something went wrong. His breathing stopped. Then his heart stopped. They did CPR and revived him, but it was... close.
He is better. He is home. And I am so glad. This afternoon, we will sit in the back yard of their house, and laugh. So, if you are inclined, say a prayer of thanks. I know I will.
So, I am back in Detroit for the Fourth Annual Detroit Homecoming, which is a pretty fascinating gathering of expatriates. Tonight, the featured guest was fellow expat Lilly Tomlin, and dinner was at the old Michigan Central Station, which is a remarkable place. Tomorrow is packed with fascinating activities, too.
It didn't all go as planned yesterday-- I had a scary detour-- but it is good to be back.
Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know where I come down on tax policy. I'm against "reforms" that reduce taxes because those reforms are almost always regressive and they very often drive budget deficits. If there is real reform where people end up paying more in taxes, that would be a good thing... but we all know that we are not going to see that kind of reform.
At some point, we have to pay down the national debt. We can do that in part through printing money (an option the feds have that the states do not), but that risks creating inflation. Right now, we are in a position where we cannot cut the budget very much. Why? Well, consider the following:
-- We have to pay for the recovery from two major storms
-- For the first time since the end of the Cold War, a foreign power threatens the US mainland
-- It does not appear that changes in health care policy are going to produce savings
That-- along with many other factors-- means that expenses are going up. So, if we lower our income, the deficit will rise.
Sure, some claim that reducing taxes creates growth that in the end increases revenues. That did not happen in the Bush years. In fact, growth has been strongest under Democratic presidents, overall, in the last 40 years (we have covered that here in the past).
Deficits matter, or at least they should. I have said that during Democratic administrations, and I will say it now, too.
One of the great things about living in the Twin Cities is that we are a hub for two different airlines, meaning that you can fly non-stop to pretty much anywhere you would want to go (except Waco. And Williamsburg. And New Haven. But other than that...).
One of the airlines with a hub here is Delta, one of the legacy behemoths that contains the remnants of Northwest, Republic, Western, Chicago & Southern, Northeast, Hughes Airwest, North Central, Southern, Pan Am, Western, National, and Standard Air Lines (that's a lot of mergers). Delta flies about 25 million people a year from or through MSP.
And then there is Sun Country, which is a sweet little local airline that flies to a few dozen destinations and is beloved by a lot of people here. I've flown on Sun Country, and it is really pretty pleasant. The staff seem to like their jobs and do it well. It's an efficient operation, and its been profitable.
Unfortunately, Sun Country is about to change. Have you flown on an Ultra-Low-Cost carrier like Spirit Airlines, or Frontier, or Allegiant? Did you hate it and vow to never do that again? Well, it seems that the owner of Sun Country, Marty Davis of St. Peter MN (the Medievalist's hometown!) is determined to bring the foul spirit of Spirit to Sun Country.
How? Well, he hired the former CEO of Allegiant., Jude Bricker And now Sun Country is introducing the following "innovations" straight out of the Spirit/Frontier/Allegiant playbook:
-- Charging for carry-on bags
-- Jamming more seats onto their planes and reducing legroom
-- Charging extra for seats that are something other than a middle seat
-- Cutting down on the food they serve
-- Buying out full time employees with more than ten-years of experience to hire cheaper new hires
-- Randomly throwing passengers off the plane in-flight to save on fuel costs
Ok, I made the last one up. But I'm not inclined to fly Sun Country again-- and that makes me sad. I suspect I am not the only one, either. If I want to be jammed into a seat, charged a fee for everything, and get crabbed at by some underpaid employee, I have plenty of options for that already.
My hunch is that this is going to gut Sun Country's passenger base. And that would serve billionaire Marty Davis-- who is at least honest enough to say that his intent is to add to his billions-- just about right. Businesses exist to make profits, but I think this is a short-sighted me-too example of following the crowd that will backfire in achieving that goal.
Next week I am giving the sermon at First Covenant here in Minneapolis. Dan Collison let me pick my passage, and I chose John 25-38:
25 Meanwhile, Simon Peter was still standing there warming himself. So they asked him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?” He denied it, saying, “I am not.” 26 One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?”27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.
28 Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?” 30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.” 31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” “But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected.32 This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die. 33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” 34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” 35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” 36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” 37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” 38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate.
Here is the thing-- Pilate asks the question, but no answer follows. They just move on to something else (addressing the crowd).
I think Pilate asks the question out of a genuine sense of bafflement.
