Decolonizing the United States Virgin Islands

It is time for the Trump administration to follow the lead of the British and cut a couple colonies loose. The one colony I would like the Administration to let go its own way is the United States Virgin Islands. One quick note, especially to Virgin Islanders who find it hard to believe that the United States looks at the USVI as anything more than a colony: your vehicle license plates. The inscription, “America’s Caribbean” is code for America’s colonial attitude toward the Virgin Islands.

Another piece of evidence is the refusal to allow American citizens living in the USVI to vote in presidential elections. USVI citizens go through the farce of sending delegates to a party convention but every four years in November they are not allowed to cast a vote in the general elections. Nor does the USVI have voting representation in the U.S. congress. Its one delegate, Stacey Plaskett, can be a member of a congressional committee, make speeches on the House floor even. But vote? No.

In addition, the USVI has no say over its external affairs. Although not a part of the U.S. customs territory, the USVI cannot enter into trade deals without the permission of the United States. The governing document for the Virgin Islands, the Organic Act of the Virgin Islands of the United States, 1954, is more of an instrument for the public administration of internal affairs under the auspices of the American congress and executive branch. With the exception of a brief discussion on the importation of infected livestock from the U.S. mainland and the placement of duties on articles imported into the Virgin Islands, the Organic Act does not empower the Virgin Islands in matters of foreign trade. Public administration of the Virgin Islands is as colonial as it gets.

But what are the benefits to the United States from colonizing the USVI? In August 1916, the United States entered into an agreement with Denmark to purchase the Danish West Indies as part of the American strategy to protect the western hemisphere from European invasion during World War II. This strategy continued into the years of the second world war. For example, the Cyril E. King International Airport on St. Thomas was the site of an old army airfield that was later named after U.S. president Harry S Truman. As a child growing up in St. Thomas in the 1960s and 1970s it was never surprising to see an attack submarine surface in the harbor at Long Bay or at the old submarine base a couple miles to the east of the harbor. As a teen-aged member of the Civil Air Patrol, I led a search and rescue exercise around Magens Bay, taking my team into an area that housed a satellite communications facility. I don’t remember if it was military, but we were spotted by a white woman in a VW Beetle who threatened to rat us out given our failure to give her an explanation as to why we were there. Needless to say, we hauled ass after completing our mission.

But today, in the 21st century, where the United States deploys nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines, satellite communications, and long-range jets, does the U.S. really need to use the Virgin Islands as a land-based aircraft carrier in the Caribbean Sea?

And given that the Virgin Islands keeps the federal income taxes it collects from its residents while enjoying limited social welfare benefits, the United States is probably losing a few billion dollars in tax and other revenues.

Politically, where is the benefit to either Democrats or Republicans in the United States from America’s Caribbean? Again, the delegate from the Virgin Islands is a non-voting member of the U.S. House. The thirty or so thousand eligible voters, while allowed to cast, in my opinion, a symbolic vote in the primaries and send delegates to the parties’ conventions, are not allowed to vote for president.

Culturally, the Virgin Islands do not add to America’s social fabric. While a significant portion of the population enjoy the trimmings of Americanism, from shopping to cable television to American sports, we are still, whether we are aware of it or not, still Caribbean. We live in two worlds with a significant “down island” portion of the population helping to keep our feet in the goings on of the Lesser Antilles. The Democrats would not want Virgin Islanders playing a significant role in their party politics. West Indians are more conservative than your run-of-the-mill American, and while most won’t admit it, do not share as close an affinity to black Americans as most would think, skin color notwithstanding.

Other than the prestige of saying that, like other European powers, they are in possession of overseas territories, I see no benefit to the United States in playing the empire game in the Caribbean. The United States should truly consider some decolonizing especially if it nudges my people to more self-determination.

Would independence make the U.S. Virgin Islands more Caribbean? Yes, I think so.

One evening after finishing a jog, I spied a young lady walking through the graduate residence I lived at during grad school. I walked up to her and introduced myself. Upon hearing her accent, I asked her where she was from. She told me Guyana. I responded enthusiastically and by saying that I was from the U.S. Virgin Islands. A sour look came across her face. She went on to tell me that I was American and not Caribbean.  I became indignant, wondering why she would draw that conclusion and told her that I was just as Caribbean as anyone from the region. She walked off with a look on her face as if she had stepped into a hornet’s nest.

