When a judge sends a defendant to the ‘Chicken Farm,’ it’s considered worse than jail by some.
There are a lot of reasons to steer clear of industrially-farmed meat. From the filthy, cramped conditions in which animals are kept to the rampant disease and excessive antibiotics used to promote artificial growth, the whole industry raises serious ethical and environmental questions.
But now there’s yet another reason to question the origins of industrial meat. A recent investigation by Reveal News for the Center for Investigative Reporting has found that some chicken processing plants in the Midwest are, essentially, slave camps where men and women are sentenced to work hard for free in horrific conditions, all under the guise of rehab.
There are contradictory opinions as to the true purpose of the work camps. The main processing plant featured in the report, Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery (CAAIR), owned by Simmons Foods, Inc. and located in rural Oklahoma, promotes itself as a treatment center; however, “the program mainly relies on faith and work to treat addiction”; is unregulated by the state; and has only one licensed counsellor (out of three in the entire 280-person facility).
Meanwhile, a court administrator named Vicki Cox told reporters that participants are not sent to CAAIR for drug or alcohol treatment. “The referral is to assist the participants in developing good job skills, life skills, work ethics and personal care skills.”
Despite this, reporters found that “drug court staff repeatedly described CAAIR as treatment in court records,” which Cox dismissed as a record-keeping error.
So, which is it, and what is really going on?
The workers themselves have a different take on things. They describe a hellish work environment, standing in front of speeding conveyor belts in a frigid poultry plant, “pulling guts and stray feathers from slaughtered chickens destined for major fast food restaurants and grocery stores.”
To make matters worse, injuries are not properly treated and are often viewed by bosses as a way to get out of work. Brad McGahey, whose hand was mangled in a machine, recalls being told by CAAIR administrators, “You can either work or you can go to prison. It’s up to you.” At that point McGahey chose prison, because “anywhere is better than here.”
“The program mainly relies on faith and work to treat addiction.”
There is a serious conflict of interest, with the processing plants making enormous profits off the free labor. In the seven years since its founding, CAAIR has brought in more than $11 million in revenue. The workers also fill a labor void, resolving an issue faced by many of these processing plants prior to the creation of programs like CAAIR and without which they’d likely be forced to shut down.
Is this even legal?
“Legal experts said forcing defendants to work for free might violate their constitutional rights. The 13th Amendment bans slavery and involuntary servitude in the United States, except as punishment for convicts. That’s why prison labor programs are legal. But many defendants sent to programs such as CAAIR have not yet been convicted of crimes, and some later have their cases dismissed.”
The entire report adds a horrifying human dimension to the world of industrial meat production, extending the question of welfare from animals to the humans who process their carcasses. It’s certainly enough to put one off KFC and Popeye’s chicken forever, as CAAIR is a supplier.
It will be interesting to see what results from this investigation. It has certainly shocked many people, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, which is now considering legal action in response. And yet, as the report concludes, CAAIR continues to expand with plans for yet another dormitory to house more laborers. Sadly, as long as demand for industrially-produced meat remains high, without the ethics of production being questioned, these injustices are likely to persist.
I’m reposting this article in light of today’s “celebration” of Columbus Day. Instead of relitigating the past and letting history divide us, how about we go on a real discovery together and start a much needed adult conversation on race. Read the article below with an open heart and mind and then use this write up as a starting point to have a real dialogue instead of yelling past each other. Share this article on social media and start the conversation using #InclusiveJustice
I will admit, I was a part of the same crowd I’m now picking up a pen to speak against. I too once went around foolishly talking about “white privilege” this or “white people are evil” that. This was not too long ago; a time when I used to see justice through colored binoculars. I was part and parcel of the very divisive culture I thought I was speaking against. It took two years of hardship for me to finally shed my blinders and see injustice as it is without putting an adjective in front of it.
This is the wisdom I earned through hardship. Using rhetoric like “white supremacy” and “white privilege” is a way of stereotyping the whole of “white” people and lumping everyone into one group. This is the surest way to turn potential allies in the struggle for justice into adversaries; by doing so we end up perpetuating the very divides that the “system” depends on to split people apart. Moreover, it is a blatant lie that being “white” automatically confers some type of privilege. Just because some or even most might have it easier being a certain complexion does not mean all enjoy that privilege. True enough we have it hard being “black” and institutional racism is no joke; but there are tens of millions of “white” people who suffer generational poverty in the Appalachians and beyond that matches the poverty faced by “African-Americans” and “minorities” in the inner cities. Do we have to negate the suffering of others in order to show that we suffer?
I used ascribe to the narrow-minded rhetoric of statements like “white privilege” and “white supremacy” until I had a dance with misfortune and resided among the broken and impoverished for more than two years. What I witnessed were “white folks” along with everyone else who were so stuck in poverty that struggle became their normal. Can you imagine if I told some guy who did not have a high school diploma and was a vagabond begging for change on street corners that he had “white privilege”. Anyone who says people who are poor on this level is out of choice is just as myopic as the worst bigot who says “black people” are lazy. Poverty is not a choice, in most cases it is a sentence—a life sentence that “white people” serve along with the rest.
I only woke up to the ways the elites deceives us to fight one another when I got mugged by reality. What I have witnessed from South Carolina to Colorado and countless regions in between—as I sojourned from state to state and mission to mission—is this. Poverty comes for all and it does not discriminate based on the preposterous labels we accept from oppressors. The overwhelming majority of humanity is being ground into dust as the uber wealthy are literally kneecapping the masses into indigence and hopelessness in order to nourish their opulence. “White” people are victims of this global system of oppression too; we are better off uniting to defend our common interests than we are using myopic rhetoric and turning co-victims into enemies (read One Nemesis, 50 Different Grievances).