I also think that the answer comes before the question in that passage.
CTL had a comment to my post two days ago that was so good I want to put it up here for everyone to see and comment on. I agree with him, too-- as I often do. Here are his words:
I would add a fifth driver [of income inequality]: Education. Notwithstanding the visible
changes in our economy, we continue to educate people for the 1970s.
Right now, more than 6 million jobs (generally well-paying jobs at that)
are unfilled, largely because we do not have appropriately trained
workers to fill them. At the same time, American education has largely
fallen behind the rest of the developed world in educational outcomes.
The reasons for this are myriad and complex, but that a sizable chunk of
our workforce is either untrained or wrongly-trained for today's
economy goes a long way to explain the trend in income inequality since
Technology is another factor, and it's broader than
both automation of manufacturing specifically and globalization
generally. It's true that we don't need as many people to build a car as
we used to. Robots do much of that work. But we also don't need as many
people to build a house or to drill an oil well, thanks largely to
advances in materials and processes. We hardly need people at all in
agriculture anymore, except for the small category of produce too
delicate to be machine harvested (which can still be machine planted).
it's not just traditional "labor" that's offset by technology.
White-shoe law firms, for example, used to need one staff person for
every lawyer for clerical work, research, filing, transcription, etc.
Today, firms across the board are moving to a 5-to-1 ratio (lawyers to
staff) as everything from communication to document review goes online.
Lawyers themselves are becoming less valuable, too. Need a will?
LegalZoom. When even an industry with such high barriers to entry sees
personnel/value attrition due to technology, it's safe to assume that
those who survive will get richer, while those who do not will get
I'm not sure I saw this coming, but it seems that my dad is becoming some kind of jazz icon. His writing and pictures are in Downbeat magazine, and at the big Detroit Jazz Fest last weekend, he apparently was called up to the stage to say a few words. It's great. He's doing remarkable things.
If you want to see his own report on the Jazz Fest, head over to his blog post here. It's worth it!
Last Saturday was the first big weekend for college football. There were some intriguing outcomes, and even some upsets. Maryland beat Texas. Howard beat UNLV. And... Liberty beat Baylor 48-45. It was that last one that mattered to me, of course.
It was an embarrassing loss, especially since Liberty is a division below Baylor, in the FCS (or, as I still think of it, I-AA). Baylor hadn't lost to a lower-division school since 1981, and there were some very bad years for Baylor football mixed in there! It was the debut of new coach Matt Rhule, and a tough one.
I'm kind of ambivalent about the outcome. Baylor could probably use a little emphasis on football for a while, after all. Still, it was hard to watch...
Who is paying for that expensive team? A lot of it is coming from students. At Baylor, the undergraduates pay "fees" of $4,430 a year, on top of tuition, room and board. A lot of that is going to subsidize football. It matters, too. I noodled around and couldn't find a school with higher fees-- even Harvard students pay less.
Of my life as a whole, 38 years have been spent on the academic calendar, either as a student or as a teacher. That's a lot of years, and it means that by now the rhythm of my life is dictated by the start of school.
This was that week. I stood up before a class and introduced myself and explained what I was going to do-- what my purpose was, what I was there for. That's kind of a remarkable thing, isn't it? I love doing that, I love looking up and seeing the opportunity that I have.
When I was in elementary school, I had a little personal tradition. John R. Barnes Elementary had a little school store-- really just a closet with a half-door in the front-- where they sold a very limited number of school supplies. On that first day, at lunchtime I would buy one pencil (five cents) and a small pad of paper (also five cents). Somehow, that gave me great pride and satisfaction, to have bought those two things.
Even now, when I start the school year I feel this urge to buy a new pencil. It is that deep memory, I guess, that pattern of life, the kind of thing that tells the loon to call out to his mate and the skip over the water, take off, and fly south to a place very far away.
Interested in learning more about domestic terrorism in the US? If you are, check out this fascinating report from the Anti-Defamation League. Sadly, I think these incidents will become more prevalent in the next several years.
Last night, I walked out to the grill and lit it up. Usually I sit nearby and read the paper as the grill warms up, but it was a little chilly. I went in and put on a sweatshirt, came back out and thought "here we go."
Fall edges up to us on cat feet. You don't hear it, but then it is there. Let's haiku about this gentle season-- anything about it.
Here, I will go first:
It went so quickly
Ripe tomatoes and sweet corn
I will soak it in.
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable formula and have some fun!