I entered my apartment still pissed at what I perceived as an insult, but as I calmed down and started to process her observation, I saw, reluctantly, where she was coming from. Independence, it sounded like, was prerequisite for claims to being from the Caribbean region. Whether you came from an independent nation determined where you stood on the region’s totem pole.

For a number of reasons, I may have put this consideration out of my head. At the time of my encounter with the young Guyanese woman I had been on the U.S. mainland for roughly 15 years. I had become increasingly immersed in American, especially Black American, culture.  One of my saving graces had been the remnants of my accent. The other, closely related now I realize, was the company I kept while in Tallahassee. Most of my friends were either West Indian, descendants of West Indians, or preferred the company of West Indians. The few Black Americans I hung out with were some of the most open-minded people you could meet. Although I had received that type of treatment, albeit a lot less subtle, from the time I moved to the mainland, it had via that encounter become more pronounced.

Island nations had been going their own way since the early 1960s. The British Empire was in decolonization mode after the end of the second world war and the Caribbean was benefiting from it. Great Britain and Europe determined to take another route that would see them still exercise economic influence while dumping political responsibility on to their former colonies.  The United States got into the colonizer game pretty late in the Caribbean.

In 1898 the United States put the island of Puerto Rico into their portfolio. In August 1916, the U.S. entered an agreement to purchase the Danish West Indies from Denmark for a cool $25 million and renamed the territory the Virgin Islands of the United States. The purchase and eventual transfer in March 1917 were just in time for the territory to play a role in the protection of the Panama Canal via the establishment of a submarine base and other military facilities.

I will have to post on the legal uncertainty surrounding citizenship for the descendants of slaves in the territory but for now bear in mind that American citizenship became a crown for jewel for islanders and through the years, especially post World War II, the United States Virgin Islands (less of a mouthful nomenclature) would attract Caribbean people especially from the other islands in the Lesser Antilles.  Among those people would be my parents who met and married in St. Kitts and moved to St. Thomas in 1962.  I would enter this physical realm a year later, one foot in a Caribbean still under the direct rule of Great Britain, the other foot in a culture increasingly tainted in Americanism.

From childhood especially when traveling “home” to St Kitts, I was conscious of being in two different Caribbean realities. One night I am sitting in my great aunt’s house listening to the BBC. The next night I am in my living room in St. Thomas watching a one-week delayed television broadcast of “Mannix.”  Visiting cousins in New York, yes, I was from “the islands”, speaking with the funny accent, but I would have no qualms slipping into my best version of a Brooklyn accent just to fit in.  I was an American after all, wasn’t I?

And it is this attitude, that we are Americans versus Caribbean, that pervades the Virgin Islands’ culture.  The separateness from the rest of the Caribbean because of American citizenship is expressed with pride, so much pride that for the native-born Virgin Islanders, they look down on immigrants from St.  Kitts and other islands.  When I look back at my family’s network back in the USVI, it was primarily made up of people from St Kitts, Nevis, Anguilla, and Antigua. Even today the Virgin Islanders I socialize with are either from St Kitts-Nevis or, as in my case, our parents were from St Kitts-Nevis. But whether you were born in St Thomas or an immigrant who became a naturalized citizen, your Americanism was viewed as a sign of superiority over the other island nations.

The irony, for it is for that reason that island nations look down on us and it is not coming from a place of jealousy.  I believe that they view a people who exercise little self-determination as second rate.  While I disagree with the description of my homies from the USVI as second-rate, I would agree that given our brain power and deep-water port, if we leveraged today’s technology to create our own economy, an independent Virgin Islands could be a force to reckon with in a Caribbean that needs to be led by a example of a dynamic fellow island nation. I would like to see that happen.

Caribbean media producers need paid prioritization

In his 2015 open internet order, former Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler argued for a seamless internet that promotes a virtuous cycle of innovation.  This seamless internet ecosystem would include every point on the internet between the end user sitting at his laptop or on his smartphone and the website from whence the end user is attempting to download information. To ensure this seamless experience, Mr Wheeler invoked the four open internet principles of transparency; no paid prioritization; no throttling of a website’s traffic; and no blocking an end user’s attempt to access the website of her choosing.

