Caribbean Matters: The severe impact of climate change on the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico

While many media outlets only seem to pay attention to the U.S. Virgin Islands these days when discussing Jeffrey Epstein’s infamous private island of Little St. James and Puerto Rico when it comes to Bad Bunny concerts, it is important that we take note of the reality that both U.S. colonies in the Caribbean are on the front lines of climate change.

The islands have been hit with scorching, record-breaking heat over the past summer, drought, flooding, erosion of the coastlines, damage to coral reefs, and waves of foul-smelling seaweed called sargassum. Climate change greatly affects the health and safety of those who live in the areas, not to mention the economic impact.

RELATED STORY: Caribbean Matters: A stinky 'golden tide' of sargassum seaweed strangles the Caribbean

Caribbean Matters is a weekly series from Daily Kos. If you are unfamiliar with the region, check out Caribbean Matters: Getting to know the countries of the Caribbean.

When discussing the impact of climate change on the daily lives of Puerto Rican and Virgin islanders, one aspect that I don’t often see mentioned are the are health-related impacts, both mental and physical. Writer, reporter, photographer, and producer Pearl Marvell published this report for Yale Climate Connections about the damage extreme weather does to areas already impacted by colonization and systemic inequality:

Puerto Rico has seen an alarming increase in deaths over the last two years caused by cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, and mental health conditions like overdose, alcoholism, and dementia. There are a number of reasons for this, but the Fifth National Climate Assessment released last month warned that more intense and frequent hurricanes and other extreme weather events caused by climate change will likely bring more illness, higher mortality, and an overall decrease in quality of life to citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“Perhaps we are among the least responsible for climate change, but we are being among the most impacted,” said Pablo Méndez-Lázaro, one of the lead researchers of the chapter. 


The 32-chapter national assessment, which will be published in Spanish in the coming months, is filled with information on the effects of climate change and potential solutions in the United States. This is the first assessment to fully assess the devastating effects of Hurricanes Maria and Irma on the islands in 2017. Chapter 23 focuses on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, examining the climate crisis in the context of the sociological, psychological, and historical situation of this region. It paints a more nuanced and complex picture than the fourth assessment in 2018, which focused on the effects of climate change on rainfall, coastal systems, and rising temperatures.

Back in 2016, the federal Environmental Protection Agency published this fact sheet on the USVI and climate change. It covered issues such as ocean warming and sea level rise, coral reef damage and ocean acidification, storm impact on homes and infrastructure, the shrinking of forests, and interference in agriculture productivity which could affect food supplies. We have seen the EPA’s predictions for human health impact come to pass:

Hot days can be unhealthy—even dangerous. Certain people are especially vulnerable, including children, the elderly, the sick, and the poor. Rising temperatures will increase the frequency of hot days and warm nights. High air temperatures can cause heat stroke and dehydration and affect people’s cardiovascular and nervous systems. Warm nights are especially dangerous because they prevent the human body from cooling after a hot day. Although reliable long-term temperature records for the U.S. Virgin Islands are unavailable, the frequency of warm nights in nearby Puerto Rico has increased by about 50 percent since 1950.

The U.S. Virgin Islands’ climate is suitable for mosquito species that carry diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, and dengue fever. While the transmission of disease depends on a variety of conditions, higher air temperatures are likely to accelerate the mosquito life cycle and the rate at which viruses replicate in mosquitoes.

The warm marine environment of the Virgin Islands helps promote some water-related illnesses: Vibriosis is a bacterial infection that can come from direct contact with contaminated water or eating infected shellfish. Ciguatera poisoning comes from eating fish that contain a toxic substance produced by a type of algae found in this area. Higher water temperatures can increase the growth of these bacteria and algae, which may increase the risk of these associated illnesses.

RELATED STORY:  Caribbean Matters: Dengue cases are rising, and not just in the Caribbean

Far too many mainlanders not of Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands ancestry only think of the islands as a tourist destination. The USVI economy is far more dependent on tourism than Puerto Rico’s. Tourism and related economic areas in USVI account for more than half of its GDP, whereas in Puerto Rico it is far less, according to data from the Financial Oversight Board:

While Puerto Rico’s tropical climate, sandy beaches and thriving culture attract close to a million visitors each year, tourism is not a leader when it comes to economic activity on the island. Despite a popular belief that tourism is a significant contributor, this industry only represents about 2% of the island’s GDP. That share has grown 1% over the last 5 years, which is significantly less than the 15% growth reported within the industry during the same period in the mainland United States.

