Coming together to overcome FEMA failures

By Monique Dols - Socialist Worker, October 10, 2017

DONALD TRUMP'S hateful tweet that the residents of Puerto Rico "want everything to done for them" made people's blood boil around the world--but nowhere more than in Puerto Rico itself, where conditions are desperate after the devastation of two powerful hurricanes that was made worse by man-made factors.

In glaring contrast to Trump's racist twitter rant, the island's people are stepping up and organizing themselves, filling the vacuum left by the mismanagement of the federal government and some local authorities.

One example of self-organization to meet the needs of people still reeling from the disaster is Caguas, a city in a mountainous area south of San Juan, where members of Comedores Sociales de Puerto Rico (Community Kitchens of Puerto Rico) and Urbe Apie (City Rising), a group of activists working for the revitalization of Caguas, organized the Centro de Apoyo Mutuo (Mutual Aid Center, or CAM).

Basing itself on the need for food and other critical supplies and services to reach the people who need them, CAM was formed a week after the hurricane and quickly became a hub of activity, with people pouring in to help each other through the crisis.

Organizers estimate the center feeds about 500 to 700 people per day and exists entirely on volunteer labor, donated food and food bought with monetary donations made directly to the project. At the center, people eat and cook together--and, just as importantly, find companionship and solidarity at a moment when millions are desperate and in despair, unsure of what will happen next.

Daniel Orsini, a CAM organizer in Caguas, says that solidarity activists outside of Puerto Rico wishing to send support to the island should donate directly to the CAM project. According to Orsini, the federal government's FEMA operation is badly mismanaged, and supplies sent to Puerto Rico, including through mainstream NGOs, aren't getting to the people who need them.

Nurses on Ground in Puerto Rico Warn Dire Conditions, Slow Relief Effort Posing Urgent Health, Safety Crisis

By Charles Idelson, National Nurses United - Common Dreams, October 9, 2017

WASHINGTON - Registered nurses volunteers on the ground in Puerto Rico are warning that dire conditions, and a glacially slow federal relief effort, are threatening a growing health calamity for millions of residents, warns National Nurses United.
 
NNU’s Registered Nurse Relief Network (RNRN) sent 50 RNs as part of a 300-member deployment led by the AFL-CIO in conjunction with the Puerto Rican Federation of Labor and the San Juan Mayor’s office. They cite:

  • People who have yet to receive any food, water, and other supplies from FEMA or any other agency.  
  • People standing in line for hours in blistering heat waiting for desperately needed water and food, only to finally see federal disaster officials bringing paperwork “to collect data” rather than critical supplies.
  • Multiple houses with roofs blown off and soaked interiors where there is dangerous black mold growing that creates respiratory distress and illness.
  • A breakout of leptospirosis, a dangerous bacterial disease that has already claimed lives.
  • Widespread devastation with families across the island who have seen no signs of FEMA or other federal relief officials. 
  • “While we hear boasts of a great response, the reality on the ground is far different,” said Bonnie Castillo, RN, director of NNU’s RNRN program. 

“What our nurses witness daily is the harsh reality of a woefully inadequate government response and the brutal, inhumane impact on the Puerto Rican people. People are still without food and drinking water. That poses an enormous humanitarian threat in terms of disease, life, and death and who succumbs first,” Castillo said. 

“There can be no more delays. There is an extreme threat to life. The Trump Administration, FEMA, and Congress must act immediately,” Castillo said.

On the southern edge of San Juan municipality, where there has been no contact with FEMA, Red Cross or any official relief. This family has been sleeping in their roofless house on soaking wet furniture for weeks. The youngest child has (unsurprisingly) developed a rash. When RN Lucia Lopez gave the mother hydrocortisone cream, she burst into tears.

Accountability Foreclosed, Justice Denied

By Bruce Campbell - The Evidence is in: The Train Crew did not Cause the Lac-Mégantic Tragedy, October 9, 2017

The trial of the three front-line workers charged with criminal negligence causing death in the Lac-Mégantic oil train disaster, has now begun in a Sherbrooke, Québec courtroom. If found guilty, they could face life in prison. The defunct company, MMA, faces the same charges but its trial will be held at a later date. What are the consequences of an extinct corporate shell being found guilty, but minus charges against its executives and owner: none.