As of 11 June 2018, Mr Wheeler’s rules are no more, repealed and replaced by the Restoring Internet Freedom order issued by the Commission in December 2017.  While the Restoring Internet Freedom order kept language from the open internet order that addressed transparency i.e. the public disclosure of accurate information regarding network management practices, performance characteristics, and terms and conditions of service, etc., it repealed language addressing throttling of traffic from website, paid prioritization creating faster lanes for content providers, and blocking consumer access to legal websites.

The 2017 order addresses throttling, blocking, and paid prioritization concerns by providing language defining reasonable network practices. A network management practice is reasonable if it takes into account a legitimate business goal, the network’s architecture, and the technology of the broadband service. But critics of the Restoring Internet Freedom order are interpreting the repeal as authorizing ISPs to block or throttle internet traffic or allow large content providers to pay ISPS for the privilege of faster data lanes to their subscribers.

Critics can also be found in state legislatures where, according to data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures, 65 pieces of legislation were offered in state legislatures that put the FCC’s 2015 rules on net neutrality into state law. Eight of these states (California, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia have metropolitan areas where significant Caribbean populations are located.  None of these states have enacted net neutrality legislation yet. Net neutrality legislation has already failed to pass in three of these states: Georgia, Maryland, and Virginia.

I understand the idea of transparency because of the importance it plays in negotiating for broadband access services. I never understood, however, why so-called proponents of net neutrality rules were against voluntary strategic partnerships between ISPs and content providers.  For example, the Caribbean has an emerging entertainment industry, one that recognizes the benefits of digitization. In the 21st century artists have to leverage the internet to get to an audience that is viewing more video traffic via mobile. Getting in front of a sizeable Caribbean immigrant audience in the United States may mean leveraging paid prioritization in order to ensure the availability of bandwidth necessary to stream video and music.

The FCC’s decision to repeal paid prioritization may benefit entertainment producers from the Caribbean in the long run.  Attempts by the states to balkanize communications regulation should not be allowed.

Immigrants coming from the Caribbean and Latin America to the United States over the next two years should prepare for a rough patch thereafter.

The International Monetary Fund today released a report describing a robust 2017 and 2018 U.S. economy, but 2019 and 2020 may be brutal for Americans as the economy is expected to taper off during those two years.

First the good news. Growth in gross domestic product was 2.3% in 2017 and is expected to climb by 2.9% in 2018. In 2019, the United States will see a slight tapering off in GDP growth at a growth rate of 2.7%.

Now, the bad news.  By 2020, the next presidential election year, growth will fall off almost abysmally when Americans see a GDP growth rate of 1.9%. It won’t get better in 2021, 2022, or 2023 as the growth rate continues to decline with growth rates projected at 1.7%, 1.5%, and 1.4% respectively.

At first blush the unemployment rates may look good during those periods. For example, by the end of 2017, the unemployment rate was 4.1% which is considered an indicator of an economy at full employment. The numbers, at least on the surface get better. In 2018, unemployment is expected to be at 3.5%, under the historical full employment mark. The U.S. will continue to see low unemployment in 2019(3.5%), 2020(3.4%), 2021(3.5%), 2022(3.7%), and 2023(3.8%); all figures again reflecting full employment.

Now we have to reconcile the low unemployment rate with low GDP growth. I suspect that more members of the tail end of the Baby Boom will contemplate retirement and may opt for leaving the workforce. As more people leave the workforce, all other things remaining equal, the number treated as unemployed also falls. Also, as the population ages, people on fixed incomes will adjust their budgets to reflect their new spending realities. Reduced spending by Baby Boomers will contribute will contribute to the slowdown in growth.

Also constraining spending will be the rise in interest rates as the Federal Reserve exceeds its targeted 2% federal funds rate goal. America runs on credit and the more expensive is to purchase, the less of it Americans have to spend.  According to IMF data, the ten-year bond rate ended at 2.4% in 2017. The rate on a ten-year note sets the interest rates for lending in the United States. By the end of 2018, the rate on the ten year is expected to climb to 3.2%; in 2019, 3.7%; and in 2020, 3.8%.  The rate will then level off to 3.6% in 2021 and 2022; and hit 3.7% in 2023.

