« August 2017 | Main

100 posts from September 2017

September 19, 2017

Puerto Rico prepares for 'catastrophic' Hurricane Maria

09MariePuertoRico_CPJ
@PatriciaMazzei

SAN JUAN -- The relieved sigh Puerto Ricans heaved after Hurricane Irma’s menacing eye just missed them two weeks ago has long been forgotten now that Hurricane Maria, Irma’s wicked cousin, has everyone on the Caribbean island holding their breath.

Maria is coming straight for them.

“Today, I’m afraid. This is a biggie,” said 79-year-old Barbara Royce, a 40-year Puerto Rican resident of San Juan’s Toa Baja neighborhood. “This one’s coming, and we can’t get away.”

National Hurricane Center forecasters warned of a “potentially catastrophic” Category 5 storm, with 165 mph winds Tuesday. President Donald Trump declared a preemptive state of emergency. Gov. Ricardo Rosselló asked “for America’s prayers.”

But true to laid-back Caribbean form, Puerto Ricans didn’t quite panic.

Under gray skies, shoppers streamed into a Walmart Supercenter in the San Juan neighborhood of Santurce early Tuesday afternoon, grabbing last-minute supplies from shelves empty of water. But they also sat down for leisurely hot lunches at the store’s cafeteria. Workers continued to stock fresh bananas.

The only bona-fide frenzy took place when employees wheeled in a pallet of battery-operated fans, so recently arrived that they didn’t yet bear price stickers — and so coveted that a gaggle of employees stood guard around the cache. A rush of people lined up — it seemed as if every customer left clutching at least one, for $20 a pop — but there was a catch.

“There are no batteries,” 26-year-old Juan Carlos Contreras, fan in hand, said with a shrug.

More here.

Photo credit: Carl Juste, MIami Herald staff

Puerto Rico will need billions in federal help after Hurricane Maria

Tropical_Weather_67855

@alextdaugherty 

Puerto Rico’s power grid is a mess.

The island’s utility provider filed for a form of bankruptcy in July, and two months later Hurricane Irma passed just north of San Juan, knocking out power to nearly 1 million people and causing an estimated $1 billion in damage.

With thousands still without power, Hurricane Maria is approaching. It will likely be Puerto Rico’s first direct hit from a Category 5 hurricane since 1928.

“No generation has seen a hurricane like this since San Felipe II in 1928,” said Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló in a statement on Tuesday. “This is an unprecedented atmospheric system.”

The Puerto Rican government, which sought bankruptcy relief in exchange for supervised fiscal belt-tightening in May, will need federal assistance to recover from Maria and Irma. Repairing and replacing power lines and stations throughout the territory after Maria will likely cost billions, though the island doesn’t have any voting power in Congress.
 
“No member of Congress is going to want to see thousands of people die in Puerto Rico,” said Rep. Darren Soto, a Florida Democrat of Puerto Rican descent whose Orlando-based district includes a large number of Puerto Ricans.

“Certainly... the fiscal crisis has made PREPA [the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority] less financially prepared to do this on their own and the fact remains that this is part of the U.S,” Soto added.

Congress passed a Hurricane Harvey relief bill two weeks ago after Texas sustained billions in flood damage. The $15.25 billion package was part of a deal between President Donald Trump and Democrats that included raising the nation’s debt ceiling and a continuing resolution to fund the federal government through December.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson said Tuesday that Irma and Maria will require “much more” than $15 billion in federal relief.

“We’re going to have to put the full resources of the federal government in there because this is a Cat 5 and they lost power on the last hurricane that brushed them,” Nelson said. “This is going full bore right into the island.”

Read more here.

Corcoran's hurricane panel faces clashes with Senate, Democrats

Corcoran091917House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s select committee on Hurricane Irma won’t meet for three weeks. But questions about it flew quickly on Tuesday, and Senate President Joe Negron immediately rejected Corcoran’s call for a ban on hometown spending in lawmakers’ districts.

Corcoran announced formation of the 21-member panel, chaired by Rep. Jeannette Nuñez, R-Miami. It includes 14 Republicans and seven Democrats, most of them from counties hit hardest by the storm.

Corcoran, a free-market conservative who supports less regulation -- especially in health care -- floated ideas that would invite more regulation, such as underground utilities or forcing fuel companies to store reserves of fuel to get to gas stations more quickly.

Corcoran forged a newfound alliance with Gov. Rick Scott last spring. But picking apart the state’s preparation and response to Irma could be seen as a criticism of Scott’s leadership. Moreover, Republicans could find themselves in the unaccustomed role of supporting an activist government in regulating private businesses, such as utilities and nursing homes (both of which have been loyal supporters of the Republican Party).

