18 April 2018

Puerto Rican Debt in the News

Puerto Rico Hit by Island Wide Blackout
18 Apr 2018
In what’s been called the second-largest blackout in history, Puerto Rico lost power entirely on Wednesday — marking the second time the island has suffered a major power failure in less than a week. Puerto Rico’s beleaguered power authority blamed the outage on a private contractor who accidentally downed a transmission line during unrelated power restoration work. Officials said it could take between 24 to 36 hours for power to be restored to nearly 1.5 million customers. The blackout comes less than a week after a fallen tree knocked out power for about 870,000 customers.

Explosion cuts power in Puerto Rico
12 Feb 2018
An explosion and fire at a power substation caused a blackout in parts of northern Puerto Rico on Sunday, 400 megawatts of power generation had been lost. The fire was caused by a mechanical failure and impacted sections of San Juan, Trujillo Alto, Guaynabo, Carolina, Caguas, and Juncos.

Puerto Rico Homeowners Brace for Another Disaster: Foreclosures
22 Dec 2017
Lenders to Puerto Rican homeowners have kicked foreclosures into high gear in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, skirting local and federal borrower protections. The foreclosure horrors add to Puerto Rico’s Dickensian experience of late. Close to 35 percent of the island remains without power after Hurricane Maria, with full restoration not expected until May. At least 100,000 people have left the island. Abandoned pets are everywhere. Government services have been slashed or hobbled. Roughly one-third of 425,000 Puerto Rican homeowners have fallen behind on mortgage payments, and with jobs scarce after the hurricane, that number will likely grow. Foreclosures ravaged Puerto Rico even before Maria, up 130 percent in 2016 relative to a decade before. Adding two hurricanes to the equation makes the island’s residents ripe for a gargantuan rip-off. In fact, the economy of the island could collapse.

Puerto Rico to cancel $300m power deal with Whitefish, Montana company
29 Oct 2017
The head of Puerto Rico’s power company said on Sunday the agency will cancel its $300m contract with Whitefish Energy Holdings, amid increased scrutiny of the tiny Montana company’s role in restoring the island’s power system following Hurricane Maria. Roughly 70% of the island remains without power more than a month after Hurricane Maria struck as a category 4 storm with winds of up to 154mph. Federal committees have been trying to investigate the contract awarded to the small company from the hometown of Donald Trump’s interior secretary, former congressman Ryan Zinke. Whitefish Energy Holdings is based in Whitefish, Montana. Zinke, a former Montana congressman, knows Whitefish chief executive Andy Techmanski, and Zinke’s son had a summer job at Whitefish.

Puerto Rico to audit power contract for Montana firm
25 Oct 2017
Storm-ravaged Puerto Rico has promised a full audit of a $300m (£227m) deal won by a small electrical firm with Trump administration connections. The chief executive of Whitefish Energy Holdings in Montana knows US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, while one of its investors has donated to Donald Trump. Whitefish Energy Holdings, a two-year-old company that has seemingly little experience with work on this scale. The contract was inked by Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) in the immediate aftermath of the storm.

Puerto Rico Bonds Slide as Trump Says ‘Goodbye’ to Territory’s Debt
10 Oct 2017
Puerto Rico bond prices fell Wednesday after President Donald Trump said the U.S. territory’s roughly $70 billion in debt may get out wiped out to help the island recover from Hurricane Maria. “You can say goodbye to that,” Mr. Trump said in an interview on Fox News during his visit to Puerto Rico. It wasn’t immediately clear how the U.S. would do that.  In trading Wednesday, benchmark Puerto Rican general obligation bonds maturing in 2035 were at 32.75 cents on the dollar, down from roughly 44 cents late Tuesday.

Storms complicate Puerto Rico's debt problems
26 Sep 2017
Puerto Rico's more than $70bn in debt is casting a shadow over recovery efforts, which was badly destroyed by Hurricane Maria. Puerto Rico is facing the collapse of its electricity and communications network as it evacuates flooded families and examines damaged infrastructure. A major dam is at risk of failure. Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosello warned of a "massive exodus" without aid.

US President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter on Monday night that the island was in "deep trouble". He added that its debts, "sadly, must be dealt with". "Texas and Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble," he wrote. "Much of the island was destroyed, with billions of dollars ... owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with."

Puerto Rico had been working on a financial plan with cuts that would satisfy the federal oversight panel. But Governor Rosello told broadcaster CNN that the hurricanes were "a game changer" for those discussions. "This is a completely different set of circumstances," he said.

After Puerto Rico’s Debt Crisis, Worries Shift to Virgin Islands
25 Jun 2017
Government officials are scrambling to stave off the same kind of fiscal collapse that has already engulfed its neighbor Puerto Rico. The public debts of the Virgin Islands are much smaller than those of Puerto Rico, but so is its population, and therefore its ability to pay. This tropical territory of roughly 100,000 people owes some $6.5 billion to pensioners and creditors. All of America’s far-flung territories, among them American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, appear vulnerable.

