El Nuevo Dia (February 4, 2017) made a big deal about the bonanza lawyers will have with passage of a proposed change in matrimonial law to permit uncontested divorces in a lawyer’s office (notaries, as they call them here). This is thought to be rational because close to half of Puerto Rican divorces are uncontested and take up too much court time that can be better used for the more acrimonious and painful contested divorces involving child welfare and property issues. On the surface it seems fair enough – but the article points out that some of those uncontested divorces are among couples with children and their welfare should be a state interest also. What the article does not point out is that Puerto Rico is overrun with lawyers that can’t find work. And looking at the marriage and divorce numbers in broader context, there is something amiss that is far more telling than making it easier to get divorced. The bottom line reality is in Census Bureau data revealing that:
• rates of marriage (per 1,000 population) have declined (22%) more sharply than divorces (7%) between 2006 and 2013.
• rates of mutual consent divorces have sharply declined since 2008 (22%) with the decline in total divorces since 2006 (7%).
• the island population has been sinking, down by 8% between 2006 and 2013, and
• the fertility rate (per 1,000 women age 15 to 50) went down 35% between 2005 and 2015; with the majority of all births being among couples that have not made a marriage commitment.
Commitment. That’s where the essence of Puerto Rico’s challenge of love and marriage comes into play for the health of economy, quality of life, and the happiness quotient. No sane adult thinks about marriage or children in an island with a sick economy. It’s not about the choice of marriage but the choice of commitment that goes beyond the personal, it’s about how Puerto Ricans will view their strength of community and solidarity. So, the love and marriage crisis we may be facing is not in our personal lives alone but the unity of purpose and resolve to fix the mess we (the voting majority) allowed politicians to make for the past six decades. That’s the civic courage I hope for among the young people I count on to hit the streets and fight like hell in defense of decency and against greed.

trumpThe Puerto Rican Status question is showing signs of being enmeshed in the immigration political rhetoric that dominates much of the national semiotics defining ‘foreignness’ and the venomous side of Trump’s America First ideology.  It does not help that Puerto Ricans are on the losing edge of electoral outcomes and the winners being mindful that most Puerto Ricans, along with Hispanics in general, have an unfavorable view of President Trump.  And while Trump has been low in the polls he will, in the foreseeable future, dominate all the legislative and judicial power centers (including Constitutional destiny) of the country.   There is added irony in the fact that, while the republican and statehood-leaning Partido Nuevo Progresista (PNP) now also controls the entire apparatus of Puerto Rico’s government, during Trump’s presidency Puerto Rican hopes for statehood are highly implausible.  President Trump’s America First world view has introduced a new nativist national politics peddled as populism.   It is disorienting and more than menacing for democrats, progressives, and all the other political players on the losing side of the 2016 elections.   Jonah Goldberg, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and senior editor of National Review, wrote that “Trump’s version of ‘America first’ isn’t his desire to do what is in America’s best interests — who could oppose that? It’s how he defines America’s best interest — and its best self. With his blind eye to the past, he’s stumbled into old-fashioned nationalism.”   So, where does that put the little colony of Puerto Rico with a population that is increasingly bailing to the imperial mainland?

Trump has been viewed as the deal maker raised to think of people as winners and losers, with a megalomaniacal approach to problem solving that is laced with family self-dealing, a new-wave political huckster disguised with a Paul Revere tricorn patriot hat.  Those qualities, combined with an arguably popular view of Puerto Rico as a foreign country, doom any prospect of statehood for Puerto Rico and, should it continue to receive congressional attention, an intensification to shape the island as America’s consenting and obedient orphan pleading for more autonomy.  The evidence for this is in Goldberg’s warning about how President Trump will define America’s interests, already foretold in the inaugural message and campaign promises on which he has begun to act, starting with the Mexican wall, an overhaul of immigration policy that may spill onto Puerto Rican citizenship rights, America First corporate taxation policy that will discourage U.S. corporate presence in Puerto Rico, reconstruction of social policy and safety-net guarantees at the state and local level, imposition of new tariff rules that will increase the cost of Puerto Rican imports, and unbridled support for the Puerto Rico Fiscal Control Board that will protect bondholders at the expense of the health, education, public employment, and essential government services (police, emergency response, electricity, water, environment, sanitation, etc.).    This is unfolding amidst the willful state of denial among most Puerto Ricans under the illusion that statehood can somehow provide a way out of the economic and political abyss more than 60 years in the making, when Puerto Rico’s dominant political party, Estado Libre Asociado, began and morphed into a Potemkin village ideal euphemistically called the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a bankrupted colony.