Want to know why Trump was elected? A large factor can be traced to “white people” who wanted to have their grievances aired. They ended up turning to Trump’s “us versus them” campaign because they got tired of being blamed and never being heard. We rightly get upset when bigots use rhetoric like “black people are lazy” or “black people aren’t driven”. Don’t you think “white people” get upset too when rhetoric like “white privilege” and “white people are evil” ascribes guilt to all and condemns more than 60% of this nation as wicked and concurrently diminishes the struggles they go through? True enough there was a segment of voters who turned to Trump out of bigotry and hatred, but others voted for him because he spoke their resentment. To cast all Trump voters as racist is to feed into the division and to cast all “white people” in a certain light is to further injustice.
I was at Colorado State University not too long ago and attended a meeting of young “black” college students. In the crowd was a young “white” girl who was in attendance because she wanted to fight for justice. One person after another stood up and blasted “white” people for being either entitled or privileged. Each time I looked in her direction, I winced. Is it fair for her to be judged by association? What if this young lady, who wanted to stand for equality and fairness, eventually has enough and decides to be the next Donald Trump or David Duke? Why not lead with an open hand of friendship instead of pointing fingers and making enemies?
Notice by the way that I keep using quote marks on the labels “white” and “black”. That is because I realize just how injurious these labels are. These names we call ourselves and the designations of white and black are insidious, but hot damn if they have not worked perfectly as intended. The words “black” and “white”—within the context of race—were constructs meant to ghettoize people behind the walls of contempt and “just us” in order to fracture humanity. There is not one person in this world who is black nor is anyone white; these words were imposed upon us by monstrous men who had everything to gain by dividing us. We defeat ourselves when we use these words that never came from us to begin with.
Over generations, we have accepted these hateful labels and made them a source of pride. Why do I say the labels are hateful? Go ahead and look up the definition of the word “black” on Webster’s Dictionary. You will discover nothing but one slander after another; black is used to describe things which are worthless and insignificant. At the top of the definition, you will see that vile label black followed by words like dark, evil, and wicked. Most perniciously, black is defined as those things which don’t have light. People have no idea, black is not an identity, it is a social position.
The word black is used to dehumanize us and to imply that we don’t have God’s light in us. Now go ahead and and look up the word white in the same dictionary. You will see white described in the most glowing ways. White is defined as the full presence of light and it has also been affixed to people who come from Europe. White is defined as pure, clean, of good character and free from blemish. As we are dehumanized, other groups are elevated and in the process the world is shattered into a battle between “black” and “white”. This is how the 1% are able to conquer and subjugate the 99%. Watch the YouTube video at the bottom of this article for an in-depth breakdown of social constructs which were invented out of thin cloth to segregate society based on artificial labels.
Don’t you see what these depraved oppressors were up to in the past when they came up with the constructs of “black” and “white”. They were reducing our worth while concurrently elevating themselves to the status of heirlooms. Now I know some people will try to say “they don’t get to define what we are, we do”. This is absurdity of the highest magnitude, the word black was given to us by “them”. Trust me when I tell you this, our ancestors in the continent we now imprudently call Africa were not calling themselves “black” before foreigners invaded and colonized the continent of Ethiopia and shipped off her children to live a life of chattel in chains. Google “Scipio Africanus” and you will be shocked to find out that we are calling ourselves after a man who was more heinous than Hitler who killed millions of our ancestor. Let that sink in for a minute. By accepting the word “black”, we accept inferiority. But too many people overlook this fact and instead choose to lash out and bang on “white privilege”. But calling people “white” is the privilege itself! No one is white, the minute you say someone is white you might as well get on your knees and say “master”; that is the implication of the labels black and white. Black mires us in third class citizen status and white confers upon people from European descendants the prominence of the preferred tribe. Do you know what the word “negro” means? It’s black by another dialect; is a word less insulting when it’s spoken in English than when it is uttered in another language? if I called you an idiot in French, does an insult become endearing?
The source of our enslavement is within, this is why Bob Marley sang that song “free yourselves from mental slavery”. Accepting our identity through the identification others gave us is nothing more than enslavement. Words are super powerful; nothing in this world matches the potency of the tongue and the words that flow from it. By saying we are black, we speak inferiority into existence and calling others white confers superiority unto those who call us black. Sadly, the loudest idiots get the microphones; thus we are led by a herd of unoriginal thinkers and supposed intellectuals who convince us to get on bent knees and beg for acceptance instead of lifting ourselves up. There is money to be made in race hustling and peddling grievances; actually teaching people to feed themselves and to know their worth takes away future customers.
These things have real life consequences, we spend all our time protesting outward while turning to rhetoric of hatefulness instead of mending from within. Like I said, I’ve done this too—I’m not speaking out of piety. We’ve been following the same playbook for generations; banging our heads into walls will not knock the walls down, it just leads to migraines and welts. Being given pains does not give us the right to pass on pains to others. Blaming the masses of our less melanined brethren and sisters for the sins of a few is no different than when a “white” person says all black people are thugs. Bigotry is bigotry—we don’t get a pass just because we’ve felt a bigger injustice.
If you want to fight injustice, great! But for God’s sake stop putting adjectives in front of injustice. Don’t fight for black justice or brown justice—fight for justice on its own. Doing anything less makes you part of the very injustice you fight against. This system of oppression that is robbing hope from the masses and bleeding people the world over thrives through division. Its weakness is unity. So when people take to the podium to speak of “white privilege”, “Muslim terrorism” or “Mexican illegals”, they are feeding into the divisiveness which is fueling the fire of global oppression. In what world is it right to blame the whole of one group for the excesses committed by a fraction from that group? If it is wrong when we are all lumped together and characterized based on our traits instead of our character, it’s equally wrong when we do that to others. You can’t get mad when bigotry reduces you only for you to reduce others and justify hatred and bigotry when you do it to someone else.
If you insist on saying “white privilege”, take a drive down to the Appalachians or failing that go down to your local homeless shelter. There you will find teeming masses of so-called “white” people who are mired in perpetual hopelessness and indigence that will shock your conscience. Would you go up to a “white” homeless person and tell him he has “white privilege”? Think on these things for a second, would you tell a “white” child living in a trailer park who goes to sleep hungry at night that she has “white privilege”? The same root of injustice that robs the inner cities of Chicago of hope and hobbles “black” folk into cyclical poverty is what cripples “white” folks into dependency and privation in states like Idaho, Alabama, and Texas.