Puerto Rico votes in referendum to become US state
12 Jun 2017
The US territory of Puerto Rico has voted to ask Congress to make it America's 51st state. More than 97% of voters favored attempting to join the US over becoming independent or remaining a self-governing territory. However, just 23% of the electorate turned up to cast their ballot amid an opposition boycott, and its results are non-binding. The final decision is also not in their hands but up to Congress.

Puerto Rico files for bankruptcy in last-ditch attempt to sustain public services
05 May 2017
Puerto Rico has filed for a form of bankruptcy in a desperate bid to stave off creditors and maintain essential services to its 3.4 million citizens, nearly half of whom live in poverty. The insolvent US territory owes more than $70bn (£54bn) in public debt. A recession spanning decades – prolonged by the departure of multinational manufacturers, including “big pharma” companies – and the extensive brain drain to the US mainland has left Puerto Rico with arrears worth nearly 70% of its GDP. Unemployment is twice that of the US and millions depend on costly government programs such as Medicaid. On Friday, the Associated Press reported that Puerto Rico was closing 184 public schools in a bid to save millions of dollars.

Puerto Rico Religious Leaders Call for Bankruptcy Ahead of "Vulture Fund" Deadline
25 Apr 2017
Before May, protections expire that shelter Puerto Rico from debt lawsuits and predatory financial groups popularly known as "vulture" funds. The Catholic Archbishop of San Juan and Puerto Rico's Bible Society head are calling on the island's governor and oversight board to immediately activate a bankruptcy process designed by Congress. "If the oversight board and Governor do not act by April 28th, we fear that Puerto Rico could be held hostage by predatory actors and 'vulture' funds." "New austerity programs are being forced on our people and we must now receive the debt relief we are promised. It is immoral and unethical for any person or group to attempt to deny our people access to promised debt relief processes."

Restructuring agreement for Puerto Rico's utility could be in jeopardy
22 Mar 2017
A financial agreement involving Puerto Rico's largest utility may be in jeopardy, which could put the U.S. territory's power grid at risk for outages and hamper efforts to diversify its fuel mix. A restructuring support agreement, or RSA, for the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or PREPA, is set to expire March 31. Unless the RSA is renewed, the territory has no other viable options to meet its bond payment due July 1 of $455 million, which would cause the utility to default and likely trigger power outages across the island.

Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Laureate, on Saving Puerto Rico
27 Feb 2017
“The board appointed to oversee Puerto Rico’s debt restructuring is predicted that its proposals would turn the island’s recession into a depression, of a magnitude seldom seen around the world — a decline of 16.2 percent of gross national product in the next fiscal year, comparable to the experience of countries in civil wars, and Venezuela in economic crisis in 2016. Unemployment, already at 12.4 percent, would soar. The plan, which puts the creditors’ interests above those of the island’s economy and people, will create a debt spiral. As in Greece, the debt/gross domestic product ratio will rise, and with it the likelihood of ever-deeper debt write-downs. American taxpayers will lose, too, as they will pay for the costs.”

Puerto Rico Governor Weighs Asking Creditors for More Concessions
27 Jan 2017
Many bond investors have viewed Puerto Rico’s new governor, Ricardo Rosselló, as a likely ally in their fight to get repaid. Now that hope is starting to dwindle. The governor struck a populist tone in a recent public spat with the federal oversight board managing Puerto Rico’s financial rehabilitation. Investors increasingly fear there will be a bankruptcy.

Two of Puerto Rico’s New Overlords Are Accused of Helping Create Its Debt Crisis
16 Dec 2016
A control board, which has veto power over major Puerto Rican budget decisions, was created by Congress in June as the island foundered under $70 billion in public debt. Activists are calling for the resignation of two members of Puerto Rico’s fiscal control board, Ramon Gonzalez and Carlos As Puerto Rico’s debt rose, the island’s elected officials began pushing the burden of repayment onto the public. Beginning in 2009, then-Gov. Luis Fortuño instituted major austerity measures, laying off tens of thousands of public employees. 

Puerto Rico: Huge blackout after power plant fire
21 Sep 2016
A big fire at a power plant has left 1.5 million people without electricity in the US territory of Puerto Rico. The fire affected two transmission lines and caused the collapse of the electricity system across the island. Puerto Rico's Electric Power Authority has been undergoing restructuring and is seeking funds to update what it says is outdated equipment. The cause of the fire is still unclear. The blackout also caused 15 fires across Puerto Rico as a result of malfunctioning generators.

White House Announces Puerto Rico Oversight Board Membership
01 Sep 2016
The White House is announcing members of Puerto Rico's fiscal oversight board established as part of legislation to address the US territory’s debt crisis. The board is responsible for triggering debt restructuring on the island and approving the Governor's budget. Four of the seven board members are Puerto Rican. The legislation additionally put a stay on debt lawsuits against Puerto Rico and granted the island tools to restructure all of its debt. Puerto Rico owes over $70 billion overall and defaulted on $2 billion in debt on July 1. The island is in the midst of a decade-long recession, has an unemployment rate more than double the national rate and nearly half its population lives in poverty.

