I had the good fortune to attend a conference in San Juan for half of last week; "fortunate" in the sense that it was 86 degrees when I got on the plane Sunday morning and 7 – 7 goddamn degrees – when I got off in Chicago. Beyond that I got to visit America's politically ambiguous colonial non-state possession for the first time. Although I didn't see the entire island or get to stay for very long, the short visit did motivate me to do something Americans tend never to do: pay a little bit of attention to Puerto Rico.

About the extent of my knowledge of Puerto Rican politics and internal affairs, as is the case with most Americans, is that they are all screwed up. The island's government is deeply in debt, its population is aging and unproductive because the young people leave to the mainland US for higher wages, and Congress has no intention of altering the relationship between PR and the rest of the country because of course every aspect of that relationship has been defined in a way that benefits us. That's how colonialism works.

Puerto Ricans have some interest in statehood, which is a non-starter with a Republican Congress. Their objection, as with D.C. statehood, is the inevitable addition of two more Democrats to the Senate should PR become a state. Ironically, in the 1990s it was the Republicans who were all for PR statehood. They pretended that it was some sort of principled stand but most people saw it as a transparent effort to curry favor with Hispanics. Believe it or not, it was even more cynical than that; they wanted to make PR a state so that the government would no longer be obligated to pay the island for the use of various military facilities on it like the test bombing range on Vieques. It was a classy move, although obviously it went nowhere.

That was about all I knew. Well, there was one more thing: over the past year I kept reading that there was a lot of controversy on the island over the issue of cabotage. This information created two problems for me. First, every time I see it I replace "Sabotage" with cabotage and get the song stuck in my head. Second, I have no goddamn idea what cabotage is. It seemed worth a half hour on the way to the airport to read a little.

Cabotage is, "the transport of goods or passengers between two places in the same country by a transport operator from another country." It is forbidden in the United States by the Jones Act, which is nearing its 100th birthday. For example, that a Panamanian ship cannot stop in New Orleans and then stop in San Juan. Only an American owned, registered, and crewed ship can transport things from cities like Houston or New Orleans to the island. This is important because PR has to import nearly everything (for reasons that are controversial, but for which the island itself deserves at least some blame). In short, the highly consolidated US shipping industry has Puerto Rico over a barrel. As you might expect they take every opportunity to ream them.

The real tragedy is that mismanagement – both self-mismanagement and ineffective governance by colonial powers like Spain and the U.S. – has created a dependence on imports that isn't strictly necessary. The island is well suited to agriculture but grows almost none of its own food. It has some of the best conditions for a renewable commercial timber industry but instead imports wood from the U.S. and Canada. Compared to much of the Caribbean, it is underdeveloped for tourism and undercut on price by similar destinations in the region. It's a sad state of affairs and one that is not rare around the world: a place with a lot of potential that it will never realize for political reasons.

It will be an ancillary issue at best but during this election it wouldn't be surprising to see the candidates pressed on bailing out the Puerto Rican government as it comes closer to defaulting on its $70 billion in debt. I'm no economist but at a debt-to-GDP ratio of more than 68%, promising alternatives to a Congressional bailout are neither numerous nor apparent.


Nothing makes clearer the complete intellectual bankruptcy of the NRA and its acolytes quite like the reaction earlier this week to Obama's beyond-milquetoast executive order about background checks at gun shows and for internet gun sales. As far as "gun control" goes, that is just about the least you could possibly do and still qualify. That makes it about one tenth of one percent more difficult to buy a gun. I am going to be accused of hyperbole here so click the link if you don't believe me: everybody supports this. 85% of Republicans support it. In public opinion terms, when one in ten people will support or oppose literally anything you can put on a survey because of measurement error, not reading the question, or just trying to be cute/funny, 89% of Americans supporting something is the functional if not statistical equivalent of "everybody." The reason it enjoys universal appeal is that it is basic common sense, it is merely an extension of an existing law, and it is such a diminutive baby step that even the most lunatic gun nuts would have a hard time calling it "gun control" with a straight face. If anything, the fact that this is the extent of the regulation our political process can successfully enact against the firearm industry shows how completely pro-2nd Amendment forces have won this debate. This guy had to fight and eventually circumvent Congress to do something that literally no person, gun owners included, in their right mind opposes or considers onerous. It's like he passed an executive order saying people have to be 21 to buy alcohol in a bar as well as in stores. This is the biggest non-event in the history of government regulation.

So leave it to Ted Cruz, an hour after the announcement, to claim that Obama is in tactical gear and arriving at your home shortly to take your guns. The same Obama who has been in the process of coming to take your guns – It's gonna happen any second now, be prepared! Better stock up! – for seven full years now. Because he issued an order that an existing law governing in-store gun sales should also apply to internet sales.

