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Eyes on Puerto Rico
Sep 19, 2022
Episode 755

Eyes on Puerto Rico

From Maria to Fiona.

Almost five years after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico is reeling (again) after Hurricane Fiona flooded large parts of the island and left it in the dark. We’ll talk about the big mess behind Puerto Rico’s energy problems. Plus, John Kerry: People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. And, is a beer shortage on the horizon?

Here’s everything we talked about:

If you’ve got a question, comment or suggestion, let us know. We’re at makemesmart@marketplace.org or leave us a voice message at 508-U-B-SMART. 

Make Me Smart September 19, 2022 transcript


Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it.


Kimberly Adams: Well then, we should probably just get going.


Kai Ryssdal: Although I have to send an email now… Anyway. Do I start today? I don’t even have the thing. No, you start.


Kimberly Adams: I start, so I will give you a minute. I am Kimberly Adams and welcome back to Make Me Smart, where we make today make sense. And the person who’s getting his things together is Kai Ryssdal.


Kai Ryssdal: Getting my bleep bleep bleep bleep together. So I got calendar stuff. I got home stuff. Anyway. Hey, I’m Kai. Thanks for joining us on Monday. Let’s see. We’ll do some news. We’ll do a couple of make me miles. Mine is a little bit more eww than make me smile, but I thought it was interesting. And we will begin, as we said, with the news.


Kimberly Adams: Yes, I’ll go ahead and go first, because I’m just watching what’s going down in Puerto Rico. And man, it feels like they just, you know, started coming back from Maria. And now hurricane Fiona has done some major damage, severe flooding, landslides, and the whole island basically lost power. And that’s a big story in itself, the fact that despite everything we saw of the infrastructure problems and the lack of resources, and the sort of disconnect from the mainland, and the very slow distribution of resources after Hurricane Maria. Nevertheless, here we are getting, which drew my attention to the story. Bits and pieces of it are in lots of places, but I found a good wrap up in the mysanantonio.com. This Bloomberg story that talks about how even as the island is struggling to recover from this, they are in court – the power utility, Puerto Rico’s power utility and bondholders are in court, trying to figure out what to do with the utilities $9 billion debt restructuring plan, which they’ve been working on for years, and they still don’t have a deal. Because basically, the bondholders are saying, this company that runs Puerto Rico’s power grid, is deep in debt, it took out all these loans to keep things going, and they’re not charging their users enough to pay everybody back. And also, they want like sort of a bigger slice of the gross revenue, as opposed to sort of separate accounts that the utility says they should be paid from. And it’s a big mess. And I just can’t – like the level of mess-up-ness that is going on here is pretty epic, that the island is actively dealing with the aftermath of a hurricane, actively struggling to restore power. And folks are in court over what to do about the extreme debt, that the power utility is already in from not just the aftermath of Maria, but years of sort of struggles, and, you know, depending on who you listen to, mismanagement, malfeasance. And it’s it’s an interesting story, and Bloomberg does a pretty deep look at it. It’s worth reading.


Kai Ryssdal: Yeah, Bloomberg – well, Bloomberg does great work, especially their explanatory stuff. But the idea that this is happening again, is to me just staggering. I just, I cannot even believe it. I cannot even believe it.


Kimberly Adams: But I mean, what was really done to stop it from happening again?


Kai Ryssdal: Right. Right. Nothing, there was lots of lip service paid, there was a change in the governor’s office and, and, you know, but the short answer is nothing. Short answer is nothing. Anyway, so I’ve got two, one Israel, and one is just Shut Up John Kerry, and I will go with Shut up John Kerry first. So John Kerry, who is the US climate envoy. I’m just gonna read you the headlines of the Reuters article. US climate envoy John Kerry calls on African nations to help curb emissions. Shut up, John Kerry. African nations contribute something like low single digits percentage, like no joke, 2.5% to 3% of global carbon emissions. So shut up John Kerry. And I think we can all read between the lines on that one.


Kimberly Adams: So like glass houses, come on.


Kai Ryssdal: Well, exactly, right? I mean…


Kimberly Adams: Amongst many things.


Kai Ryssdal: Just shut up John Kerry. That’s, that’s all I have to say. So that’s item number one. Item number two, though, is an amazing story from Bloomberg, and it’s amazing because of the graphics. So let’s back up for a minute. Interest rates are going up when interest rates go up, mortgage rates go up. The 30-year fixed a week ago was 6.02%, which is the highest it’s been since 2008. And why does that matter? That matters because the monthly nut, your monthly payment is directly related to that interest rate. And when your monthly nut goes up, houses rapidly become unaffordable. And so Bloomberg did a lot of research on cities and places where that monthly nut has really spiked since rates have gone up, and the one that blew me away was San Jose, San Mateo and the peninsula of San Francisco, where the monthly average, the average monthly nut is $9,000. I’m gonna say that again. Nine thousand dollars. Yes. That’s what I mean. It’s crazy. Crazy, crazy, crazy. So we’ll put it on the show page. The headline of the pieces. Here’s how much a new monthly mortgage payment has surged in 10 US metros. when rates go up, as we’ve talked about, but prices don’t go down, as we have also talked about, right, the most recent case, Shiller, the national home price index survey, the reputable and the gold standard, was like 19% year-on-year, maybe 19.2%, I forget. This is what happens. That monthly nut, the monthly payment you have to make becomes literally unaffordable, well nigh astronomical.