Obama Appoints Social Security Critic to Fix Puerto Rico’s Budget
31 Aug 2016
Andrew Biggs, an American Enterprise Institute resident scholar and architect of conservative efforts to cut and privatize Social Security, has been named by President Obama to a seven-member fiscal oversight board for the debt-ridden U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. The oversight board is tasked with balancing Puerto Rico’s budget and pursuing all avenues to pay off its massive debt, including cuts to the island’s education, police, and health care systems.

Puerto Rico to default on $779m debt
01 Jul 2016
Puerto Rico announced on Friday that it would default on $779m (£588m) of debt. Debt payments totaling just over $2bn were due on Friday. US President Barack Obama signed a bill into law on Thursday giving the island access to a debt restructuring process and halting any litigation arising from defaults. As part of the US law, the island's finances will soon come under a US federal oversight board. Puerto Rico has been struggling to make payments on its $70bn debt load.

Treasury Secretary Reminds Senate It Has 4 Days Before Puerto Rico Defaults On More Debt
27 Jun 2016
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew sounded the alarm Monday on the looming deadline for the Senate to pass legislation to help Puerto Rico with its debt crisis. The commonwealth owes a $2 billion debt payment on July 1, and its government has said it will default. Without action, Puerto Rico could be exposed to a flurry of lawsuits, which could lead to hospital closures and squeeze the island’s police force, education system and other services. The House has passed a bill to help the island restructure its debt, but the Senate has yet to vote on it.

House Passes Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA)
09 Jun 2016
The U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation to provide restructuring authority for Puerto Rico’s massive debt and establish an oversight board to address the territory’s fiscal crisis. Puerto Rico faces a debt payment on July 1 of roughly $1.8 billion.

Sanders to Senate Dems: Do You Stand with Puerto Rico or with Wall Street?
23 May 2016
As a U.S. House committee prepares to take up the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) on Tuesday, Bernie Sanders opposes the bill. PROMESA would allow Puerto Rico to restructure $72 billion in debt, while establishing an unelected outside control board to oversee the territory's fiscal matters—a top demand from Republicans. The board would not be subject to any Puerto Rican authority and is bound by PROMESA to make decisions that are in the interests of Puerto Rico’s creditors. Sanders blasted the creation of this "undemocratic board," which he said "would have the power to slash pensions, cut education and health care, and increase taxes on working families in Puerto Rico."

Republicans, Obama Administration Reach Agreement on Puerto Rico Restructuring Bill
19 May 2016
WASHINGTON—House Republicans reached an agreement with the Obama administration to provide Puerto Rico a path to restructure its $70 billion debt load. The bill would offer the island a legal out similar to bankruptcy and wouldn’t commit any federal money, a critical requirement to winning support of conservatives. Puerto Rico has defaulted on different classes of bonds, including earlier this month when it missed most of a $422 million payment, and faces payments totaling $2 billion on July 1.

This Nuyorican Superhero Represents Hope And Solidarity For Puerto Ricans
17 May 2016
Puerto Rico just got a kickass Afro-boricua superhero! Her name is name is La Borinqueña, and she’s on a mission to help the Puerto Rican community unite and fight for social justice. Named after Puerto Rico’s national anthem, La Borinqueña was created by Brooklyn-based artist and writer Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez in response to the island’s current financial crisis and is intended to be a symbol of hope and solidarity. The cover art for the comic book, due out this fall, features La Borinqueña soaring above fellow Puerto Ricans Sonia Sotomayor, Arturo Schomburg, Lolita Lebron, Felicita Mendez, Hector Lavoe, among others.

Sanders Blasts 'Vulture Capitalists' and Colonialism in Puerto Rico
16 May 2016
Campaigning in Puerto Rico on Monday, Bernie Sanders railed against the "colonial-like relationship" that has allowed Wall Street "vulture capitalists" to profit off the debt-stricken territory's economic crisis. "It is unacceptable to me for the United States government to treat Puerto Rico like a colony during a time when its people are facing the worst fiscal and economic crisis in its history," the presidential hopeful declared in a rousing speech at a packed town hall in San Juan. "What vulture funds on Wall Street are demanding is that Puerto Rico fire teachers, close schools, cut pensions and abolish the minimum wage so that they can reap huge profits off the suffering and misery of the children and the people of Puerto Rico," Sanders said. "We cannot allow that to happen. We will not allow that to happen."

John Oliver explains Puerto Rico’s debt crisis.

