Saturday, February 3, 2018

Vox on Puerto Rico statehood and John Oliver on territories

I wrote "I'm in favor of Puerto Rico becoming a state and have been for decades.  Now that a majority of Puerto Ricans agree, I think it's time that happens" at the end of A 51st star for Puerto Rico on Flag Day.  That hasn't happened yet, as Vox explains Why Puerto Rico is not a US state.

Nearly half of Americans don’t know that Puerto Ricans are US citizens. But they are, and have been since 1917.
As residents of the US Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Puerto Ricans have US passports, can travel freely throughout the country and can serve in the military. But that doesn’t mean the US citizens who live in Puerto Rico get the same rights and benefits as US citizens stateside. Watch the video above to understand how Puerto Rico became a US commonwealth, the tangled relationship that developed, and how it all affects prosperity and development on the island today.
It's not for lack of trying, as Vox reported in Puerto Rico’s most ambitious push yet for statehood, explained.
A "shadow" congressional delegation of seven politicians from Puerto Rico traveled to Capitol Hill on Wednesday and demanded they be recognized as voting members of Congress. Five of them would represent Puerto Rico in the House, and two in the Senate.

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló modeled this plan after Alaska’s push for statehood in 1956, and it was a major part of his campaign for governor. (Tennessee was the first territory to use this strategy in 1795, and it's now known as the “Tennessee Plan.”)

The island — plagued by the devastation of Hurricane Maria and still struggling to restore electricity — has been a US territory since 1898 but has long suffered from widespread American indifference toward, or ignorance of, Puerto Rico's situation. When Maria hit, only about half of Americans knew that Puerto Ricans are US citizens. Now, Rosselló and his allies are hoping that the post-hurricane media attention has raised enough awareness of the "second-class" status of Americans in Puerto Rico.

"[Puerto Ricans] are being denied the full benefits of citizenship," said Puerto Rico's only nonvoting member of Congress, Jenniffer González-Colón on the House floor Wednesday. "We deserve and demand statehood for Puerto Rico now."

The move is largely symbolic: Voting on Puerto Rican statehood is nowhere close to the top of Congress’s agenda, but it represents growing frustration over getting Congress to recognize Puerto Rico as a state.

But while members of the island’s delegation are pushing hard for statehood, it’s far from clear that the island itself is united behind the push. And though Congress is unlikely to take up the measure under Republican control, support for Puerto Rican statehood was officially enshrined in the 2016 GOP platform.
Many of these issues were raised in U.S. Territories: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) three years ago.

A set of Supreme Court decisions made over 100 years ago has left U.S. territories without meaningful representation. That's weird, right?
Since this video, the island's plight in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which I mentioned in CDC switches from nuclear war to flu as epidemic declared just before false alarm in Hawaii, has raised the stakes, as Vox observed.
It's possible that Puerto Rican's views of statehood may have shifted in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. More than three months after Maria passed through the island, 40 percent of the island remains without power, and running water is unreliable.

The slow federal response, and President Trump's overall dismissiveness of the disaster, shed new light on the problem of having no real representation in Washington. It meant that Puerto Rico had no role in deciding how much disaster relief money would be allocated to the island, and that Puerto Rico had no say in how the tax bill would affect Puerto Rico.
The pro-statehood Puerto Ricans have decided on a strategy to pressure Congress.
Now Rosselló is threatening to mobilize Puerto Rican voters living in the US on the issue in the midterm elections.

“We are a significant voting bloc in the United States that perhaps hasn’t been organized well in the past,” he told Politico in December. He repeated that same message Wednesday during his latest trip to Washington, DC.
I wish the Governor luck in organizing this effort; he'll need it.  Just the same. I support him.


  1. Interesting issue, and the John Oliver video is devastatingly effective.

    Making Puerto Rico a state seems like a no-brainer -- it has a population about equal to my own state -- but with the other territories it's a bit more tricky. Guam and American Samoa combined have less than half as many people as Wyoming, the lowest-population state we currently have. Maybe we could merge them into Hawaii, or just give them three electoral votes each without dealing with statehood (like DC).

    I'd like to see Democrats promise to work for Puerto Rican statehood if they retake Congress this year. It might boost turnout among Puerto Ricans living in Florida, which has historically been low.

    It's beyond belief that after four months a third of the island still doesn't have its electricity back. I can't imagine Germany or Japan being that slow if part of there territory were hit by a similar disaster.

    1. It is and that's why I included the John Oliver video. Vox was informative, but it didn't capture the outrageousness and absurdity of the situation.

      Well, there is a minimum population for a state. The most recent one I can find comes from the admission of Michigan as a state in 1837, which was 60,000. I doubt that has changed. Still, that would exclude both American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands, which have populations of 55,000 each. It wouldn't exclude Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as they have populations of ~163,000 and ~103,000, respectively. That's the legality of it. As you point out, the fairness of it would be another matter.

      Yes, I agree, I think Democrats should promise that, too, and follow through if they win.

      I can't imagine France doing that to its overseas departments, either. That's the situation most similar to the U.S. among developed countries. The other would be the British Crown Territories like the Cayman Islands.

    2. Aaaarrrgh! I can't believe I wrote "part of there territory". That's what comes of reading all these right-wing websites. Constantly seeing their crappy proofreading and grammar is ruining my sense of correct English.

      Frankly I think some of our existing states are too small. Wyoming has one-fourth of the population of the Portland metro area. And it gets two Senators? At some point we're going to have to address these anomalies. Maybe consolidate some of the big empty rectangles in the middle of the country into bigger states.

      The 1840 census (the closest one to the year 1837) showed a total US population of 17 million. Today California alone has twice that. So arguably the minimum state size should now be much larger. On the other hand, if the right-wingers can make use of absurd concepts like Wyoming and North Dakota to skew the Senate, maybe we should be able to do the same with Guam and American Samoa. I'd rather see a more sensible range of sizes, though.

      Back when Newt Gingrich was a thing, he proposed settling 13,000 people on the Moon and then admitting it as a state. Yes, the Moon as the 51st state of the US. As Jon Stewart said at the time, "Thirteen thousand? That's not a state, that's a condo development!"

    3. LOL. When I go to a left-leaning protest, such as the Women's March or the March for Science, I invariably see someone carrying a placard saying "Look at all the correctly spelled signs." Besides, I screwed up, too. I commingled the current term "British Overseas Territories" with the much older one "British Crown Colonies." Oops.

      The imbalance would have to be addressed with a Constitutional Amendment or Constitutional Convention. I give the first a better chance of happening for Washington D.C. statehood than for reallocating the Senate. As for a Constitutional Convention, that's too dangerous, as the Right is ready and the Left is not.

      Well, when Alaska was admitted, it had 224,000 residents, so that puts Guam in the same ballpark, if not the U.S. Virgin Islands.

      I actually appreciated Gingrich's space boosterism, but even that was a far out idea. I'd have to check to see if Elon Musk has anything like that proposed for his Mars colony.

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