The USVI, however, winds up being caught between a rock and a hard place. Island leaders and residents promote tourism for economic survival while at the same time attempting to mitigate its environmental harm. Shannon Garrido wrote for Pasquines:

It took the United States government an entire decade to grant the largely African-descended population American citizenship. US Virgin Islanders have remained unable to elect the President of the United States or have a voting delegate in Congress. Needless to say, residents have little to no power in dictating the United States’ use of their land, and upon the turn of the 20th century, this has had significant environmental effects.

The island of St. John is home to the 29th US National Park and was founded by Laurance S. Rockefeller, grandson of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. As a result, exploitation and protection for the enjoyment of wealthy and white visitors are at the expense of the island and its native inhabitants.

This unsustainable trend continues, and the USVI is facing environmental pressures from increased tourism that threaten vital natural resources. This type of development impacts the environment in multiple ways, especially through sediment pollution, increased demand for sewage treatments, and direct ecosystem damage from an increased number of tourists.

RELATED STORY:  Caribbean Matters: Danish history, slavery, resistance, and colonialism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

This news report from TRT World details many of the current climate issues, especially threats to the coral reefs:

As the US Virgin Islands continue their long recovery from the devastation caused by the 2017 hurricanes, there's increasing concern about the possible impact of climate change. Experts fear that global warming is not only increasing the intensity of hurricanes in the region but is also having an adverse affect on the islands' marine life.

Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett, the non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives from the USVI, was interviewed briefly in the report. While many Americans got their first look at her when she served as a floor manager for former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial, it’s important to point out that she has not ignored climate change as a major issue for the people she represents.

Here’s her brief floor speech on climate change from Sept. 26, 2019:

Mr. Speaker, this week, the United Nations is hosting its Climate Action Summit. Robust funding and sound policies are needed to ensure we effectively combat climate change. Threatened by increasingly more frequent and extreme changes in our climate, territories like the U.S. Virgin Islands stand at the front line of this quickly escalating climate crisis.

Within the past decade, my district has reduced fossil fuel use by 20% and has become a regional leader in clean energy. States and territories have also passed regional and state-specific legislation to combat climate change, but we need a comprehensive, forward-looking national plan to address this threat to our children and our children's children.

 While we don't yet have all the tools to address rapid climate change, we must create them through increased Federal investment in research, development, and deployment of emerging technologies. Across the nation, climate change is threatening our economy and our lives. Hurricanes like Irma and Maria collectively cost $140 billion, according to NOAA, and, most importantly, they cost thousands of lives. America must lead the charge to preserve our planet.

Fast forward to July 24, 2023, when Plaskett shared this statement on the inclusion of the USVI in the government’s seasonal drought outlook:

“My office successfully worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to include the Virgin Islands in the U.S. Drought Monitor in 2019, which provides a general summary of current drought conditions and provides access to permanent disaster relief programs related to drought. As a result of the new inclusion in the CPC Drought Outlooks, our farmers will now have access to additional resources that can assist with their planning and preparation for adverse conditions, as well as their maximization of expected favorable conditions. The Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture, the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources, and the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency alongside environmental monitoring volunteers, the farming community, the University of the Virgin Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands Drought Coordinator, Christina Chanes, worked in partnership to collect, compile, and analyze data on precipitation and particulate matter. This community-wide effort played an instrumental role in the Climate Prediction Center’s decision to include the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Operational Drought Outlooks.

“Given the immense impact of weather on agriculture, skillful weather forecasts provided by CPC Drought Outlooks are of tremendous importance to farmers for effective decision making on critical matters, including which crops are most likely to flourish in the predicted growing season, how much of each crop to grow, whether to irrigate, the timing of planting and harvesting and whether to purchase crop insurance.

“This is a critical and timely development for the agricultural community in our territory. It is my hope that the data and resources provided by the Drought Outlooks will be a well-utilized resource by our local farmers and those in the Virgin Islands agriculture sector.”

My question about this is: Why was the USVI not included until 2019, and only in the monthly outlook in 2023? 

There are efforts underway in the USVI to preserve and replenish the coral reef system. This video from the Nature Conservancy documents them:

While I think many people have the impression that climate change is only a concern for those who dub themselves “climate activists,” it’s an issue that most Puerto Ricans worry about. Politicians running for office in Puerto Rico and in mainland areas with large Puerto Rican communities should take note of this recent report from the Yale School of the Environment:

Residents of Puerto Rico are among the most worried in the world about climate change according to a new study by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC).