“We know now, after this catastrophic storm, that gas wasn‘t readily accessible,” Corcoran told Capitol reporters. “Why does a state in the richest country in the world -- third-largest -- why don’t we have a significant gas reserve in the central part of the state?”

He added: “What we should be doing is asking ourselves, what can we do to protect the people of this state in the best way possible? That‘s what this committee exists for.”

Asked if he personally supports Scott’s emergency rule to require nursing homes to install generators within 60 days, Corcoran wavered. “I think that’s up to the committee,” he said. “But you can solve all of that in many different ways,” suggesting stiffer fines or increased transparency.

Corcoran also suggested that the House and Senate consider putting at least $638 million into recovery efforts next year, the amount of what he called “pork projects” in the current budget.

Negron told the Times/Herald that the Senate rejects Corcoran’s call for a moratorium on member-sponsored spending projects.

“Senators are out in their communities. They‘re in the best position to know what projects are most important,” he said. “Let’s keep our constitutional roles straight. The Legislature is the appropriating body. The Legislature should always have the prerogative and flexibility to write the budget.”

Senate Democratic Leader Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, also questioned the select committee’s mission.

“This should not become a backdoor attempt to weaken existing regulations,” Cruz said. “If Irma has taught us anything, it is that we need to modernize and strengthen regulations that protect every Floridian in times of natural disasters.”

New York crowd gets glimpse of President Jeb(!)

Jeb

via @katieglueck

He was gracious and measured, stern but sober—and tough on Russia—as he addressed the greatest challenges facing the United States.

Standing in a hotel ballroom a few blocks from the spot where Donald Trump was threatening to “totally destroy” North Korea, Jeb Bush offered a glimpse of the presidency that could have been.

“At some point the president is going to have to go from this ad hoc diplomacy, or whatever the foreign policy is, to something that’s clear and coherent,” Bush, one of Trump’s vanquished 2016 opponents, told a hawkish hotel ballroom audience gathered Tuesday for the United Against Nuclear Iran conference. “Because at the end of the day, too much chaos, and being unreliable, creates real dangers.”

Bush, the former Florida governor, was once considered the overwhelming favorite to win the GOP presidential nomination. Instead, he was forced out well before the primary season was over, his efforts at a “joyful” campaign rooted in a muscular view of American leadership trampled by the nationalist Trump and his rowdy, populist-leaning campaign.

The sharp contrasts in tone and ideology that played out during that race—which have divided the Republican Party ever since—unfolded again Tuesday morning, within the span of two hours and less than a mile apart here in Manhattan.
As Trump mocked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a “Rocket Man” who is “on a suicide mission for himself,” Bush opted for the traditional if overused term “rogue nation,” noting that Pyongyang needs “to be called out.”

As Trump glossed over threats from Russia to focus on other adversaries, Bush referred to Moscow as a “curse for President Trump”--remarks that come as Trump's White House grapples with probes into Russian influence in the 2016 election and possible ties to his campaign.

And as Trump leaned into his longtime campaign message of “America First,” Bush warned of dangers when the U.S. leaves “a void,” embracing the more internationalist view the Republican Party has recently represented, until now.

“Our vacillation, our pulling back…there was a big void and Russia took full advantage of it,” he said, when asked by MSNBC host and former George W. Bush communications director Nicolle Wallace whether America is doing enough to make Russia play a more constructive role in Iran.

 

Read more here.

 

Trump threatens Venezuela and puts Cuba on notice

United Nations General Assembly

via @francoordonez

President Donald Trump threatened “further action” against Venezuela on Tuesday and promised not to lift sanctions against Cuba until the government in Havana makes fundamental reforms.

“We cannot stand by and watch,” Trump told world leaders gathered at the United Nations.

In a speech that moved quickly from criticism of America’s adversaries to dire warnings of nuclear war, Trump turned his attention briefly to communism, singling out Venezuela and Cuba for, he said, delivering only “anguish and failure” to its people.

 

He called on world leaders to do more to help the people of Venezuela and not look the other way as their government destroys democratic institutions.

“I ask every country represented here today to be prepared to do more to address this very real crisis,” Trump said. “We call for the full restoration of democracy and political freedoms in Venezuela. The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented.”
 
Trump was interrupted by a smattering of applause throughout the 40-minute speech. The clapping was loud and unified when he spoke of supporting the people of Venezuela, but was punctuated with pockets of silence when he blamed socialism.