Inflation is expected to peak at 2.8% in 2018 but fall to 2.4% and 2.0% in 2019 and 2020, respectively. The years 2021 and 2022 will see inflation at 1.9% climbing slightly to 2.0% in 2023.

While the economy will be in a sluggish mode, immigrants should be mindful of the social mood. A lot of the animosity toward undocumented immigrants has been tossed at immigrants from Mexico and Central America. Today, media is honing in on the Trump administration’s preferred policy to separate parents attempting to enter the U.S. across its border with Mexico without visas from their children.  I suspect this treatment will be carried out at all points and ports of entry. But given the animosity hurled at immigrants during booming years of an American economy, the social fabric may be a bit worn and the welcome less warm during a sluggish one.

The Caribbean as dumping ground for sovereign independents

Current residents of the #Caribbean should consider that the goal of those accepting citizenship by investment or pursuing policies of population reduction as a recovery policy post Hurricanes Irma y Maria may have as an end game the creation of independent jurisdictions that support sovereign individualism.

By combining cryptocurrency, renewable energy, and tax exempt jurisdiction schemes, such off-grid independence can be created for the wealthy. Declining liberal welfare nation-states such as the United States and the United Kingdom will serve as the dumping ground for Caribbean nationals who cannot push back against the onslaught of invading #capital entering the Caribbean under the initial disguise of “seeking a better life, diversity, and getting a deeper tan”, the bulwarks of gentrification.

Be mindful of the invader reciting the mantra peace, love, and soul as her agenda. Those were merely the closing words of a TV show. It is the nightmare of the horror movie of cultural usurpation that you should be concerned about…

Kilmonger 1 T’Challa 0 #BlackPanther

“The black elite around the globe should be afraid. That is one of my takeaways from “The Black Panther”, a Marvel movie that when examined closely went beyond anything else so far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The MCU, rebooted by the first installment of “Iron Man” has been expressing a political narrative that was heightened as recently as “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” But “The Black Panther” has taken the politics to a global level as expressed by a final conflict between two men who, without their fathers, find themselves rudderless in a political torrent.

I will start with the anti-elite, anti-hero, Kilmonger. Kilmonger represents the 90% of the African Diaspora that is resource-less. He sees an elite that does not want to or maybe does not know how to distribute the gains from the precious little resources the Diaspora has.

While the educated continue to delude themselves that they are doing well in America, for example, they tend to ignore the poverty that they drive through every day to jobs that have more than a glass ceiling as a barrier to break. They see a disproportionate number of black entrepreneurs forced to go solo after the glass ceiling crashes on them only to face further discrimination from bankers who refuse to throw the lifeline of business credit their way.

In addition, they are increasingly disconnected from the continent that spawned their ancestors, a continent, while rich in resources, still faces challenges extracting and processing those resources and turning them into output.

And while Africa itself is emerging, its growth, like that of America and the West, is driven by credit and IMF/World Bank aid. The poor, who are bearing the undue suffering of this economic and social model have no effective leadership. Like Kilmonger, they are rudderless.

T’Challa, whose character has been getting, in my opinion, too much premature love from the celebrating daishiki wearers that attacked the box office last weekend, represents an elite that believe they have arrived because they live in gated communities and have generated income from monopolizing the little precious resources that the Diaspora has. They are increasingly out of touch, using technology to create, much like the Wakandans, a moat around themselves.

Kilmonger’s father died while Kilmonger was still in his youth. There was no father to help guide him toward being the leader that could effectively create a narrative of Diaspora-wide self sustainability. He had to teach himself by leaving the confines of Oakland and traveling the globe training himself to be a warrior. Unfortunately, his message came from an emotional place, from a place of anger toward a family that had betrayed him. His energy was poorly channeled, again, because there was no father to guide him. For this reason, Kilmonger was the wrong man for the right message.

T’Challa was weak. This weakness led to him crafting a half-assed policy of outreach based on an equally half-assed narrative of “diversity.” Telling the world that Wakanda would step out of its isolation and show the world how to live as “one human tribe” is basically the same policy that led to and keeps the African Diaspora in check. Africans who war with each other are too distracted to lead any globe toward one-world bliss. And history shows what happens when Africa lets it guard down. The colonizers find a way to institute their old playbook of domination.

Cinematically, this movie outdoes every other Marvel movie. The movie has its own unique texture driven by the infusion of various African cultures and the human element of the story. It is the only time I felt tears welling up during a Marvel film as the story not only reminded me of my challenges from losing my father at 26, but displayed the challenges each man had to endure as they reconciled the lack of a father’s guidance in a world that tears their immediate, tribal, and global families apart.

Overall, a great movie, but not for the reasons the daishiki wearers expected.

Should the Caribbean brace for a Federal Reserve rate hike? #Caribbean #trade

The Federal Reserve is expected to raise rates on its federal funds rate, the rate at which its member banks lend each other money overnight, at least three times during 2018. I see this move as having a potential negative impact on Caribbean immigrants here in the U.S. given their lower incomes relative to other immigrants and the U.S. overall, and the level of poverty among Caribbean immigrants. I see the Federal Reserve’s expected rate hikes having an impact on remittances as well because rate hikes, designed to control inflation could very well discourage employing Caribbean born labor.

The Federal Reserve has an overall positive outlook on the American economy. While growth is expected to continue, the central bank views the growth as fragile.

The Trump tax cuts are expected to provide the economy with an additional boost. The pay increases Americans are receiving as a result of the temporary cuts are expected to re-enter the economy in some form. Unemployment is at 4.1%, the textbook case for full employment, a point at which additional hiring and the resulting spending may create increases in prices for goods and services.

There is a 78% chance the central bank will raise intra-bank lending rates and in theory when this happens, the rates you pay for revolving loans and mortgages are expected to follow suit. On the other hand, the even with low unemployment, wage increases are expected to be sluggish.

Caribbean immigrants may bear a higher burden stemming from price increases versus other immigrants and the overall U.S. population. According to data from the Migration Policy Institute, twenty percent of Caribbean immigrants live in poverty compared to 19% of overall foreign born U.S. residents and 15% of the overall U.S. economy. Caribbean immigrant median income ($41,000) falls well below the overall U.S. median income ($55,000) as well as the median income of all immigrants ($49,000). Assuming Caribbean immigrants, like the overall U.S. population, has the bulk of its wealth in a house, poorer Caribbean immigrants will have less of a buffer protecting them from a credit-shortage induced recession.

As prices increase and access to credit is reduced due to rate increases, there may be a negative impact on the ability of Caribbean immigrants to send money back home as household budgets are reduced. Take for example remittances sent to St.Kitts-Nevis. According to data from The World Bank, remittances increased to $36 million in 2007 from $29 million in 2002.  Remittances climbed to $51 million in 2012, but have remained flat into 2017 where the amount of remittances was $53 million. All things being equal, interest rate increases could start sending these numbers in the opposite direction.

Rate increases could make importing products such as food and machinery more expensive for residents of St Kitts-Nevis or other Eastern Caribbean islands. In theory, a rate increase should depreciate the value of the U.S. dollar, making American imports cheaper. Some analysts would argue, however, that higher interest rates would make the American currency more valuable as foreign nationals seek higher yields on their capital and drive up demand for American currency. If the dollar becomes more expensive, the cost of purchasing could go up as well.

According to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, 56.8% of St Kitts-Nevis’ imports come from the United States. As American goods become more expensive, St Kitts and other Caribbean countries that are heavily tourist dependent, may have to look for alternative and less expensive sources of food, a search that involves increased transactions costs or bite the bullet of increasing costs of American goods.

Listening to the whiny left on net neutrality can leave you jaded about “edge” technology

Over the past week, a number of progressive grass roots groups and some 21 state attorneys general have filed suit in federal appellate courts seeking to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of net neutrality rules that were promulgated in December 2015. This early in the process the petitions have laid out general assertions that the Commission’s decision to repeal was arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of agency discretion.

In other words, the Commission, dominated by three Republicans to two lone Democrats, was given to sudden and unaccountable mood swings as it went from determining in 2015 that broadband access providers should be viewed as old style telephone companies to last year’s decision where the Commission now views broadband access providers as information service providers.