Puerto Rico to default on debt payment after talks fail
02 May 2016
Puerto Rico has halted a $422m debt payment due on Monday after talks to ease the US territory's crisis ended without a deal. Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla said in a televised speech he had issued an executive order suspending payments. A further debt payment of $1.9bn is due in July. Some creditors have argued that the territory has exaggerated its crisis. Congress is in recess until the week of 9 May.

Puerto Rico’s House Passes Emergency Debt Moratorium Bill
06 Apr 2016
Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives early on Wednesday passed an emergency bill allowing the government to halt payments on its debt, throwing into doubt broader restructuring plans to stave off a financial collapse of the U.S. Commonwealth. The measure would allow Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla to declare a moratorium on any debt payment he deems necessary, and also alter the structure of the Government Development Bank. Garcia Padilla is expected to quickly sign the bill into law. Burdened by a $70 billion debt load it says it cannot pay and a 45 percent poverty rate that has led to a steady exodus of its American citizens to the mainland, Puerto Rico faces economic collapse without a solution that either changes laws and/or involves an agreement with creditors. The introduction of the law had drawn a quick rebuke from creditors who hold the Puerto Rican government’s General Obligation debt.

Plan to Rescue Puerto Rico Advances, Led by House Republicans
24 Mar 2016
Politicians in Washington are coalescing around a financial plan to rescue Puerto Rico, just weeks before an expected major default on bond payments that would spread more turmoil through the island’s shaky economy. The plan would not grant Puerto Rico’s most fervent request: permission to restructure its entire $72 billion debt in bankruptcy. It would, however, give the island certain crucial tools that bankruptcy proceedings can offer — but only if it first comes under close federal oversight. The creation of such a board has been highly controversial on the island, where some residents and officials have called it an act of “colonialism”. If Puerto Rican officials are unable to make the budget balance with existing resources, the oversight board would have the power to do it for them — which could mean cuts in services. Much of the rescue package has been drafted in the House Natural Resources Committee under its chairman, Rob Bishop of Utah. Although the Natural Resources Committee might seem an odd place to resolve an offshore financial collapse, the committee has jurisdiction over America’s territories, which include Puerto Rico.

How Free Electricity Helped Dig $9 Billion Hole in Puerto Rico
01 Feb 2016
The power authority has been giving free power to all 78 of Puerto Rico’s municipalities, to many of its government-owned enterprises, even to some for-profit businesses — although not to its citizens. It has done so for decades, even as it has sunk deeper and deeper in debt, borrowing billions just to stay afloat. Now, however, the island’s government is running out of cash, facing a total debt of $72 billion and already defaulting on some bonds — and an effort is underway to limit the free electricity. The free power dates from 1941. Hearings will begin to determine who and what are to blame for the authority’s larger problems, especially its ancient and inefficient power plants, among the last in North America to burn oil. Culprits are expected to include the authority’s secretive purchasing managers, elected officials who wasted money on natural gas pipelines that were scrapped and an institutional hostility to wind and solar power that is hard to fathom on a breezy island where the sun shines most days.

 Faced with $9M in Debt, Puerto Rico’s Utility Appeals for Restructuring
28 Jan 2016
Puerto Rico’s main electricity provider and its bondholders are continuing negotiations to restructure almost $9 million in debt after failing to meet a deadline Friday that caused a tentative pact reached last month to be terminated. The restructuring support agreement between the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and its creditors expired after lawmakers failed to pass legislation by Friday to enable Prepa, as the agency is known, to lower its obligations and implement a new customer surcharge. In a sign of progress, banks that finance its fuel purchases and the utility entered into a forbearance agreement on Sunday that keeps their negotiations out of court through Feb. 12.

Faced with $9M in Debt, Puerto Rico’s Utility Appeals for Restructuring
28 Jan 2016
Puerto Rico’s main electricity provider and its bondholders are continuing negotiations to restructure almost $9 million in debt after failing to meet a deadline Friday that caused a tentative pact reached last month to be terminated. The restructuring support agreement between the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and its creditors expired after lawmakers failed to pass legislation by Friday to enable Prepa, as the agency is known, to lower its obligations and implement a new customer surcharge. In a sign of progress, banks that finance its fuel purchases and the utility entered into a forbearance agreement on Sunday that keeps their negotiations out of court through Feb. 12.

Puerto Rico: US calls for creditors to make sacrifices
20 Jan 2016
US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew urged Puerto Rico's creditors to make sacrifices that would allow the territory to restructure its debt. Mr. Lew said that unless both sides made sacrifices, "there is no path out of insolvency and back to growth." Puerto Rico is in its tenth year of rescission and struggling to cope with $70bn in debt. Negotiations between the Puerto Rican government and creditors have failed. Puerto Rico defaulted on part of its debt at the beginning of January and is on track to miss larger payments in the coming months. Puerto Rico does not have access to Chapter 9 of the US bankruptcy code, the provision that allowed cities such as Detroit to restructure their debts. Puerto Rico, with support from President Obama, is pushing Congress to change that law and grant them permission to use the Chapter 9 provision. In 2015 a US judge struck down a law passed by the Puerto Rican government that would have allowed it to restructure its debt.

