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Donald Trump’s Hurricane Maria response was an ‘incredible success’ — for disaster capitalism

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Hurricane Florence is on a collision course with the southeastern United States and should reach landfall in the Carolinas sometime on Thursday. Meteorologists have warned that it could be one of the worst disasters in recent American history.

This article was originally published at Salon

On Tuesday, during an Oval Office briefing on Hurricane Florence, Donald Trump said that he and his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria –which devastated Puerto Rico last year — was “an incredible, unsung success.”

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On Wednesday, Trump continued with his obsessive self-congratulation on Twitter:

We got A Pluses for our recent hurricane work in Texas and Florida (and did an unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico, even though an inaccessible island with very poor electricity and a totally incompetent Mayor of San Juan). We are ready for the big one that is coming!

For any human being who lives in the world as it actually exists — as opposed to a fantasy world of their own creation — and who possesses even a small amount of empathy and human decency, Trump’s comments about Puerto Rico and Hurricane Maria are anathema. As is so often the case with this president, these appear to be words and beliefs of someone with no moral compass and who may be mentally unwell.

Ultimately, Trump’s statement that his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria was any kind of “success” is but one more example on an endless list of inexcusable behavior by a man who has shown himself unfit to be president. Trump is incapable of providing positive moral leadership and has showed disdain and contempt for the basic responsibilities of the office, which in a time of crisis is supposed to include protecting and attending to the common good and the general welfare.

It is estimated that as many as 5,000 people died in Puerto Rico because of Hurricane Maria and the Trump administration’s near-total abandonment of the island.

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Donald Trump’s malignant narcissism prevents him from feeling any empathy or compassion for anyone but himself and perhaps the most immediate members of his family, along with those others who fawn over him and validate his delusions of greatness.

Donald Trump also sees no value in those people — the American citizens of Puerto Rico included — who are not white. Trump and his administration have put brown, black and Spanish-speaking immigrants and refugees in concentration camps along the southern border and in other parts of the country. In his own words, Trump has described Hispanics and Latinos as “vermin,” “snakes” or “rapists” — an “infestation” that is “breeding” out of control.

Trump’s belief that Puerto Ricans are inherently lazy and did not do enough to help themselves recover from Hurricane Maria is an extension of a racist narrative in which nonwhites — especially black people — are viewed as being the undeserving poor who want to “cut ahead in line” and take resources away from “hard-working” and “deserving” (white) people. This stereotype was born during slavery and then Reconstruction and exists centuries later in post-civil rights America and the age of white backlash.

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Trump and his administration have shown their contempt for the lives of black and brown people who have been harassed, abused, killed, and otherwise denied their basic human rights by America’s police and other law enforcement officers. The president has also shown his contempt for nonwhites, Jews, Muslims, gays and lesbians and other marginalized groups when he said that neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members were “very fine people” after the latter  ran amok in Charlottesville, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens.

There is still an ongoing debate about whether Donald Trump is “ideological” or possesses any political sophistication, one fact is undeniable: Trump’s guiding life philosophy is cruelty.

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But whatever Trump’s intent or motivations were in his comment that the relief efforts in Puerto Rico were an “incredible, unsung success,” he unintentionally revealed a different truth.

Hurricane Maria and the near-destruction of Puerto Rico (which is still recovering one year later) was in fact a great success for the disaster capitalists who, encouraged and empowered by Donald Trump, his administration and the Republican Party, made billions during the aftermath of the hurricane.

Puerto Rico’s power grid is being privatized. This is worth billions of dollars.

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Whitefish Energy Holdings, a small Montana-based company with no experience doing the type of work necessary to restore power to Puerto Rico, was awarded a contract worth almost $300 million, apparently because of the  owner’s financial connections with the Republican Party and Donald Trump. After public outrage this contract was eventually rescinded.

Industrialists, venture capitalists, cryptocurrency millionaires and billionaires and other members of the 1 percent are moving to Puerto Rico to profit from Hurricane Maria and the rebuilding efforts.

Puerto Rico’s public lands, including beaches, roads, ports, water systems, ferries and even parks are also being threatened with “privatization,” meaning they may be taken from the people of Puerto Rico and sold to private profit-seeking interests who will deny access to the public.

Writing at Truthout, Mark Karlin explains how disaster capitalists are preying on the people of Puerto Rico:

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The Financial Oversight and Management Board was created by Congress in 2016 to oversee the reduction of more than $70 billion worth of debt in Puerto Rico. It consists of seven people with presidential appointments, but only one of them lives in Puerto Rico. The board has authority that supersedes the Puerto Rican State House, particularly on economic affairs and debt repayments. It has gained increased power to favor Wall Street, hedge funds and the super wealthy, and to impose austerity measures on the populace. …

[T]hose who live on the island do not have any representation in Congress and cannot vote for president unless they live on the mainland. The economic decisions are being made as they would be in a colonial relationship.

Unlike a state, Puerto Rico cannot declare bankruptcy. Instead, Congress and the Financial Oversight and Management Board treat the island like an experiment in Ayn Randian economics. The wealthy and corporations get huge tax breaks, plus vulture capitalism and privatization opportunities. The 3.5 million people of Puerto Rico get austerity.

Disaster capitalism also reflects a right-wing ideology whose adherents such as the Koch brothers want to destroy the very idea of government as a force that can do good and that intervenes to solve problems too large for any one person or group to handle alone.

In the interests of advancing this agenda, government is hobbled and made to look incompetent and illegitimate in the eyes of the public, whose basic needs are not being met. But all along, the neoliberals, libertarians, and other gangster capitalists have created the very disasters and problems they in turn use as a evidence of government’s defects, and proof that it must be replaced by private capital.

There is another, even more sinister element to this ideology as well. As applied in Puerto Rico and other parts of the world, this right-wing ideology — which in many ways has taken over the Republican Party and movement conservatism — is a form of social Darwinism. The strong survive and the weak are left to fend for themselves and die.

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Last weekend veteran journalist Bob Woodward warned the world about Donald Trump, saying, “You look at the operation of this White House and you have to say, ’Let’s hope to God we don’t have a crisis.'”

As shown by his behavior, intelligence and temperament Donald Trump is most certainly not capable of competently guiding the United States through a national or global crisis. But what if that is not his administration’s goal? For Donald Trump and other gangster capitalists the real golden rule is “profits over people.” If they can profit from human misery they will do it — and if they must make more people miserable or put them in harm’s way to maximize their profits, then Trump and his gangster capitalist allies will do that as well.


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