Does it hurt us if we said others suffer too? Do we have to monopolize injustice in order to make our pains have meaning? In truth, our pains gain more meaning and purpose when we join hands with others who hurt too. Instead of feeding into the system of divide and conquer, we have the ability to lead a new conversation and heal historical wounds if we choose (read Have this Conversation). You know that saying “to those much given, much is expected”. I know a lot of people assume it’s talking about rich people and their responsibility to give back. I see it differently, to those whom much injustice has been given, there is much expected for they have much potential to change the world. The best healers have always been the ones who have been hurt the most. If we are able to lead with love and forgiveness, we can shift paradigms and defeat the few who oppress billions. That is our power that the elites have always feared. A real revolutionary is not the one who leads with anger and violence; a true revolutionary is one who leads with love and changes heart.The way to find the liberation that has been eluding us for centuries is not by walking down the path of antipathy and resentment. Perhaps we have been going down the wrong path all along and being misled by charlatans working for the system. Malcolm X was beloved by the elites as long as he was preaching the divisive language of “white devils” and “white privilege”. Once Malcolm traveled to Mecca and saw a sea of humanity praying together and realized that the quest to end iniquity is through inclusive justice, he stopped speaking of “white devils” and embraced oneness. That is when the powerful eliminated Malcolm (read Confluence of Malcolm and Martin). The only way to heal the wounds of generational injustice is to find love within. You can thus discount every “black” leader and author as well as every “white” firebrand who preaches from the pulpit of “us versus them” as frauds and see them as for the demagogues that they are. They are working and getting paid by the same system they speaking against.
I mentioned Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. for a reason; both of them realized—before they were executed by the wielders of oppression—that universal justice was the only way to overcome the iniquities of those who repress the masses through coercion and manipulation. There is only one way to get to redemption and that is by being inclusive of all those who suffer under the boot of tyranny and economic injustice—this includes “white” people too. We need a big tent that does not exclude people based on race or belief. If we do anything less, if we turn towards antipathy and vengeance, we become the very things we stand against. Our strength is our numbers, if we are not united as one, we will suffer and struggle apart.
You should always be leery when the elites and the establishment glom on to “social movements” and start to push a message. 99.9999% of the time, this is an indication to walk the hell away. Thus, when Hillary Clinton and the ivory tower “liberals” start pushing “white privilege”, take it as a sure sign the movement is a distraction. This is why I want nothing to do with the Black Lives Matter movement, not because I don’t stand in solidarity with my brothers and sisters who demand justice, but because I know the nefarious reasons why billionaires funded the movement (read Rethinking Black Lives Matter). Once again, the establishment is using our pains to advance their political interests. The only reason the Corporate State Media and two faced politicians and pundits are pushing this narrative of “white privilege” is because they want us to be angered by the symptom of institutional racism instead of identifying the source.
Let me wrap it up with some “real talk”. Enough of the nonsense, stop acting the victim and complaining about what the “white man” did to you and realize that they suffer too. I know some will cite examples and say “white people” stuck in poverty don’t have it as bad as “black folk” stuck in indigence—this is such folly. Poverty is poverty and those who are stuck in it have minimal chances to escape the clutches of destitution. Once someone is mired in homelessness and gets sentenced to a life of concrete mattresses and newspaper blankets, they have little hope to go from that level of despair to finding renewal. Instead of judging who has it worse and turning the suffering of people into abstract philosophical debating points, how about we stop seeing through color and just help people who suffer as we are best able?
But first, heal thyself. You can’t help others before you mend within. Stop tearing others down from without, let’s take a pause and find a way to fill our hearts with love rather than letting anger be our guiding flame. Loosen from our souls and our language hateful words and pejoratives like “black”, “nigger” and “habehsa” given to our ancestors to dehumanize them and make them the lesser. Lastly, if you really do care about ending injustice and want to fight for equality, here is a radical proposal. How about we see both humanity and injustice without appending an adjective of identity or ideology in front of it. Be about universal justice or else count yourself a pawn of injustice. #InclusiveJustice
“If you have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life.” ~ Marcus Garvey
If you appreciated this write up and agree that we should not put an adjective in front of injustice and instead fight for universal justice without respect to the endless ways the powerful divide us, share this article on social media using #InclusiveJustice
Speaking of Marcus Garvey and the notion of self-confidence, I challenge EVERYONE to watch this video, it is a bit long but within the first five minutes you will see how we have been manipulated all along to accept hatred as self-love.
If you want to know how we can overcome injustice and defeat tyranny, check this Ghion Cast out below where I discuss historical events where people did just that from Adwa to America and beyond.
For God’s sake, stop seeing injustice through color, you would not say hateful things to children, so why say it to each other? Peace on earth will only arrive when we accept each other as one big family instead of abstract enemies to conquer.
Teodrose Fikre is a published author and a prolific writer whose speech idea was incorporated into Barack Obama’s south Carolina victory speech in 2008. Once thoroughly entangled in politics and a partisan loyalist, a mugging by way of reality shed political blinders from Teodore’s eyes and led him on a journey to fight for universal justice.
Teodrose was born in Ethiopia the same year Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed by the communist Derg junta. The great grandson five generations removed of Atse (emperor) Tewodros Kassa II, the greatest king of Ethiopia, Teodrose is clearly influenced by the history and his connection to Ethiopia. Through his experiences growing up as first generation refugee in America, Teodrose writes poignantly about the universal experiences of joys, pains and a hope for a better tomorrow that binds all of humanity.
Teodrose has written extensively about the intersection of politics, economic policies, identity, and history. He is the author of “Serendipity’s Trace” and newly released “Soul to Soil”, two works that inspect the ways we are dissected as a people and shows how we can overcome injustice through the inclusive vision of togetherness.
Landing of Columbus, painting by John Vanderlyn. (Photo: John Vanderlyn/WikiMedia)
Growing up, we all likely encountered a very rosy description of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, how he sailed the ocean blue, discovered America, had three ships, blah, blah, blah. In reality, Columbus was something of a giant horror show in terms of his deadly impact on indigenous peoples, thirst for wealth and relative indifference to the plight of others. Oh — and he likely introduced syphilis to Europe.
Is this really the kind of person who deserves a federal holiday?
For many, that answer is a resounding no. As more of Columbus’s transgressions become known, there’s increasing pressure to remove his name from anything to do with the second Monday in October and instead honor those who settled the “New World” thousands of years earlier. Earlier this year, a bill was introduced in Nebraska to replace Columbus Day with “Standing Bear and Indigenous Leaders’ Day.” A compromise was reached in March to call it Columbus, Standing Bear and Indigenous Leaders’ Day.
In 2014, Alaska renamed it “Indigenous People’s Day.” And in 2014, both Seattle and Minneapolis voted to stop recognizing Columbus Day in favor of “Indigenous People’s Day.” According to the Associate Press, the new holiday “celebrates the contributions and culture of Native Americans and the indigenous community.”
Inspired by this movement, the University of Alaska Southeast, Oklahoma University and even Fargo, North Dakota voted to also embrace Indigenous People’s Day. In announcing the change, Oklahoma University president David Boren said, in 2015, that the new holiday will feature a daylong celebration of Native culture on campus — including food, dance, the arts and special lectures.
“We must never forget the many injustices in our history in the treatment of Native people and never stop admiring the strength of Native people who have preserved their values and whose cultures and governments continue in the face of terrible adversities and injustices,” he wrote in a statement.
Currently, 28 states recognize Columbus Day as a true holiday. Efforts to officially change its federal designation on social media and through the White House’s We the People petition site had some support during Barack Obama’s tenure, but those efforts fell short of the 100,000 signatures needed for a response from the Obama administration. However, during then-President Obama’s annual declaration of the holiday, there appeared to be a growing acknowledgement of the day to be not just about Columbus, but those who were also here long before.
“As we recognize the influence of Christopher Columbus, we also pay tribute to the legacy of Native Americans and our Government’s commitment to strengthening their tribal sovereignty,” Obama wrote in 2014. “We celebrate the long history of the American continents and the contributions of a diverse people, including those who have always called this land their home and those who crossed an ocean and risked their lives to do so. With the same sense of exploration, we boldly pursue new frontiers of space, medicine, and technology and dare to change our world once more.”
In this animated TED-Ed video, Columbus takes he stand in History vs. Christopher Columbus:
Editor’s note: This story has been updated since it was originally published in October 2015.
Editors note: I personally own guns, and am afraid that if we don’t come up with something reasonable, and damn soon, the pendulum is going to swing WAY to the left and something like this could happen. Lets work together. Do we really need silencers and 17 round clips in the ‘burbs? – Stephen Ulrich
Australia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop has a message to America in the wake of the mass shooting in Las Vegas: We can help.
Julie Bishop Photo by Putu Sayoga/Getty Images.
A gunman reportedly opened fired from his Las Vegas hotel room window on Sunday night, killing at least 58 people and injuring hundreds more. It’s the type of inexplicable violence many Australians can recall from decades past.
“What Australia can do is share our experience after the mass killing in Port Arthur back in the late 1990s, when 35 people were killed by a lone gunman,” Bishop said, according to The Washington Post. “We have had this experience. We acted with a legislative response.”
Should Americans take her up on her offer? What’s happened in Australia since 1996 certainly suggests we should.
Less than two weeks after that horrific shooting in Port Arthur stunned the world, the Australian government leapt into action. New gun laws were rolled out under the National Firearms Agreement (NFA), banning private gun sales and establishing a national firearms registry. Australians were also expected to present a “genuine reason” for the need to purchase a gun; self-defense simply did not suffice.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Port Arthur massacre on April 28, 2016. Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images.
A major component of Australia’s gun reform legislation was a bold buyback program. After certain guns were banned outright — such as semi-automatic rifles — the government bought back hundreds of thousands of those weapons from gun owners. It also allowed for illegal guns to be surrendered to officials without fear of penalty.
Two months after the Port Arthur massacre, then-Prime Minister John Howard, a conservative, addressed a crowd in Victoria — a crowdof Australian gun owners.
In his speech — in which he stressed law-abiding gun owners “were not criminals” — the prime minister candidly noted that, yes, the new polices might be an inconvenience to many people sitting in the crowd.
But, he argued, saving Australian lives was worth it.
“Now I don’t pretend for a moment, ladies and gentlemen, that the decision that we have taken is going to guarantee that in the future there won’t be other mass murders; I don’t pretend that for a moment,” Howard said. “What I do argue to you, my friends, is that it will significantly reduce the likelihood of those occurring in the future.”
Implementing gun reform laws worked very, very well. Homicides involving guns dropped nearly 60% throughout the following decade. Death by suicide using a firearm plummeted 65%.
While gun proponents have pushed back on the new laws’ successes in Australia, they’ve been fighting an uphill battle. Most of the evidence they tend to point to is cherry-picked and irrelevant in the big picture. A 2006 study they’ve touted, suggesting the drop in Australia’s gun violence had to do with broader trends (not gun control laws), has been discredited; unsurprisingly, it was funded by pro-gun groups.
Will we ever see similar success on gun control in the U.S.?
We have reason to hope, but it won’t be easy.
Gun rights activist rally in Virgina in July 2017. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.
While Australia’s 1996 mandates were bold, they were also extremely popular: 9 out of 10 Australians approved of the provisions at the time. Basic gun control measures share similarly overwhelming approval in the U.S. too — yet America has failed to pass meaningful gun reform legislation. The jaw-dropping power of the gun lobby may have something to do with that.
But as Bishop noted after offering her country’s expertise in the wake of the shooting in Vegas, where there’s a will, there’s a way: “It’ll be up to U.S. lawmakers and legislators to deal with this issue,” she said.
She’s right. And it’s on us to force them to deal with it.
Early on Wednesday, September 20, Hurricane Maria, a powerful Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph winds, made direct landfall on Puerto Rico, bisecting the entire island and drenching it with feet of rain. What’s happened since has been truly catastrophic for Puerto Rico.
There’s still little power on the island. In many places there’s still no water to drink or bathe in or to flush toilets. There’s limited food and cell service, and dozens of remote villages have been completely cut off from everything for weeks.
“Make no mistake — this is a humanitarian disaster involving 3.4 million US citizens,” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said the Monday after Maria hit.
The initial recovery response from the US federal government has been lackluster, and President Trump’s comments have not inspired confidence. After dwelling early in the week on the facts that 1) Puerto Rico is an island, and 2) Puerto Rico is in massive debt, the president and his senior officials then went on the defensive, describing the administration’s response so far as a “good news story.”
“People are dying in this country,” Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, said at a news conference September 30. “I am begging, begging anyone that can hear us, to save us from dying. If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency and the bureaucracy.”
This is still a terrible disaster that deserves more coverage and a better coordinated response — and both appear to have been impeded by widespread confusion about Puerto Rico’s relationship to the United States and the severity of its current situation. Here’s what every American needs to know.
1) 3.4 million US citizens live in Puerto Rico, and they are entitled to the same government response as any state. But half of Americans don’t even know that.
According to a new Morning Consult poll published in the New York Times, only 54 percent of Americans know that Puerto Ricans are US citizens. The poll found 81 percent of those who knew Puerto Ricans were citizens supported sending to aid to the island. Just 44 percent of those who didn’t know said the same.
Puerto Ricans have been citizens of the United States since 1917, when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones-Shafroth Act. Citizens mean citizens. Puerto Ricans can travel freely to and from the continental United States without a passport. They’re protected by the same Bill of Rights as anyone else born in the United States. They vote in presidential primaries.
The island does not get electoral votes in general presidential elections. It also does not have voting representatives in Congress. Jenniffer González-Colón serves as resident commissioner of Puerto Rico, a nonvoting member of the US House of Representatives.
If Puerto Rico were a state, it would be the 30th most populated — with more people than Wyoming, Vermont, and Alaska combined.
“[Puerto Ricans] are entitled to the same response from the federal government as the citizens of New York or Kansas would be if they were visited by a natural disaster on the scale of Hurricane Maria,” the editors of America magazine, a Catholic publication, wrote on September 25. “Although the United States has long benefited from the geographical reach they provide … [island territories] have been taken for granted and denied full political representation. Hurricane Maria is a reminder that this two-tiered system of American citizenship is neither democratic nor tenable.”
2) Hurricane Maria was like a 50-mile-wide tornado that made a direct hit on the island
This hurricane season has been punishing for Puerto Rico. First, it got clipped by Hurricane Irma, a huge Category 5 storm whose eye passed just north of the island. That storm — which had ravaged several Caribbean islands — left 1 million people without power on Puerto Rico. By the time Maria hit, 60,000 people were still without electricity. That means there are many people on the island who haven’t had power for 20 days. (Irma passed by on September 7.)
Maria was a slightly smaller storm, but it was far, far more devastating. That’s because it charted a course directly over Puerto Rico, hit near its peak intensity, and passed around 25 miles away from San Juan, the capital, which is home to about 400,000 people. No nation or territory could suffer such a direct hit without some damage.
“It was as if a 50- to 60-mile-wide tornado raged across Puerto Rico, like a buzz saw,” Jeff Weber, a meteorologist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, says. “It’s almost as strong as a hurricane can get in a direct hit.”
By the record books, it was the fifth-strongest storm ever to hit the US, and the strongest storm to hit the island in 80 years. “The devastation is vast,” Gov. Rosselló said in a statement. “Our infrastructure and energy distribution systems suffered great damages.”
3) Water, food, and fuel are scarce on the island. The airports are a mess. Power will be out for months in some places.
Exact figures on the extent of the damage and the costs of repairs on the island are not yet known. This is partly due to the fact that communications on the island are strained. But it’s also because many roads are damaged and it’s hard to get around. Moody’s Analytics, a financial services firms, estimates the storm could cost Puerto Rico $45 billion to $90 billion.
Photos show whole communities with roofs torn off, second floors of houses ripped apart, water flooding the streets, and people resorting to waiting in long lines for clean water and fuel. In reports, the word “apocalyptic” is used often.
More concretely, we do know that Puerto Rico’s infrastructure is severely crippled. These are major problems that will make living even in an intact house more difficult in the coming weeks and months.
Power is out across the island — and Puerto Rico’s energy system was troubled to begin with
The storm knocked out 80 percent of the island’s power transmission lines, the Associated Press reports. And as of October 3, nearly all of the island’s 1.57 million electricity customers were still without power. Many people have generators, and new ones are being distributed, but many homes and businesses are dark because of the ongoing troubles distributing fuel to run the generators. Two weeks after the storm hit, it’s still very difficult to find fuel, Reuters reports.
In the photos below, NOAA compares what the lights of Puerto Rico looked like from space on a calm night in July, and then compare it to what the island looked like post–Hurricane Maria. The faint lights that remain are powered by gas generators.
It could be four to six months before power is fully restored on the island. That’s half a year with Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million residents relying on generators, half a year without air conditioning in the tropical climate, half a year that electric pumps can’t bring running water into homes, half a year when even the most basic tasks of modern life are made difficult.
PREPA, the electric company on the island, has a massive $9 billion debt, as Vox’s Alexia Fernández Campbell has explained, and in July it defaulted on an interest payment. For years, it hasn’t had the money to invest in modernizing Puerto Rico’s electrical systems. Even without hurricanes, power outages are frequent on the island. Making things worse: There aren’t enough workers to fix the infrastructure. Young people have been leaving the island in droves as the economy has tightened, and older workers have been retiring en masse, securing their pensions.
