It's more than a little bit ironic that President Trump was ranting this week about pulling the broadcast licenses of NBC stations.Because there's a whole string of absurdly biased local stations owned by a right-wing company called Sinclair Broadcast Group that has essentially bought off the FCC and actually is broadcasting lies and fake news on behalf of Donald Trump. (This New York Times article from last August tells the tale.)
Trump became enraged at this and let fly with an astonishing series of tweets essentially saying that Puerto Rico had been asking for it, and there was a limit to how much the federal government was willing to do to help:
Even the man Trump calls "Ricky," the governor who has gone out of his way to kiss his ring and treat him like a savior, had to respond to that:
Sorry Ricky. President Trump believes that throwing out some "very soft" paper towels at some people in San Juan means the humanitarian crisis from the hurricane is over. It's long past time for them to be accountable for their territorial government's past financial mismanagement. That would include the disabled, children, the elderly and the poor who have no money so will have to pay with their health, their futures and their lives. It's the kind of tough love Trump always practices when people mishandle their money. People other than himself, that is.
After all, when it comes to financial catastrophes, he's an expert. He's failed at dozens of businesses, from airlines to football teams to fraudulent real state scams and cheap foreign-made consumer goods. He has bankrupted four businesses, including casinos -- which is almost impossible -- and has always made sure that other people paid the price. The people whom he owed millions of dollars, from local vendors to employees to big banks and hedge funds, were "held accountable" for the mistake of providing money and services to Donald Trump without getting their money up front. He taught them a lesson they won't soon forget.
Needless to say, the way Trump has treated the other states that were hit by big storms this year was a little bit different.
He hasn't tweeted one of those for Puerto Rico. In fairness, it's highly likely that until the hurricane hit, and for some time afterward, he had no idea that Puerto Ricans were U.S. citizens. Once he found that out -- and also learned that Puerto Ricans on the island can't vote in presidential elections -- he realized that it was probably safe to treat them like second-class citizens who don't deserve government help, at least not the way Real Americans do in states Trump won.
White House chief of staff John Kelly gave a press briefing on Thursday. When he was asked about Trump's tweets he said this:
This country, our country, will stand with those American citizens in Puerto Rico until the job is done but the tweet about FEMA and DOD and the military is exactly accurate. They're not going to be there forever, and the whole point is to start to work yourself out of a job and transition to the rebuilding process.
It's their country too. A Category 5 hurricane hit Puerto Rico just three weeks ago. Why are they even talking about this?
Kelly didn't address the fact that Trump's real purpose with the tweets was to once again fulminate about the financial cost of disaster relief for Puerto Rico, which he has been doing from the beginning when he wasn't insulting the island's people and whatever local leadership he found to be improperly grateful for his grudging attention.
In any case, FEMA is not just an agency that parachutes in and out of disaster areas. In the first days after Hurricane Harvey, FEMA director Brock Long told CNN, "FEMA is going to be there for years ... this disaster is going to be a landmark event. We're setting up and gearing up for the next couple years." The agency was in New Orleans for more than seven years after Katrina. As of today, FEMA is still operating 50 disaster recovery centers in Texas and 18 in Florida.
I tried to find out where such centers may be in Puerto Rico, but the relevant FEMA website was down for hours and then gave a warning that the site was not safe. That likely makes no difference to most Puerto Ricans, since 80 percent of the population still has no electricity and the biggest problem at the moment is that many are living in houses with rapidly spreading mold and disease-carrying mosquitoes and lack safe drinking water. This is exposing them to dangerous bacteria, including a life-threatening infection known as leptospirosis, which the governor says has probably killed at least four people so far, with the number likely to climb.
Rachel Maddow noted on her show Thursday night that the hospital ship USS Comfort is docked in the San Juan harbor with eight patients on board. It has 800 beds. No one knows why sick people haven't been transferred there. Volunteer nurses sound panicked, saying, "People are going to die, something is not working."
Disaster response to Hurricane Maria has been a mess from the beginning. There may be some valid reasons for it, although the defensiveness of the administration -- including the FEMA director who said they were "filtering out" the mayor of San Juan's complaints -- indicates an awareness that it has dropped the ball.
There is no possible excuse for the continuing obnoxious behavior of the president of the United States, who truly seems to believe that the people of Puerto Rico must suffer and die because some politicians in the past mismanaged the territory's finances and the island's citizens aren't showing enough gratitude for the meager attention he's given them.
It's not hard to figure out why. These are not his voters and they are making him look bad. As the mayor of San Juan tweeted in response to his appalling comments: