The U.S. Virgin Islands and the Global Clusterfuck

So, the U.S. Virgin Islands is facing a slight but increasing risk of being caught in the crossfire of an energy war masked by rhetoric about the importance of democracy in South America, rhetoric equally orchestrated by Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and a boisterous president of the United States, Donald Trump, who likens himself as the Don King of Manhattan real estate.

Both have given their support to the president of the Venezuelan legislature, Juan Guaido who has declared himself “interim president” eight months after the democratic election of the current and unarguably inept president. It does not faze the Speaker of the House that Mr. Guaido’s politics are more right-wing than the politics of the Democrats who are falling in line with Mrs. Pelosi.

Nor has it apparently fazed the newly elected administration in the U.S. Virgin Islands that Russia, given its energy and other economic ties to Venezuela, decides to piss on the Monroe Doctrine and orchestrate some type of military action, that the U.S. Virgin Islands, which has a couple Russian subs sitting outside of its harbors on any given day, would be a sitting duck, a perfect target for the Russian Bear.

Let’s face it, USVI, the United States didn’t shell out $25 million back in August 1916 just to have a few beaches to visit. The USVI is still at least a second tier, ready-made submarine base and taking the territory would make Vladimir Putin the new Jack Sparrow of the Caribbean.

While the likelihood of the above scenario is small, people of the Virgin Islands, especially those who have very limited means to exit, should have two takeaways from this discussion.

First, you are part of a geopolitical clusterfuck, and given the U.S.’s responses to the territory during hurricanes, you should not be surprised when the U.S. government treats you like so much spoiled milk and collateral damage during a military action.

Second, current leadership needs to grow some balls and think beyond carnival. When potential crises like this one arise, USVI leadership needs to be more forward thinking and outside the box…. assuming you think your people are worth it.


Nancy Pelosi is wondering if she can pull a “Juan Guaido” on Donald Trump….


I find it not only interesting how consensus by leaders of nation-states is needed before another nation-state’s leader is considered valid, but how the citizens of a nation-state never question why they should give a damn about the opinions of other world leaders regarding how they select their own.

The first response to the above query may be that without the blessing of Justin Trudeau or Vladimir Putin, it would be hard for a country to trade with others. That would imply that the only reason your nation-state exists is to create and transfer benefits of a nation-state to a global elite, the very elite that heavily influence who you choose as your next leader. Make the right promises and you can have your coup-d’etat supported by the right global leader.

Maybe Nancy’s political strategists are whispering this in her ears right now.

On philosophy and scared academics

Yesterday I looked up the qualifications of “philosopher” and came across this definition that was offered on Quora:

“If you want, seek or need “qualifications”, you’ll never be a real philosopher.  You can be a philosophy student, a philosophy professor or something in that vein (or vain — or even “vane” if you can grasp my abstract meaning).

Philosophers were brilliant thinkers who could see beyond standard thinking and lead man to better understand life and the human experience.  There have only been a few of them.  Philosophy professors and experts are well versed in other people’s thinking — amazingly so in some instances.  There are and have been thousands of them — brilliant in their own way, but incapable of formulating vision on their own.  They are far too stuck in ideas initiated by other people to recognize the function of Consciousness/Reality beyond their deduced “truths”.

Equate these two types (real philosopher vs. philosophy student) to composers vs. performers.  There are many wonderful pianists who can play Chopin with perfection and expression.  But there was only one Chopin.  Gobs of academicians argue Kant’s ideas or assign meaning to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.  But the originators were guys who could see things beyond standard thinking of their time. 

Generations of philosophy students up until our time only bandy about preset ideas, conceptualizations others initiated.

In any case, if you are fascinated with ideas, indulge in philosophy and want to explore the vast array of -isms and -ologies, set your sights on being a philosophy professor, retreating from the real world and impressing people with your command of minutia concerning established (but invalid and non-functional) ideas.

If you are capable of seeing Reality as the flowing, fully integrated Oneness that it is, responding in the scope of each individual’s life to his/her deep inner Self — and if you are capable of discerning the function of the subconscious in a depth beyond established theory — and if you have the capability of expressing your vision in understandable terms — and if you have the fortitude to proceed in life even though most others don’t grasp your perspectives — and if you have added capacities or external wealth to not have to depend on income derived from your valuable insights…

Then you can be a real philosopher.  With one exception I know of, real philosophers went extinct with Wittgenstein a century ago.  But in a very troubled time, there is surely an opening for such a free-thinking individual…” — Thomas Daniel Nehrer

My takeaway from Mr Nehrer’s definition is that a free thinking individual should be just that; free to use what she observes while in first principals mode and draw her own conclusions on the “why” of the world.  She frees herself of the general consensus which brings her closer to freedom.

A philosopher won’t make it her first point to regurgitate someone else’s principles, observations, or conclusions although she may readily admit the moments when she does share another person’s position on an issue.  But a philosopher should always be ready challenge her and anyone else’s conclusions by questioning them.  She should always be ready to ask, “What am I seeing?” and “What does it mean” according to her own rules.

I don’t believe I should be ready to join the first “academy” that raises its head.  Nor m I afraid that avoiding consensus means inviting chaos and disorder.  I am not afraid of viewing order as temporary but admit its pursuit by humans is a constant.  Man is so ready to create order at the expense of enslaving what is natural that he creates the very prison his alleged pursuit of freedom wants to avoid.  Where that moment of harmony and collegiality arises, yes, enjoy it, for it is the exception, not the rule. 

This type of freedom scares the academy.  It is no wonder it is becoming less influential. 

The “economy” is doing better but I am seeing more homeless in Atlanta

I am seeing more homeless people in my West End Atlanta neighborhood. I have seen at least one sleeping in his vehicle. Others make use of the parks to sleep at night.  What I see on the ground does not coincide with the claims made in Washington of a booming economy.

WABE, citing data collected from the city of Atlanta, reported that the homeless population numbers around 3,000 people and is allegedly on a decline.  And last year, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that Atlanta ranks among America’s neediest cities based on 21 metrics including child poverty and the number of uninsured. Homelessness is the result of a number of factors including the lack of affordable housing, poverty, discrimination, and shifts in the economy. Can city policies adequately impact these factors?

Take the factor of affordable housing. Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has made affordable housing one of her top public policies, but it appears to me that such an approach falls out of line with one important goal of a city: to generate tax revenue necessary for providing the amenities that keep citizens interested in living in Atlanta.  Land owners want to see property values rise and see an increase in the revenues that their properties generate.

Also, as city leaders continue their efforts to make Atlanta a job center, they have to keep in mind that as part of the efficiencies offered by a city is the location of housing close to job centers.  Housing located close to job centers may also end up being some of the most costliest housing.

I ride into Buckhead every day from southwest Atlanta. I have blogged before about how the MARTA train feels more like those conveyor belts loaded with coal that go into a furnace to fuel a production facility.  In this case the human coal are the lower and middle income individuals heading into Buckhead to work a job that, ironically, may be on the chopping block in a few years due to artificial intelligence.  If these people can’t afford to live close to an employment center where they can walk to work, the pressures of living will really increase when they have to find alternative employment.

But even with current employment, there may not be enough affordable housing available because landlords will be under pressure to meet rising property taxes resulting from the increased values of their properties, at least in the short run. This rise in value and ensuing property taxes will result from increased demand for housing that Atlanta expects to face over the next ten years.

Let’s not forget the upward pressure expected on interest rates over the next two years.  Property owners will have to increase rents in order to cover higher mortgage rates.  For the city of Atlanta it means higher bond servicing costs as the city continues to raise money through bond issues for its development and operational needs.

Affordable housing, because of the above pressures, won’t increase in supply.  Only an economic downturn may bring about cheaper rentals but even that will be short lived because a downturn in the economy means a slowdown in hiring and the specter of non-affordability due to increased lost income.

Politics wise, it is time for elected officials, particularly Democrats, to eliminate the affordable housing mantra from their campaign slogans.  They won’t be able to achieve it at any meaningful scale.


Atlanta should avoid the net neutrality debate. It’s not good for business

Internet Innovation Alliance co-founder Bruce Mehlman posted an article yesterday discussing the positive impact relaxed regulatory requirements can have on investment in and deployment of broadband networks. According to Mr. Mehlman, investment in broadband rose by $1.5 billion to $76.3 billion.  He contrasts this to the $3.2 billion decline in investment between 2015 and 2016.

What made the difference? According to Mr. Mehlman it was the decision last year by the Federal Communications Commission to repeal their 2015 open internet order, a decision that put into regulatory code a number of net neutrality principles.  The 2015 order treated broadband access providers as telephone companies by applying consumer and telephone network management rules that were based on communications law from the 1930s.  That approach, according to Mr. Mehlman, just can’t fly in the 21st century.

