Saturday, July 28, 2012

Puerto Rico Statesman and Puerto Rico Report Review: 7/17/12 - 7/28/12

Puerto Rico Statesman and Puerto Rico Report Review: 7/17/12 - 7/28/12

via Puerto Rico Report by hadeninteractive on 7/17/12
Although Puerto Ricans can’t vote in presidential elections as long as they reside in Puerto Rico, they can vote when they move to the mainland, as millions do. After all, Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.
However, Pennsylvania newspaper has reported that the recent spate of voter ID laws may prevent many Puerto Ricans from voting in any election in the states in which they live.
In the past few years, numerous states have passed new laws requiring people to show photo IDs when voting. For the majority of Americans, this is no problem; in fact, if you live in one of those states, you might not even have noticed. Most of us have driver’s licenses and we’re accustomed to showing them when we’re asked, whether because we’re heading into a nightclub or boarding a plane, perhaps even to enter the buildings where we work or to pick up our kids at school.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, however, as many as 10% of people of voting age don’t have a driver’s license. Some groups show very different patterns: the same source claims that less than a quarter of African-American men between 18 and 24 years of age own a driver’s license, and that only two thirds of elderly voters in Georgia do. Add more requirements, as many states do, and the numbers climb. For example, states requiring a driver’s license which shows the voter’s current address can eliminate the great majority of the college students in their states.
Opponents of photo ID laws point out that these laws make it harder for the poor, the elderly, and other specific groups to vote. But Puerto Ricans face a special problem. In 2010, all Puerto Rican birth certificates issued before July 1, 2010 were invalidated. Everyone of voting age who was born in Puerto Rico and did not already have a passport or driver’s license on that day must get a new birth certificate to apply for a state ID card to use as a voter ID.
In Pennsylvania, the Advancement Project and other groups have brought suit to challenge the state’s new photo ID law, alleging that it will force many Latinos, and especially Puerto Ricans, to “walk a longer path to the voting booth this election year.” These groups make the case that because Pennsylvania requires a birth certificate to obtain a photo ID, Puerto Ricans will face a “double burden” under the new law – first getting a new birth certificate from Puerto Rico and then obtaining a photo ID. As election day nears, the Advancement Project argues that many Pueto Rican voters will have to overcome two barriers to the ballot.
The Puerto Rican vote in Pennsylvania is significant enough to influence a close election. According to recent U.S. census data, there are roughly 340,000 Puerto Ricans in the state, which is slightly more than half of the Hispanic population.
Supporters of the Pennsylvania law contend that it addresses voter fraud. Regardless of who is right, the discussion has touched a nerve. United States citizens who live in Puerto Rico have always been treated differently from other U.S. citizens when it comes to the right to vote. In light of the continued disparate treatment of two groups of U.S. citizens, even the threat of another barrier to the voting booth has shown that it has the power to raise concerns and historic sensitivities.

via Puerto Rico Report by hadeninteractive on 7/18/12
The Federal Reserve Bank’s recent report on the competitiveness of Puerto Rico’s economy included a recommendation to reduce barriers to job creation and labor force participation by improving incentives to work.
Download the full report.
Caribbean Business saw optimism in the bank’s analysis, reporting that “the New York Fed noted that on several measures Puerto Rico has features that make it a strong — and potentially a highly competitive—economy.”
The positive points made in the report include the increasing literacy and educational attainment of the Puerto Rican population, the fact that many of its resident are bilingual, its open economy, the central location of the island between the U.S. and Latin America, and its close ties to the U.S. mainland. These points have made Puerto Rico an important asset to the United States.
The report also contained some criticisms, especially on the subjects of unemployment and labor market opportunities. For example, the report raises the idea that reducing the minimum wage in Puerto Rico might be a good idea. It recommends as a possible first step to consider a young-worker subminimum wage that targets workers under the age of 25. At the same time, the report also suggests that TANF (public assistance), NAP (food stamps), and SSDI (disability benefits) may tempt Puerto Ricans not to work.
These critiques are interesting because Puerto Rico is generally treated less generously under social programs than any state in the United States. In fact, Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi discussed the need for parity for Puerto Rico in these programs in a recent speech. Listen to the speech. He has introduced legislation to create more equitable treatment for Puerto Ricans under TANF, NAP and SSI programs as well as portions of Medicare. He has also proposed legislation to include all U.S. territories in the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program.
“Puerto Rico is treated unfairly under Federal programs designed to help our nation’s most vulnerable residents,” said Pierluisi in his speech. “When you look at the status and the well-being of all the American citizens living in the territories, you realize that what they face is geographic discrimination.”
Read more on this issue:

via Puerto Rico Report by hadeninteractive on 7/19/12
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano visited San Juan on Friday, assuring the people of Puerto Rico that a strategy is in place to cope with increasing drug-related violence on the island. She said firmly that heightened security for U.S. border states was not affecting the level of support for the Caribbean.
According to a press release from the Department of Homeland Security, Napolitano met with Governor Luis Fortuño, Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi and Puerto Rico Police Department Superintendent Héctor Pesquera “to underscore the department’s commitment to collaborating with local law enforcement in the region.”
Over the weekend following the visit, 19 people were murdered in Puerto Rico, bringing this year’s total to a new high: 100 more murders than during the same period in 2011, a year that saw a record number of murders in Puerto Rico.
PPD leader Alejandro García Padilla has asked Governor Luis Fortuño to declare a state of emergency, according to InSight Crime. Fortuño, however, appears to be well aware of the problem. “Right now, Puerto Rico is serving on the front lines,” Fortuño said at last month’s hearing of the US Congress’ Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Management. “We need help fighting this battle along the Caribbean border, to protect the US citizens there being buffeted by violence and to precent the fight from spreading further onto the streets of the US mainland.”
Fortuño has repeatedly asked for Federal assistance with the continuing high crime rate in Puerto Rico.

via Puerto Rico Report by KG on 7/20/12
While Puerto Ricans can’t vote in presidential elections and don’t have U.S.Senators to represent them, they do have someone speaking for them – their Resident Commissioner in the U.S. House of Representatives. Isn’t that just as good? One or two votes rarely change the result of a vote in Congress, and any speaker can potentially influence many votes.
However you feel about the lack of voting representation for Puerto Rico, there’s another factor that minimizes the voice of Puerto Ricans in Washington. An analysis of the voting records of state Congressional delegations demonstrates that United States citizens residing in Puerto Rico do not enjoy the same range of representation shared by all other U.S. citizens living in the United States.
According to the 2010 Census, Puerto Rico has a population of slightly more than 3.7 million people. Despite its sizeable population, Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory limits it to only one, non-voting Resident Commissioner. In comparison, states with similar populations have several representatives and two senators representing their interests, all of whom can cast votes.
Oregon, for example, has a population of 3.8 million people and five Members of Congress who represent a broad spectrum of political ideologies. The National Journal scores Members based on their votes on key economic, social, and foreign-policy issues and then rates them along liberal and conservative scales. Based on their 2010 votes, Oregon’s representatives present a real contrast:
  • National Journal ranked Oregon’s Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D) at one end of the spectrum as the 43rd most liberal Member, scoring 0 out of 100 on the conservative voting scale for social issues.
  • Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) was the 296th most liberal member, with 71 out of 100 on the conservative voting scale for social issues.
Similarly, Iowa has a population of 3 million people and five Representatives with significantly different political views to represent them:
  • National Journal ranked Iowa’s Steve King (R) the 35th most conservative Member; on economic issues, Rep. King voted more conservatively than 81 percent of other Members.
  • Rep. Bruce Braley (D) was ranked as only the 353rd most conservative Member and voted more liberally than 88 percent of other Members on economic issues.
The divergent political ideologies of these state delegates showcase the wide variety of interests and viewpoints held by citizens within a single state. Given that Oregon and Iowa are both comparable in size to Puerto Rico, it is doubtful, at best, that Puerto Rico’s one – non-voting - Resident Commissioner is able to represent the interests of all Puerto Ricans alone as well as Members of Congress from Oregon and Iowa do as a team.

