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Denial’s Grim Fruits — Actual Puerto Rico Death Toll Probably Near 500; May Climb to Over a Thousand

Massive disruption which results in cascading failure of basic services such as food, water transport and power. That’s the primary catastrophic risk coming from human forced climate change. And we are now in the process of multiplying the potential for such extreme events by continuing to burn fossil fuels and to dump carbon into the atmosphere.

Maria’s recent landfall in Puerto Rico and resulting unprecedented disruption can be seen as a microcosm of the kind of damage that might ultimately be inflicted upon a whole region or nation. And the various failed responses by the Trump Administration and related denial-based attitudes within the Republican Party do little to inspire confidence in the ability of at least one major party to effectively respond to a rising danger it pretends does not exist at all.

Excess Death Toll

Weather forecasters are often quick to point out that the most dangerous direct impact from a major hurricane comes from either storm surge or flooding rains. However, for days, weeks, and, in the case of Puerto Rico, months following a disaster, the major cause of loss of life is disruption of food, water, power supplies and a related increased risk of exposure to infectious diseases.

Due to a sluggish and lackadaisical response to the worst storm to strike Puerto Rico in 85 years by the Trump Administration, it appears now that hundreds of lives have been lost. According to reports from the New York Times, 472 more people died during September of 2017 following Maria’s strike than during September of 2016. Such an abnormally high monthly death rate is an outlier in statistics that epidemiologists call an excess death toll. And the primary likely cause was damage to infrastructure, power, food and water by Maria followed by an inadequate emergency response effort.

Many of the 3.4 million people still living in Puerto Rico have been forced to go without reliable access to water, food, and power for 54 days now. Trump Administration failure to mobilize a major effort to respond to the largest power outage and infrastructure disruption in U.S. history has been coupled with the allowance of vulture capitalist firms like Whitefish to prey on Puerto Rico by charging excess fees for power restoration.

Digging into these glaring failures a bit more, it took more than two weeks for Trump to mobilize 5,000 troops to send to Puerto Rico to assist in aid efforts. And Maria was a disaster that required a force ten times this large to be pre-positioned and then sent in immediately following the disaster, according to emergency planners. Vulture firm Whitefish has been reportedly charging 4 to five times what it is paying power installers on an hourly basis. An obvious level of price gouging that has caused the firm’s contract to be canceled. But not before this company of two permanent employees bungled a power line repair that again resulted in much of Puerto Rico falling into darkness.

Incompetent Governance

Whitefish’s most recent failure resulted in total power availability for Puerto Rico again dropping below 20 percent last week. With PREPA stepping in after Whitefish dropped the ball, the line has been repaired. Yet 52 percent of Puerto Ricans are still without power.

(Climate Change amplifies hurricane impacts. What this means is that as the world warms, hurricanes produce more damage. If this is the case, then governments are going to have to step up and act responsibly to prevent loss of life. Republicans and the Trump Administration have done exactly the opposite in Puerto Rico. Images source: Climate Signals.)

Lack of power itself can be deadly. Such a loss results in a critical shortage for medical equipment necessary to save people’s lives even as it removes key infrastructures like street lights and communications. Incubators, defibrillators, respirators, pulse monitors and a hundred other life saving devices all go dark when the lights go out. Furthermore, lack of clean water and ready access to food increases instances of infection. And damage to roads prevents access by emergency personnel to people falling into harm’s way.

Vulture Capitalism + Climate Change Denial = Failed Responses and Profiteering in the Face of Rising Disasters

This is why Maria’s blow has now become so hurtful. Why the Trump Administration’s neglect is so glaring. And a thousand or more people may have perished as a result. The role of the U.S. Government as the first responder to major disasters was sidelined. The sacred trust to Citizens of the United States violated. But, outrageously, such a lackadaisical, laissez faire attitude is not simply limited to Trump. It is an unfortunately endemic feature of today’s republican party. A party that is now doing its best to cut taxes for the rich while cutting medical coverage for 13 million Americans.

A party that has also done far, far more than its fair share to deny and prevent responses to the human caused climate change from fossil fuel emissions that made Maria far, far worse. For the storm emerged from warmer than normal oceans that helped to pump up its peak intensity. It was one of many storms made worse by climate change — for studies now indicate that at least 63 percent of all extreme weather events have now been pumped up in a warming atmosphere or over a warming ocean. And with just 1.2 C worth of warming achieved, the worse is still to come.

With the republican party both causing these disasters to worsen and ensuring that their damaging impacts are amplified by delayed responses, irresponsible choices for firms contracted to bring infrastructure back up and running, and overall malfeasance, it’s pretty clear that only a numb-skull would vote for such mouth-breathers. But here we are.