Puerto Rico misses second major debt payment as economy struggles
05 Jan 2016
Puerto Rico has defaulted for the second time in five months, as the island struggles with massive debt obligations and a flagging economy. Last week, the island's governor said it would pay most, but not all, of the nearly $1bn it owed. Overall, the island has a total debt load of about $70bn, which Governor Padilla has said the island cannot pay. "This is not political rhetoric, this is mathematic," Mr. Padilla said. "It's very simple, we don't have the money to pay".

Governor Alejandro Padilla has called for the island to be granted bankruptcy rights like those on the mainland. The US Congress is set to debate the issue in the coming weeks. In recent months, the governor has repeatedly warned of a humanitarian crisis that could unfold and has called on the US Congress to extend bankruptcy protections to the island. US states and territories cannot declare bankruptcy under federal law. Puerto Rico's public utilities are heavily debt-burdened, but are not allowed the bankruptcy rights that their mainland counterparts are afforded.

The island has been called the "Greece of the Caribbean”. The flagging economy and uncertainty is driving mass emigration, with an average of about 230 people leaving per day. Unemployment on the island stands at 12.5% - around twice that of the US - and around 45% of people living in poverty. The island faces a bill of around $400m due in February and a much larger $1.9bn bill in July.

Inside the Billion-Dollar Battle for Puerto Rico’s Future
19 Dec 2015
On the surface, it is a battle over whether Puerto Rico should be granted bankruptcy protections, putting at risk tens of billions of dollars from investors around the country. But it is also testing the power of an ascendant class of ultrarich Americans to steer the fate of a territory that is home to more than three million fellow citizens. The investors with a stake in the outcome are some of the wealthiest people in America.

For decades, the island had been borrowing money to pay its bills. Puerto Rico’s bonds were particularly attractive to mutual funds because they were exempt from federal, state and local taxes in all 50 states. But in 2013, after the island’s general obligation bonds were downgraded, they caught the attention of a different sort of investor: hedge funds specializing in distressed assets. These funds began buying up the debt at a steep discount, confident that this was a bet they could not lose. Not only were the bonds guaranteed by the Puerto Rican Constitution, but under a wrinkle of federal law, the island’s public corporations and municipalities — unlike those of the 50 states — do not have bankruptcy as a recourse.  Drawn by the promise of what was a 20 percent return, Mr. Paulson’s firm purchased bonds in March 2014, as did Appaloosa Management, founded by David Tepper; Marathon Asset Management; BlueMountain Capital Management; and Monarch Alternative Capital. Puerto Rico now owes its creditors in excess of $70 billion, as much as a third of it is owed to hedge funds.

Puerto Rico narrowly avoids default
01 Dec 2015
Puerto Rico has narrowly avoided a default by making a last minute payment on its outstanding debt. The Government Development Bank made a $355m (£235m) payment that was due to creditors on Tuesday. Despite the move the territory is struggling to find money for government services and future debt payments. The Governor said the territory is facing a situation where it must decide between defaulting- failing to make the payments on its debt- or cutting public services. Though Puerto Rico is a territory of the US it is not entitled to restructure its debt in the same way that state and city governments are. Representatives from Puerto Rico - including the Governor - have been making the case that the island should be allowed to undertake the same process Detroit used when it faced bankruptcy.

Puerto Rico economy: Government defaults on bond payment
04 Aug 2015
Puerto Rico has confirmed that it failed to make a debt payment at the weekend, in the latest sign of the economic crisis in the US territory. The government said it did not have the funds available to pay more than $50m (£32m) due on bonds. Puerto Rico's governor said in June that the island's debts of more than $70bn were unpayable and that its finances needed restructuring. Economists say that Puerto Rico's financial woes run deep and will take years to sort out .

Puerto Rico has $72bn (£46bn) of public debt. That makes it by far the most indebted territory or state per capita in the United States. Unemployment is at almost 14% - more than double the national average - and over the last decade there has been little or no growth, resulting in the economy teetering on the brink of oblivion.  The island has been losing 1% (around 30,000 people) a year to Florida and other parts of the US. And it is mainly the economically active young who are leaving.

05 April 2018

Art of the Deal

Art of the Deal by Donald Trump, 1987, Excerpts

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the rich, it’s that they have a very low threshold for even the mildest discomfort.

Conrad believed very strongly that inherited wealth destroys moral character and motivation. I happen to agree that it often does.

I’ve never had any great moral problems with gambling because most of the objections seem hypocritical to me. The New York Stock Exchange happens to be the biggest casino in the world. The only thing that makes it different from the average casino is that the players dress in blue pinstripe suits and carry leather briefcases. If you allow people to gamble in the stock market, where more money is made and lost than in all the casinos of the world put together, I see nothing terribly different about permitting people to bet on blackjack or craps or roulette.

