Decimated Puerto Rico – Corporate Cash Grab?

First off, yes. The title needs some clarification.

While recent events more than likely come to mind for most of us now, the reality is that Puerto Rico has been in dire straights for decades. The nation-state equivalent of an indentured slave with a cruel owner. To take the analogy to the present, the nation-state equivalent of a poverty-stricken and indebted inner-city resident that has had to downgrade and sell so much just to get by that there is literally NOTHING LEFT to part with. And then came the divorce.

Fine, maybe a bit distasteful. But being the sexist habit of associating predatory women with dramatic weather phenomena, and having a storm named Maria involved . . . I couldn’t help myself.

Either way, despite being a US holding with residents that are technically American citizens, their treatment at the hand of the homeland is FAR from that enjoyed by any of the 50 more well-known states. Along with apathy, the nation was also allowed to become a sort of playground for corporations to do what they do best. Slap down roots and demand the world, while giving very little in return for these favors of the commons.

Either way, without the help of the homeland or its corporate parasites making use of the island for all it can give (and then some, because fuck you Puerto Rico!), the Island’s government in its desperation, had to get creative (albeit short-sighted) in its dealing. Enter Wall street and the addictively convenient financial instrument that is the bond.
Now, because of the widespread use of this instrument, not only is the fate of Puerto Rico at stake. Also at stake, are many, MANY investors of all kinds. Some of which may not even know that they have a stake in it.
People like me, with pension plans embedded in bonds and other financial instruments that are managed at arm’s length. And for those that DO want to gain some nuance as to where your stakes may lie . . . good luck.

As is his style, John Oliver puts it nicely in this segment.

When watching the clip for the first time not too long ago, I was surprised to see it dated April of 2016. Imagine that bitter pill. Decades of pillage and indentured servitude, plus hurricane, plus the Jones act, multiplied by orange snowflake more triggered by a female authority than death and destruction, equals they are screwed. Short of the guts of the US governing system doing one of the least psychopathic things in the history of the nation . . . Its hard to see any silver lining.

Either way, while the hurricane has put the island back on the map, if only briefly (I once tweeted San Juan is the new Allepo), few knew of the disaster that unfolded long before the storm. Something that is important for a couple of reasons:

1.) Problems we are ignorant to are not problems we can even HOPE to begin to fix

2.) Past actions tend to dictate future actions, even if we don’t always like (want?) to admit it

Which is where the next part of this post comes in. Companies and corporations donating goods and manpower towards the cause of rebuilding the Island. The two most notable that I have seen so far being Tesla and Google (with help from AT&T).

By now, most of us have likely heard about the Whitefish Energy fiasco. Corruption right out in the open, essentially. Or so it seems.

That is not all that is happening on the ground in Peurto Rico in terms of the energy infrastructure, however.

Enter Tesla, and Elon Musk.

I do have some issues with the man (as previously written about) that should be gotten out of the way right off the bat.

In terms of AI, he seems more prone to fear mongering than much else. I am not much of a fan of the Hyperloop, as the whole concept seems WAY more complicated and impractical in terms of the real world than even just focusing on more fuel efficient (or ideally, electric!) airliners.
And I am almost certain that Mars (and other Alein worlds) are NOT the answer to our future earthly inferno. The ultimate manifestation of our arrogant throwaway culture.

Such solutions are but the product of the scientificly engrained YET AGAIN persuing easy results without adequate contemplation. Otherwise known as, how we ended up here in the first place!
If science reunited with philosophy centuries ago, would nuclear weapons still be a thing?

Either way, a bit off topic. Having said all that, I do not dismiss ALL of Elon Musks work. Tesla is great in terms of electric vehicles and further advancing battery storage technology. Technology that the company is now donating to Peurto Rico in order to help the island build more microgrids.

And yet, with all the sad and depressing things that have been happening with Puerto Rico’s recovery, there is still a happy story—it just doesn’t come from Donald Trump and company. Elon Musk and his company Tesla got a massive number of solar panels and batteries down to Puerto Rico and used them to get the power back on at San Juan’s Children’s Hospital, which serves thousands of Puerto Rican children and had been without power despite having critically ill patients.

The coup de grace? He did it all for free, and made it clear on Instagram that this is just the first of many planned power projects in Puerto Rico. 

This is one single sample article, but most of them are toned more or less in the same way.

Next, Google.

Or more accurately, Alphabet, the parent company of Google. It seems that in 2015, Google restructured itself so as to make all of its subsidiaries (a mixture of both online an non-online related) more cohesive. Thus, Alphabet is the parent company, and X is the subsidiary in charge of the project.

In short, along with the power grid, a huge percentage of the communications infrastructure was also decimated. Everything from pole based fiber and copper, to cell towers. All of which takes time to repair and reboot back to service.

Where X comes in, is in essentially communication balloons. Functioning in much the same way as communication satellites, the balloons would substitute for cell towers, relaying LTE signals from mobile devices and back into the cell network VIA specially configured towers (where AT&T & others come in). Thereby bringing light connectivity to large swaths of the island with relative ease. Basically, people in these new balloon-based macro cells can text and do some light web browsing. Information can now flow in and out in real time.

Though this is the first I have ever heard of this solution being put into practice in the mainstream, I have heard of the concept in the past. And it has been used in past disaster zones to positive results. Part of the reason why it was so quickly deployed in PR (some of the kinks were ironed out).

Despite being locked in the past and held down by overbearing imperialists and unfathomable obligations, Tesla and X are giving the island a taste of the future. One hopes to rebuild the power grid into more resilient microgrids. And one is untethering major communications infrastructure from the land and putting it somewhere far more logical. The air is not just beyond land availability and NIMBY limitations, but also beyond most topographical limitations. While urban canyons and mountainous terrain are hard to cover by land, by air is another matter.

Peurto Rico has become the perfect location and candidate for real-world experimentation, testing, and demonstration of a lot of this new technology. For the Peurto Rican people, it should indeed be a net positive, being that they will presumably get a cleaner and more resilient power grid out of it.

However, I still have to look with raised eyebrows.

X’s balloon operation is temporary (presumably it will be unnecessary when most of the land-based macrocells are back online). A temporary demonstration for both research purposes and publicity. However, the power grid is not going anywhere.

My concern is ensuring this is not just business as usual for Peurto Rico, just with a different set of actors. I will not dispute the value of data collected from real-world deployments of technology. I just worry that other strings may be attached. As seems to be the common status quo when it comes to corporate influence on the island.

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