Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Who's Picking Up The Tab? Who Else?

Well, it must be true, because I read about it in The New York Times: The whole damned island is depressed.

Or not, since the financial crisis elicits varying responses of anger, rants, and problem-solving. Oh, and also a good deal of finger-pointing, as evidenced by this:

Yes—we spend 39 million a year to drive our governors around, and provide police protection, which is certainly needed, since the last governor laid off 20,000 people, and do you think he’d survive a bus ride through Cataño? Not likely. OK—then there’s this:

Well, the governor is sure that we’ll all be willing to make sacrifices, just as he and Wilma have, but allegedly his Ferragamo shoes cost nearly 700 bucks, when you add in our 11.5% sales tax.
Do I need to add more? A more serious blogger would look up the picture someone took of Melba Acosta drinking wine and eating lobster, although as I recall it, the wine was obvious but the lobster couldn’t be verified. At least I didn’t see it.
Found it! I'm serious after all!

What was the point? The point was that the financial crisis is not my problem, dammit, it’s the politicians who stole the money and gave suspicious contracts to their cronies borrowed and borrowed and now? Fuck ‘em!

Then we have the outsiders peering in, often with little or no knowledge of the island or the culture. So Don Young of Alaska thinks Puerto Rico is at the boiling point, ready for revolution; Paul Krugman, however, tells us that Puerto Rico is no Greece. Great to know!

Politics—of course!—gets into it. The folk favoring independence will tell you: The Jones Act that mandates that we use American shipping costs us a lot of money (does it? Who knows?) Statehooders: If we weren’t a colony and were a state, we could refinance our debt through bankruptcy, just as all the other states can. And lastly, the deluded group that holds that we are a separate country joined in a bilateral union with the United States? Well, along with Wilma and the governor, we’re all (meaning everybody but Wilma and the governor and the ruling classes) yes, we are all (please revisit last parentheses) going to have to make sacrifices. Oh, and the governor just stumbled upon those Ferragamo shoes at the Salvation Army—one of those lucky days!

It’s all nonsense, of course, since there are a lot of guys out there in the business district of San Juan who are wearing shoes every bit as expensive as the governor. And the 39 million for police protection for former governors? Look, in the face of 73 billion, it’s nothing.

What is something, and what no one is talking about, is that our government has 230,000 employees, as compared to the 110,000 public employees of the state of Wisconsin, and do I really have to trawl through the Internet to tell you that Wisconsin has almost twice as many people and a lot more land and also something called snow, a lot of which fell for six months between October and (probably) May, and which is hugely expensive to remove?

And you know, we’re all complicit in this, because although of course your mother or sister or brother-in-law or maybe the whole damn family are ferociously working public servants, veritably pounding the streets outside, pestering the passers by with offers to help the citizenry! Of course, of course, we all know that! It’s all the other lazy, shiftless, indolent-with-attitude shirkers that are clogging up the government. Still, it has to be said, there are a lot of everybody else’s brothers and sisters and whole damn families.

And those politicians? All of those thieving bastards that got us into this mess? Guess what—they’re there because we voted for them, and if we had been reading the newspaper, all those years, we could have seen very clearly what was coming, since it was the headline year after year about the government deficit, and the borrowing, and the issuing of more and more bonds.

But no, we don’t read the newspapers because it’s too depressing and the politicians are all crooks and they just steal the money and there’s nothing we can do about it. So now, all of a sudden, it’s the hedge-funds—read vultures—who are circling above and extorting exorbitant interest for that drop of water on the dying man’s tongue! Hah! Bastards!

God knows, it’s hard to defend a hedge fund, but if you need a loan until payday, where do you go? First to the bank, and then after they begin to look funny and then reject you, you go to the little payday loan store and then, if even that doesn’t work, you go down to the corner to the loan shark, and guess what? At this point, your rate is not the 3% that Banco Popular was charging you. And that’s where we are, folks!

