Understanding the Puerto Rican Blackout: Bank Regulation, Bureaucratic Inefficiency and Leadership

This afternoon I watched the outstanding PBS Frontline documentary, “Blackout in Puerto Rico.” The program unwraps the story of why it took 7 months to restore electrical power to most of the island of Puerto Rico, following the devastation wrought by hurricane Maria in September 2017, and the complicated reasons why the infrastructure of the island had fallen into severe disrepair in the previous decades. The full 55 minute program is available on PBS’ website when you login with your local affiliate account, or via Apple TV. The 30 second episode trailer provides a good overview:

I’ll share several observations and reflections after watching this excellent program.

Banking Regulation is Essential

This PBS Frontline program does an outstanding job highlighting the role played by Wall Street brokers and mega-banks in financing Puerto Rico’s staggering debt. This is not only a story of financial mismanagement by Puerto Rico’s elected leaders, but also yet another troubling example of why we need regulation in financial markets. Left to their own devices. banks and bankers will loan more money to organizations (including U.S. territories) as well as individuals than they should responsibly accept. I’m reminded of the outstanding book, “All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis,” by Bethany McLean (@bethanymac12) and Joe Nocera (@opinion_joe). I wrote a bit about that book in my 2011 post, “Connect the Dots: The Political Revolution We Need in the USA.” Last week, our elected officials in Washington passed legislation and signed into law new rules which roll back the historic Dodd-Frank legislation which was passed in 2010 as a response to the banker-induced financial crisis of 2007-08. We need enlightened elected officials in the United States who do not act as the pawns of corporate interests, and can maintain needed regulatory limits on financial institutions to keep greed in check.

Unfortunately, those needed elements of the political puzzle were not in place for Puerto Rico in the 1990s and 2000s, and combined with other factors to bring the island to third-world conditions in its power grid and infrastructure by the time Maria came knocking in 2017.

Colonial Heritage is Grim

Many citizens of the United States may not be comfortable with this reality, but Puerto Rico’s continuing status as a U.S. territory is a legacy of our own history as an empire and a colonizing nation. Like many of the American colonists of 1776, Puerto Ricans are citizens without representation in our national government. We should either bring Puerto Rico into the United States as a state with full rights, or cut it loose as an independent nation to go their way in the community of nations. The PBS Frontline special paints a grim picture of this future, where Puerto Rico is unlikely to receive the investment and financial assistance it would need to grow out of its financial and economic morass. As conditions around the island continue to be poor, even with restored power in most areas, there is an ongoing “brain drain” of talent from the island. Younger families are thinking about their own children and their prospects for the future. Those look MUCH brighter (literally and figuratively) on the mainland of the United States than on Puerto Rico. No one knows what this hurricane season will hold, but there will doubtless be more strong storms in the years ahead. By its mandate, FEMA was only able to restore capacity, officially not build capacity and infrastructure beyond that which existed pre-Hurricane Maria. The history here is grim, and so is the outlook for the future.

Bureaucratic Processes Can Be Stupid

We need regulations to keep greed in check, but we also need rules which don’t hamstring government officials into making stupid decisions. The Puerto Rican head of FEMA operations is interviewed in this Frontline special, and explains why two different companies were awarded $25 million and $30 million federal contracts to provide tarps to the island, but neither had any track record or experience in providing these types of products or services to others in the past. Incredibly, a third company finally got tarps from China to Puerto Rico, even though that evidently violates U.S. import laws, whose previous product specialization was hookah tobacco. The FEMA administrator’s defense of this ridiculous series of bureaucratic blunders was, “we followed all our federal acquisitions policies.” Obviously in this case, some exceptions of the rules were called for.

Good Leadership Essential

It seems pretty clear, viewing this Frontline special, that the lead FEMA administrator in Puerto Rico wasn’t and isn’t “the sharpest tool in the shed.” Out of desperation and apparently not having other options, the US government eventually tasked the US Army’s Corps of Engineers with the mission of restoring the power grid in Puerto Rico. They did this over the course of 7 months with the help of contractors which (yes, I know it’s amazing) did have some experience with electricity contracts, but not specifically with restoring power grids.