Many people in Lac-Mégantic believe that the right people are not on trial. I agree with them. The crown’s case will exclusively target the men closest to the disaster: those at the bottom of the pyramid of accountability. But individuals at higher levels of the pyramid have escaped accountability. They have not been blamed for their role in the disaster. Who are they?

Senior executives and directors of the delinquent company MMA, especially the owner Ed Burkhardt; no significant decisions were made without his permission: not held to account.

Transport Canada senior officials and the Minister, who allowed this delinquent company to continue operating without any sanctions; allowed it to cut corners and play Russian roulette with public safety; whose highly defective oversight system failed catastrophically: not held to account.

Conservative government leaders who exhibited complacency and casual indifference to the dangers of the mammoth surge in the transportation of volatile oil by rail: not held to account.

Industry lobbyists who pressured senior officials and politicians not to implement additional regulations to deal with this new and dangerous phenomenon: not held to account.

The senior Transport Canada official(s) who made the decision [with the tacit support of superiors]—over major opposition within Transport Canada itself and the unions—to allow MMA to operate its 12,000-ton high hazard oil trains through cities and towns piloted by a single person crew: not held to account.

The industry lobby, the Railway Association of Canada [RAC], which led the controversial redrafting of the Canadian rail operating rules, with Transport Canada’s complicity, creating a loophole that allowed companies to operate single person crew trains with virtually no conditions to ensure an equivalent level of safety; and which then lobbied aggressively on behalf of this blatantly negligent company to be the first in Canada to run massive oil trains with a single person crew: not held to account.

Conservative government leaders who were responsible for a dysfunctional culture within Transport Canada, and in the name of austerity starved its resources—including reducing the rail safety directorate’s budget by 20% during the years when oil by rail was increasing exponentially— impeding its capacity to cope with this emergent reality: not held to account.

A regulation-averse prime minister responsible for instituting a notorious one-for-one rule policy requiring agencies which proposed a new regulation, to eliminate at least one existing regulation regardless of its impact on safety, on the pretext that cutting “red tape” would unleash market forces of job creation and economic growth; a policy which likely stonewalled the implementation of regulations that might have mitigated the risks of this new threat: not held to account.

Deregulation by both Conservative and Liberal governments, which systematically weakened or eliminated regulations, replacing them with voluntary codes and industry self-regulation [euphemistically called co-regulation] with limited or no direct oversight by governments.

A rail safety regime that continues to rely on human infallibility and the discredited myth of corporate self-regulation, and expecting another result is, to paraphrase Einstein, the definition of insanity. Lac-Mégantic was collateral damage of decades of deregulation. And yet only those at the bottom of the responsibility pyramid have been blamed. None of those on its upper levels have admitted their role or been held to account. Until this happens the lessons of Lac-Mégantic will not have been learned; and justice for the citizens of Lac-Mégantic will be denied.

The Corporate Assault on Science

By Murray Dobbin - CounterPunch, October 6, 2017

The fact that science is the foundation for civilization and democracy should be self-evident. Regrettably that connection seems often to escape our collective consciousness. We tend to think of science narrowly as restricted to hi-tech, laboratories and the development of electric cars or travel to Mars. But everything we do collectively from Medicare to fighting climate change to designing social programs, building infrastructure and tax policy we take for granted is rooted in evidence, that is, science.

The advent of right-wing populist hostility towards evidence and now extended by so-called alternate facts, threatens to take us down the dystopian road of the irrational. The spread of this trend in the US – highlighted by the election of Trump as president and the inability of US culture to cope with gun violence – is as much a threat to the future of the human race as is climate change.

The trend started in earnest in the 1990’s and it took a long time for scientists themselves to step up and defend their ground. An unprecedented and overt attack on public science by Stephen Harper forced the traditionally a-political science community to take a public stand for evidence-based policy. In the summer of 2012 hundreds of demonstrators marched from an Ottawa science conference to Parliament Hill under the banner the ‘Death of Evidence’.   Many were working scientists wearing their lab coats. Last April there was the world-wide Global March for Science in 600 cities coinciding with Earth Day.

The fight back for science and by scientists is one of the bright spots in the resistance against the rise of irrationalism. But there is another dark corner that has not had as much light shone on it and that is the pernicious corruption of science and scientists.

A recent book gives us a major resource for understanding and exposing the sinister trade in lies and obfuscation that results in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of deaths every year. Corporate Ties that Bind: An Examination of Corporate Manipulation and Vested Interests in Public Health is a 450 page, 24 chapter compendium by an   international group of scientists about how corporations routinely set out to undermine public interest science – and how they have found hundreds of scientists eager to do their bidding.