The study, conducted in partnership with Rare and Data for Good at Meta, found that 93% of Puerto Ricans said they are “very worried” or “somewhat worried” about climate change; 84% said climate change will harm future generations “a great deal”; and 61% said climate change will harm them personally “a great deal.” Puerto Rico also had the highest number of respondents in the world who believe that climate change should be a high government priority.

Republican climate change deniers, listed in this opinion piece by Glenn C. Altschuler in The Hill, will hopefully be turning off mainland Puerto Rican voters in the next election as a result:

Not one Republican in Congress voted for the Biden administration’s bill to combat climate change. The percentage of rank-and-file Republicans who think global warming is caused by human activity has declined over the last two decades. These days, 70 percent of Republicans say climate change is a minor threat or no threat at all.

Democrats running for office should take note.

Please join me in the comments section below for more on Caribbean climate change issues and for the weekly Caribbean news roundup.

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ICYMI: Trump attorney goes low, House GOP goes bonkers

House Oversight Committee explodes as Hunter Biden crashes their party

The president’s son called their bluff, and Republicans folded like a cheap suit.

Watch Rep. Jared Moskowitz call GOP’s bluff on Hunter Biden

This Florida Democrat is developing a habit of embarrassing Republicans on the House Oversight Committee.

Judge rescinds permission for Trump to give his own closing argument at his civil fraud trial

Judge Arthur Engoron’s patience is running thin with a defendant who refuses to play by the rules.

Watch AOC slam Rep. Nancy Mace's rant on white privilege

Oh my goodness, bless Nancy’s heart.

Rep. Raskin tells Marjorie Taylor Greene she's the 'porn expert' on the committee

The thin-skinned “gentlelady” from Georgia brought her “I want to speak with the manager” energy.

Cartoon: Clay Bennett on the NRA

A look at Wayne LaPierre’s resignation letter to the NRA.

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Trump attorney defends the right to assassinate political opponents

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Maine renews effort to elect president by national popular vote

Democrats are making a new push for a huge change to presidential elections.

2023 was the hottest year in human history. 2024 is already setting records

Even the cold weather the United States is experiencing at the moment could be directly related to the way the climate crisis is warming the Arctic.

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This shouldn't be happening in the first place, but the GOP played dirty and here we are.

Senate inches closer to border deal. Will House GOP and Trump kill it?

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Click here to see more cartoons.

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Joe Biden wants to complete his goals on civil rights, taxes, and social services if he’s reelected

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden has a simple reelection pitch to voters — let him "finish the job."

So what does that mean? What's left for him to get done?

Unlike Donald Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination who has been releasing videos and statements detailing his agenda, Biden hasn't formally released his plans as part of his campaign.

But his ambitions are no secret, and his goals for child care, community college and prescription drugs have been laid out in detail during the Democrat's first term. He also has unfulfilled promises on civil rights, such as protecting access to the ballot box, preventing police misconduct and restoring the nationwide right to abortion. Banning firearms known as assault rifles remains a priority as well.

The result is a second-term agenda that could look a lot like Biden's first-term agenda, with some of the same political challenges. Almost none of this can get done without cooperation from Congress, and many of these goals already have been blocked or pared down because of opposition on Capitol Hill.

Biden has achieved bipartisan victories on infrastructure projects and public funding for the domestic computer chip industry. But Democrats would need to win wide majorities in both the House and the Senate to clear a path for the rest of his plans.

"We're going to finish as much of the job as we can in the next year," said Bruce Reed, Biden's deputy chief of staff. "And finish the rest after that."

Biden's campaign expressed confidence that the president's agenda would stack up well against Republicans in next year's election. Kevin Munoz, a spokesman, described the election as "a choice between fighting for the middle class or shilling for rich special interests" and he said "it's a contrast we are more than happy to make."

One other difference between Biden and Trump doesn't fit neatly into policy white papers, but it's core to their political foundation. Biden has made defending American democracy a cornerstone of his administration, while Trump tried to overturn his election loss in 2020.

The result of the 2024 campaign could reshape not only government policy but the future of the country's bedrock institutions.


Biden's plans are expensive and he doesn't want to increase the deficit, so that means he's looking to raise taxes on the wealthy.

He already has succeeded in implementing a 15% minimum tax on companies with annual income exceeding $1 billion.

Biden has proposed raising the top tax rate to 39.6%, the corporate tax rate to 28% and the stock buyback tax to 4%.

He wants a minimum tax of 25% on the wealthiest Americans, a levy that would be applied not only to income but unrealized capital gains. The idea, which Biden called the "billionaire minimum income tax," could prove difficult to put in place, not to mention extremely hard to push through Congress, given Republican opposition to higher taxes.


