Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sunday Reading

Racial Demagoguery — David Remnick in The New Yorker on Trump’s attacks on black athletes.

Every day, and in countless and unexpected ways, Donald Trump, the President of the United States, finds new ways to divide and demoralize his country and undermine the national interest. On Thursday, he ranted from the lectern of the U.N. General Assembly about “Rocket Man” and the possibility of levelling North Korea. Now he has followed with an equally unhinged domestic performance at a rally, on Friday evening, in Huntsville, Alabama, where he set out to make African-American athletes the focus of national contempt.

In the midst of an eighty-minute speech intended to heighten the reëlection prospects of Senator Luther Johnson Strange III, Trump turned his attention to N.F.L. players, including the former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and asked a mainly white crowd if “people like yourselves” agreed with his anger at “those people,” players who take a knee during the national anthem to protest racism.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these N.F.L. owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired!’ ” Trump continued. “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s gonna say, ‘That guy disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it. They don’t know it. They’re friends of mine, many of them. They don’t know it. They’ll be the most popular person, for a week. They’ll be the most popular person in the country.”

“People like yourselves.” “Those people.” “Son of a bitch.” This was the same sort of racial signalling that followed the Fascist and white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. It is no longer a matter of “dog whistling.” This is a form of racial demagoguery broadcast at the volume of a klaxon. There is no need for Steve Bannon’s behind-the-scenes scriptwriting. Trump, who is desperate to distract his base from his myriad failures of policy, from health care to immigration, is perfectly capable of devising his racist rhetoric all on his own.

In these performances, Trump is making clear his moral priorities. He is infinitely more offended by the sight of a black ballplayer quietly, peacefully protesting racism in the United States than he is by racism itself. Which, at this point, should come as no surprise to any but the willfully obtuse. Trump, who began his real-estate career with a series of discriminatory housing deals in New York City, and his political career with a racist calumny against Barack Obama, has repeatedly defined his Presidency with a rhetoric that signals solidarity to resentful souls who see the Other as the singular cause of their troubles. Trump stokes a bilious disdain for every African-American who dares raise a voice to protest the injustices of this country.

And lest there be any doubt about his intentions or allegiances, Trump tweeted this afternoon, “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do.”

In addition to urging the N.F.L.’s owners to fire any politically impertinent players, Trump also disinvited the N.B.A. champions, the Golden State Warriors, from visiting the White House after one of the team’s stars, Stephen Curry, voiced hesitation about meeting with the President.

Twitter was alight with players and others rushing to the support of those on the receiving end of Trump’s barbs.

“Going to the White House was a great honor until you showed up!” LeBron James said. Many professional athletes tweeted in the same spirit as James, and even the N.F.L. commissioner, Roger Goodell, who has hardly been stalwart in the interests of his players, issued a statement calling Trump’s comments “divisive” and showing an “unfortunate lack of respect” for the league and its players. Compared to the N.B.A. commissioner, Adam Silver, who has been consistently anti-racist and supportive of the players’ right to protest, Goodell is a distinctly corporate figure, whose instinct is nearly always to side with the owners. (At least six N.F.L. owners each contributed a million dollars, or more, to Trump’s Inauguration fund, including Woody Johnson, of the Jets, Robert Kraft, of the Patriots, and Daniel Snyder, of the Redskins.)

Trump has experience in professional sports––with boxing, as a casino operator; with football, as an owner. (And if professional wrestling counts, the man is practically a charter member of the W.W.F.) In the eighties, he was the owner of the New Jersey Generals, a team in the ill-fated United States Football League, which played its games in the spring. He was reportedly interested in buying the Buffalo Bills as recently as three years ago.

And yet his sympathy for the players is minimal. Not only does he try to isolate them as ungrateful anthem-defiling millionaires, he also could not care less about their health. No matter how many reports are issued making clear that the sport has left countless players suffering from all manner of neurological diseases, Trump is unimpressed. C.T.E. injuries in football seem to be no more a reality to him than climate change.