via Puerto Rico Report by KG on 7/23/12
At a recent hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance entitled, “Boosting Opportunities and Growth Through Tax Reform,” congressional testimony highlighted the effectiveness of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) in lifting children out of poverty. Studies have affirmed for years that the EITC and, to a lesser extent, the CTC encourage work, and findings are now coming out that these federal policies also improve school performance and boost children’s work hours and earnings into adulthood.
The EITC and CTC are refundable tax credits, meaning that they are not limited by the amount of an individual’s tax liability. This is important because roughly half of all Americans do not earn enough income to trigger the obligation to pay federal income taxes at all. Under the EITC and CTC, individuals can receive refund checks from the IRS even if they do not owe any federal income taxes.
The Child Tax Credit helps working families earning up to $150,000/year offset the cost of raising children by granting up to $1,000 credit on tax returns for each child under 17. The Earned Income Tax Credit assists working families and individuals offset federal tax liabilities on income up to $50,300 (depending on marital status and number of children).
Although residents of Puerto Rico are eligible for many types of federal financial assistance, they are ineligible for the EITC, and they qualify for the CTC only if they have three or more children. In the 50 states, all children under 17 are eligible, regardless of family size.
The recent Report on the Competitiveness of Puerto Rico’s Economy by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York suggests that Puerto Rico’s exclusion from these federal policies is a problem. The Report stated:
[Government assistant payments such as nutrition assistance, disability payments and welfare] provide a significant share of residents with sizable funds relative to average incomes. Significantly, these transfer payments are reduced as one earns wages, and thus may result in a particularly high implicit tax on earnings…Some of this implicit tax has been offset by Puerto Rico’s adoption in 2006 of the Worker’s Tax Credit[.] However, the maximum amount of credit is currently only $350 per year – a relatively modest sum even given Puerto Rico’s lower average earnings. The sum is much smaller, even in relative terms, than what is offered by the comparable Earned Income Tax Credit in the United States.
The 2011 Report by the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status included a formal recommendation to fully expand the Child Tax Credit in Puerto Rico. The Report further emphasized:
[T]he intersection between payroll taxes and social programs creates some disincentives to labor force participation. The Task Force believes that tax policy provides a vehicle for strengthening Puerto Rico’s workforce, as well as the well-being of Puerto Rican families with children.
Several Members of Congress have advocated extending the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit to Puerto Rico. In his statement announcing the introduction of his EITC bill, Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) explained:
With United States residents of Puerto Rico contributing so heavily to America, I firmly believe that the earned income tax credit should be extended to the Island. EITC is a proven tool and valuable resource in combating poverty and unemployment and boosting local economies. As long as U.S. residents of Puerto Rico serve honorably in our military, contribute to the tax base and make our country better, I see no reason to exclude them from this proven anti-poverty program.

via Puerto Rico Report by hadeninteractive on 7/24/12
On election day, the people of Puerto Rico will have no direct say in who becomes President of the United States. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. They serve in the U.S. military. But as a territory and not a state, Puerto Rico has no Electoral College votes, and its residents have no formal voice on election day.
Yet Puerto Rico has already impacted the presidential election, and the influence of the Puerto Rican vote within the 50 states is expected to be a factor in November.
First, Puerto Rico’s presidential primary helped Mitt Romney clinch the Republican nomination. Not only did Romney win the Puerto Rican primary, but his opponent, former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), lost broader Hispanic support when he told a Puerto Rican newspaper that before the Island territory becomes “a state of the United States, English must be the principal language.” Puerto Rican Resident Commissioner Pedro Peirluisi struck back, calling Santorum’s view “narrow and limiting,” and explaining that “English is the predominant language in the U.S. and will continue to be so, whether Puerto Rico becomes a state or not.”
In Puerto Rico, both English and Spanish are official languages. Hawaii also has two official languages: English and Hawaiian.
The second factor in Puerto Rico’s national influence is the Puerto Rican population on the mainland. There are now more Puerto Ricans in the 50 states than in Puerto Rico, and their presence affects political strategies, especially in Florida where Puerto Ricans now outnumber Cubans in the Orlando area.
This fact has not gone unnoticed in the national Republican and Democratic Parties, who regularly appeal to Puerto Rican officials from both the New Progressive Party/NPP (pro-statehood) and Popular Democratic Party/PDP (pro-Commonwealth) to help garner Puerto Rican support in the swing state. This strategy was in full view during the recent Florida primary when Gov. Fortuno, a NPP member who affiliates with the national Republican Party, endorsed Mitt Romney.
On the Democratic side, PDP gubernatorial candidate Alejandro García Padilla was in Florida last weekend campaigning for President Obama. Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, a member of the NPP Party, was an early Obama supporter in 2008 and has continued to be an advocate in support of the President – as well as Democratic candidates for Congress - in Florida, showing that members of opposing Puerto Rican political parties can and do sometimes come together in national politics.