Unfortunately, Washington has been embroiled in a debate over how net neutrality principles should be applied.  There is a consensus among opponents to and proponents of net neutrality principles that consumers should be able to access web content of their choice; that content providers should not have their traffic speeds throttled by broadband access providers; and that broadband access providers should be transparent about the terms and conditions of their services.  Whether a rule by a regulatory agency is the best approach to ensuring these policy goals is an issue.

Getting to yes on net neutrality may be best brought about by an action of Congress.  Defining net neutrality in the law and laying out the components of its meaning will give content providers and broadband access providers definitive guideposts that help settle any conflicts in the future.  Without a congressional action, the industry and consumers run the risk of a back and forth regulatory battle driven by changes in political power, particularly when a new presidential administration takes over and a new chairman is appointed.  That type of uncertainty every four years is not good for consumers or business.

As more people and businesses move to Atlanta, regulatory certainty becomes an asset for the person who telecommutes; for the financial technology company that needs to maintain connection to its app subscribers; to the student who relies on distance learning to complete assignments.

Treating a broadband provider facing competition from three or four more broadband providers as if they were a monopoly local telephone company in 1934 won’t contribute to Atlanta’s continued growth.

City of Atlanta’s response to Brian Kemp’s victory: silence

Today, Stacey Abrams acknowledged that a court-facilitated path to the governor’s office in Georgia is not there. Although not a traditional concession that the race is over, her Republican challenger, Brian Kemp, can now proceed to taking over the governorship without the distraction of court challenges.

What does this mean for the city of Atlanta in the short term? Besides having a ground level view to a smooth and peaceful transition of power intended by the designers of American democracy, I believe not much. The city’s residents are preparing for the holiday season, with Thanksgiving next week and Christmas coming in the next five.

Over the next two years I suspect that residents will take note of predicted changes in the economy, specifically increasing bank rates, inflation, and increasing bond yields on Treasury notes.  As the population continues to increase and demand for housing along with it, Atlanta’s lower income class will be the first to feel the financial pressure as homes become less affordable, businesses raise prices, and the gains in labor start to fade.

Although local elected officials will bear the brunt of increasing criticism for the state of the city’s economic affairs, Mr. Kemp, in order to ward off a successful election challenge in 2022, will have to come up with an economic management plan that at least prevents Atlanta from spawning the next challenger.

As for Atlanta city government’s relationship with the Governor and the Georgia General Assembly, I have yet to see whether one exists.  If today is any indication, Atlanta’s mayor, Keisha Bottoms, had not, at the time of this writing, issued a press release congratulating the governor-elect.

It also does not help that Mrs. Bottoms has aligned herself with the “sanctuary city” movement where local city officials and civic groups have challenged federal immigration laws requiring cooperation with federal agencies in the detention of undocumented foreigners residing in the United States.

Having not spent time herself as a member of the Georgia Assembly, nor, based on her bio, no time in political or non-political positions requiring engagement with the governor’s office or the general assembly, Mrs. Bottoms seems to be falling further behind on the legislative and executive front as a result of not being in a position to foster these relationships.

That said, it is still early in the political game heading into the 2019 legislative session. There may be time to build those relationships.


Don’t expect a Trump-Democratic love fest over the AT&T-Time Warner merger

Last July, the U.S. Department of Justice filed an appeal of a U.S. District Court-District of the District of Columbia finding that AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner Media would not hurt competition. The Justice Department, according to The Hill, believes the acquisition would harm competition where AT&T might not provide access to its newly acquired content by other competing content providers or video delivery networks.

Democrats today hinted that once they take-over the U.S. House, they would investigate the Trump administration’s opposition to the merger. Since the campaign for the presidency in 2016, Mr. Trump has verbalized his concern that a merger between the telecommunications giant and the media giant would be a bad thing because of the size of the new entity. In addition, Mr. Trump has expressed no love for CNN, the cable news network that would be one of the crown jewels on AT&T’s new portfolio.

As if any one needed a reminder of the no love lost between the Trump administration and the Atlanta-based news organization, one needed look no further than the spat between CNN’s Jim Acosta and President Trump during a press conference last week. Mr. Trump had no problem suspending Mr. Acosta’s access to the White House.

Congressional Democrats have attacked the merger from the net neutrality angle. Democrats such as Senator Ed Markey have come out against the merger in part due to antitrust and consumer protection reasons. According to Senator Markey, telecommunications policy should ensure that, ” … those with the best ideas, not simply the best access, can share their content with the world.”