At a rally in Lakeville, Florida, during the Presidential campaign, Trump aroused the crowd by insisting that the N.F.L., which has hardly gone to great lengths to protect its players, was “ruining the game” by inflicting penalties on players who, say, hit the quarterback too late. “See, we don’t go by these new and very much softer N.F.L. rules. Concussion? Oh! Oh! ‘Got a little ding in the head—no, no, you can’t play for the rest of the season.’ Our people are tough.”

What Trump is up to with this assault on athletes, particularly prominent black ones, is obvious; it is part of his larger culture war. Divide. Inflame. Confuse. Divert. And rule. He doesn’t care to grapple with complexity of any kind, whether it’s about the environment, or foreign affairs, or race, or the fact that a great American sport may, by its very nature, be irredeemable. Rather than embody any degree of dignity, knowledge, or unifying embrace, Trump is a man of ugliness, and the damage he does, speech after speech, tweet after tweet, deepens like a coastal shelf. Every day, his Presidency takes a toll on our national fabric. How is it possible to argue with the sentiment behind LeBron James’s concise tweet at Trump: “U Bum”? It isn’t.

The Slow Road to Recovery for The Caribbean — Julie Bosman in the New York Times.

First the hurricanes came, bringing rain, winds and ruin to St. Martin, a tiny island in the Caribbean. Then, said Corby George, a 41-year-old taxi driver there, there was a rush of residents leaving the island, possibly never to return.

“Their jobs are no more,” he said.

Two ferocious hurricanes in less than two weeks caused widespread devastation in the Caribbean this month, leaving dozens dead, millions without power or drinking water and countless homes destroyed.

The storms also ripped through the tourism industry in a region unusually dependent on well-heeled visitors, where a thriving network of hotels, souvenir shops, taxis, charter fishing boats and restaurants powers local economies.

In the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, cruise ports and airports throughout the Caribbean are closed, beachside bars are flooded and, on many islands, tourists are absent. And the risk of a far longer term ripple effect looms, threatening the region’s ability to rebuild: Without a steady influx of cash from tourists, businesses suffer, employers cut back and local residents lose jobs; workers on especially hurricane-stricken islands could move elsewhere for opportunity, denting the local economy further.

“Right now, the livelihood of tourism on a whole is in a coma,” said Jen Liebsack, 45, an events and sales manager at Zemi Beach House, a luxury hotel in Anguilla, a British overseas territory where about 90 percent of the electricity infrastructure was damaged and the hotel has canceled its bookings through the end of October.

Hillary Bonner, 36, a bartender on St. John on the United States Virgin Islands, said that most of her friends worked in boating or hospitality, and that nearly everything else was staked on the fates of those fields, too. “Without tourism, you don’t need 10 policemen, you need two,” said Ms. Bonner, who has been staying in New York, waiting to be allowed to return to the heavily battered island. “You don’t need three banks, you need one.”

In the Caribbean region, travel and tourism account for a higher share of the gross domestic product than they do in any other region of the world, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, and officials say it is far too soon to know when the industry will fully recover.

At stake are some of the more than 2.3 million travel and tourism-related jobs in the region. According to the Caribbean Tourism Organization, almost 30 million tourists visited the area in 2016 and spent more than $35 billion. But as officials race to restore power and begin rebuilding basic services, the precise fallout to the tourism industry is uncertain.

Some islands, like St. Kitts, appeared to be barely touched; others, like Barbuda, part of the two-island state of Antigua and Barbuda, were nearly destroyed.

Maria Blackman, a spokeswoman for the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority, said that many hotels were closed during the off-season in September anyway, a common time for annual renovations. The cruise ports and airport remain open.

“On Antigua, we opened back up pretty much the next day,” she said.

But in the United States Virgin Islands, the damage was so widespread that visitors were told to cancel any planned trips, Beverly Nicholson-Doty, the commissioner of tourism, said.

“We are encouraging travelers to postpone trips to the islands at this time and are sparing no effort to rebuild communities and restore essential services so we can welcome travelers back to our islands in the months ahead,” Ms. Nicholson-Doty said in an email.

For most British Virgin Islands, tourism workers — many of them expatriates from the Caribbean or other parts of the world — the only certainty now is uncertainty.