So now we’re in trouble—enough trouble to get the government to commission the Krueger Report, which meant that three economists came down and told us what we’ve heard repeatedly and never acted upon. The tax base is eroding, we are uncompetitive in terms of labor costs, there’s no plan to develop the economy, and we can’t pay the debt or go back and get some more. Oh, and nobody is working or if they are, it’s in the informal economy—and who cooked up that term, by the way? Whatever happened to “black market?”—and a huge number of us are receiving benefits of some sort.

They walk among us, folks, since the guy who sold me the Perrier I’m now drinking told me, in passing, that he has both the state health card and the Department of Family card—the “informal economy” equivalent of “food stamps.” Another employee is working full-time but getting title 8 housing, because she’s supposedly unemployed. And a customer came in recently and complained that his cell phone got lost, and then when he went to replace it at whatever government agency replaces cell phones, well, guess what? Somebody made a mistake and he was listed on the wrong list, or the government changed providers, and so he has go to Sprint or somewhere, all because of the government inefficiency, and isn’t that outrageous? No, but what is outrageous….

But what I really wanted to tell you is the story of a guy who is painting my apartment and doing a wonderful job of it, though the work is coming along slowly, since he has a full time job, he’s in the Army Reserves and so that’s his part time, and he is still broke because he’s paying child support.

The point is, this guy used to have a construction company, with his father-in-law or ex-father-in-law. So the economy went bust and his company went bust, and then he couldn’t pay his child support, so he went to court, and then he went, in handcuffs and shackles, to a solitary cell, awaiting transfer to jail.

“I just sat there and shook. I mean, I saw my whole life go down the toilet. Look, when I had money, I paid! And so how is putting me in jail for six months gonna help? First, I’m gonna lose my job. Then, the army is gonna give me a dishonorable discharge, ‘cause they’re looking for any excuse to get rid of people and reduce the benefits they gotta pay. And when I realized that absolutely everything was gone, I broke down and sobbed.”

Guys? This is an army guy, this is a guy who does construction and likes chicks—fatally so. This is not a guy who breaks down and sobs.

He got two breaks: His ex-wife relented and talked to the judge, and I gave him some money for child support. So he’s free, except not, because after he finished the morning work of painting my apartment, he took public transportation to Bayamón, then walked 45 minutes under the blazing sun to his hospital job, and then worked his 8-hour shift, walked that 45 minutes back to the public transportation, went through three municipalities and stumbled on home. Dear Reader—did you get tired just reading that sentence?

Unsurprisingly, this guy gets sick a lot, especially now, when the sky has turned an eerie milky blue, since huge amounts of Sahara sand have drifted over the Atlantic and are now above us, slowly drizzling down and blotching our cars and acting like asbestos in our lungs. So not a problem, if you’re in air-conditioning all day and night, but that hour and a half that he’s walking daily on the streets of Bayamón? He’s got a sandbox in his lungs.

This financial crisis, as invisible as the Saharan sand, as felt and weakening and sickening, as insidious, as gradually and inevitably lethal? Yes, we are all complicit, but some more so than others, and if today the guy who has three jobs has failed to show up to finish the painting? I know perfectly well: He’s exhausted, he sleeping, and all he can handle today is one job, not two.

So the question is not the Ferragamo shoes or the lobster or the policemen driving our corrupt governors back and forth from the country clubs. Yes—we’re all complicit, but some more than others. And yes, we’ll certainly join you and Wilma, Guv, in making those sacrifices! But while do I feel that the burden of those sacrifices will not be felt by the people who are living and eating off the government? And why do I feel that you and Wilma won’t feel too much of a sting, either? Why is it, in fact, that I know perfectly well whose shoulders this is going to fall on, and you do too, and you’ve even seen him, or you could have, since he’s quite visible and quite exposed, as you drive past him, Guv and Wilma, in your air-conditioned SUV with the tinted windows and the police escort. Yes, he’s perfectly visible, that guy who’s going to made the sacrifices, that guy out there….

…walking the streets of Bayamón!