A CNN report caught my attention this morning. Anticipating today’s Congressional vote on the president’s $36.5 billion disaster relief aid package, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, said the following.
“People want to be helpful here. They’ve turned on the television. They know these are awfully genuine needs,” he said, arguing that Republicans simply want to fund the measure in a “prudent” way.
Early this morning the president took to twitter with a series of tweets about Puerto Rico.
Rep. Cole spoke truth that “people want to be helpful here. They’ve turned on the television. We “know these are awfully genuine needs….” But the “here” is a question. Where is “here“? Is “here” Houston, northern California, Puerto Rico? All of them? Or only some of them?
Or is “here” Congress and the Oval Office, the seats of authority and power in a constitutional republic — the branches of government where the television-watching American public hopes against hope that those we elect to represent us get their information from something other than their televisions.
The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, unlike Houston and the wine country of northern California, is poor. Its history is that of a pawn in the chess game of powerful nations.
The Smithsonian website article “Puerto Rico — History and Heritage” — offers a brief history of Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico remained an overseas province of Spain until the Spanish-American war, when U.S. forces invaded the island with a landing at Guánica. Under the Treaty of Paris of 1898, Spain ceded Puerto Rico (along with Cuba, the Philippines and Guam) to the U.S.
As a result, the turn of the century saw Puerto Rico under United States sovereignty. At that time, Puerto Rico’s economy relied on its sugar crop, but by the middle of the century, an ambitious industrialization effort, called Operation Bootstrap, was underway. Cheap labor and attractive tax laws attracted American companies, and soon the Puerto Rican economy was firmly grounded in manufacturing and tourism. Today, Puerto Rico is a leading tourist destination and manufacturing center; the island produces high-tech equipment and many top-selling American pharmaceuticals.
Puerto Ricans received U.S. citizenship in 1917 and Puerto Rico officially became a U.S. Commonwealth in 1952. The issue of political status is one under constant debate, with some in favor statehood, others independence, and still others the continuation of commonwealth status.
During World War II, the U.S. Navy purchased two thirds of the island to use as a naval base. The Navy used the area for military exercises and bombing practice for nearly 60 years until a civilian was killed during a bombing exercise in the 1990s. This sparked a wave of protests that finally ended when the base closed in 2003. Since then, the Navy’s lands have become wildlife reserves.
Today Congress faces a moral issue that begins with the question of where “here” is and with a couple of early morning tweets that divide the world between here and there, and want to leave “there” behind, ignoring the wisdom of The Letter of James:
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” [i.e., the world divided by here and there; us and them; rich and poor]. – James 1:26-27.
- Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 12, 2017.