Trisha Paul, who works as a waitress at Treasure Isle Hotel in the capital of Road Town, said she was unsure what she would do to make a living until tourists return.

“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “Just waiting to get word from the boss as to what is going to happen now. But right now we don’t have any work for waitresses.”

A native of Grenada, she said she fell into the profession largely by chance when she moved to the B.V.I. last year after studying psychology in Cuba. Now she is considering returning home.

“But I’m kind of confused right now between two minds, waiting and watching,” she said. “The hurricane season is still on. I leave here and I go back home, the next hurricane could — bam!”

Robertico Croes, associate director of the Dick Pope Sr. Institute for Tourism Studies at the University of Central Florida, said he did not expect that the Caribbean, over all, would lose tourists. Visitors will simply visit those islands that were untouched by the hurricanes and steer clear of those that were damaged, he said.

“I don’t imagine St. John for the next couple of years would be able to do anything with regard to tourism,” he said, noting that the damage was particularly crippling there. “For Puerto Rico, it’s less severe.”

It does not appear that way to residents there, though. Before the hurricanes, which severely damaged the power grid across the entire island, Puerto Rico was already in deep financial distress, impoverished and debt-laden. The island carries $74 billion in debt and declared a form of bankruptcy in May. Its finances are being overseen by a federal control board.

Alfredo Gómez, 42, the longtime owner of El Farol, a food kiosk in the popular beachside area just east of San Juan’s airport, said he had seen slumps over the last 20 years. But he had not seen the roof of his place blow off. That, he said, had left him wondering this time whether it was even worth giving it another go.

“I was tempted to not even come back here to make repairs,” Mr. Gómez said from the rooftop of his restaurant. “What if nobody comes?”

The restaurant was open on Friday making fritters, mostly feeding the employees who had come to clean up. “Tell the people, the tourists, to keep supporting us like they always have,” he said. “All of this area — Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico — lives off tourism. We can try to survive with business from the locals, but it’s with tourists that we live.”

Clarisa Jimenez, the president and chief executive of the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association, was supposed to be preparing for her industry’s biggest event beginning on Tuesday, its splashy annual convention and gala at the InterContinental San Juan, a luxury resort on a white sand beach.

Instead, she was sifting through the wreckage of her office in San Juan.

“My office was destroyed — I’m surprised the phone rang,” she said on Friday, describing the broken windows, strewn papers and soggy floors around her. The convention was hastily postponed to December. “It’s hard to even guess when things will get back to normal. But tourism is one of the industries that we need to help us overcome.”

High Security — Josh Marshall wants to know why the head of the EPA needs so many bodyguards.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt now has an 18 person, 24/7 security detail. The effort has become so elaborate that the EPA has now had to take agents off actual EPA criminal investigations to focus on protecting Pruitt.

This is offensive and ridiculous.

We had a member of Congress almost murdered a couple of months ago in what was clearly an ideologically motivated attack. People are also very upset about the Trump administration’s atrocious environmental policies. Pruitt is arguably the face of that. There are also very rare but real instances of violence committed by environmental extremists. So I don’t dispute the need for some security. But absent some very clear evidence of a specific, credible and on-going threat, this big of a security effort can only be explained by an attempt to create the impression of a threat for political reasons or the desire to avoid ever coming into contact with peaceful protestors, something we’ve seen throughout the Trump administration.

The Department of Education is paying the US Marshals service $1 million a month to provide extensive security to Secretary Betsy Devos – a move that appears to stem from an aggressive protestor yelling at her earlier this year. According to The Washington Post, the Marshals Service is hiring nearly two dozen people to guard DeVos. In other words, it sounds comparable to Pruitt’s detail, though we don’t know specifics about whether it’s around the clock protection or just how many people guard her at any one time.

According to the Post, before DeVos, the last cabinet secretary to be protected by the Marshals Service was the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, commonly known as the drug czar (The drug czar no longer has cabinet rank). Federal judges and law enforcement officials facing direct and specific threats to their lives generally make due with far less security.