01 April 2018

The Day Christ Died

Birth of a Religion
When supernatural events and human drama,
coincide in timing and enormity,
and are witnessed by many. 

Memoirs of Pontius Pilate by James Mills
Pontius Pilate: "The darkening of the sky and the coincidental occurrence of the earthquake proved to be as fortuitous for the subsequent growth of Christianity as the star and the coincidences surrounding the fellow's birth. It was the events that he and his followers could not arrange that have made the stories about him so appealing to common people."

The Wonderful Teacher by Elijah Brown
Hundreds of thousands of people were in Jerusalem, who had come from everywhere to attend the Passover. It is doubtful if any other death was ever witnessed by so many people. The sky was darkened, and the sun hid his face from the awful scene. A great earthquake shook the city; the dead came out of their graves, and went into the city, appearing unto many, and the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom. No eye had been allowed to look behind the veil, except that of the high priest, and then only once a year, on the great Day of Atonement.

The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis
Jesus spread wide his arms and opened his mouth to cry, Brothers! but the soldiers seized him and hoisted him up onto the cross. Then they called the gypsies with the nails, but as the hammers were lifted and the first blow was heard, the sun hid its face; as the second was heard, the sky darkened and the stars appeared. The crowd was overcome with fright. The horses on which the Romans were mounted became ferocious. Rearing, they began to gallop furiously and trample the Jewry. Then earth, sky and air suddenly grew mute, as at the beginning of an earthquake. The world seemed to have fainted. Deathly pale, it was now just barely visible in the bluish darkness.

King Jesus by Robert Graves
About noon, when the soldiers had begun to prepare their dinner, a hot wind blew from the east and the sky darkened. It was not the wholesome darkness that heralds rain with the distant growl of thunder and flicker of lightning, but a smoky darkness such as terrifies those who live in the neighborhood of active volcanoes; and as the cloud spread across the sky as far as the western horizon, blotting out the sun, the earth began to heave sickeningly and a distant rumble and crash was heard as an enormous piece of masonry fell from the Temple into the valley below. A scream of terror went up and many fell on their knees and gazed upwards, believing that the Day of Wrath had come at last.

The Day Christ Died  by Jim Bishop
One of the soldiers walked around to a position in front of the cross and looked up into the agonized face of Jesus and said: “If you are the king of the Jews, then save yourself." He looked into the sky, and others looked. There were no clouds. But the heavens had deepened from a pale azure to a deeper hue. The sky continued to darken. It was not a sudden thing; the color of the sky continued to deepen to a robin's-egg blue and then on to a darker blue.

The people forgot for a moment the three men on the crosses, and many in the crowd pointed to the sky. Some said that a storm was coming. The crowd began to break up, and many hurried toward the gates, the women flinging shawls over their heads and running with their children to get to shelter before the storm broke. There was no sound of thunder. There were no lightning flashes. There were no clouds. The sky darkened until the sun could be stared at with the human eye. The blue deepened until the darkness of dusk descended over all. The darkness lasted for the rest of the day.

From Jesus' lungs came the final cry: "It is finished!" The body sagged on the cross. The earth trembled and a small crack fissured the earth from the west toward the east and split the big rock of execution and went across the road and through the gate of Jerusalem and across the town and through the temple, and it split the big inner veil of the temple from the top to the bottom and went on east and rocked the big wall and split the tombs in the cemetery outside the walls and shook the Cedron and went on the Dead Sea, leaving fissures in the earth, the rocks and across the mountains.

Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace
The country filled rapidly with all kinds of temporary shelters for the pilgrims of Passover. Every part of the world was represented among them – cities upon both shores of the Mediterranean far off as the Pillars of the West, river-towns in distant India, provinces in northernmost Europe. These representatives had all the same object - celebration of the notable feast. All to behold one Nazarene die.

The guard took the Nazarene’s clothes from him; so that he stood before the millions naked. The stripes of the scouring he had received in the early morning were still bloody upon his back; yet he was laid pitilessly down, and stretched upon the cross, the arms upon the transverse beam. The spikes were sharp and with a few blows, and they were driven through the tender palms; next they drew his knees up until the soles of the feet rested flat upon the cross; then they placed one foot upon the other, and one spike fixed both of them fast. The workmen put their hands to the cross, and carried it, burden and all, to the place of planting. At a word, they dropped the cross into the hole; and the body of the Nazarene also dropped heavily, and hung by the bleeding hands.

Suddenly a dimness began to fill the sky and cover the earth – at first no more than a scarce perceptible fading of the day; a twilight out of time; an evening gliding in upon the splendors of noon. But it deepened, and directly drew attention; whereat the noise of the shouting and laughter fell off, and men, doubting their senses, gazed at each other curiously: then they looked to the sun again; then at the sky and the near landscape, sinking in shadow; at the hill upon which the tragedy was enacting; and from all these they gazed at each other again, and turned pale, and held their peace.