As is the case in every organization and with every challenge, good leadership is essential. It’s crazy to learn from this PBS Frontline documentary how much faster the emergency response for things like tarps to cover homes were in places like the Philipines following Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, than they were in Puerto Rico in 2017. It does seem that FEMA was much better in responding to hurricane damage in the Houston area last fall, than they were during Katrina in 2005. Some lessons have been learned and applied, but there is so much more to do when it comes to increasing the efficiency and rationality of our government agencies.

I highly recommend all PBS Frontline specials, including this one on “Blackout in Puerto Rico.” I always feel like I am a better educated citizen when I watch a Frontline special and discuss it with others. Climate change is a reality, and we’re going to keep seeing severe weather in the Caribbean and in other parts of our amazing planet. I am very thankful to the journalists at PBS Frontline and for the funders which make their journalism possible. I hope we can continue to apply lessons learned to the inadequate disaster response in Puerto Rico following Maria not only in improving government services on the island, but elsewhere as well.

The work of our first responders, disaster relief agencies, and government representatives as well as contractors is so important in times of need. Let’s continue to educate our students and our fellow citizens about these historical events, as well as the importance of efficient and humane responses to them so we can do better in the future.

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Did you know Wes has published several eBooks and “eBook singles?” 1 of them is available free! Check them out! Also visit Wes’ subscription-based tutorial VIDEO library supporting technology integrating teachers worldwide!

MORE WAYS TO LEARN WITH WES: Do you use a smartphone or tablet? Subscribe to Wes’ free magazine “iReading” on Flipboard! Follow Dr. Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also “like” Wes’ Facebook page for “Speed of Creativity Learning“. Don’t miss Wesley’s latest technology integration project, “Show With Media: What Do You Want to CREATE Today?

Podcast461: Instructional Coaching, Middle School French Class and Explain Everything for iPad

Welcome to episode 461 of Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer, from March 18, 2018. This podcast features an introductory overview about instructional coaching and technology integration coaching specifically, drawing on the author’s experiences in this role with teachers since the late 1990s. In addition to defining instructional coaching, keys to successful instructional coaching experiences for mentor teachers as well as coaches are highlighted, as well as “lessons learned.”  The second part of the podcast features an interview with middle school French teacher Blake Pardue, who has been connecting his students to “pen pal” classrooms of French speaking students in Europe and in Africa for several years. The past two years, Blake’s students have used the iPad app “Explain Everything” to create media-rich introductions of themselves and practice their French skills with their pen pals. This interview was a reflection with Blake Pardue and Wes Fryer about this year’s iteration of the Explain Everything project, which utilized the new “cloud based” and collaborative version. They discuss project procedures and lessons learned. Refer to the podcast shownotes for links to referenced apps and resources from the show.

Shownotes:

  1. Subscribe to Moving at the Speed of Creativity Podcasts
  2. Follow Wes Fryer on Twitter: @wfryer
  3. Learning Showcase of Yukon Public Schools (Oklahoma)
  4. Learning Showcase of Casady School (Oklahoma)
  5. Show with Media: What Do You Want to CREATE Today?
  6. CNAME Change for Blogger websites on GSuite Domain
  7. Folio Collaborative (platform for faculty goal setting, mentorship and growth)
  8. Explain Everything (@explainevrythng)
  9. Seesaw (@seesaw)
  10. This podcast was normalized before publication on Amazon S3 with Auphonic

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, consider subscribing to Wes’ free, weekly newsletter. Generally Wes shares a new edition on Monday mornings, and it includes a TIP, a TOOL, a TEXT (article to read) and a TUTORIAL video. You can also check out past editions of Wes’ newsletter online free!


Did you know Wes has published several eBooks and “eBook singles?” 1 of them is available free! Check them out! Also visit Wes’ subscription-based tutorial VIDEO library supporting technology integrating teachers worldwide!

MORE WAYS TO LEARN WITH WES: Do you use a smartphone or tablet? Subscribe to Wes’ free magazine “iReading” on Flipboard! Follow Dr. Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also “like” Wes’ Facebook page for “Speed of Creativity Learning“. Don’t miss Wesley’s latest technology integration project, “Show With Media: What Do You Want to CREATE Today?

Excellent Videos on Hawaii Volcanos to Share with Students

I love YouTube and specifically having YouTube on our family AppleTV. Last night I discovered a series of excellent videos on YouTube about the recent spike in volcanic activity in Hawaii on the Big Island on YouTube, and I’ll share three of the best ones. Since Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park closed on Friday (May 11, 2018) “in Anticipation of Possible Explosive Steam Event at K?lauea Summit,” this is a current event many of your students are likely to know about and be interested in.

This 2 minute video from USA Today (@usatoday) on May 10, 2018 (“Creeping lava, toxic gas: Why Hawaii volcano is a unique disaster”) not only has dramatic footage from the new fissures which opened on from the K?lauea Volcano last week, but also some excellent graphics helping viewers visualize the geothermal forces at work.

The 57 second video from the US Geologic Survey (@usgs“Repeated overflows onto the Halema‘uma‘u crater floor” from April 27, 2018, is dramatic, especially when you consider how rare it’s been in the past three decades to see lava almost completely fill the entire K?lauea summit crater. USGS is posting frequent updates from the Kilauea summit observatory as well, and these are good to share even more current volcano activity videos with your students. They are mostly “talking head” volcanologist videos, and don’t include dramatic lava footage or detailed visualizations, but are short and still excellent to share. These are posted to the USGS YouTube channel.

The 10 minute video “Crazy Lava Flows Captured in Hawaii” from May 9, 2018, has 2.1 million views as of this writing, and includes footage which had to be very dangerous to capture. It’s “citizen journalist” footage, and can provide a segue with your students to not only discuss and marvel at the power of the earth’s geothermal core, but also the practical safety hazards of capturing and posting video footage to social media during a natural disaster.

The 10 minute video from May 10, 2018, “USGS/Possible Geo-Thermal Explosion/Hawaii,” showcases some dramatic earthquake visualization data from USGS from the week preceding the recording as well as the previous day. I’m not sure the exact tool the video creator was using, I think it’s more than USGS earthquake data in Google Earth. If you know please share a comment below or reach out on Twitter to @wfryer.

Two final videos I recommend are a little older but provide excellent historical as well as scientific background on K?lauea and what makes Hawaii volcanos so unique in the world. The 24 minute USGS video from October 2017, “K?lauea Summit Eruption | Lava Returns to Halema?uma?u,” is outstanding and provides both excellent scientific commentary as well as dramatic footage. I especially enjoyed learning about “Pele’s Hair,” which is a volcanic phenomenon I hadn’t heard of previously.

Finally,Dianna Cowern’s (@thephysicsgirl) video from March 2017, “Why Hawaii’s volcano is so UNUSUAL,” is terrific from the standpoints of scientific information, history, and also videography techniques. I love it and your students will too!

I have added these videos to my STEM Curiosity Links page. Although I’m not currently teaching a STEM class, sharing short videos like these (or portions of these videos using a tool like SafeYouTube) are one of my favorite ways to start class. It’s awesome to encourage student curiosity about our natural world, activate interest in current events, and provide them with safe links and places to go online to learn more.

If you use any of these links with your own students, please let me know!

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, consider subscribing to Wes’ free, weekly newsletter. Generally Wes shares a new edition on Monday mornings, and it includes a TIP, a TOOL, a TEXT (article to read) and a TUTORIAL video. You can also check out past editions of Wes’ newsletter online free!


Did you know Wes has published several eBooks and “eBook singles?” 1 of them is available free! Check them out! Also visit Wes’ subscription-based tutorial VIDEO library supporting technology integrating teachers worldwide!

MORE WAYS TO LEARN WITH WES: Do you use a smartphone or tablet? Subscribe to Wes’ free magazine “iReading” on Flipboard! Follow Dr. Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also “like” Wes’ Facebook page for “Speed of Creativity Learning“. Don’t miss Wesley’s latest technology integration project, “Show With Media: What Do You Want to CREATE Today?