But given that net neutrality was not at the top of voters’ holiday shopping list last week, I don’t expect Democrats to approach the Trump administration with anything that looks like a temporary truce. According to analysisanalysis by Gizmodo, a sweep of 1,180 campaign websites saw very few office seekers trumpeting the call for a free and open internet. Real household issues, such as healthcare and the economy, were on the top of family priorities.

I’ve read analysis where it is expected that outgoing Republicans licking their wounds from their 2018 defeat will vote to approve the resolution that passed last May in the U.S. Senate to repeal the Federal Communications Commission’s Restoring Internet Freedom order. This order, passed in 2017 by the Commission, repealed a 2015 Commission order that implemented net neutrality rules. The argument is that outgoing GOP congressmen who probably leaned toward the open internet philosophy would want to appease their former constituents by supporting net neutrality rules. I don’t see that happening.

I expect that outgoing Republicans will pay attention to whatever housekeeping matters are on the agenda, including tomorrow’s testimony by Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell before the House financial services committee. Besides, why would a GOP former congressman want to relieve themselves of their conservative bona fides so early after an election. You just don’t relieve yourself so quickly of political capital that you will need for any future political endeavors.

Black Georgia voters opting for history versus substance

Dropped by the polling spot in the West End Atlanta to cast a vote.  Gentleman behind me, African American, begins to harp quietly but confidently about the historic moment; the opportunity to send Georgia’s first black American female to the governor’s office.

I held my tongue.  I am not impressed by the notion of symbolic voting, the need to be the “first black this” or the “first black that.”  It has garnered black Americans nothing of substance other than a brief few hours of pride for the onesie-twosies.

Should Stacey Abrams pull off a victory, whether tonight or in a run-off, she will have her ability to negotiate across the aisle challenged by a legislature dominated by Republicans who reside mostly outside of Interstate 485. Democrats don’t appear to have invested any time in providing Ms. Abrams a legislature that will work with her or at least a legislature with enough Democrats to provide her some leverage.

My instincts tell me, however, that Ms. Abrams will be satisfied with milking the “Oh, the Republicans are blocking me at all turns because I am a black woman” argument. Given the amount of support she has received from liberal political action committees outside of the Peach State, the end game may be for Ms. Abrams to survive long enough to be a viable candidate for the Democratic nomination in 2024.

I expected Kasim Reed to make a play for statewide office, but it seems that liberals have made Ms. Abrams their “people of color” poster child and hung their hopes on her.

For this to come to fruition, of course, Ms. Abrams will have to win.

Urbanization: Atlanta isn’t Delhi … yet

According to economist Dambisa Moyo in her book, Edge of Chaos: Why Democracy is Failing to Deliver Economic Growth and How to Fix It, 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas and that number is rising.  In this Bloomberg podcast, Stephanie Flanders provides some insights into the inequality brewing in urban areas while at the same time serving as a hub for attracting workers seeking higher incomes.

In the podcast, Ms.. Flanders uses Delhi, Mumbai, and other cities in India as case studies for urban population and economic growth, the problems with governance, and income and wealth inequality. I don’t have to travel to south central Asia to witness inequality.  Living in Atlanta I see inequality everyday where a significant population of Blacks and Latinos take the train into Atlanta’s core to go to work.  Cranes are everywhere downtown as the city continues to put up new office and residential buildings.

And just this evening, Atlanta’s city council heard over seven hours of public comment before approving a proposed project that would turn 40 acres of downtown space into a complex of residential and commercial space.

The concerns about inequality have leaked into public policy proposals, including promises in 2017 by then mayoral candidate Keisha Lance Bottoms to increase the amount of affordable housing in Atlanta.  Today, Mrs. Bottoms is mayor and, to her credit, has made affordable housing the tip of her economic development spear.  Late last evening Mayor Bottoms scored big in persuading Atlanta’s city council to approve the $5 billion project.  One condition of project approval was for developers to set aside a required minimum affordable housing units of 20% or 200, whichever is larger.

I think even with these efforts, Atlanta is on its way to being unaffordable for middle income residents.  Buckhead, Midtown, and soon downtown will be out of reach for the middle class.  Even residential areas in the southwest and southeast quadrants of the city may be unaffordable for an increasing number of residents as people moving back into the city with either sufficient capital or credit have been able to take advantage of low rates and purchase homes in the West End, Westview, and Adair Park sections of the city.

