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The Spill: U.S. and Russia Butt Heads

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Biden and Putin Have a Sit-Down

Presidents Joe Biden of the U.S. and Vladimir Putin of Russia finally had a private sit-down to discuss matters between the two countries. The two men got together in Geneva, Switzerland, after months of diplomatic wrangling, to talk shop as world leaders.

Both the White House and Kremlin had said they expected not much progress and set the expectations almost to just showing up: And they were not disappointed. The talks lasted a brief three hours, and the White House claimed the two just ran out of things to discuss. Mr. Putin said of the encounter: “It certainly doesn’t imply that we looked into each other’s eyes and found a soul or swore eternal friendship.”

They talked about several issues, including the recent back-to-back cyberattacks on the United States. Putin disregarded the U.S. intelligence that claims Russia has been behind them, saying, “Most of the cyberattacks in the world are carried out from the cyber realm of the United States.”

It appears they emerged from their one-on-one summit as they began – with vast differences of opinion on the subject of human rights and election interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

After the summit, and in speaking to a throng of reporters, Biden concluded: “What is going to happen next is we are going to be able to look back, look ahead in three to six months and say ‘Did the things we agreed to sit down and try to work out, did it work?’”

Well, That Went Awry

The City of Brooksville, Florida, accidentally sold its municipal water tower in a real estate deal last week. Bobby Read, a local businessman, purchased the land the tank straddles with the idea of building a fitness gymnasium. Even Read had no idea what was included in the purchase contract until he asked the county for an official address. When he arrived at the property, Read found out he now owned the water tower that supplied 8,500 residents with tap water.

Municipal towers work on the principle of hydrostatic pressure: Water pipes are raised high off the ground. Then, as gravity forces the water down, the pressure increases and carries the water through the system and into people’s homes.

The whole debacle ruffled the feathers of nearly everyone in the county and town government as both sides refused to take the blame. “I don’t know where the blame falls here,” was council member Blake Bell’s response. “We’re council members, and we rely on the city manager. We assume that he has done his due diligence.”

Mark Kutney, the city manager, bristled a bit at the rebuke by Bell and offered, “We’re human,” and “sometimes we make a mistake.” He then pointed the finger at one of his department underlings, Brooksville’s redevelopment agency director, who wrote the legal description of the property for sale. That position is now open after this issue led to a prompt resignation. Brooksville Mayor Pat Brayton is asking everyone to calm down – as the crisis has been averted: “It’s all taken care of now. We’re all good. We just need to be darned sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Puerto Rico in the Dark

Power outages in Puerto Rico have citizens and elected officials demanding answers. On the heels of the first power blackout just days ago, citizen complaints have exploded about sporadic electric services, and flickering lights is the only service provided by Luma Energy. Luma blames an explosion that caused a fire at one of their substations for the massive blackout that left more than 337,000 customers in the dark. Customers are now throwing out food, medicines, and supplies that were left too long without refrigeration.

The power company also claimed it was targeted by a distributed denial of service (DDoS) cyber attack.

As a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico doesn’t have an actual voting member in Congress. Instead, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón of the Republican Party and, in Puerto Rico, the New Progressive Party, represents residents of the island. She has pledged to get to the bottom of the grid problems for the people. “The fire in Monacillos, the blackout for more than half a million residents, sectors without light for a week do not seem to me to be isolated events,” González-Colón said. And she is demanding federal law enforcement investigate both events, saying, “They hurt the people, who are the ones who suffer.”

Luma Energy, a privately held company, began operations on the Caribbean Island on June 1. And so far, no one seems happy about it. The company is owned in partnership by Calgary, Alberta-based ATCO, and Quanta Services of Houston, Texas.  They hold a 15-year contract to provide services to approximately 1.5 million people.

The outages have increased the discussion for statehood for the territory. Puerto Ricans don’t pay federal income taxes. Still, they contribute to payroll taxes that fund federal programs like Medicaid and welfare programs such as Supplemental Security Income and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. These are just some of the issues – plus efficiency, federal voting rights, and assistance that comes with statehood – driving the push to become the 51st U.S. state.

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