I don’t see how the left’s position, that the Commission should use rules for regulating a point to point communications service, is to increase broadband access for insular communities like the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. According to Commission data, 66% of population in U.S. territories lacks access to 25 megabit per second download, 3 megabit per second upload broadband access services.  The flexibility required for deploying more advanced broadband access services in U.S. territories like the USVI and Puerto Rico cannot manifest itself in a regulatory framework that requires a body of regulators give approval or delay proceedings necessary for approving the introduction of new services.

The real arbitrary behavior took place when the Commission, led by Democrat Tom Wheeler, actually persuaded two other Democratic members of the board and some four million naive voters and taxpayers, that the Commission was actually in a position to ensure traffic neutrality throughout the entire internet; from the voter and taxpayer’s laptop to her favorite porn site hosted on a server located in the Azores. For Mr Wheeler to premise a ridiculous expansion of the Communications Act on the assertion that the Commission, via regulation, could ensure that all traffic be treated equally on the internet only resulted in creating false expectations regarding service among a public that couldn’t tell you exactly what net neutrality is in the first place.

The Commission, now led by Ajit Pai, has, if anything, reintroduced some reality into communications regulation. The first reality is that Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 is not necessary for regulating advanced, broadband internet access services in the 21st century. Second, the repeal of the 2015 Wheeler order recognizes that providing American consumers with the best access to a global, interconnected computer network means being able to leverage the openness of the internet to provide new services in a permission-less environment.

It is ironic that the edge providers that want their subscribers to access their content on the highest quality communications networks are willing to endure delays that will certainly arise under a Title II regime that requires permission to innovate at every turn.

ISPs, not edge providers, reflect the reality of communications and connectivity

Within the Communications Act of 1934, Congress created the Federal Communications Commission for the purpose of regulating interstate and foreign commerce in communications. Congress intended the Commission to make available a rapid,efficient, nation-wide, and world-wide wire and radio communications network and provide that network at reasonable rates for the nation-state’s consumers. Congress wanted a nation-state, barely a hundred years into its industrial revolution and in the middle of its worst recession, to have the ability to connect all of its citizens.

The episodes of connection via a phone call were not expected to take up the 135 minutes a day that the average person spent on social media in 2017. Earlier today in an op-ed on Axios.com, Evan Spiegel wrote about the difference between social media and his communications app, Snapchat. In his words:

“The personalized newsfeed revolutionized the way people share and consume content. But let’s be honest: this came at a huge cost to facts, our minds and the entire media industry.

This is a challenging problem to solve because the obvious benefits that have driven the growth of social media – more friends! more likes! more free content! – are also the things that will undermine it in the long run.

  • New alternatives for self-expression, including services like text messaging, WhatsApp, and Snapchat are part of a shift towards using communication applications to express yourself rather than posting on social media, because communication apps are oriented around talking with your close friends, free from judgment.
  • Social media fueled “fake news” because content designed to be shared by friends is not necessarily content designed to deliver accurate information. After all, how many times have you shared something you’ve never bothered to read?”

Social media is a bulletin board that you placed on the front of your dorm room, open to a myriad of Post-It notes left by dorm mates and easily read by everyone else, is my summation of Mr Spiegel’s distinction between his service and Facebook. Snapchat; another form of private communication similar to texting or voice calls versus the barroom brawl that is social media.

As concerned as progressive congressional Democrats appear to be about Russia’s ability to use the permeability of Facebook, Twitter, and Google to allegedly upend an election, they do not appear to be in any rush to apply onerous privacy rules to social media, a business model designed for fake news.

Social media was a “god send” for the State. Social media aggregates people into groups that can be operationalized and manipulated. A lot less expensive than tapping phone lines in order to get the pulse of society. Facebook, Twitter, and Google are media outlets and as such are in a position to create messaging and target it toward certain groups. Facebook doesn’t ask “What’s on your mind” for no reason.

Some consumers want balance. They are using the ear buds to create space in the real world and don’t mind connecting where there is value in social media exchange, but they want the option of withdrawing to a position where their smartphone, at the end of the day, is merely for texting and sending/receiving voice calls.

Congress and the Commission should keeps their focus on the infrastructure aspect of communications and leave the bulletin board behavior to the kids.