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How Job-Killing Republican Economic Philosophy Took Down the Twinkie

Let’s get this straight. Hostess was in trouble long before vulture capitalist hedge funds and equity firms came to roost over the carcass of one of America’s signature brands. The shift, by much of the American public, away from junk foods to more healthy nutrition, combined with Hostesses’ failure to diversify and leverage its brand put Hostess in a tough situation. But that didn’t kill Hostess. And it wasn’t the workers, whom hedge funds controlling Hostess blamed for the company’s downturn. It was the hedge funds and equity firms who decided their own enrichment was more important than responsibly transforming this iconic American corporation.

By 2009, Hostess had declared bankruptcy and was seeking a way to re-establish itself through changing and challenging market conditions. It was then acquired by the private equity firm Ripple Holdings and hedge funds Silver Point Capital and Monarch Capital. These firms then took company capital and credit that could have been used to diversify the brand and expand into new territory to instead enrich management through stock shares buybacks and through cuts in workforce benefits. In total, Hostesses’ 18,500 workers suffered through layoffs and three phases of pay and benefits reductions while executive compensation doubled and company development and competitiveness stagnated.

The equity firms holding Hostess were trying to force workers to endure another 8% cut in pay and a crippling 17% cut in benefits when, on November 9th, workers held a strike in an attempt to compel management to behave responsibly. Instead, equity and hedge fund holders of the company decided to break the company up and sell off its parts for even more profit. In the end, the vulture capitalist holders of Hostess blamed those they victimized — Hostesses’ workers.

But it seems that the equity firms and hedge funds now controlling Hostess can’t even play fair with the bankruptcy. Today the US Department of Justice filed suit against Hostesses’ vulture capitalist owners for increasing executive pay by another 75% — in essence, rewarding executives for taking the company into bankruptcy.

These executives and hedge fund managers are the very people Republicans are fighting to keep taxes low for. The so-called ‘job creators.’ These ‘paragons of industry’ who got rich wrecking an American icon and socking it to American families all at the same time. Likely, many of them feel entitled to pay no taxes for their looted spoils to the federal government who might actually do something useful with the money — like hire a scientist or a teacher. Just let these people do what they please, let them keep all the money they took, and everything will be great, republicans say.

See how well that worked out for the company that was Hostess and the people who worked there?

Links:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/breaking/chi-hostess-seeks-bonuses-for-key-manager-in-liquidation-filing-20121119,0,22735.story

http://themoderatevoice.com/168438/twinkynomics-a-case-study-in-romneynomics/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/hostess-moves-to-liquidate-as-us-seeks-trustee-control/2012/11/19/46e98922-326d-11e2-92f0-496af208bf23_story.html

Papa John’s Owner Too Much of a Grinch to Provide Health Insurance for Workers

Papa John’s owner John Schnatter lives in this 45,000 square foot castle (image above). He has a 40+ car garage and his corporation, Papa John’s Pizza, made nearly 45 million dollars in profits during the first nine months of this year. Yet John Schnatter, in what seems to be an ugly political statement, recently said that he would ‘be forced to cut worker’s hours to pay for Obamacare.’

Earlier this year, Schnatter said that the costs associated with Obamacare would result in Pizza prices increasing by 11 to 14 cents.

So which is it? Cutting hours, denying healthcare to workers, or raising Pizza prices by a little more than a dime?

What makes Schnatter’s statements even more outrageous and out of touch is the fact that he is promising to give away 2 million pizzas for free. One would think a man who can afford such an excessive marketing ploy, such a massive house, or who makes so much in profits, could afford providing health care for workers. His statements reveal what can be best described as a total lack of humanity for the people who work so hard to make him rich. Who are probably paid at or near minimum wage. And who probably can only make a living by doing work for Papa John’s Pizza in addition to other jobs.

Schnatter made his fortune not via an innovation that raises people’s standards of living. But by cunningly exploiting low-paid workers to mass produce a low cost product — pizza. His kind of fast food is mostly unhealthy and likely contributes to the obesity problem in this country. In the ‘maker and taker’ mythology of the right wing, this man is a ‘maker.’ That ‘hard working guy’ who exploits workers to produce a, rather crappy, product and who would never, ever dream of making the life of his fellow man one iota better.

For my part, I can share no measure of guilt for supporting this man. Back in 1996, a Papa John’s pizza gave me salmonella food poisoning. Since that time, I have not eaten one slice of Papa John’s pizza.