Rebuilding the system on the island will be a long and difficult process. Getting the power back on in Puerto Rico “will be daunting and expensive,” the New York Times explains. “Transformers, poles and power lines snake from coastal areas across hard-to-access mountains. In some cases, the poles have to be maneuvered in place with helicopters.”
Fresh water is scarce
No electricity means no power to pump water into homes, no water to bathe or flush toilets. On September 30, FEMA reported that only 45 percent of people on the island have access to clean, potable water in their homes. In the first few days after the storm, USA Today reported that Arecibo, a town on the northern shore of the island, had only one source of fresh water: a single fire hydrant. Rescue workers have been distributing bottled water, but it’s safe to assume many people haven’t received any yet.
Cellphone towers are knocked out
The storm knocked out 1,360 out of 1,600 cellphone towers on the island. Many communities have been isolated from the outside world for days, relying only on radios for news. National Guard members told the Daily Beast they were struggling to communicate on the ground, making their ability to respond to the disaster exceptionally hard. “There’s no communication, that’s the problem,” said Capt. Jeff Rutkowski.
The latest report from the Federal Communications Commission finds 88.8 percent of cell tower sites are still out of service.
The cellular outage also means that family on the mainland, or abroad, can’t get in touch with those on the island to find out if they’re safe.
Most hospitals are running on generators with limited fuel
In its latest report, FEMA says 59 out of 69 hospitals have had power restored. “These hospitals are operationally able to care for the patients they have or are receiving new patients,” FEMA states.
The others are running on generators, and there are serious issues with distributing fuel. So there’s still limited access to X-ray machines and other diagnostic and life-saving equipment.
Initially, power was knocked out at almost all the island’s hospitals, leading to life-threatening emergencies. “Two people died yesterday because there was no diesel in the place where they were … In San Juan, a hospital,” Mayor Yulín Cruz told CBS News in an emotional interview September 26. “We need to get our shit together.”
And the health crisis on the island could grow if power is not soon restored, as Vox’s Julia Belluz reports.
“Just about every interaction with the health system now involves electricity, from calling a hospital for help to accessing electronic medical records and powering lifesaving equipment like hemodialysis machines or ventilators,” Belluz writes.
Farms are decimated
Agriculture is a small part of the Puerto Rican economy, contributing just 0.8 percent to its GDP and employing 1.6 percent of its labor force. But it was decimated — in a nearly literal sense of the word — by Hurricane Maria.
“In a matter of hours, Hurricane Maria wiped out about 80 percent of the crop value in Puerto Rico,” the New York Times reports. That amounts to a $780 million loss. The island imports 85 percent of its food, but the destruction of its agricultural sector is likely to increase prices and exacerbate the scary prospect of continued food shortages on the island.
Weather radar is down, making it harder to forecast new storms
On September 24, the National Weather Service reported that its Doppler radar station on the island had been destroyed. That’s the radar that helps meteorologists see where thunderstorms and other weather systems are moving in real time. “Not having radar does make future storms more hazardous,” says Weber.
Airports are a hot, sticky mess
Residents of Puerto Rico have had a difficult time evacuating the island. Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport — the island’s main airport in San Juan — reopened to commercial flights September 24. But residents can expect to wait a long time in uncomfortable conditions if they want a flight. Some airlines reportedly have waiting lists of 20,000 people.
There’s no air conditioning in the airport, the Miami Herald reports, ticketing computers are out, and passengers have to be checked in to flights via telephone. And due to damage to FAA radar and fuel shortages, only a limited number of planes can take off and land in San Juan each day.
Fuel is hard to find
Without a working electrical grid, Puerto Ricans have had to turn to gas-powered electric generators for energy. But it’s very, very difficult to get fuel on the island. NPR reports on people waiting for six-plus hours in lines for gas. Other stations are completely out of fuel and have been for days.
“Authorities in Puerto Rico say there isn’t a gas shortage,” NPR reports. “Instead, they say that distribution has been disrupted by the storm.”
When fuel runs low, lives are put in danger.
The Washington Post reported from Juncos, a municipality in the Central Eastern region of the island. There, they found a diabetic woman afraid that the refrigeration that keeps her insulin preserved will soon run out, and that there won’t be fuel to restart the generator.
4) Puerto Rico’s economy is in shambles, and the storm will make it worse
As Vox’s Fernández Campbell explains, Puerto Rico’s government is broke. Its infrastructure is aging and in disrepair on a good day. And it can’t borrow money to fix it. In May, Puerto Rico — which has a $103 billion economy — declared bankruptcy, and it has since then been trying to restructure more than $70 billion in debt. The island’s finances are currently controlled by a federal board, which made just $1 billion available for relief, the AP reports.
Certain US policies have contributed to Puerto Rico’s economic deterioration. One of them is the Jones Act (different from the Jones-Shafroth Act mentioned above), an antiquated law that forces Puerto Ricans to pay nearly double for US goods through various tariffs, fees, and taxes. The act stipulates that any goods shipped from one American port to another must be on American-made-and-operated ships. As Vox’s Matthew Yglesias explains, it means shipping to Puerto Rico is more costly because there’s little competition among freighters.
It’s “a shakedown, a mob protection racket, with Puerto Rico a captive market,” as Nelson A. Denis, a former New York State Assembly member and author of War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America’s Colony, wrote in the New York Times.
On Thursday morning, the Trump administration finally granted the island a temporary waiver from the law’s requirements, which should help somewhat with the immediate disaster relief.
Meanwhile, economic woes have contributed to severe brain drain over the years: The population has dropped by more than 8 percent since 2010. According to the Times: “the cost of living in Puerto Rico is 13 percent higher than in 325 urban areas elsewhere in the United States, even though per capita income in Puerto Rico is about $18,000, close to half that of Mississippi, the poorest of all 50 states.”
The population drain in turn makes it harder and harder for Puerto Rico’s economy to recover. People will likely migrate on account of the storm, which will make recovery more difficult. It’s a classic vicious cycle.