What should Atlanta policymakers do? Nothing. A tax and income redistribution scheme may only provide very short term relief to the middle income populace. Higher property taxes would threaten housing values and give homeowners second thoughts about maintaining residence in Atlanta.  Requiring developers to set aside affordable units for each of their projects can only go so far given the limit on the number of appropriate projects in the first place.

As Ms. Flanders points out in her podcast, municipalities in the United States may have a bit more independence and flexibility to effect affordable housing policy but eventually the market for housing, available capital, and credit markets will limit the availability of units overall and affordable housing in particular making urbanization a difficult environment for the middle class.

Why they should have stopped at Star Trek: The Motion Picture

This one is off the beaten path a bit, but with six days left until the congressional elections, a break from the political shenanigans is in order, and I have decided to take that brief break by talking about Star Trek.  After fifty-two years it is time to let Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise sail off into the starlight.  And the vehicle I will use to bid my farewell is Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

To most fans of the Star Trek movies, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is not a favorite.  The movie gets panned for its slow pace.  I have even heard critics compare Kirk’s reunification with the Enterprise to an orgasm. You know, the scene where Mr Scott takes Kirk for a shuttle ride around a dry-docked Enterprise being refitted for its first deep-space mission in almost two years.

The irony of that fly-by scene was that James Doohan, the actor who played Montgomery Scott, had no love for William Shatner, although Mr Doohan would admit that he did like Captain Kirk.  I guess Mr Doohan was able to channel that love for that scene because he was able to present Scotty as a crew member that cradled much love and admiration for his captain.

Yes, the movie did lumber on and I admit I was subjected to ennui during a few scenes, but watching that movie god knows how many times over the last 39 years has led me to appreciate its art… and its message.

For its art, for 1979, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a good looking movie. It won the Academy Award for special effects.  I also liked the costumes; they were fitting for the end of the era.  The actors were still young enough and fit enough to look good in the costumes. (Just don’t let William Shatner’s impersonation of Diana Ross distract you. I could allow him his seemingly frequent uniform changes.)

More important was the message.  Unlike the militaristic, Star Wars-lite shoot ’em ups that followed, Star Trek: The Motion Picture attempted to delve into consciousness using Kirk, Spock, and a mysterious space cloud as the prime vehicles.  All three were faced with the choice of evolution.

Kirk had to face his ego and eliminate it by taking himself out of the equation.  He had to learn that it has never been about him. He also had to begin the journey of getting rid of obsession, particularly the obsession he had with space and his ship.

Spock, who experienced first contact with the consciousness encompassed in the cloud had to reconcile his Vulcan logic with his human traits.  All attempts to purge his human side had failed and it was on this voyage that he learned that running away from his humanity was the wrong course. He journey to reconciliation could not occur until he embraced that side.

As for the seeming protagonist, the space cloud, it was a machine seeking to evolve to a higher level, having gathered all the knowledge that it could attain in its current form.  It needed the human element, that portion that could provide drive and passion to the cold logic of the machine.

It is the joining of man and machine in an attempt to create a higher consciousness that is most applicable to where we stand on the dawn of artificial intelligence.  An increasing number of today’s thinkers are accepting the probability of human and machine merging, where man’s creativity is joined with the machines capacity to collect and process large amounts of information.  This is why, ironically, one of the least popular of the Star Trek installments provides the most relevant contribution to today’s science.  Man will have to evolve into something higher before venturing into deep space.

And the prior sentence sums up my disaffection with the Star Trek genre.  The depiction of the 20th or 21st century in deep space is looking increasingly comical.  Just from a physical perspective, man will have to alter his body in order to survive in space and colonize any planets.  The movie, The Titan, provides an example of the metamorphosis humans will have to endure to live on another planet.  People that look like Sulu, Uhura, and Chekov will not be colonizing planets.

Americans have a problem with evolution.  Star Trek fans in 1979 should have been the first to appreciate evolution.  Instead, they wanted the same old same old, which resulted in 1982’s Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.  Although well made and a great story (so good that it was rebooted in the Kelvin Timeline, Star Trek: Into Darkness), it fell back on a tried and true formula of good guy (Khan) versus bad guy (Kirk).  This failure to evolve, to prefer the comfortable, to look at one’s self without any accountability, seeps through our politics today (I managed to get the word “politics” in there.)

Star Trek does not accurately project the type of human that will be going into deep space.  It has left its mark as entertainment and has abandoned true science fiction’s role as a view into another world, whether a joyous or scary one.  It is time to put Star Trek to rest ….