A top down Virgin Islands economy cannot survive further into the 21st century

An area populated by roughly 105,000 people should not run its economy based on a model designed to hoard capital while generating returns to that capital in as many markets as possible. Given the reliance on government and tourism as its economy’s drivers, can the Virgin Islands of the United States afford to have a fraction of its community limit the distribution of capital and the opportunities that are spawned from capital deployment? In other words, where a small number of farmers control most of the seed, should they be allowed to only spread seed on a small portion of the land while most of the plot lays fallow? The answer is no.

I can understand the marginalization that a significant number of Virgin Islanders feel. My father moved from St. Kitts to the Virgin Islands in the early 1960s. He married my mother in St. Kitts in 1962 and I, their first born, came along the following year. He worked in the hotel industry which was booming at that period in large part to Fidel Castro taking Cuba offline as a tourist stop resulting in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico emerging as alternative vacation destinations. A large number of “down islanders” moved to the Virgin Islands during that period and while we added to the vibrancy of the economy, particularly in the tourist industry, we were always outsiders, having not being born in the territory.

That outsider status as immigrants of course spilled over into the other industry: government. Being non-citizens, my parents could only watch from the sidelines and cheer for a candidate that they thought represented their values. During the early 1960s through the late 1970s that candidate was Cyril E. King. So enamored with the late governor was my mother that she thought it a good idea that I share Governor King’s middle name. Quite a few parents shared that sentiment during that time as well.

But not only was there marginalization in terms of origin or employment by or representation in government, there was marginalization in terms of ownership in the private sector. Yes, locals owned small retail outlets, trade shops, small bars, and restaurants, but larger institutions such as the banks, hotels, and jewelry stores remained in the hands of American and European corporations. Corporations and banks represent not only non-ownership on the part of locals, but a flow of capital and income out of the territory. A community with a high level of poverty needs to see capital and income recycled through the local population, searching out and funding the opportunities that have laid dormant or unseen because current hoarders of capital are biased against local people, preferring to keep us marginalized.

What type of opportunities should re-cycled capital and income search out? They should seek out opportunities that create the ability for each household to have productive capacity within their own hands. Capital and income need to stay within the territory and provide households the ability to practice “decentralized home economics”; where a household can produce their own energy, network their own communications needs; and access alternative modes of logistics that not only transport citizens quickly to any destination, but brings goods, services, and information from distant points to the household. Instead of enjoying fewer economic benefits because they have been forced to live on the edge, households can maximize returns on their resources i.e. income and capital, by making the most from living on the edge.

Marginalization no longer has to be equated with poverty. It can now be, through the use of technology, be equated with wealth.

While statutes say Virgin Islanders are U.S. citizens, aren’t they being treated more like U.S. nationals?

A significant number of citizens of the U.S. Virgin Islands enjoy the Fourth of July. Just pay your Facebook timeline a visit and you will see a number of Virgin Islanders sharing “Happy Fourth of July” greetings or giving military veterans a special shout-out for their service in America’s armed forces. With a population that is well over 70% of African descent and a considerable number of those individuals hailing from independent Caribbean nations or the Caribbean overseas territories of other European powers, it is sometimes amusing and downright disturbing to see an African Diaspora population relish in a revolution by American colonists who did not resemble most Virgin Islanders.

Today’s Virgin Islanders do resemble America’s founding citizens in one respect: Virgin Islanders are residents of a colony although I would not go as far as saying that they are true colonists. Although since 1927 American law has granted people born in the Virgin Islands full citizenship status, I would argue that Virgin Islanders more resemble American nationals than they do full American citizens.

While a U.S. citizen is also a U.S. national, a U.S. national is not necessarily a U.S. citizen. A national is someone born in an unincorporated territory and enjoys limited but not full citizenship rights like universal access to the right to vote for national leaders. To enjoy full citizenship rights, a Virgin Islander would have to move to the U.S. mainland and receive what I call “instant naturalization.” This means that once she takes up residence in the States she could vote and receive other benefits typically reserved for citizens living on the U.S. mainland.

As for the deficiency in colonial status that I alluded to earlier, the major components of the USVI’s tourist-driven economy, i.e., most hotels, restaurants, clubs, jewelry stores, etc., are not owned by “locals.” Outside interests and investors own the tourist industry. If you are not benefiting in terns of equity for the extraction and sale of tourist product, you really cannot call yourself a colonist.

But treated like a colonist you are if living in the Virgin Islands. As I shared with you in a post yesterday, who the Virgin Islands trades with externally is dictated by American law. Virtually all items you need for survival are imported. According to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, the USVI has a considerable trade deficit, exporting $1.81 billion in goods and services in 2016 while importing $2.49 billion in goods and services, also in 2016. Federal and territorial government spending accounted for 27% of gross domestic product, according to the Central Intelligence Agency. Together, government spending and exports comprised 74% of the USVI’s gross domestic product.

The Virgin Islands has been treated like an outlying territory in the Badlands for decades. I still remember the feeling of being ignored by the U.S. federal government during the post event travails of hurricanes David and Frederick in 1979. The memories of being a step-child in a catastrophe came back to me last year as the media, who ironically has spearheaded the “ignore the USVI” approach, started reporting on how the USVI was being ignored as Puerto Rico got the spotlight after hurricanes Irma and Maria severely damaged both territories.

Not only do residents of the USVI not have full citizenship. They get less than guidance or attention on their poor economy.

The question is, whether status as a territory and effective status as a U.S. national in an unincorporated territory provides the USVI with the opportunities to succeed?  Maybe it is time for Virgin Islanders to start agitating like fed up colonists.

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.

Too bad the Democrats chose to politicize today’s EB-5 immigrant investor hearings

I am always reminded when watching a congressional hearing that the first duty of Congress is to keep the Executive in check. Today was no exception as I tuned into the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary’s hearing on the Employment Based Immigrant-Fifth Preference Program. The chairman of the committee, Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, called the meeting to discuss the problem of fraud in the program.

The EB-5 immigrant investor program promotes foreign direct investment in the United States by granting a green card (permanent residency) to an immigrant and his or her family where the immigrant invests $1 million or $500,000 in an investment that targets rural or underserved urban areas.

I was less interested in the fraud aspect, hoping that between any discussion of the downside of theft that the panel and its lone witness would shed some light on its benefits.

I should have known better….

A number of Democratic members of the panel, Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, and Senator Diane Feinstein, Democrat of California, decided to go off script and ask questions that had more to do with the issue of children being separated from parents detained at a Mexican-U.S. border non-port of entry versus how to tweak an investment program so that underserved communities in the United States get some economic attention.

It is no wonder that Congress gets blamed for not getting things done. One could argue that one thing these senators could have gotten done was ask why there were no immigrant investor regional centers in the United States Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico. Given the high rates of poverty in both territories and the need for more economic development, attracting investment to underserved areas like U.S. Caribbean territories should have been among the committee’s priorities.  If they had any sense of awareness, one look at the calendar should have told them that it was that time of the year where Caribbean territories are preparing for another hurricane season.  Maybe one of those foreign immigrants they give so much credit to as innovators could be incentivized to invest a million or so dollars in the USVI or Puerto Rico in exchange for a visa….

… but that’s asking too much …

The political takeaway here is that criticism of any sitting president’s policy is the “doing something” that Congress is best at. You have to apply an entropy effect approach to understanding congressional politics. Taking time to conflate the EB-5 program with President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy on immigrants trying to enter the U.S. without a visa should not be a surprise. It should be expected.

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.

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…

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.