5) Experts believe the death toll could reach into the hundreds
With each passing day, we’re learning more about the frightening conditions on the ground, from the sick being turned away from barely functioning hospitals to mothers desperate for water for their babies. But one figure is disquietingly absent: an accurate death toll.
The official death count has not budged since Wednesday, when the Puerto Rican government said that just 16 people had been killed as a result of the storm. On Tuesday, while in Puerto Rico, Trump said officials should be “very proud” of that number, as it doesn’t compare to the “real catastrophe like Katrina.”
But there is good reason to believe the actual figure is much higher than 16, and will continue to climb.
Pascual spoke to dozens of doctors, administrators, morgue directors, and funeral directors around the country, and wrote up her initial findings in a September 28 report in the Miami Herald. She then got Puerto Rico’s public safety secretary to confirm Monday that there have been dozens more deaths than the official statistic reflects. By her count, there are now an estimated 60 confirmed deaths linked to the hurricane and possibly hundreds more to come.
“Everything in the government has collapsed,” Pascual said by phone from the parking lot of a San Juan medical center, one of the few places in the city where she said she could get a reliable cellphone signal. “Some of the people who work in the government lost their homes themselves and aren’t at work. So they can’t do death certificates. The dead can’t be documented because of all the logistics and legal aspects of declaring someone dead.”
Still, she said, “not being able to document it doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”
In Puerto Rico, as in any disaster situation, health hinges on electric power: Dialysis, refrigeration for insulin and other medicine, and nebulizers for people with asthma all need electricity to be useful. But it goes deeper than that: Electricity provides for the sanitation that prevents many illnesses like typhoid from spreading in the first place.
“Across Puerto Rico, people need electricity to get clean water from the faucet and flush the toilet,” Vox’s Julia Belluz writes. “They also need it to keep their air conditioning systems running. Without it, there’s the looming risk of people getting sick from dirty water, waste that can’t be disposed, or heatstroke.”
And the storm will be a strain not just on physical health but mental health as well. “Expect a burden of mental health problems which will include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and it’s particularly going to impact groups who don’t have access to rapid opportunities for recovery,” Sandro Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, told Vox after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas.
After a major disaster, studies find a 5 to 15 percent increase in the incidence of mental health problems among survivors.
“We all have a threshold that if we watch a loved one swept away in rushing water and drown, that can definitely create post-traumatic stress disorder,” Charles Benight, who studies trauma at the University of Colorado, said.
6) The US government is responding to the disaster, but it’s going slow
Puerto Rico is an island, which complicates recovery efforts. Supplies have to be flown in or arrive via ship. Residents can’t drive to a nearby state or city for shelter to wait out the worst of it.
But help is on the island, and more is on the way. Some 4,500 troops and National Guard members are on the ground in Puerto Rico. The Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers are working to reopen more ports on the islands. But on Friday, September 29, the three-star general heading up the military response, Army Lt. Gen. Jeff Buchanan, admitted it’s “not enough.”
FEMA has more than 800 people on the ground coordinating relief efforts. It reports that millions of meals and millions of liters of water have been distributed with more arriving each day. On September 26, the US Navy announced the USNS Comfort, a combat surgical hospital ship, was en route to Puerto Rico.
Still, the relief efforts will take time to make their way to communities across the island. “I know the FEMA people are working hard and they’re doing their best, so this is a message for President Trump, thank you for calling San Juan yesterday and listening for our mayday call,” San Juan Mayor Yulín Cruz told CNN on September 29. “But sir, there’s 77 other towns that are waiting. They’re waiting anxiously and will be very grateful to you and to the American people if you continue to step up to the moral imperative that you’ve taken on all over the world to help those in need. So help us.”
And many are arguing that help isn’t coming fast enough, or in high enough quantities.
“Given the size of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the scale of devastation, it may take a task force of 50,000 service members to fully meet the needs of Americans suffering after Maria’s passage,” Phillip Carter, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, argues at Slate.
7) Trump could be doing much more to help
President Trump approved a disaster declaration for Puerto Rico the day after the storm hit, freeing up federal resources for the recovery. Then for several days through the weekend, he remained silent on the issue, focusing his Twitter feed on a mounting feud with professional athletes.
On September 25, he broke his silence with a series of tweets that focused not on the shocking situation on the ground and the need for aid, but on Puerto Rico’s troubled recent history.
…owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with. Food, water and medical are top priorities – and doing well. #FEMA
Trump traveled to Puerto Rico on October 3. “It’s the earliest I can go because of the first responders, and we don’t want to disrupt the relief efforts,” he said the previous week. He also said the disaster response on Puerto Rico will be tougher than the one in Texas for Hurricane Harvey or in Florida for Irma “because it’s an island.”
Trump also amended the disaster declaration Tuesday, increasing the amount of funds available for recovery in Puerto Rico. And he authorized the waiver of the Jones Act.
But as first responders on the ground in Puerto Rico told Fernández Campbell, this isn’t enough. Trump should also ask Congress to pass a relief package for Puerto Rico to give FEMA and the island more money to rebuild. He could deploy more military resources to help with search and rescue operations. The number of troops on the ground should be doubled, as Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who led the military’s disaster efforts during Hurricane Katrina, argued Thursday on NPR.
“We can’t do this whole thing by ourselves,” Ken Buell, director of emergency response for the US Department of Energy, told her.
8) Other Caribbean islands are hurting too
As Vox’s Julia Belluz summarizes here, many Caribbean islands are going through similar crises after being hit by Hurricanes Maria and Irma. The island of Barbuda has been completely abandoned, and residents still can’t return home. Twenty-seven people died in Dominica. And 48,000 people are still without power in the US Virgin Islands.
Throughout these islands, homes are destroyed and people are displaced. And lives will have to start over.
9) You can help
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and numb in the face of such destruction. In fact, it’s a frustrating psychological tendency inside all of us: When the number of victims in a disaster rises, our compassion doesn’t always rise with it. But remember, “even partial solutions can save whole lives,” as psychologist Paul Slovic has said.