The dimness went on deepening into obscurity, and that into positive darkness, but without deterring the bolder spirits upon the knoll. The third hour came, and still the people surged round the hill. They were quieter than in the preceding hour; yet at intervals they could be heard off in the darkness shouting to each other, multitude calling unto multitude. A tremor shook the tortured body; there was a scream of fiercest anguish, and the mission and the earthly life were over at once. The multitude was informed of the circumstance. No one repeated it aloud; there was a murmur, which spread from the knoll in every direction; a murmur that was little more than a whispering, “He is dead.”

While they stood there staring at each other, the ground commenced to shake; each man took hold of his neighbor to support himself; in a twinkling the darkness disappeared, and the sun came out; and everybody, as with the same glance, beheld the crosses upon the hill all reeling drunken-like in the earthquake. They started to run; they ran with all their might; on horseback, and camels, and in chariots they ran, as well as on foot; but then, as if it were mad at them for what they had done, and had taken up the cause of the unoffending and friendless dead, the earthquake pursued them, and tossed them about, and flung them down, and terrified them yet more by the horrible noise of great rocks grinding and rending beneath them. They beat their breasts and shrieked with fear.

25 March 2018

Vote Propaganda

Propaganda by Edward Bernays, 1928, Excerpts

In theory, every citizen may vote for whom he pleases. But the American voters soon found that without organizations and direction their individual votes, cast, perhaps, for dozens of hundreds of candidates, would produce nothing but confusion. We have agreed, for the sake of simplicity and practicality, that party machines should narrow down the field of choice to two candidates, or at most three or four. To avoid confusion, society consents to have its choice narrowed to ideas and objects brought to its attention through propaganda of all kinds. There is consequently a vast and continuous effort going on to capture our minds in the interest of some policy or commodity or idea.

An entire party, a platform, an international policy is sold to the public, or is not sold, on the basis of the intangible element of personality. A charming candidate is the alchemist’s secret that can transmute a prosaic platform into the gold of votes. It is asked whether, in fact, the leader makes propaganda, or whether propaganda makes the leader. There is a widespread impression that a good press agent can puff up a nobody into a great man.

Those whose position or ability gives them power can no longer do what they want without the approval of the masses. They find in propaganda a tool which is increasingly powerful in gaining that approval. The use of propaganda, carefully adjusted to the mentality of the masses, is an essential adjunct of political life. Given our present political conditions under which every office seeker must cater to the vote of the masses, the only means to lead is through the expert use of propaganda.

Cambridge Analytica: The data firm's global influence
22 March 2018
The company accused of using the personal data of millions of Facebook users to influence how people vote is not shy about its international portfolio. Political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica is facing questions over whether it used personal data to sway the outcome of the US 2016 presidential election and the UK Brexit referendum. But its reach extends well beyond the UK and US, with its website boasting of supporting more than 100 campaigns across five continents.

Thirty countries use 'armies of opinion shapers' to manipulate democracy
14 Nov 2017
The governments of 30 countries around the globe are using armies of so called opinion shapers to meddle in elections, advance anti-democratic agendas and repress their citizens, a new report shows. “Governments are now using social media to suppress dissent and advance an anti-democratic agenda,” said Sanja Kelly, director of the Freedom on the Net project. “Not only is this manipulation difficult to detect, it is more difficult to combat than other types of censorship, such as website blocking, because it’s dispersed and because of the sheer number of people and bots deployed to do it.”

Billboards in the News

Billboard Series

The real-life Three Billboards stunts
01 March 2018
An American street artist has become the latest party to co-opt the signage featured in Oscar-nominated drama Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The artist - known as Sabo - covered three Los Angeles billboards with red tarpaulins accusing the entertainment industry of covering up child abuse. One billboard read: "And the Oscar for biggest p[a]edophile goes to...", while another claimed: "We all knew." The stunt is the latest in a number of protests inspired by the billboards featured in Martin McDonagh's award-winning film. In Miami, meanwhile, mobile billboards were deployed to urge Florida senator Marco Rubio to sanction gun reform in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Anti-Trump billboard in Arizona prompts death threats against artist
20 Mar 2017
Karen Fiorito was commissioned by a company for the local arts in Phoenix to create the billboard. The Santa Monica-based artist earned a master’s degree in arts from Arizona State University. Since the Trump billboard went up Friday, the 25-year-old artist said she has received both positive and negative feedback, including a few death threats. The dollar swastikas, she said, represent “corporate power and greed and how our society has become all about money and corporatism.”

