Thursday, April 29, 2010

H.R. 2499 - Puerto Rico Democracy Act Scam

There will be a congressional vote today to determine whether or not to give Puerto Ricans a choice on the status of Puerto Rico with respect to the US. In the current system, the "status quo", Puerto Rico is a colony of the US. We receive certain benefits, such as Medicare, Medicaid, and food stamps (limited compared to what you get in the US). We don't pay federal taxes, but we do pay SS taxes and serve in the armed forces. Puerto Ricans have historically voted for retaining the status quo over the other two options: statehood and independence.

In last election, Fortuño was elected governor. He was the Republican candidate: here, that means pro-statehood.

So suppose you were pro-statehood, and you wanted to rig an election in your favor. Here's how, using a brilliant ice cream analogy of my own design.

Say the only three ice-cream flavors are chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. 49% of the people want chocolate, 47% want vanilla, and 4% want strawberry. You really want vanilla to win, so you break the vote into two parts:

1. Do you want chocolate? Surprise! The people say no!

2. Since you don't want chocolate, do you want vanilla, or do you want strawberry? Surprise, vanilla wins!

Democracy in action!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Election Results

I took voting this year far more seriously than I have in the past, perhaps because when I lived in Massachusetts the outcome was fairly certain before the voting even started. Things did not turn out exactly the way I wanted, but I'm proud to have voted in my first Puerto Rican election.


The incumbent governor and Popular Democratic Party representative, Acevedo, was trounced by the republican candidate, Fortuño, who represents the New Progressive Party. Acevedo currently faces federal charges alleging irregularities in his campaign finances. Fortuño has also been under FBI investigation over allegations of campaign finance irregularities. I didn't vote for him, but I wish Fortuño the best of luck.

The election, however, had less to do about politics and more to do about the economy. Puerto Rico is in rocky shape these days, with recession, rising utility prices, a sales tax imposed during the Acevedo administration, and ever rising unemployment. This election was about change.

I understand the frustration of the Puerto Rican people. The economy sucks, and job opportunities, particularly for young people, are scarce. Most of the jobs are in retail, construction, services, and manufacturing. There is little chance of advancement.

The school system does not adequately prepare kids for the job market. Many will go to the US looking for work, but language will be a barrier. English is a mandatory course of study, but it reminds me of the French I took in high school. I remember none of it. None of my 16-year-old brother in law's friends or other young people I know speak English with any degree of fluency; some not at all.


The incumbent mayor of Aguas Buenas, Arroyo, won re-election. He's done much for our small town, including providing funding for a new library, technology center, parks, and free bus service.


I watched TV coverage of the presidential election most of the night and into the morning, and I wept when Obama was declared the winner. This was the most exciting election in my lifetime, and it gives me hope for the future. His acceptance speech was intelligent, dignified, and inspiring.

It will be a daunting task, undoing the damage of the last eight years, but I believe Obama is up to that task. It may take his entire first term to make significant progress, but then, it took a long time to get where we are today. I only wish I could have voted (Puerto Rican residents can't vote in presidential elections).

End of Campaigning (at least for now)

I'm also glad the campaigning is over. Politicians here don't get much TV coverage; campaigning is done with trucks with huge speakers driving up and down the streets blaring their messages. There are endless parades and rallies in the two weeks before the election, all of them annoyingly loud. I'm looking forward to a little more peace and quiet. I say "a little" because very few parts of Puerto Rico are ever truly quiet.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election time: Puerto Rican style

Today, I voted in my first Puerto Rican election, and I was proud to do so. We vote for the mayor, governor, and legislature (but not the president). Politics is huge here; nearly everyone who is eligible votes. Voter turnout is typically about 77%, compared to about 50% in the US (although that number should be considerably higher this year). All businesses are closed, and it's a $5,000 fine for anyone caught selling alcohol.

The two main political parties are the Partido Popular Democrático (roughly equivalent to Democrats in the US), and the Partido Nuevo Progresista (roughly equivalent, and just as nasty as the Republicans). Everyone I know is voting Partido Popular Democrático, who stand for continued commonwealth status. The Partido Nuevo Progresista are for statehood, which many fear would jeopardize Puerto Rico's identity. English-only legislation in the US is particularly frightening, and even more stupid here than it is in the US, and that's pretty stupid.

The polls opened at 8 AM, which in Puerto Rico means sometime around 8:40. No one but me seemed to mind. Election day is a very social time for a lot of Puerto Ricans; lots of shaking hands and kisses on the cheek. With all that, I was still back home by 9 AM.

