Remembering the dead. Reuters photo.
In appalling but unsurprising news at the edgy start of another hurricane season, a crippled Puerto Rico and a criminally incognizant dotard-in-chief are still with us. In the wake of a damning new study finding that last year Hurricane Maria resulted in not 16 or 64 but 4,645 deaths - 72 times the official figure - Trump continues to brag about the "great job" they all did. At a Coast Guard Change-of-Command ceremony Friday, he struggled to pronounce "prowess" and boasted that thanks to deadly hurricanes, "I don't think any brand has gained more momentum or has gained more of anything than the brand of the United States Coast Guard." Because governing = retail, he also claimed America is now "respected." In furious response to the chasm between such delusion and grim reality, thousands of Puerto Ricans this weekend created an impromptu memorial of empty shoes at the capitol to mourn those who died and protest the ineptitude that killed them. Read one sign: "Genocidio."
Given the feds' botched, delayed response to Maria - colonialist mindset alert - as their bumbling alleged leader played golf, blew racist dog whistles and whined about NFL players kneeling, the official casualty figure always seemed suspiciously low to many. Last week, a Harvard study published in the New England Journal of Medicine explained why. Its finding of at least 4,645 deaths - many from disrupted medical care during or after the storm and almost all the result of a decades-long political failure to improve health care - is almost twice the death toll from Hurricane Katrina and about the same as the combined toll from Katrina and 9/11. It's also this country's most deadly natural disaster in 100 years - one that happened on our Buffoon-In-Chief's watch, which is why he has utterly failed to acknowledge it, and never will.
It's bad enough it took an outside entity to identify grim facts on the ground the government should have known; it turns out everything about the response to Maria was worse. Numbers comparing the FEMA response to Harvey in Texas and Irma in Florida - white people alert - vs. Maria are shocking: Puerto Rico, which lost a third of its houses, got 5,000 roof tarps vs. 20,000 for Texas and 98,000 for Florida. 10,000 FEMA people went to P.R. vs 30,000 to Texas. FEMA has approved less than half its 750,000 applications for housing help in P.R; average aid was just $2,974, and the program ends June 30. At the start of another hurricane season, four main lines of the island's power grid remain unrepaired, experts say a small storm could easily take the grid down, 11,000 fearful, long-suffering people still lack power or water - "We are forgotten" - and the feds don't know enough about what happened to ensure it doesn't happen again.
More troubling than the horrific numbers, of course, is the "moral failure (of) epic proportions" behind them. "How could the Trump administration get it so wrong?" asks one expert. "The answer is that it did not put a priority on getting it right" - a political decision "of negligence and hubris" not just contrary to the moral imperative to save lives, but the constitutionally-bound responsibility to protect Americans and do no harm. Richard Nixon, it's been noted, was removed from office in part for for acting "to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice, and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States." "If obstructing justice is an injury worthy of removing a democratically elected president," it can be asked, "what about literal injury, even death?" Or, in this case, 4,645 deaths - what might be termed a genocide - providing 4,645 more reasons than we already had to get rid of him.
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A daughter mourns her father. NPR Photo.