Our only hope is a new political resistance, grass-roots tenacity, and support of a popular democracy and economy moving away from the archaic and sterile partisan politics that created the island’s debacle.  But that will have to wait for the shock-doctrine timetable to kick in, perhaps in 2017 as the island’s social and economic pain begins to be felt by those feeling secure today and unable to take flight.

Why Puerto Rico Needs Drug Decriminalization

Throw Out the Clowns

Best that money can buy

Best that money can buy

Puerto Rico: The U.S. Colonial DilemmaPuerto Rico_The U.S. Colonial Dilemma – Dect 2013

Applying for job hundreds are competing forThe Crime of No Work in Puerto Rico – 2

IMG_0260Watching Pier Pasolini’s 1965 film, The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, I was challenged to read again about the historical Jesus and the power behind the mythology of the crucifixion.   Throughout my adult years, I have been achingly fascinated with the death of Jesus of Nazareth, with my own imaginings of the man, the prophet, and the son of God that he is believed to be.  It is powerful mythology, not because more than a billion believers embrace it as unquestionable truth, but for the two millennia of ingrained, in some historical periods brutally forced, intergenerational rituals of faith from which the Catholic Church derives its now discredited power as an institution.   The 21st Century Christian challenge is to separate the meaning of Jesus from the institutional framework, the church, created in his name and committing atrocities through his putative paternity.   All Christian churches, Catholic and Protestant, have the same problem of a failing orthodoxy losing ground in a secular world, racing desperately to salvage some kind of institutional legitimacy.  The contradictions the Christian church presents are many, but the power of the Jesus mythology will continue to give them smooth sailing in a sea of drowning believers that cannot find Jesus, the Jew, where his origins are, outside the church.  Pasolini’s film reminded me to look for Jesus outside the church; following the commandments of the living Christ within, embracing his teachings with my daily acts of charity and kindness, mercy and love, justice and grace, patience, forgiveness, and redemption.  It’s not a new idea or novel revelation since many groups of faith around the country have their ‘church without walls.’

Yet, it is perhaps impossible for Catholics and other Christians to accept the premise that the Catholic Church was not the way Jesus of Nazareth wanted to propagate the messianic message of repentance and salvation – salvation of the living world.  Indeed, the often-cited references legitimizing The Great Commission (Jesus mandating his disciples to establish the Catholic Church) in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the Book of Acts are questioned by scholars, such as Dr. John Dominic Crossan (The Historical Jesus), who argues that Jesus did not commission apostles during his life time, and Eduard Riggenbach (in Der Trinitarische Taufbefehl) with J.H. Odham (in The Missionary Motive) who point out that the very idea of the Great Commission surfaced after 1650, more than a millennia and a half after the life of Jesus.  The writings of the disciples and apostles marketing Jesus as the creator of the church and selling believers on the idea that it is the embodiment of Jesus is symbolic language made up to establish an institutional power base using the mythology of Jesus of Nazareth.  And power held for over 2,000 years is pretty difficult to challenge.  All of the quotes upon which The Great Commission find justification were purportedly spoken by Jesus (after his resurrection) and none makes reference to the establishment of a church, particularly the most familiar found in Matthew 28:16-20:

(16) Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. (17) And when they saw him, they worshiped him: but some doubted. (18) And Jesus came and spoke unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. (19) Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: (20) Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen

The quote makes a good case to start a school, but hardly what became the imperial power of a Roman Catholic Church.

If there is any merit to the Protestant Reformation assault on the Catholic Church, it had to have been challenging the belief that Jesus is beyond our reach from within.   Human kind does not need a church to embrace Jesus and The Father.  We can live in communion without a church, turning away from those who claim spiritual and doctrinal infallibility, and church leaders who dare not proselytize that salvation is found in living acts of human kindness not a mythical hereafter.  In saying these things I do not mean to disparage the Christian church-goers for whom every inch of their place of worship is sacred ground and the body of Christ.   They will have to find their own way out of the abyss encased within the walls of a beautiful building enshrined with imputed sacredness.  My church is within the agonized walls of conscience that struggles with the demons reigning over inhumanity; growing in and being faithful to my understanding of the commandments, not the men and institutions that tell us what they mean.  So I say “Satan get thee behind me” to all those in Sunday worship ready to judge others with betraying words of tolerance and mercy, doing at home what they say they will not do while in prayer, and seeking forgiveness for sins of the body while ignoring transgressions of the soul.   Those people have yet, like me, a long way to go before finding the Jesus within.