Kimberly Adams: But at the same time, the people paying $9,400 a month for a mortgage in Silicon Valley are not the people who are worried about affordability.


Kai Ryssdal: No, absolutely. But but as a metaphor of what ails the American housing market. That’s a damn good example.


Kimberly Adams: Yeah. Sure.


Kai Ryssdal: If I may, just…


Kimberly Adams: … because you said that bad words.


Kai Ryssdal: Well, you know what, we’re all adults listening to this podcast, is there any kids? Maybe, maybe our kids, I don’t even know. Anyway. That’s what we got. Let us, let us smile.


Kimberly Adams: Why don’t you go first.


Kai Ryssdal: Okay, so here’s mine. It’s kind of gross, but it caught my eye, and it made me just sit back and kind of wonder a little bit. So there’s an article in the Washington Post today, pointing out that researchers and scientists have done some work. And they have come up with the number of 20,000 trillion, which is an amazing number. It’s unimaginable of ants on the planet Earth. Okay, here’s my favorite part. If all the ants were plucked from the ground and put on a scale, they would outweigh all the wild birds and mammals put together. For every person, there are about two and a half million ants. And the reason this caught my eye – it’s 20 quadrillion, by the way – the reason this caught my eye is that we’re having something of an ant compulsion in my house the past couple of days. So I’ve spent a lot of time like wiping hands off the kitchen counter, which – my house is very clean. I’m just saying, it just happens.


Kimberly Adams: It doesn’t matter. When ants decide that they are going to make a home in your house or your garden beds, as has been the bane of my existence for like the last three years. It doesn’t matter like what you do, and so.


Kai Ryssdal: Yes, they just come inside. Yes.


Kimberly Adams: I have so many ant traps, I ordered like all these ladybugs and praying mantis to try to eat the aphids that the ants were farming to try to deal with the ant problem. And then I remember, at the beginning of the season this year, I felt like I had it under control. And then I went upstairs one day, and like, there were all of this, this huge mass of ants just like coming out. And I just dumped – I don’t know how you say it, DiatomaceousEarth? It’s this material made of like ground up seashells or like old coral or something. But anyway, it’s the stuff you put on bugs and it like slices them up in a very violent way and makes them die. And I dumped a lot of it on them, I felt quite satisfied. It was, it was one of my darker moments, but I was quite angry. I made a video of it and sent it to my mother and she was like you have a problem. I was mad. Anyway. There are a lot of ants and ants aren’t your friends. But they’re very important for the ecosystem, and we should value all parts of creation. Yes, and all the things.


Kai Ryssdal: But not on my kitchen counter, thank you very much. That’s all I’m saying.


Kimberly Adams: No, no. All right. Well, speaking of the kitchen, I saw the story over the weekend and it immediately made me think of you and it’s not on its face a make me smile, but it, it has a potential smile at the end of it. So there is apparently a looming beer shortage according to Axios.


Kai Ryssdal: Hey, hold on. What?


Kimberly Adams: Click the link.


Kai Ryssdal: Hold the damn phone.


Kimberly Adams: So, oops. So, it’s because there’s like a shortage of CO2 as, not just in the air, but just the CO2 facilities that sort of get the carbon dioxide that you need to put into beer to make it bubbly, is having some problems. And so I’m reading this from Axios: a CO2 production hub in Jackson, Mississippi became contaminated by an extinct volcano, which cut down an already limited supply of the gas. So many things here. Okay. But the smile part is a kind of cool technology story that they highlight, which is that some breweries are actually doing okay, because they installed new technology that allows them to capture the CO2 that’s naturally produced in the brewing process, and, like put that CO2 back into the beer. So it’s like a closed cycle. So they don’t have to worry about the shortage as much. So like, I’m not thrilled that these companies are going to be struggling financially and dealing with yet another supply chain shortage. And I imagine that some people are very worried about whether or not there’s going to be enough beer. And I can recognize that that might instill panic in some, but there’s at least a tech solution to it.


Kai Ryssdal: Ah tech. Alright, so there’s a crisis… That’s good. I’ll take that.


Kimberly Adams: Never done that before, have we?


Kai Ryssdal: That’s true. That’s right. Yeah. All right. So we are done for this Monday. We’re back tomorrow, Jennifer Pak’s gonna be with us. She’s our China correspondent, and we’re going to talk all things China. Its economy, its politics, its place in the global economy, all those good things, short and long term, which is how you got to think about stuff like that.


Kimberly Adams: Yeah, for sure. And in the meantime, if you have questions or comments, especially about China, because you know, Biden was making news on that yesterday, our email is makemesmart@marketplace.org. Or you can call and leave us a voice message at 508-U-B-SMART.


Kai Ryssdal: Make Me Smart is produced by Marissa Cabrera. My name is Kai Ryssdal, not Amy Scott. Today’s program was engineered by Drew Jostad.


Kimberly Adams: You really just read whatever is on the page in front of us. Our Senior Producer is Bridget Bodnar, and the Director of On Demand is Donna Tam.

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