Maria blows the stars around
Sets the clouds a-flyin’
Maria makes
The mountains sound like folks was out there dyin’
Maria (Maria)
Maria (Maria)
They call
The wind
Maria

The scenes from Puerto Rico are horrific: Ruin, destruction, flooding, and no electricity, cell signals or clean water for three and a half million Americans.

More people live in Puerto Rico than in 20 states.

Consider also that many from the Lesser Antilles who were left homeless were transferred to Puerto Rico for shelter.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Adding to the anguish: not being able to hear from friends and relatives. CBS Miami has an article on How Family, Friends Can Check On People In Puerto Rico.

The complete blackout combined with the flooding is a clear  imminent threat to public health, not only to safety.

Kevin Lui explains How could a storm knock out power across the whole island?

Puerto Rico’s power grid was already in bad shape even before the 2017 hurricane season. PREPA’s power plants are 44 years old on average, reports Reuters — in contrast with the industry-wide average of 18 years.

The company, which filed for bankruptcy in July, called its own system “degraded and unsafe,” saying in a fiscal plan released this April that “years of under-investment have led to severe degradation of infrastructure,” according to Reuters.

According to Vox, PREPA also faces a manpower shortage that, even before this hurricane season, was already impeding its day-to-day maintenance.
. . .
Puerto Rican officials think that the power distribution infrastructure might be more badly damaged than power stations, the governor told CNN, adding that power could be more quickly restored if transmission lines turn out to be in better shape than thought.

Compounding the problem is Puerto Rico’s economic mess. I have posted about it for years; back to Lui’s article,

The general economic situation is also grim. Puerto Rico’s finances have been in dire straits for years. The island has yet to emerge from a decade-long recession, and unemployment stands at 11%. Its government entered a process similar to bankruptcy protection in May in a bid to restructure its debt load, currently in excess of $70 billion.

At the WSJ,

Maria and Irma hit at a time of financial strain for Puerto Rico. The island’s government and its state-owned public-power monopoly are under bankruptcy protection after years of overborrowing and a decade of economic recession. The U.S. Congress installed an oversight board last year to renegotiate roughly $73 billion in debt and to coax business interests back to the island.

More exasperating is the cell phone situation, where AT&T has exclusive rights, and companies such as FirstNet are not allowed to provide wireless services to first responders. AT&T is completely down.

Puerto Rico was on a downward spiral for years, well before Irma and Maria struck. One can only hope that this disaster becomes an opportunity to rebuild the entire island and cut down on decades’ worth of bloated, useless overspending and waste.

Fausta Rodríguez Wertz writes on U. S. and Latin America at Fausta’s blog

By John Ruberry

I hate to interrupt your day by veering away from such issues, well, issues to some, such as the Donald Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia or that nation’s reputed hacking of the 2016 presidential election, but there is something more important that the mainstream media is only nibbling at the edges of: the Great American Pension Swindle.

What is it?

Underfunded pension plans in blue states, well mostly blue states.

Here are some media headlines from just this month:

I could go on and on.

As for that last one, many bond firms rate Chicago Public Schools’ bonds as junk. The collateral for its latest loan, and that’s a generous use of the term, is money owed to CPS by the state of Illinois, the Puerto Rico of the Midwest. Illinois’ public-worker pension plans are just 29 percent funded. Chicago’s pensions are worse–at 25 percent funded, the worst among 15 large cities surveyed.

I don’t have Schadenfreude over this situation. On a personal level the spouse of a friend of mine and one of my cousins are collecting Illinois State Police pensions. They were promised these retirement plans and they didn’t pay into Social Security when they worked for the state. There was no opt-out option for them in regards to these pensions. And their union, unlike AFSCME, wasn’t showering Illinois politicians, mostly Democrats, with copious campaign contributions while the state was shortchanging and even skipping payments into pension funds.

Now what?

John “Lee” Ruberry of Da Tech Guy’s Magnificent Seven

I suspect bankruptcies in all but name, which I wrote about earlier this month in this space, are coming to Illinois and other states who see pensions as a reward system for political sponsors such as AFSCME. Here’s another possibility: run-of-the-mill taxpayers, many of whom are just getting by financially and have no pensions of their own, nor the ability to retire in their 50s, will have to cough up even more in taxes to bail out public worker retirement funds.

This tragedy is not the fault of the Russians. Vladimir Putin didn’t hack the pension funds.  But too bad that’s not what happened. Then perhaps MSNBC, CNN, the Washington Post, and the New York Times might devote more time to the Great American Pension Swindle.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Lake Michigan at Evanston, IL. Is Puerto Rico’s present Illinois’ future?

By John Ruberry

If you believe that states–and commonwealths–cannot declare bankruptcy, you are technically correct. But last week a commonwealth, Puerto Rico, filed for bankruptcy in all but name, utilizing the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in 2016.

That bill of course was written for Puerto Rico in mind, but with Republicans in control of all levels of the federal government, similar bills can be proposed for the fifty states, or just some of them, including California, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Illinois. Those three are among the states that have fallen victim to what New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg dubbed the “labor-electoral complex” in his farewell address four years ago.

What’s that? It’s when public-sector unions, consisting of workers on the taxpayer payroll, cajole politicians–almost always Democratic ones–to increase their salaries or defer their pay hikes by way of generous yet unaffordable pension plans.

And of course these pols are cajoled by these unions through campaign contributions.

Puerto Rican flag flies between two abandoned Chicago homes

Many local government workers don’t pay into social security and many of them have no other pension plans. In states like Illinois, if you work for the state government, funds deducted for your retirement only go to one place–an Illinois retirement plan. So far so good–unless the politicians neglect to properly fund those pension programs.

And that has been the sad case in those blue states I mentioned earlier, as well as Kentucky.

Now that Puerto Rico has declared, well, something, investors will very likely take a closer look at sinking cash into what may be sinking ships. Puerto Rico has negative population growth. So does Illinois. That means fewer taxpayers are participating in funding these failures. And it’s the productive citizens who are leaving Illinois and Puerto Rico.

Yesterday Puerto Rico announced it was closing 184 schools and there is speculation that commonwealth retirees may suffer a 20 percent cut in their pensions. Expect much more bad news from there.

John “Lee” Ruberry of Da Tech Guy’s Magnificent Seven

It doesn’t have to end up this way in states like Illinois–if corrective action is taken immediately. Let me define “immediately” for those politicians who may be reading this post.

Immediately means 2017, not ten years from now.

Ten years ago the financial situation in Puerto Rico wasn’t as dire.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.