It was actually very efficient once the doors opened. You present your voter registration card, sign the log, and dip your finger in a phosphorescent solution (they check you at the door with a black light; if your finger glows, you can't come in). They give you your three paper ballots and point you to the voting booth (a large cardboard box with a plastic curtain). Voting a straight party line is simple: 3 Xs, fold them up, hand them to the nice lady to put in the proper boxes, and you're done.

Now comes the long wait for the results.

I'm a little more nervous about the US presidential election. Although we cant vote in presidential elections, whoever wins will be our commander-in-chief for the next 4 years (if Obama), or the next 2 (if McCain). The possibility of a president Palin is too frightening to contemplate.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Summer Vacation Nightmare

It's almost over; school starts next week.

Summers here are almost unbearable. The kids are home from school, and they are loud.

The 14 year old girl next door loves her regeaton, and she loves it loud.

Regeaton has one requirement: the same monotonous, simple, idiotic drum track is used for every song. Beyond that, there are no rules. You can sing (very rare), shout (very common). or make vaguely animal-like noises (somewhere in the middle).

She plays the same handfull of songs every day, several times a day. These are the songs they play at Guantanamo Bay to make the prisioners confess to crimes they did not commit.

She plays this stuff for three hours a day, and she plays it so loud that we can't watch TV or talk on the phone. We've asked her to turn it down dozens of time, but she could care less about anyone but herself. Next, we will file a complaint with the town.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Fortress of Solitude

Our next-door neighbor is just over 80 years old, and a little on the flaky side. A few years ago, he had his house built by the best builder in Aguas Buenas, and it was beautiful. Since then, he's been systematically ruining the place. He's forever putting up new additions and generally destroying the architectural features that made this a lovely house.

We call it the fortress of solitude because he seems to be barricading himself in. He had the wrought-iron gate in front of the house heightened from 5' to 8', presumably to keep out intruders. Of course, it's trivial to simply go around the gate, but that doesn't seem to bother him. He also added wrought-iron bars over all the windows. Pre-made fencing was too expensive, so he rolled his own from posts and barbed wire. Very pretty.

For the last week, he's been walling in what was once the most beautiful outdoor staircase in the neighborhood. Now, all you can see is a vast cinder-block wall. When he had floor tile installed in a new room, he saved money by butting the tiles against each other, thus eliminating the need for grout. Of course, it looks like crap.

The place now look more like a prison camp than the beautiful house it was.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


I haven't posted in a while, mostly because of my pesky new job, but today is different.

Our next-door neighbor, Don Pablo, was robbed today. He was out of the house at the time, and someone broke in and stole $9,000 in cash, a pile of jewlery, and who knows what else. They ripped off the iron bars from one of the windows to get in. They did it in broad daylight. They killed his dog.

Whoever it was, they were quiet. His house is right next to mine, and I was home the whole time. I was working, so I didn't have the radio or the TV on, but still I didn't hear a thing.

I keep saying "whoever," but we're pretty sure we know who did it. Whoever it was knew he wasn't home, which means they saw him leave (he doesn't have a car, so you can't go by that). Whoever it was knew he is an eccentric old man who lives alone in the nicest (well, the most expensive, as I say, he's eccentric) house in the neighborhood, and that he keeps a lot of cash in the house. Whoever it was knew how long he would be gone, because his nephew picks him up every Sunday and drops him off four hours later.

The person we suspect has had no electricity in his house for months (he was caught stealing electricity from a neighbor), and no water for longer than that (he can't afford to pay his bill, which is $30/month). Oh yeah, and this person has tried to rob Don Pablo in the past, but he was so hopped up on goof balls that he couldn't pull it off.

Of course, without proof, there's nothing anyone can do, except keep an eye out and be extra vigilant with our own safety and property.

Did they really have to kill his dog? Que lastima.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Hay Luz

Hurricane Dean passed us to the south by a pretty good margin, but we had heavy rain and winds, and we have not had power or water for 3 days. The power finally came back.

It's easy to tell when the power comes back, because the entire neighborhood erupts in applause and cheers. If you've ever flown into San Juan, you'll know what I mean. When the plane lands, there is much rejoicing.

With any luck, we'll have water in a couple of hours, which is a good thing, because some of us are starting to smell. I like a self-administered sponge bath as well as the next guy, but it doesn't compare to a real shower.