via Puerto Rico Report by KG on 7/25/12
The big news today in partisan, gridlocked Washington is that Republican Congressman Don Young of Alaska has endorsed Democratic Representative Mazie Hirono of Hawaii in her bid for the United States Senate. Rep. Young has even taken the unusual step of filming an advertisement with Hirono to demonstrate his support.
This most recent Hawaiian-Alaskan alliance does not come as a surprise to followers of Puerto Rico. As representatives of the two most recent territories that became states, Members of Congress from Hawaii and Alaska have a long history of joining together – across party lines – in support for Puerto Rican efforts to similarly establish a permanent relationship with the rest of the United States.
In 1998, Rep. Young was the lead sponsor of Puerto Rican self determination legislation (H.R. 856). The Young bill called for a referendum in Puerto Rico with the options of independence, statehood or the current territorial status, and it provided guidance for a transition to a new status if chosen. The bill was carefully tailored to avoid the “commonwealth” option that has caused much confusion in past plebiscites, essentially rendering results of little value. The Young bill boasted Hawaii’s two Representatives– both Democrats – as original cosponsors.
The House approved the Young bill with bipartisan support, and the Senate then approved a comparable resolution. Among the bipartisan list of Senate sponsors were Sen. Frank Murkowski (R) of Alaska and Sen. Daniel Akaka (D) of Hawaii.
More recently, Rep. Young was an original cosponsor of Puerto Rican self determination legislation introduced by Puerto Rican Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi – a Democrat. They were joined on the bill by Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI).
Why such staunch support from Members from Alaska and Hawaii on Puerto Rican self determination? What is it about Puerto Rico’s status that can bring these Republicans and Democrats together? One possible answer could be a matter of philosophy – the importance of being consistent in our application of democracy throughout the U.S. As Rep. Young explained during consideration of the Pierluisi bill:
[M]y goal here is to really try to allow Puerto Rico to advance. And I do not believe you can advance as a commonwealth. I say that from my heart. Because we were not able to advance as a commonwealth. We were a territory….[M]y ultimate goal is to try to give the Puerto Rican people a choice.”
Another possible motivation behind bipartisan Alaskan and Hawaiian support for Puerto Rico self determination efforts may be economics. Before they achieved statehood, both territories had significant natural resources, but they were known for their troubled economic situations. Following admission to the union in 1959, Hawaii’s economy took off – quadrupling in size by 1989. In Alaska, personal income increased 80% by 1970, and the state became less dependent on the federal government. Today, both states boast unemployment rates and poverty levels below the national average.
Alaska and Hawaii have little in common aside from their admission as states in 1959, at which time they became full participants in American democracy and experienced measurable economic growth. It is not surprising that their Members of Congress have responded by working together – regardless of political party – to give Puerto Ricans the same opportunity.