Those who consider themselves informed citizens know of course that science is often corrupted with the tobacco industry being the poster child for deadly science fraud. But even the most disillusioned will have their breath taken away by the accounts in this book. One of the most compelling chapters is authored by Canadian Kathleen Ruff (a friend) who led the successful fight against asbestos in Canada.

Ruff documents how the strategy of the tobacco industry was adopted by virtually every other dirty industry eager to hide their toxic products. The advice received by the industry from the infamous Hill and Knowlton was “…not to challenge scientific evidence but instead to seize and control it. …declare the value of scientific skepticism…creating an appearance of scientific controversy.” It was a brilliant strategy and is still being used today.

Appetite for Destruction: Trump’s War on the Environment

By Joshua Frank - CounterPunch, October 6, 2017

From the senseless slaughter in Las Vegas to the horrific impacts of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico, to Trump’s boisterous threats against North Korea and unfolding strife within the White House — it’s easy to get lost in the world’s madness and the nefarious mind of Prez Trump. It’s a dangerous vortex, no doubt, but Trump’s twitter storm and paper towel tossing photo ops are little more than a distraction from his administration’s unfettered assault on the environment.

This past week, Team Trump quietly denied protection for 25 species that are on the verge of extinction, including the Pacific walrus and black-backed woodpecker. The reason, of course, is that science doesn’t mean jack shit to the corporate barons ruling our government.

“Denying protection for these 25 species despite the imminent threat of climate change and ongoing habitat destruction is typical of the Trump administration’s head-in-the-sand approach,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

This is only Trump’s latest violation of our country’s endangered species. In June, Trump stripped protections for Yellowstone’s imperiled grizzly bear.

Under the noses of the environmental community, as Steve Horn and I recently reported, the Trump admin is also moving forward with new regulations that would allow certain liquid natural gas (LNG) exports in the US to skirt environmental reviews, a literal wet dream of America’s fracking empire. In many cases, Trump’s war on the environment and appetite for fossil fuels is shared by the so-called opposition in the Washington. The push for expediting LNG exports, for example, is largely spearheaded by former Clinton campaign employees.

Then there’s Trump’s overt destruction of the EPA, typically the last stopgap against environmental plunder. Indeed, Trump’s defanging the EPA is one campaign promise he’s managed to uphold. The EPA employs a mere 14,000 people, but Trump is doing his best to shrink that number substantially. Not only is there a current hiring freeze in place, it was reported last June that the EPA was planning to offer buyouts to more than 1,200 employees. Buyout is short for forced retirement. In September a wave of these forced retirements swept the EPA and at least 362 employees accepted Trump’s buyout last month.  The EPA hasn’t been this small and impotent since the Reagan era.

It’s all by design. Trump, with help from Congress, is hoping to slash the agency’s budget by 31% next year. EPA administrator Scott Pruit, who infamously denied the existence of climate change, is carrying out Trump’s mission to scrub all science from the EPA’s toolbox. But what’s better than banning science research at the agency? How about getting rid of the EPA altogether, one employee at a time. Sadly, Trump is carrying on with a trend President Obama set into motion. During his second term, the Obama admin paid more than $11 million to buyout 436 EPA employees. Shrinking the government is a bipartisan affair.

However, if Trump and Pruitt have their way, they’ll take Obama’s move a step further and scrap Superfund cleanup funds along with eliminating 50 other EPA programs. Also on the chopping block is the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice, which works to protect our most environmentally impacted poor, minority communities.

Of course, we also have Trump signing an executive order to expand offshore drilling, wanting to back out of the Paris climate deal, as well as a push to open up oil exploration in ANWAR. He also hopes to scrap Obama’s climate regulations. And Trump, along with Secretary of the Interior Zinke, are working to reduce the size of nearly half of our National Monuments. To top it off they are also seeking to open these wild lands to oil and gas development. Nothing is sacred.

No doubt President Trump is a daily, almost hourly, train wreck — but his antics are coming at a very real cost to the environment and those species and people most impacted by its destruction.

Filling Gaps Left By Trump, Nurses and Labor Unions Join Puerto Rico Relief Efforts

By Jake Johnson - Common Dreams, October 8, 2017

As President Donald Trump continues to come under fire for failing to deliver sufficient help to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria—which killed dozens and left millions without power and running water—nurses, doctors, engineers, and other workers affiliated with various unions including National Nurses United (NNU) and the AFL-CIO have teamed up to assist with relief and recovery efforts.