Petition to Boycott Papa John’s:

http://www.change.org/petitions/boycott-papa-johns-boycott-companies-laying-off-cutting-hrs-or-hindering-employees

Links:

http://www.opposingviews.com/i/money/jobs-and-careers/boycott-papa-johns-over-corporate-greed

Auto Workers File Ethics Complaint Against Romney; Did Mitt Romney Break the Law While Preying on US Industry?

The United Auto Workers and Service Employees International Union filed an ethics complaint against Mitt Romney for illegally hiding profits he made during the US auto bailout yesterday.

According to news reports and the investigative reporting of Greg Palast, Mitt and Ann Romney invested $1 million dollars in GOP guru and mega-donor Paul Singer’s hedge fund — Elliott Management. Elliott then bought out major US auto parts manufacturer Delphi nearing bankruptcy at pennies on the dollar — 67 cents per share. As the US government began to bail out auto manufacturers GM and Chrysler, Singer demanded that Delphi also be bailed out saying “because if you don’t, we’ll shut you down.” This hostage taking of a key US industry by Singer resulted in shock from the government committee tasked with saving the US auto industry which described Singer’s actions as treating the US as a dictator would a third world country.

The government, seeing no other way to save the US auto industry without a parts supplier, acquiesced to Singer’s demands and Singer, who now was essentially in control of Delphi, used the funds to make Delphi profitable again. But only for investors. He cut workers pensions and went public with the corporation pushing share values to over 22 dollars. Delphi also profited by utilizing a number of other unsavory practices. The first was taking a page from Romney’s Bain Capital and shipping US jobs to China. Of the 25,000 well-paying union jobs that Delphi once employed, zero remain. Further, under the republican Singer, Delphi liquidated its US presence. Of the 29 factories Delphi once operated in the US, four remain. The rest all operate on foreign shores — in Mexico or China. Under Singer, Delphi continued its hostage-taking practices demanding exorbitant high prices for the parts it sold to GM. Singer’s combination of predatory market cornering, blackmailing the government for a bailout, shipping US jobs overseas, and destroying unions resulted in larger profits for his fund and his clients, the Romneys.

These profits were then taken and hidden in a tax haven on the Isle of Jersey.

Before we move on to the Romneys role in this action, it is important to note how critical the US automobile industry is to both the US economy and to US national security. The industry serves two major purposes in this respect. First, it results in the employment of millions of Americans through its direct manufacturing facilities and through its supply chain. And, second, it serves as an emergency industrial capacity in the event of a major war. During World War II, the US relied on this manufacturing might to become the ‘Armory of Democracy.’ Though somewhat diminished, this indigenous capacity remains a bastion of American strength in the world. Singer’s actions not only harmed workers and the larger US economy, they also directly harmed US national security — in favor of the Chinese.

Moving on, it is estimated that the Romneys made anywhere between 15 and 115 million dollars off of Singer’s predatory actions against a critical US Industry, the US government auto bailout, and against working Americans. And while this may be as unsavory as many of Romney’s other vulture capitalist ventures, Singer’s almost certainly criminal activities have, thus far escaped legal action.

That’s where the Ethics filing against Romney comes into play. The Romneys have not disclosed these profits. Under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 politicians are legally obligated to make public all profits related to holdings that may be affected by a government action. In other words, it is illegal for politicians to keep secret investments that may benefit or may have benefited from government action, like the bailout Singer extorted for Delphi.

The Romneys predatory benefit from the auto bailout in the case of their Elliott/Delphi investment is just such an instance, while their failure to disclose this information is almost certainly breaking the law. So the US auto worker filing may just catch the Romneys by the tail of their heinous venture.

Romney’s own endless political and rhetorical attacks against the US auto industry, taken in this context seem ever more dark, underhanded, and vicious. Romney had called for Detroit to go bankrupt. Romney has cynically and viciously profited by preying on the bailout he opposed, further weakening the industry and hampering its recovery. And now Romney engages in a smear campaign waged against the US auto industry and the workers themselves. The only surprise is that workers and the US auto industry didn’t fire back at Romney sooner. Now, at least, it appears Romney’s vicious and self-serving acts have made him a determined enemy out of a great US industry. One wonders if the American people will be next to join in the fray?

Links:

http://www.thenation.com/article/170644/mitt-romneys-bailout-bonanza#

http://www.gregpalast.com/uaw-files-charges-against-romney-on-his-auto-bail-out-profiteering/

http://www.salon.com/2012/10/19/how_mitt_romney_made_a_fortune_off_the_auto_bailout/

http://www.thedetroitbureau.com/2012/10/romney-accused-of-personally-profiting-as-1000s-of-delphi-retirees-lost-pensions/

http://www.clevelandleader.com/node/19289

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