via Puerto Rico Report by KG on 7/26/12
On July 18, 2012, Sgt. Jose J. Reyes, 24, of San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, sacrificed his life for his country in Afghanistan when a vehicle he was riding in was struck by an explosive device.
The untimely death of Sgt. Reyes recalls the long tradition of honor and sacrifice by thousands of Puerto Ricans who have fought with distinction on behalf of the United States to advance democracy abroad – all while not experiencing full democracy at home. As First Circuit Judge Juan Toruella explained in a 2005 court case:
We cannot overlook, and in fact we should take judicial notice of, the many official actions of the United States in promoting democratic elections throughout the world – not the least of which is its support for the recently held national elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, places where thousands of U.S. citizens from Puerto Rico serve, at least twenty-five of whom have lost their lives in support of the rights of the citizens of those countries to vote. The situations in Iraq and Afghanistan present the further anomaly of two classes of U.S. citizens, both fighting and dying side by side, only one of which was able to vote for its Commander in Chief.
It is difficult to quanify the number of Puerto Ricans who have lost their lives fighting to bring democracy to Iraq and Afghanastan. In light of their extensive migration to the states, many native Puerto Ricans do not enlist for service until they are residents of a state. Back home in Puerto Rico, among family members and support groups, the toll of casualties is estimated to be close to 90.
Puerto Rican soldiers have fought in every major U.S. military conflict during the past century. Their service began upon being granted U.S. citizenship by an act of Congress on March 2, 1917, making Puerto Ricans eligible to serve in World War I. Few chose to do so. Two months later, President Wilson signed a compulsory military service act, and almost 20,000 Puerto Ricans were eventually drafted into the military.
In testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in 1989, Jesus Hernandez Sanchez, counsel of the Puerto Rico Veterans Association, summarized Puerto Rican participation and sacrifice in service to the United States:
[Puerto Rico veterans] are very proud of their past performance; 18,000 Puerto Ricans served in the United States armed forces in the First World War; 65,000 the Second World War, out of which 23 died in action; 61,000 during the Korean War, out of which 371 died in action. More than 3,000 were wounded in Korea; 48,000 [fought] in the Vietnam War, out of which 342 died in action and 3,000 were wounded.
Four congressional medals have been bestowed upon our four brave Puerto Ricans, who in self sacrificing actions and with democratic devotion, have given their life backing up the American ideals of liberty and equality.
In sum, our legal position is that since 1917, Congress, as in the case of Alaska, had the intention of incorporating the territory of Puerto Rico to the United States when it granted to us the American citizenship.
  • For more information about the granting of U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans and related recruitment efforts for World War I click here.
  • For more information about the personal toll of Puerto Rican casualties in Iraq click here.
  • For commentary about the lack of democratic representation for Puerto Ricans despite their involvement in Iraq click here.

via Puerto Rico Report by hadeninteractive on 7/27/12
In 1899, Jose Celso Barbosa and a group of supporters founded Puerto Rico’s first political party dedicated to promoting statehood with the United States. At the time, he explained, “[w]e want and we ask for equality. Not colonial control or protection. We [support] the same ideal of the American union with equality in rights and in duties.”
Barbosa was born on July 27th, 1857, in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. He went to New York in 1875 to attended prep school, learning English in a year and then studying medicine at the University of Michigan, where he was valedictorian of his class in 1880.
At that time, Puerto Rico belonged to Spain, and the government wouldn’t recognize Barbosa’s U.S. medical credentials. Only with assistance from the American consulate was Barbosa able to establish a medical practice in his home town.
In 1898, the United States attacked San Juan, and Barbosa was decorated by the Spanish for his bravery and medical service. Yet Barbosa had for some years been arguing for greater autonomy from Spain and sought to end Puerto Rico’s colonial status. The governmental model of the United States appealed to him, and Barbosa saw the change in sovereignty as an opportunity for Puerto Rico to gain a useful level of self-government — as a state in the United States.
The following year, Barbosa began his quest for statehood for Puerto Rico. From 1900 to 1917, Barbosa served as a member of the Cabinet in Puerto Rico. During this time, he worked for U.S. citizenship for Puerto Ricans, succeeding in 1917. He served in the Puerto Rican Senate from 1917 until his death in 1921.
While Barbosa is celebrated — and his birthday is an official holiday — largely because of his political work, he was also an active medical practitioner and public servant. He taught at the Athenaeum and worked to create quality public education. He developed a plan whereby employers could invest in their workers’ health care which was much like the employee insurance plans of today, and he founded the first Credit Union in the Western Hemisphere. He launched the first bilingual newspaper in Puerto Rico, El Tiempo, and was a regular columnist for it. In his day, Barbosa was known as a humanitarian and a visionary.
Barbosa also faced and overcame racial prejudice both in Puerto Rico and on the mainland. He was rejected by Columbia University due to his ethnicity. Objections to his medical practice upon his return to Puerto Rico were motivated, it is said, not so much by his American degree as by his ethnic heritage, which included African and American as well as European strains. Barbosa’s work for equality became his primary political as well as professional motivation. He wrote, “Puerto Rico aspires to reach all the rights granted by U.S. Citizenship, in the same method, in the same manner, under the same form, and under the full integrity as the one enjoyed by the residents of any of the regions that are called States of the American Union. To that we aspire, that is what we want, that is what we shall have.” (As quoted by Governor Fortuno in the House of Representatives)
You can Like Dr. Barbosa on Facebook and wish him a happy birthday!

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