The Trump administration has been ratcheting up the pressure on Caracas since Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro engineered a vote for a new constituent assembly that stripped democratically elected lawmakers of their power. Maduro has been the administration’s main target as he has led the once-mighty nation sitting on the world’s largest oil reserves as it has plummeted into a deepening economic crisis amid rising inflation. In recent months, anti-government demonstrations have broken out daily as desperate citizens take to the streets to protest the lack of even the most basic goods.

“This corrupt regime destroyed a prosperous nation by imposing a failed ideology that has produced poverty and misery everywhere it has been tried,” Trump said.

Venezuelan leaders immediately slammed the speech; Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza accused the United States of seeking "a change of regime by force."

Trump “pretends to rule the world, but does not even rule his own country,” Arreaza told reporters in New York after the speech.

Unsatisfied with the international response to Venezuela, the White House is using the United Nations General Assembly to build and strengthen an international coalition of support against Caracas. Trump’s speech was an expansion of concerns he raised Monday night during a dinner with Latin American Presidents Michel Temer of Brazil, Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and Juan Carlos Varela of Panama as well as Argentinian Vice President Gabriela Michetti.

He reminded them of their trade relationships, which he called a “critical foundation for advancing peace and prosperity” among neighbors.

“Was one of the wealthiest countries in the world for a long period of time,” Trump told the group on Monday. “The people are starving and the country is collapsing. You didn't think that was possible. Their democratic institutions are being destroyed....Our goal must be to help them and restore their democracy.”

The leaders of the four countries were among 12 Latin American nations who signed a joint declaration in Lima last month, condemning the “breakdown of democratic order” in Venezuela and said they would not recognize any action taken by its “illegitimate” new constituent assembly.

Read more here.

GOP senator wants Scott to create hurricane oversight commission

Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg urged Gov. Rick Scott Tuesday to form a statewide oversight commission to review how state and local disaster managers, utilities, medical facilities and others responded to Hurricane Irma.

“I ask that you form a commission to review any after action reports created by state and local EOCs, utilities, state agencies, medical facilities, or other critical service providers, and to evaluate and oversee recovery projects,” Brandes wrote to Scott Tuesday. “This would ensure that state and county needs are triaged and met in a manner that leverages every disaster relief dollar, and that the assessments of the response and recovery actions taken by both public and private entities become best practices to prepare for future events.

“Establishment of similar oversight commissions consisting of representatives of state agencies, counties, cities, utilities, and other public and private parties is an established best practice that has been used to efficiently facilitate long-term recovery from disasters like the Deepwater Horizon and Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina,” Brandes wrote.

The Pinellas lawmaker asked the governor to act on his request in the next few weeks.

Airlines were accused of price gouging before Irma. Some are capping fares before Maria

Packed4 airport lnew cmg (2)

via @chabeliH

Taking a page from Hurricane Irma’s book, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson is asking airlines to proactively limit the cost of their flights for travelers trying to get out of Hurricane Maria’s path.

And airlines are agreeing.

On Monday, Nelson sent a letter to CEOs at 10 major U.S. airlines asking them to regulate the prices of their flights to areas that will likely be impacted by Maria — and to do it earlier than they did in the case of Hurricane Irma earlier this month.

Prior to Hurricane Irma making landfall in Florida, airline fares skyrocketed into the thousands of dollars due to a spike in demand, a regular practice for last-minute tickets that nevertheless had frantic travelers claiming price gouging. Eventually, some airlines started capping flights out of Florida at $99, but not until after the outcry.

In his letter, Nelson, the ranking member of the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, thanked airlines who ultimately capped their flights, but encouraged them to do so sooner with the case of Category 5 Maria, which is on track to hit the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
 
“I urge you to begin the process now for implementing capped airfare and ensuring that refunds are promptly issued for canceled flights. I also request that your policies on capped airfare be communicated clearly and in writing so that affected residents can evacuate quickly and safely,” he wrote. “Individuals and families should not be forced to delay or cancel their evacuation efforts because of confusion over the cost of airfare.”
 
Nelson’s letter was sent to American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Frontier Airlines and Allegiant Air.
 
Read more here.

Irma spawns new panel in Legislature and a call for no 'pork projects'

The Florida House on Tuesday will announce the formation of a new Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness to analyze the state’s response to Irma and to find areas of improvement.

The committee will study whether protections for residents of nursing homes, group homes and ALFs should be strengthened as well as the Florida building code and ways to improve storage of food, water and fuel in advance of a menacing storm. 

NunezHouse Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, also called on all legislators -- including all 40 senators -- to forget the usual hometown projects in next year’s budget and to steer all discretionary spending toward hurricane recovery and mitigation efforts.

“I ask all of you, and our colleagues in the Senate, to join me in setting aside the business as usual of pork projects,” Corcoran said, “and instead invest all of those funds to either assist those in need after Hurricane Irma or prepare Florida against the threat to life and property that will surely come with future storms.” 

He noted that in the current year’s budget, lawmakers spent $638 million on member projects (a big chunk of which was vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott).

Corcoran, who scheduled a 1 p.m. news conference Tuesday to announce the select committee, populated the 21-member panel with lawmakers who represent some of the hardest-hit areas of the state.

The committee will be chaired by Rep. Jeannette Nuñez, R-Miami (in photo). Other Republicans include Reps. Holly Raschein of Key Largo, Dane Eagle of Cape Coral, Ray Rodriguez of Estero, Michael Grant of Port Charlotte, Chris Sprowls of Palm Harbor, Danny Burgess of Zephyrhills and Cyndi Stevenson of St. Johns.

The seven Democrats on the panel include Robert Asencio of Miami, Sean Shaw of Tampa, and three Broward lawmakers: Kristin Jacobs of Coconut Creek, Jared Moskowitz of Coral Springs and Richard Stark of Weston.

“With any event of this magnitude, lessons can be learned,” Corcoran said. “We must move quickly to assess our recent experience and pinpoint tangible, meaningful ways to improve Florida‘s hurricane readiness and response capabilities.”

September 18, 2017

Every South Floridian in Congress wants to extend Haiti's TPS

Alcee2

@alextdaugherty 

Every member of Congress from South Florida is in favor of extending a temporary program run by the Department of Homeland Security that allows Haitians to live and work in the United States. 

Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Delray Beach, led a letter on Monday to acting DHS secretary Elaine Duke signed by every member of Congress who represents Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties urging the Trump administration to extend Haiti's Temporary Protected status for 18 months. 

"The Haitian people, and now their government, continue to work diligently to rebuild the country after the earthquake, cholera outbreak, and Hurricane Matthew," the letter said. "This work will be made more difficult if the country must also welcome back over 50,000 Haitian nationals at once." 

Former DHS secretary and current White House chief of staff Gen. John Kelly extended Haiti's TPS status for six months instead of 18 earlier this year and he also said that Haitian nationals in the United States should begin making plans to return home. Haiti's TPS status runs out in January 2018. 

Hastings was part of a group of Democrats who huddled in the Haitian embassy last week to discuss a strategy for getting more awareness about how important TPS is for Haiti. 

The letter was also signed by Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson along with Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos Curbelo, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Frederica Wilson, Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel. 

View the letter here.

Bill Nelson criticizes Rick Scott over nursing home deaths

BillNelsonCarlJusteApril172017

@alextdaugherty 

Sen. Bill Nelson decried the lax regulatory standards for backup generators in Florida nursing homes after the deaths of eight elderly people at a Broward County facility during a speech on the Senate floor on Monday, and his criticism included a jab at his likely 2018 senate opponent: Gov. Rick Scott

"Eight people died in a nursing home right across the street from a major hospital in Hollywood, Florida," Nelson said. "Eight frail, elderly (people) from ages 70 to 99. Eight needless deaths." 

Nelson said that "all the phone calls that had been made that were not answered both to the government as well as to the power company as reported" will "come out in the criminal investigation." 

He was referencing a report by CBS Miami that an official from the nursing home called a cellphone provided by Scott 36 hours before the first death. The nursing home also called Florida Power and Light, though the utility did not immediately restore power to the building. 

"We don’t know all the facts, it will come out in the criminal investigation, but it is inexcusable that eight frail elderly people would die," Nelson said.

Hurricane Irma was already turning into a political spectacle for Nelson and Scott, as President Donald Trump encouraged Scott to run against Nelson while viewing storm damage in the Naples area on Thursday.

"I hope this man right here, Rick Scott, runs for the Senate," Trump said. Scott wasn't present during Trump's remarks. 

Nelson did not mention Scott by name during his floor speech, where he also jabbed his likely opponent over a reluctance to attribute powerful hurricanes like Irma to climate change. 

“Clearly the environment changes all the time, and whether that’s cycles we’re going through or whether that’s man-made, I couldn’t tell you which one it is,” Scott said last week. “But I can tell you this: We ought to solve problems.”

Nelson disagreed with Scott, who generally avoids using the term climate change. 

"Hurricane Irma is just another reminder that we are going to confront huge natural occurrences and maybe just maybe people will relate that there is something to the fact that the earth is getting hotter," Nelson said, adding that warmer oceans allow hurricanes to gain strength. 

Nelson and Sen. Marco Rubio were absent for votes in Washington last week after Irma.