This is a delicate topic. We can’t know the particular threats these people face. Nor should we discount the fact that there is some real risk for prominent public officials during this fractious era in our politics. But given the Trump administration’s broader push to whip up fear of ‘left-wing violence’, the most plausible explanation for what seems like comical levels of security for relatively obscure cabinet secretaries seems to be what I described above: an effort to whip up fear of largely non-existent anti-Trump violence and to be spared the annoyance and mortification of coming into contact with peaceful protestors.

Doonesbury — Defining term.

Thursday, September 21, 2017


Puerto Rico has been basically returned to the 18th century by Hurricane Maria.

Hurricane Maria delivered a destructive full-body blow to this U.S. territory on Wednesday, ripping off metal roofs, generating terrifying and potentially lethal flash floods, knocking out 100 percent of the island’s electrical grid and decimating some communities.

With sustained winds of 155 mph at landfall — a strong Category 4 storm and nearly a Category 5 — Maria was so powerful that it disabled radar, weather stations and cell towers across Puerto Rico, leaving an information vacuum in which officials could only speculate about property damage, injuries or deaths.

“Definitely Puerto Rico — when we can get outside — we will find our island destroyed,” Abner Gómez, director of Puerto Rico’s emergency management agency, said in a midday news conference here. “The information we have received is not encouraging. It’s a system that has destroyed everything it has had in its path.”

The island was already suffering under financial difficulty, and now this.  The worst part is that no one here — or there — knows the extent of the damage because there’s no way to communicate with anyone other than via battery-operated satellite phones.

Add to that, Puerto Rico has been treated as a stepchild by Congress, and so far the Trump administration has barely acknowledged its existence as a U.S. territory.

Right now might not be the time to bring this up, but in the future this destruction and its recovery should be a factor in determining the statehood question — which I strongly favor — if only because the residents will be able to vote for president and that might be the shiny object that garners attention from politicians in Washington.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Monday, September 18, 2017

Hurricane Maria Update 1

Just when we thought we were cleaned up…  Hurricane Maria is on the way.  The good news is that the computer models all have it turning north before it gets to the mainland of the United States.  The bad news is that the places that got trashed by Irma are in for it yet again.

Back To Work

Schools are reopening here in Miami-Dade County.  The roads are cleared and only one of the 350+ facilities is without power — an elementary school — so the students are being sent to a high school until power is restored.

And now we have another hurricane in the Atlantic.

I am still without internet at home so the abbreviated schedule here will continue.  Thanks for your patience.  I miss you, too.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Checking In

Hello, readers, your humble site admin checking in on behalf of Bobby. He reports that Chez BBWW is undamaged by Irma, no flooding or major damage — almost as if some force field protected it. Significant tree and branch debris are all around but the only notable damage is a fence hurt by falling limbs.

There is no power, and hence no internet. Yet, being a rather independent sort, and with food, flashlights, and books, he’s moving back home. He notes that he will post here personally as soon as power and internet are restored. Your many best wishes are much appreciated.


Sunday, September 10, 2017

We’re Okay

I’m taking a moment to report that we — me, Bob, the Old Professor, Benjamin the Beagle and Madam the Cat — made it through Hurricane Irma with minimum of both structural and personal damage.  The power went out at 6:26 a.m. and the worst of the weather came through between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.  We’ve opened up the house, cranked up the generator and have connected the icebox, a toaster oven, a light, and the VOIP box which gives us both internet and phone service.

We have not had a lot of outside communication; the TV stations have been simulcasting on local radio, but it hasn’t been very helpful when they’re describing things we can’t see.  We do know that the storm hit Cudjoe Key at 9:10 a.m. and basically submerged the lower Keys before moving on to Naples and the west coast.  I hope they can make it through without tremendous loss of life and property.

I’m going to keep posting to a minimum until things are more settled.  I don’t know when I’ll be moving back home; I don’t know the condition of my home.  My neighbors and landlord know how to contact me, and I have a friend in the county police force who can get through if need be. Thanks in advance for your thoughts and wishes.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Hurricane Irma Update 11

Here’s the 8 p.m. from NOAA.  Rain bands and heavy weather has been moving in from the Atlantic as the feeder bands (a great name for an indy rock group, according to a friend) generate tornadoes and high winds.