Here’s how you can help, at least in part. My colleagues Dylan Scott and Ella Nilsen have complied this list of charities accepting donations to help Puerto Rico.
United for Puerto Rico: A charity organization chaired by Beatriz Rosselló, the wife of the governor, to provide aid and support to victims of Hurricane Maria. You can give here.
ConPRmetidos: The Puerto Rican organization focused on public-private partnership is aiming to raise $10 million for relief and recovery. You can give here.
American Red Cross: Usually the first group people think of when giving after a disaster. It says it has a multi-island relief effort underway to help people impacted by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, with thousands of volunteers on the ground. You can give here. (3/4 stars from Charity Navigator.)
Global Giving: A charity crowdfunding site that is attempting to raise $5 million to be used exclusively for local relief and recovery efforts. You can give here. (4/4 stars from Charity Navigator.)
Salvation Army: The Christian charity is emphasizing its intentions to help with long-term recovery. You can give here.
Americares: The nonprofit focused on medicine and health is seeking to provide emergency medical supplies and other basic resources to first responders and others. You can give here. (4/4 stars from Charity Navigator.)
It’s also a good idea to do some research before giving to a charity. Not all of them have a great track record of making sure your money directly goes to helping others. Vox’s Dylan Matthews has a great list of advice here.
My dad grew up on a ranch. We keep an old .22 around for varments, and many of my friends up here in WA state are deer, elk, basically food hunters. Most of the good ones have taken to bow hunting, just to make it sporting. With a good rifle a deer is no challenge at 400 yards.
I have his old Winchester .465 from the late 1800’s and that is history. We also have an old percussion cap revolver picked up on the battlefield of shiloh in the Civil War.
I am not anti-gun.
I still have not seen a deer that required a 17 round clip from an AR or M16.
The thought that a bunch of red-necks is going to be involved in the defense of out country as an armed militia is ludicrous. If you want to be “prepped” grab a gas mask. that will far more likely save you and your family from anything we are likely to be attacked with.
The argument that only good guys with guns kill bad guys with guns is bullshit and we all know it.
ONLY LAW INFORCEMENT AND MILITARY PERSONEL WITH APPROPRIATELY LISCENCED ARMS AND TRAINING ALMOSE EVER KILL BAD GUYS WITH GUNS.
JETHRO DOWN THE STREET IS MORE DANGEROUS WITH HIS 17 ROUND CLIPS (AND BOTTLE OF JACK DANIELS) THAN HE IS WITHOUT THEM AND WE ALL KNOW IT.
Before the internet, small companies didn’t stand a chance against the Goliaths, says Corrine Sandler, a globally recognized leader in business intelligence and market research.
That’s because no war can be won without intelligence and, before the digital era, collecting actionable data and information about one’s competitors, market and customers cost a lot more than most small businesses – the Davids – could afford.
“But today, the Davids are taking down the Goliaths,” says Sandler, founder and CEO of Fresh Intelligence Research Corp., a global business intelligence company, and author of the new book, “Wake Up or Die” (www.wakeupordie.us), a comprehensive guide to the use of intelligence in the contemporary business environment.
“Thanks to the internet, the boutiques and startups have access to all kinds of free tools for gathering intelligence. They’re also much more agile than the big corporations; they can make a decision and act immediately. That’s essential in a marketplace where conditions change quickly.”
In “Wake Up or Die,” Sandler applies lessons from Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” – the 2,000-year-old military treatise penned by one of the greatest commanders in history – to the modern business economy. Sun Tzu held that the goal in any war is to win without ever entering into physical battle.
“By gathering actionable data and acting on it immediately, by using it to predict next moves and spot opportunities, small businesses can and are taking down the big ones without a drop of blood being shed,” Sandler says.
She offers smaller business owners these tips for acquiring and using intelligence:
• If you lack resources, make use of free or inexpensive intelligence-gathering tools. Visit competitors’ websites and collect data about them. Many businesses put a great deal of revealing information on their sites, which can benefit you. Also, make note of any changes on their sites. Google Alerts can tell you when they’re releasing new products or expanding. Use Google analytics tools such as Google Hot Trends to tell you what’s in the collective consciousness – potential consumer demand – at any given time. Google’s key word tool will give you ideas for powerful key words in search terms, and use the traffic tool to measure global volume on those key words.
• Make intelligence-gathering part of your company’s culture. From the manager who overhears a conversation in the grocery checkout line to the clerk obsessed with Twitter, every employee in your business is a potential intelligence resource. Encourage employees to pay attention as they interact with others outside the company. They may discover a nagging issue that no other company is addressing, allowing you to create uncontested market space. Or, you may learn critical information about a competitor that allows you to seize an advantage. Make intelligence gathering a company lifestyle.
• Appoint a Chief Intelligence Officer (CIO) to coordinate and analyze information from a variety of sources. In smaller companies, leaders tend to rely on pipelines of internal information provided by employees who don’t understand how to use intelligence to make empowering decisions. That can render important data inactionable (unusable or simply not used). A CIO can oversee and coordinate the collection and analysis of intelligence, and brief you – the business leader – daily so that all data is actionable.
“What enables you to make smart, timely decisions is access to precise intelligence,” Sandler says. “Your advantage, as a smaller business, is that you don’t have the corporate processes and protocols that inhibit fast action.
“As Sun Tzu wrote, ‘It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win 100 battles without a single loss.’ ”
About Corrine Sandler
Corrine Sandler is the founder and CEO of Fresh Intelligence Research Corp, a global market research agency; international professional speaker and author of “Wake Up or Die,” (www.wakeupordie.us) a new book that applies lessons from Sun Tzu’s ancient classic, “The Art of War,” to contemporary businesses. Corrine’s company was ranked No. 2 on Profit Magazine’s list of top 50 fastest-growing companies, and Corrine has been on Profit’s top 100 Female Entrepreneurs list two years in a row. With more than 20 years’ experience, she has established a reputation for unparalleled consumer understanding and insight development working with Fortune 500 companies.
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