Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Puerto Rico: Bernie Sanders and the New Deal vs. Obama, Clinton, Ryan, and the Vulture Funds

(A new school in Ceiba, Puerto Rico, ca. 1933-1935, funded by the New Deal's Federal Emergency Relief Administration. Photograph courtesy of the National Archives.)

Bernie Sanders has been calling for debt restructuring, infrastructure investment, and other progressive reforms for Puerto Rico. Many Republicans, and even many Democrats, think this is pie-in-the-sky dreaming. But, as journalist Zach Carter has highlighted, it's been done before, and with great success:

"In the 1930s, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt supported an agency that pumped federal dollars into infrastructure investment in Puerto Rico, directed by local officials who understood the island’s needs. Their plans helped eradicate malaria, tuberculosis and hookworm from the island, make electricity available to the island’s interior and establish hurricane-proof construction using local manufacturing. Life expectancy significantly increased, according to research by Geoff Burrows, a Seton Hall University history professor" ("Here’s Bernie Sanders’ Plan To Save Puerto Rico And Stick It To Vulture Funds," Huffington Post, June 13, 2016). 

Actually, FDR supported several agencies that helped Puerto Rico (as well as the rest of the nation), for example, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, the Works Progress Administration, the Public Works Administration, the National Youth Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration (PRRA). With respect to the latter, a researcher at City University of New York found that "PRRA public works projects made concrete contributions to the physical security of millions of Puerto Ricans through the construction of hurricane-proof houses, schools, hospitals, roads, sewers, waterworks, and rural electrification networks."

(These artists were funded through the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, ca. 1934-1935. The New Deal not only made massive investments in education and infrastructure, but also funded theater, music, writing, artwork, and historic preservation. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.)

Today, many super-wealthy Americans don't give a crap about the life expectancy, or the physical security, of Puerto Ricans. They just want more money, so that they and their families can enjoy extreme luxury. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren has correctly noted that these super-wealthy Americans "want Puerto Rico to raise taxes, cut health care, fire teachers, cut pensions, sell off $4 billion worth of government buildings, privatize public ports, close neighborhood schools and cut support for the University of Puerto Rico, all so these vulture funds can squeeze out more profit." How these wealthy people sleep at night, I have no idea. But being a sociopath probably helps. 

Many of our conservative politicians have largely sided with the super-wealthy, which is no surprise since they are funded by the super-wealthy. These conservative politicians include President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Paul Ryan. They're all supporting a bill that would, for example, reduce the minimum wage and grant financial oversight to an undemocratic control board - just like oversight was given to an undemocratic "Emergency Manager" in Flint, Michigan, shortly before thousands of people were switched to a foul water supply and poisoned by lead and other contaminants (see, e.g., "Clinton backs Puerto Rico debt bill," The Hill, May 20, 2016).

America should be working towards a New Deal for Puerto Rico, as well as other troubled areas of the United States. Instead--in what has become the global, routine, and sadistic policy of choice--we say, "Close your schools, give us money, f*&k you." And maybe that's why a record number of Americans are committing suicide, dying deaths of despair, and taking anti-depressants; and also why 1.3 million public school students have no place to call home, while the children of the super-wealthy are bathing in gold bathtubs.

"Equal opportunity" is a deceit, and we're seeing this deceit played out in Puerto Rico (among other places). Make no mistake about it, we're living in a caste system. A few escape, but most do not (see, e.g., "America Is Even Less Socially Mobile Than Economists Thought," The Atlantic, July 23, 2015).

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