This will be the last update tonight from me, but the link to NOAA is live and updated. I hope that we still have power when I get up in the morning.  If not, I will get word to my brother who will let you know our status here in suburban Miami.

I have a friend who is an officer with Miami-Dade Metro Police.  He stopped by to check out my house a couple of hours ago and said everything is okay.  That was before the heavier rains came, but my concern was the storm surge.  I hope that his good news holds.  (Thank you, MR.)

Friday, September 8, 2017

Hurricane Irma Update 10

This is the 8:00 p.m. view from NOAA.  It shows further western movement, which bodes well for Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties, but not at all good for the Keys, most of which are just a few feet above sea level, and the west coast with Naples, Sarasota, and Tampa-St. Pete in the line of fire.

This is my last update for the night.  See you in the morning.

Legend: M: Major Hurricane; H: Hurricane; S: Tropical Storm; D: Tropical Depression.

Evacuation Route

I am heading out for my safe haven.  I’ll check in when I get there, and hope that all stays put here at Chez Mustang.

Thanks for all your good wishes, and I hope that Irma decides to head out for a long sea cruise to the middle of nowhere.

Update: I’m ensconced with my friends on relatively higher ground and in a safe place.  We’re as ready for the storm as we can be.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Getting Ready To Go

I have done what I can at my house; it’s a rental and the landlord won’t put up shutters and I don’t have the wherewithal to board it up myself. I am in southeast Miami-Dade County in an area called Palmetto Bay. I am 1/4 mile from the ocean, about 20 feet above sea level. The soil in the area is mostly coral underlay so there’s not a lot of flooding after heavy rains, but this is obviously going to be more than that.

I have moved all possible projectiles inside, moved all moveable furniture off the floor (I have tile throughout), checked that the garage roof is up to code so the cars will be protected as well as they can be, and backed up my laptop to an external drive, which I will take with me when I evacuate tomorrow to some friends’ place that is built like a bunker and out of the flood zone. (My house is right on the border — literally — between Zone A which is being evacuated, and Zone C, which is safer.) I have renters insurance with hurricane coverage ($1,000 deductible). I’ve packed clothes for four days, a briefcase with important papers (passport, birth certificate, insurance policies, etc.) and carefully wrapped up the little urn with Sam’s ashes to take with me.

The waiting is the hardest part. The cable TV is making it worse, so I have reruns of Star Trek Voyager on BBC America.

Update:  The county mayor has ordered the evacuation of my zone.  He didn’t give us a deadline, but I’ll go before the winds get here.

Hurricane Watch

I’m preparing for the worst, including planning an evacuation if necessary and preparing the house for hunkering down.  I have plenty of bottled water and food here and I’m confident of the structural integrity of the house; it made it through Andrew in 1992 and Katrina, Rita, and Wilma in 2005.  But Irma is bigger than all of them and I’m not interested in being a hero, just a survivor.

I’ll be updating the weather forecasts as they come in.  I know at some point I’m going to lose power and the internet connection, but I’ll do my best to keep you informed.  As for blogging, this is going to be what it is all about until the All Clear.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Planning Ahead

Miami-Dade County is putting together the first big evacuation plan in 12 years ahead of Hurricane Irma.  Via the Miami Herald:

The planned instructions to flee the county’s A and B evacuation zones — A covers coastal areas in southern Dade, Key Biscayne and a pocket north of Miami, while B encompasses Brickell Avenue, more inland areas and Miami Beach and other cities along the ocean — represent the most dramatic example of Miami-Dade’s efforts to clear out in advance of a hurricane that reached Category 5 status on Tuesday. Miami-Dade’s schools chief canceled classes Thursday and Friday, and most governments and colleges announced similar shutdown plans for an already shortened holiday week.

My house is literally on the border between Zones A, B, and C, and depending on the trends of the storm, I have contingency plans to go to a place in Zone D.  Of course I will obey instructions from authorities and I am prepared to go with a few moment’s notice: grab my valuable papers, unplug the computer and the external drive, and go.  (I even had a friend in North Carolina offer me shelter, assuming he doesn’t get hit, too.)

I’ll let you know how it goes and if I go.