The reality, as we've said so many times that it makes me feel weary even to think about typing it out again, is that the NRA is the marketing arm of the gun industry, not a legitimate "interest group." Their job is to drum up fear so that people will run out and buy more guns. They represent gun manufacturers, not gun owners. That they represent the latter is an illusion. The only rhetorical tool they have in light of the overwhelming meagerness of the amount of regulating the government does to firearms – in reality, not in the fever dreams of the Bundy Militia – is the constant recourse to the slippery slope. Oh sure, this might not be much but it's the first step in a chain of events that ends with Bill Clinton and the ACLU and Liberal Professors and Feminists and Welfare Queens kicking down your door and pulling your guns out of your hands. These weak, nearly futile efforts at regulating gun sales are always, in right wing rhetoric, the tip of an iceberg nobody can see and that we never seem to hit.

Actually, this isn't their only rhetorical tactic. There's also lying. They use that one a lot.


We have to be careful. We can't risk upsetting them. That will radicalize them and create more problems in the future.

That's a strategy that our government applies with great consistency and success in exactly one situation: when armed white people are angry and waving guns around. College students blocking a street? Break out the pepper spray and start cracking skulls. People protesting the fact that the police keep killing them? Same. Black guy holding a gun? Shoot first, ask no questions later. Muslims…existing? Put them under 24-hour surveillance. Security threats anywhere in the world? Bomb the living hell out of them, then wonder why we can't win the Hearts and Minds.

You see this kind of thinking on display everywhere, and it underscores how much we consider this to be the right of anyone white, waving a flag, and in a cowboy hat. Don't fill the place with tear gas and send in a hundred SWAT team members to shoot anyone who even looks like they might be thinking about touching a gun five or ten times. That might upset them. "We don't want another Waco!" Really? Why not? If law enforcement is going to be indiscriminately and excessively violent in this country it should be so for everyone.

CNN published this op-ed, which may be the most CNN thing of all time, with a bold intro about how These People Are Terrorists! before explaining that we absolutely can't use the least bit of force to arrest these people. I stopped counting after three Waco references. It's a good example of how deeply ingrained this mindset is. The state doesn't have to, nor does it ever, worry about angering black people. If anything radicalizes them to violence, we'll just respond with even more force. But hillbilly white people…that calls for indefinite tiptoeing. We wouldn't want to make any martyrs! Unless they're black, in which case there's no need to worry. We'll just rationalize how it's their fault they died.

If these people weren't white they'd probably all be dead or incarcerated already, or else they'd have half the National Guard and the entirety of the state police force waiting to bring about that outcome. If the government is worried about creating more of these people, maybe they should stop letting them act as they want with no consequences. That doesn't work with dogs and toddlers; it won't work here.



I make an effort to limit this kind of request or reminder, because nobody wants to read a hundred pleas per year for the kinds of things a dude with a website is supposed to request. I appreciate your patience with the following paragraphs. I don't maintain this site for financial reward, and I hate creating the impression that you're expected to pay for the privilege. You certainly are not. Not even a little. But if you happen to feel the urge to be generous, here are some options.

1. If you haven't already, follow G&T on the ol' Facebox. There's more to it than a bunch of links to posts. It's a little heavier on humor and lighter on politics compared to this site. And I'm supposed to, like, try to boost traffic and build a base of readers and all that shit. So do it.

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2. Speaking of, even though traffic has increased consistently over the years the site remains and will remain free of advertisements. If you have to ask why, you must be new. In lieu of advertisements you have to put up with the following few paragraphs once per year.

You can do nothing and continue to enjoy the site for free. This is called "free riding", and it's an entirely rational behavior. I have done (for eleven years!!) and will continue to do this every day whether I make a million bucks, nothing at all, or I have to pay out of pocket for the privilege.

You can use this tip jar / donation link to contribute an amount of your choosing to defray the costs of this site. If you happen to be saddled with extra cash and feel like donating fifty bucks, I will be extremely grateful. However, if donating fifty cents is more in line with your current budget, my gratitude will be no less. If zero cents is your preferred option, that's A-OK too. Your tips and contributions are (obviously) voluntary but greatly appreciated. Either way I'm glad you're here and I appreciate you.

3. Ed finally got around to getting coffee mugs like everyone always requested. Customize your own here (Zazzle isn't shy about big discounts). There is also the not quite as popular but equally spectacular Gin and Tacos t-shirt with the lovable slogan, "Dopamine's Only Natural Predator", on the reverse. If you're so inclined, knock yourself out. I also have some bumper stickers available to your right on the "Buy Stuff" link.

For those of you who contributed money to the book project I proposed over the summer, I'll be updating everyone on that matter shortly. And trust me that this post felt as awkward to write as it must have been to read.