Under capitalism, and are we ever under capitalism, there is no such thing as a “natural disaster,” a natural catastrophe. The triumph of capitalism is the appropriation, subordination, even weaponizing of nature in the service of expropriation and aggrandizement.
The “acts” of nature cannot be contained, isolated, abstracted apart from the impact of the acts on the vulnerability and well-being of the classes generated and contained within the relations of capital. Neither can the response to the “acts” of nature be separated from the interests, needs, and power of those classes.
Nor can the results and impacts of those responses to those acts be characterized as “mistakes” “errors” “failures” “incompetence.” No capitalist agency is simply incompetent. Incompetence serves a purpose. It serves its class when the power of that class to rule requires the sacrifice of the ruled.
The incompetent serves that purpose and will always be rewarded by that ruling class, with a title, a salary, a flag, a membership.
There is not now and there never was anything that qualifies as “benign neglect.” There is no “blind to suffering.” The neglect is conscious, designed, intentional, even when and especially when manifesting itself as ignorance. The blindness is already a vision. There is always a calculus– an intersection of and where ignorance, entitlement, brutality and greed, meet and each furthers all in their service to oppression, exploitation, and that destruction accumulation that is now and forever known as capitalism.
The damning of bodies and souls to hunger, thirst, disease, misery is a social policy dressed up as and manifested through individual pathology.
So…while the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, pleads for assistance on behalf of people quite literally dying from the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the pumpkin-headed lout currently ensconced in the reclaimed White (Man’s) House, but always more comfortable playing in the sand
box trap of this or that country club, complains in response “they want everything done for them when it should be a community effort.”
“Community effort”? That’s what we’re calling it now? The only “community efforts” capitalism has ever undertaken in all the years that is has held Puerto Rico in its grubby short fingered small hands are those that destroyed local and handicrafts industry in order to clear the field for mainland industry; are those the dis-established local and community agriculture in order to clear the field for corporate agriculture.
The only “community efforts” undertaken by capitalism are those that took advantage of public taxpayer subsidies that reduced the rents for industrial spaces;
are those that claimed public subsidies in the form of lower wages for “island labor” than the minimums required for mainland labor;
are those that subsidized the export of profits, tax free, back to the mainland; are those that saddled the people of Puerto Rico with $70 billion in debt;
are those imposed by the Congress of the United States restricting the peoples’ access to adequate healthcare by reducing the rate of reimbursement of Medicare and Medicaid payments on the island to a fraction of the rates on the mainland;
are those that have forced 43% of the population and 60% of the children into poverty before the hurricane hit.
In 1996, Bill Clinton, he who felt everyone’s pain, made his contribution to the community effort, phasing out tax advantages for US industry on the island over ten years, and at the end of 2006, Puerto Rico entered the first year of its now 10+ year economic contraction.
Ten years was enough time for the bourgeoisie to get out while the getting was still good, and for the banks, the hedge funds, the institutional investors to walk in, underwriting and trading the debt the government of Puerto Rico had to issue to paper over the big whole where an economy never was.
Less than ten years after 2006, Puerto Rico was where New York City was in 1975, where Flint, Michigan was in 2011, where Ireland, and Greece were in 2009: insolvent, unable to meet scheduled debt payments and unable to access capital markets to refinance existing debt.
Puerto Rico got what they got: financial control boards. Call it a troika, call it a review board, call it Financial Organization Management Board, call it Promesa, call it anything, but must of all call it by its right name, as it is so called in Puerto Rico– the junta.
Puerto Rico wasn’t between a rock and a hard place; Puerto Rico was turned into a rock and a hard place. The junta was brought into being in 2016, courtesy of the very same US Congress and everybody’s favorite Nobel Peace Prize winning drone-warrior Barack Obama.
The mission of the junta is explicitly to ensure that Puerto Rico adopts fiscal plans that can sustain the level of debt necessary for the government to survive. To achieve that goal, the junta replaces, literally, the executive and legislative branches of Puerto Rico’s government as the agency of sovereignty. The junta can and does require the executive and legislative to submit fiscal plans for its approval before any program can be enacted into law.
The junta is empowered to approve all agreements between the territory government, or any utility or corporation established by the government, and its bondholders, including reductions in the face-values of the outstanding debt, “haircuts.” This isn’t much of a threat to either the original holders of the debt who hedged their purchases; nor to the holders who purchased the debt in secondary markets at already steep discounts. In fact, these “secondary” holders are anticipating, and quite rightly, profits from settlements.
The junta subordinated civil authority to fiscal authority. Money trumps democracy every time and twice on NFL Sundays.
Hurricane Maria on the other hand, has made fiscal authority irrelevant. What’s left?
Well for the capitalism, there are always, and nearby, “states of emergency” and “military authority.”
Others can argue about the level of emergency response and the need for “troops on the ground.” We’re not in the business of advocating the deployment of the US military anywhere for any reason.
Apparently, the current duffer occupying the White House is stumped by the fact that Puerto Rico is an island, and is not aware that the US Navy contains nine (9) Wasp class aircraft carriers (four (4) are based on the east coast of the US) which are configured specifically to support helicopters and STOVL (short take-off vertical landing) aircraft. “Lift” capacity is the logistical backbone to the projection of power. Maybe his Secretary of Defense should enlighten him, but then again the other cabinet members have commandeered these four carriers for honeymoons, eclipse tours, IPO road shows, etc.
The suspension of civil authority by the junta, followed by the swamping of the junta by the hurricane makes it imperative that the people of Puerto Rico, where they can assemble, and that right now is mostly in San Juan and
a) make a declaration of force majeure. This declaration will suspend the liabilities and debt obligations in all contracts, including bond covenants, existing prior to the declaration. The declaration can specify that the condition of force majeure will govern until all aspects of the island’s economic output and social services are restored not just to pre-hurricane levels, but until the rate of poverty for children has been brought down to the national level, itself a disgraceful 20 percent.
b) seize those hotels, resorts, country clubs, corporate facilities operating on the basis of self-generated, or privately supplied power, declaring these facilities public spaces dedicated to meeting first the needs of pregnant women, children, the elderly, and the infirm.
That’s the community effort that must be undertaken immediately.
October 2, 2017