'Incredibly Creepy' Billboards to Track Behavior of Passers-By
29 Feb 2016
Billboards across the country will soon begin to spy on the behavior of passers-by and sell that data to advertisers. Clear Channel Outdoor Americas, which owns tens of thousands of billboards nationwide, is on Monday announcing plans to use people's cell phones to allow its billboards to track the behavior of everyone who walks or drives past the ads. The marketing behemoth is partnering with AT&T and other companies that track human behavior to collect data on viewers' activity, which advertisers could then use to create hyper-targeted ads—similar to how websites track visitors through their browsers and sell that data to online marketers. Facial-recognition technology is also increasingly used by advertisers to track behavior in public spaces. In Germany, the Astra beer brand recently created an automated billboard that noted when women walked past. The billboard approximated the women’s age, then played one of several prerecorded ads to match.

Giant ads for Verizon, Super Bowl are illegal, S.F. says
27 Jan 2016
Two large banners advertising Super Bowl 50 and Verizon Wireless recently installed on the Four Embarcadero building in San Francisco will shrink substantially following the threat of a lawsuit from the city attorney's office, officials said today. The banners, which cover most of the building on two sides, can be seen towering over the Super Bowl City fan village area now taking shape at Justin Herman Plaza. In a letter dated Jan. 25, City Attorney Dennis Herrera said his office has received complaints about the signs, which violate a city law passed by voters in 2002 that prohibits any new general advertising signs in San Francisco. The letter said the signs need to be removed by 5 p.m. on Thursday or the city would file a lawsuit and seek a temporary restraining order and fines.

Skyscraper Billboard SF

Targeting racist trolls by putting their comments on billboards
30 Nov 2015

Brazilians who post racist abuse online may see their words blown up and pasted onto billboards near their houses. The campaign is called "Virtual racism, real consequences" and it's backed by Criola, a civil rights organization run by Afro-Brazilian women. The group collects comments from Facebook or Twitter and uses geolocation tools to find out where the people who have posted them live. They then buy billboard space nearby and post the comments in huge letters, although names and photos are pixelated.

Billboard art show confronts Missouri drivers head-on
31 May 2015
SOMEWHERE ON INTERSTATE 70, Missouri — Those who spend a lot of time on I-70 can confirm that it’s easy to let your mind drift while driving this 250-mile stretch of Missouri. Missouri has five times the national average number of billboards: about 15,000 billboards. Cars, food, porn, Jesus — everything is advertised on the giant structures. Thus the “I-70 Sign Show” was born. Funded by the University of Missouri, the show displays critical art pieces on a billboards. The pieces are meant to challenge and critique the political, social and commercial noise that confronts drivers. The “I-70 Sign Show” piece that got the most feedback, New York artist Mel Bochner’s piece, simply reads, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”

Obscene image shown on hacked US billboard
21 May 2015
Hackers have managed to make a huge video billboard in Atlanta display an obscene image favored by internet pranksters. It prompted calls to police, and soon after, the billboard's owner cut off its power supply. The hack came after a security researcher warned the company, which runs thousands of the video billboards, that they were vulnerable to attack. The FBI and Homeland Security are now investigating the hack. The billboard is owned by US electric-sign giant Yesco, which runs thousands of similar billboards across America. Other signs in other states are also believed to have had their images changed at the same time. A group calling itself the Assange Shuffle Collective claimed responsibility for the attack, in a discussion on social news site Reddit.

Google rents world's biggest digital billboard in Times Square
19 Nov 2014

Google has become the first company to rent to the world's largest and most expensive digital billboard in Times Square, New York. The billboard is eight stories high and is estimated to cost $2.5m (£1.6m) to hire for four weeks. The screen, which is the size of a football field, is mounted on the side of the Marriot Marquis hotel. Around 300,000 pedestrians are estimated to pass by the billboard every day.

Dangling dummies shock Las Vegas commuters
08 Mar 2012
Mannequins hanging from nooses on two Las Vegas billboards Wednesday were part of an apparent publicity stunt that led to dozens of calls from drivers on their morning commute, the Nevada Highway Patrol said. The dummies were dressed in business suits and hung from signs reading "Dying for work" and "Hope you're happy Wall St." It wasn't immediately clear who was behind the stunt. Both highways are some of the most highly traveled roadways during commuter hours.

17 Jul 2012
The Brandalism project saw 25 artists from 8 countries coming together for the biggest subvertising campaign in UK history.  Over five days a team of guerilla installers travelled to Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Bristol and London and put up artworks that seeks to confront the ad industry and take back our visual landscapes.

Gallery Page

2010 AZ Billboard
On the way to the Grand Canyon for a family vacation in summer of 2010, we passed through Kingman, Arizona on the old Route 66. Pictured is a billboard promoting the governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer, “doing the job the feds won’t do” with the ‘o’ in ‘won’t’ depicting the Obama symbol. Using a popular WWII poster, a much younger Jan Brewer is pictured as Rosie the Riveter. “Doing the job the feds won’t do” is in reference to Arizona’s controversial immigration policy regarding the protection of its borders. Whether one agrees with Arizona’s immigration policy or not, Governor Jan Brewer's billboard demonstrates that billboards still play a key role in the promotion of a public opinion.