Biden's original signature plan was known as Build Back Better, a cornucopia of proposals that would have dramatically changed the role of the federal government in Americans' lives.

It was pared down because of resistance from Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who is a key vote in the narrowly divided Senate and announced this past week that he will not seek reelection. The result was the Inflation Reduction Act, which included financial incentives for clean energy and limits on prescription drug costs, but not many other programs.

Biden will want to bring back the ideas that were left on the cutting room floor. That includes making two years of community college tuition free, offering universal preschool and limiting the cost of child care to 7% of income for most families.

He also wants to resuscitate the expanded child tax credit. The American Rescue Plan, the pandemic-era relief legislation, boosted the credit to $3,000 for children over six and $3,600 for children younger than age 6. The expansion lapsed after a year, returning the credit to $2,000 per child, when his original package stalled.

More work is left on prescription drugs. The monthly cost of insulin was capped at $35 for Medicare recipients. Biden wants the same limit for all patients.


The White House recently announced a new office dedicated to preventing gun violence. Biden also signed legislation that's intended to help officials keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and other dangerous people.

But Biden's biggest goal, a ban on so-called assault weapons, remains out of reach because of Republican opposition. Such a ban was in place from 1994 to 2004, but it wasn't extended after it expired. Although the proposal hasn't been spelled out in detail, it would likely affect popular high-powered weapons such as the AR-15, which can shoot dozens of bullets at a fast pace.

Another item on the wish list is universal background checks, which increase scrutiny of sales conducted through gun shows or other unlicensed avenues.


Biden took office at a time of national upheaval over the role of racism in policing and the future of democracy. George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, was murdered by a white police officer, and Trump tried to overturn Biden's election victory, leading to the riot on Jan. 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol.

Biden promised to address both of these issues through landmark legislation, but he came up short of his goals.

On policing, bipartisan negotiations on Capitol Hill failed to reach a deal, particularly when it came to making it easier to sue over allegations of misconduct. So Biden instead crafted an executive order with input from activists and police. The final version changes rules for federal law enforcement, but it does little to alter how local departments do their jobs.

He similarly issued an executive order on voting rights that aims to expand registration efforts. But Democratic legislation intended to solidify access to the ballot box failed to advance when some members of the party refused to sidestep Senate filibuster rules to pass it.

Biden's presidency was upended by the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed nationwide access to abortion. It's proved to be a potential campaign issue for Democrats, but they have had less success in Congress. Biden said that if his party picks up more seats, he will push for legislation codifying the right to abortion.


On Biden's first day in office, he sent Congress his proposal for overhauling the country's immigration system. The idea went nowhere.

But the president would want to take another swing at the issue in a second term. It will prove an especially urgent topic as migrants continue crossing the U.S.-Mexico border and the country looks for the next generation of workers to achieve its economic goals.

Biden wants to allow people who are in the United States illegally to apply for legal status and eventually citizenship. He also wants a smoother and expanded visa process, particularly for foreign graduates of American universities. These steps would be paired with additional resources for border enforcement.


Biden is facing two wars on two continents, and the fallout from each conflict will shape a second term even if the fighting ends before that.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been going on for almost two years, and Israel and Hamas began their latest clash about a month ago. Biden wants to send military support to Ukraine and Israel, something that he describes as "vital" to U.S. national security interests.

"History has taught us when terrorists don't pay a price for their terror, when dictators don't pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos and death and more destruction," he said in a recent Oval Office address.

His plans will require challenging congressional negotiations. Some Republicans are resisting more assistance for Ukraine after Congress has already approved $113 billion in security, economic and humanitarian resistance.

Both conflicts will likely require years of U.S. involvement. For example, Biden is looking for a new opportunity to push for a two-state solution in the Middle East, creating an independent Palestinian country alongside Israel.


Fighting global warming is one of the areas where Biden has had the most success. The Inflation Reduction Act includes nearly $375 billion for climate change, much of it going toward financial incentives for electric cars, clean energy and other initiatives. Biden is also pushing stricter regulations on vehicles and power plants.

But the U.S. is not yet on track to meet Biden's ambitious target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to independent analysts. And there's a lot of work ahead to ensure new programs reach their potential.

One hurdle is red tape for energy projects. The White House argues that it's too hard to build infrastructure such as transmission lines, but legislation to address the issue would likely require compromises with Republicans, who see an opportunity to grease the skids for additional fossil fuel development.