"I put out the call for help, and who listened? The unions," said Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, the Puerto Rican capital. 

Workers representing more than 20 unions boarded a flight to San Juan late last week "in response to the urgent need to get highly skilled workers to Puerto Rico to help people seeking medical and humanitarian assistance, as well as to help with the rebuilding effort," according to the AFL-CIO's Kenneth Quinnell.

"The nurses, doctors, electricians, engineers, carpenters and truck drivers on the flight will engage in various efforts, including helping clear road blockages, caring for hospital patients, delivering emergency supplies, and restoring power and communications," Quinnell added.

"When our union sisters and brothers see a need in our national or international community, we don't ask if we should act, we ask how," said Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. "We are united in lifting up our fellow Americans."

NNU, for its part, sent a delegation of 50 volunteer registered nurses from throughout the U.S. to help provide urgent medical assistance to those in need.

"As nurses whenever there's a call and there's an ask, we go," said NNU vice president Cathy Kennedy, RN. "From the reports I've heard especially the elderly that have been without oxygen, without food or water, are at risk, everyone's at risk but particularly the children and the elderly."

In total, more than 300 union members are taking part in the joint response effort, which could be seen taking shape on social media over the weekend. 

"We use the word 'solidarity' a lot in the labor movement. The idea that when we come together, we are stronger," wrote Liz Shuler, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO. "On this relief mission, it was solidarity in the truest sense of the word. Working people united around a common purpose — to provide help for those in need."

The response of union workers to the crisis sparked by Hurricane Maria also garnered the attention of NBC News, which ran a segment Saturday that focused on the dire circumstances affecting millions and the efforts of volunteers to provide help that has not been delivered by the U.S. government.

Hurricane disaster in Puerto Rico: U.S. aid is slow and insufficient

Omar Pérez Figueroa interviewed by Ernie Gotta - Socialist Action, October 8, 2017

Soon after hurricane Irma devastated islands in the Caribbean and parts of Florida, Socialist Action reporter Ernie Gotta interviewed Omar Pérez Figueroa about the effects of the storm on Puerto Rico. Gotta followed up with Perez after hurricane Maria decimated the island. Pérez, a native of Puerto Rico, is a member of the Juventud Hostosiana, the youth group of the Hostosian National Independence Movement. He is an investigative analyst on climate and water quality and a doctoral student at the University of California Irvine School of Social Ecology.

Socialist Action: Can you discuss the situation in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria?

Oliver Pérez: The situation is chaotic right now, there is no electricity, only 25% of people have water, and approximately 88% of the cellular towers are out of power. People are dying in the hospitals, treatment such as dialysis and oxygen therapy need electricity to be provided, and the gas that is used to run the power generator is scarce. The government is saying that they have supplies, but somehow people are not receiving them. As a result, people are camping, making long lines just to get some gas.

Another issue that has gone unnoticed is the mixture between stagnant water from the floods and sewage water. In a normal rain event, manhole lids burst because of the water pressure. Now imagine how many manholes blew with the hurricane! This water mix poses a health risk to everyone that comes in contact with it; sewage water contains high levels of pathogens. Because roads are either blocked or flooded, people do not have another option than to get in contact with this polluted water.

Also, there are areas in the interior of the island where aid has not arrived. We have people writing “S.O.S.” on their roofs, hoping that someone will send aid. There are people who lost everything, unlike high-income people from Guaynabo, where President Trump visited during his trip to the island. This media circus portrayed Puerto Ricans as if they were doing just fine, rather than showing a humanitarian crisis.

SA: Can you talk about the U.S. relief response?

OP: FEMA is responding at snail’s pace. My sister told me yesterday that on the way to visit my grandmother’s house she saw houses without roofs and people sleeping out in the open. The process to obtain aid from FEMA has been exhausting. It is very complicated; you need the internet to complete the formularies. The people that I know that have been able to fill the application had done it through the phone. How come the fastest way to apply for aid is via internet and phone, when most of the island is without power and cell phone signal? Supposedly, FEMA sent people on foot to complete these forms, but they are nowhere to be found.

The U.S government has had an Army colonel named Jeffrey Hughes to oversee the aid operations in the island. This has been seen by many people as a new military occupation of the island. Yes, we need aid, we need tools and structures that can allow us to bounce back from this crisis, but we don’t need to keep perpetuating the same political system that has made us dependent on U.S. aid.

Furthermore, last week (Oct. 3) President Trump visited Puerto Rico to see first hand the consequences of Hurricane Maria. Rather than being supportive or expressing his concern for Puerto Ricans’ wellbeing, he stated that Puerto Ricans have thrown the U.S. budget “out of whack.” He went on to say that Puerto Ricans and Governor Ricardo Rosselló should be proud because only 17 people have perished in this event, which compared to Hurricane Katrina, in which the dead count went into the thousands, was “good.”

He mentioned how they have finally arrived to help us, as if Puerto Ricans have not done anything to pull themselves from this crisis. That visit showed a lack of respect and understanding of the Puerto Rico situation. Losing 17 lives is more than enough.

Review: No Is Not Enough

By Samir Dathi - Red Pepper, October 6, 2017

Naomi Klein’s new books always provoke plenty of excitement on the left. For starters, they always seem to augur new waves of popular struggle. The Canadian journalist’s debut No Logo, an exposé of corporate super-branding, went to print with prophetic timing just months after the 1999 Seattle protest kicked off the alter-globalisation movement. Her 2007 follow up The Shock Doctrine, on how elites use crises to push through neoliberal policy, pre-empted the credit crunch. And This Changes Everything, on the clash between free-market fundamentalism and climate justice, was published during the tense build-up to the COP21 climate talks. Each book in this anti-neoliberal trilogy became a left-wing manifesto of sorts, making sense of pivotal moments in the movements and capturing the prevailing dissident mood.

Klein’s latest book No Is Not Enough, on the rise of Trumpism, comes at another pivotal (perhaps epochal) moment. But unlike her previous books, each of which took years to write, she wrote No Is Not Enough in a few months. This rapid turnaround was for a couple of reasons. First, due to necessity – Trump’s shock win required urgent analysis. And second, because this time she hasn’t sought to break new ground – for Klein, Trump embodies the worst excesses of the neoliberal phenomena she already covered in her first three books. She writes: ‘Trump is not a rupture at all, but rather the culmination – the logical end point – of a great many dangerous stories our culture has been telling for a very long time.’ So No Is Not Enough mainly revisits and ties together threads from her earlier canon. Much of the book is taken up describing Trump the ultimate super-brand, Trump the doctor of shock therapy, and Trump the climate vandal – as well as, of course, Trump the sexist and racist.

Clearly there are continuities between mainstay neoliberalism and Trump’s regime, and Klein provides plenty of material making the link. I do think her framing is somewhat misleading, however. Far from Trump being the apotheosis of neoliberalism, his rise is a morbid symptom of neoliberalism’s deep, intractable crisis beginning in 2008. Its nostra are increasingly ineffective. People across the political spectrum now talk of its foreseeable demise.

If the left doesn’t get its act together, the danger is that the rise of Trumpism threatens to turn into something qualitatively different – fascism. Klein acknowledges the risk. For example, in chapter 5 she says: ‘White supremacist and fascist movements – though they may always burn in the background – are far more likely to turn into wildfires during periods of sustained economic hardship and national decline.’ And: ‘We are allowing conditions eerily similar to those in the 1930s to be re‑created today.’

But these passages are relatively cursory and leave the impression that the encroachment of fascism is somewhat abstract, rather than a process presently unfolding in the movement around Trump and beyond. What’s going on around the world right now is not business as usual.

For me, the most forceful part of No Is Not Enough is in chapter 4, ‘The climate clock strikes midnight’, where Klein reprises her arguments from This Changes Everything. The reason conservatives deny climate change, she argues, is that they realise climate action necessitates collective struggle that would bring down the entire neoliberal system. The huge public investment, job creation, regulation, higher taxes and so on required to save the climate are simply not compatible with the current phase of capitalism.

The National Mining Association doesn’t speak for coal communities

By Erin Savage - Appalachian Voices, October 5, 2017

Last month, West Virginian Bil Lepp authored a letter in the Charleston Gazette-Mail regarding the U.S. Department of the Interior’s decision to halt a review of research linking mountaintop removal coal mining and impacts to human health.

In his letter, Lepp calls out the National Mining Association and cites its skepticism of the review, which was led by the National Academy of Sciences and already well underway.

“The National Mining Association is saying that because mountaintop removal is such a small part of the mining industry, the people affected by it simply aren’t worth worrying about,” Lepp wrote. “They are saying, ‘Even if this process is bad for the people who live near it, who cares? There are not enough of them to matter to us.’”

In response, National Mining Association President Hal Quinn submitted his own letter to the Gazette-Mail. In it, he claims that because the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences already reviewed some of the studies, the additional review by the NAS (which is independent and non-governmental) is unnecessary. “We applaud and support legitimate efforts to improve health and safety in and around mines, but this study was a symbolic gesture left over from an anti-coal administration,” Quinn wrote.

Quinn wants it to seem like the NMA cares about miners and coal communities. But nothing could be further from the truth. The NMA openly opposes multiple efforts that would benefit coal communities.

The National Institute of Environmental Health and Sciences study Quinn mentioned in his letter does not actually make additional review unnecessary. Rather, that study concluded:

Improved characterization of exposures by future community health studies and further study of the effects of MTR mining chemical mixtures in experimental models will be critical to determining health risks of MTR mining to communities. Without such work, uncertainty will remain regarding the impact of these practices on the health of the people who breathe the air and drink the water affected by MTR mining.

The much more robust review being conducted by the NAS was a step toward conducting some of that work.

More than two dozen peer-reviewed studies show strong links between living near mountaintop removal mines and suffering from negative health effects. The industry likes to suggest that regional health disparities are due to other problems, but researchers control for these socioeconomic factors. Poverty and public health issues are critical problems in Central Appalachia, but they have been problems for decades, even when the coal industry was booming. An economy based on a single extractive industry has done little to lift the region out of poverty, despite what the industry may claim.

One example of how the NMA is holding coal communities back is its opposition to the RECLAIM Act, a bill that would direct $1 billion from the Abandoned Mine Land Fund over the next five years to reclaim post-mined land for the economic benefit of the region. All five members of West Virginia’s congressional delegation are co-sponsors of the RECLAIM Act.

Not only does the NMA oppose the RECLAIM Act, it opposes the Abandoned Mine Land Fund as a whole. The fund is dependent on a tax on current coal production, and the revenue is spent on mines abandoned by coal companies prior to the passage of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act in 1977. Without the fund, taxpayers would likely be responsible for the cleanup of these sites.

The NMA claims that the fund has been mismanaged since coal companies have paid in more than $10 billion while only $2.8 billion has been spent on priority sites. Priority 1 sites pose a direct risk to human health and safety — an open mine portal or unstable land near communities, for example. Thankfully, these sites do not make up the majority of abandoned mine lands. Much of the land does not pose a direct threat to people, but it does hamper economic growth; it may be unsuitable for development in its current condition or deter nearby growth. Many sites have ongoing problems with soil and water contamination, erosion and revegetation.

In reality, $8 billion of the fund has been distributed, including $5 billion distributed to states and tribes and more than $1.4 billion transferred to the United Mine Workers of America Health and Retirement Funds. So, the NMA is upset that $1.4 billion has been spent to ensure that miners have health care and retirement benefits, rather than for Priority 1 sites...

Puerto Rico needs aid, not an occupation

By Nicole Colson - Socialist Worker, October 4, 2017

DONALD TRUMP couldn't resist taking the opportunity of his visit on Tuesday to lecture the people of Puerto Rico about how grateful they should be--to him, of course--and how horrible they are for daring to suffer.

Unbelievably--or perhaps all too believably, considering who we're talking about--Trump declared that the island's 3.4 million inhabitants, who are still trying to survive without basic necessities two weeks after being hit head-on by Hurricane Maria, aren't enduring a "real catastrophe."

"Every death is a horror," Trump actually said, "but if you look at a real catastrophe like [Hurricane] Katrina and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds of people that died and what happened here with a storm that was just totally overbearing...Sixteen people certified...You can be very proud of all of your people and all of our people working together."

Of course, the official death toll of 16 doesn't include hundreds, probably thousands and perhaps more who haven't been counted yet because many regions remain cut off, and bodies lie in morgues without any way to identify them or enter them into government tallies.

As this article was being written, the official death toll hadn't been updated in six days--a sign, as Vox's Elizabeth Barclay pointed out, of just how severe the government collapse is at this point.

And that doesn't take into account the many more who may die in the coming days and weeks as hospitals continue to go without power and supplies, and the population is threatened with epidemics as a result of the lack of potable water and other necessities.

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