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Caribbean Matters: Remembering Hurricane Irma, five years later

While there has been speculation about the 2022 Atlantic-Caribbean hurricane season, which has thankfully not generated any major named storms yet, this month marks the five-year anniversary of two devastating storms that hit the Caribbean: Irma and Maria. The countries affected still have not yet fully recovered, and we see very little coverage of this in the U.S, beyond the damage Maria inflicted on Puerto Rico.

In honor of this dark anniversary, let’s take look back at Hurricane Irma; we’ll revisit Hurricane Maria next week, and of course we’ll explore where things stand today. 

Caribbean Matters is a weekly series from Daily Kos. If you are unfamiliar with the region, check out Caribbean Matters: Getting to know the countries of the Caribbean.

The first Category 5 storm of the 2017 season was Hurricane Irma, which formed on Aug. 30, 2017 and dissipated on Sept. 13. For those of you who are meteorology-minded, here is a portion of the National Hurricane Center’s “Tropical Cyclone Report” on Hurricane Irma, as applicable to the Caribbean.

By early on 4 September, Irma’s eye was growing in size and becoming better defined, and deep convection around the eye was gaining symmetry. Irma was on a strengthening trend once again, likely due to the completion of an eyewall replacement cycle, and it was headed toward the northern Leeward Islands. Irma turned west-northwestward, due to the erosion of the western side of the mid-level ridge (Fig 5b), and went through another round of rapid intensification. The hurricane reached its maximum intensity of 155 kt around 1800 UTC 5 September, when it was located about 70 n mi east-southeast of Barbuda. As a category 5 hurricane, Irma made landfall on Barbuda around 0545 UTC 6 September with maximum winds of 155 kt and a minimum pressure of 914 mb (Fig. 6a).

After crossing Barbuda, Irma continued to exhibit an impressive satellite appearance and made its second landfall on St. Martin at 1115 UTC that day, with the same wind speed and pressure as for its Barbuda landfall. Still moving west-northwestward to the south of a mid-level ridge, Irma made its third landfall on the island of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands at 1630 UTC 6 September still as a 155-kt category 5 hurricane. Later that day, as Irma moved away from the Virgin Islands, reconnaissance data from the Air Force indicated that the major hurricane had weakened slightly and had a double wind maximum, indicative of concentric eyewalls. The double eyewall structure was also evident in Doppler radar data from San Juan, Puerto Rico (Fig. 7)

Even though Irma was no longer at its peak intensity, it remained a category 5 hurricane with a larger wind field than it had previously (Fig. 4). The eye of Irma tracked about 50 n mi to the north of the northern shore of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic from 1800 UTC 6 September to 1800 UTC 7 September, with the strongest winds to the north of the center.

The eye of Irma passed just south of the Turks and Caicos Islands around 0000 UTC 8 September, and it made landfall on Little Inagua Island in the Bahamas at 0500 UTC that day at category 4 intensity, with estimated maximum winds of 135 kt and a minimum pressure of 924 mb. This slight weakening ended Irma’s 60-h period of sustained category 5 intensity, which is the second longest such period on record (behind the 1932 Cuba Hurricane of Santa Cruz del Sur). Irma then turned slightly to the left, due to a building subtropical ridge, and moved toward the northern coast of Cuba (Fig. 5c). Reconnaissance and microwave data indicate that the inner core had become better organized, and it is estimated that Irma strengthened to a category 5 hurricane again around 1800 UTC 8 September, only 18 h after weakening below that threshold.

Irma then intensified a little more and made its fifth landfall near Cayo Romano, Cuba, at 0300 UTC 9 September, with estimated maximum winds of 145 kt (Fig. 6b). This marked the first category 5 hurricane landfall in Cuba since Huracan sin Precedentes in 1924. Irma tracked along the Cuban Keys throughout that day, and its interaction with land caused it to weaken significantly, first to a category 4 storm a few hours after landfall in the Cuban Keys and then down to a category 2 hurricane by 1800 UTC that day when the eye was very near Isabela de Sagua. Shortly after that time, the forward speed of Irma slowed, and it began to make a turn to the northwest, which caused the core of the hurricane to move over the Florida Straits early on 10 September.

On Sept 7, 2017, NPR’s Scott Neuman chronicled the damage, going from island to island, tracking Irma’s path.

A string of tiny Caribbean islands have been left stunned and devastated by the destructive force of Hurricane Irma, one of the strongest storms ever to hit the region. Some islands appear to have been spared, but others suffered loss of life and damage on a near-apocalyptic scale.

He started with Antigua and Barbuda.

In Barbuda, communications were severed as Irma made landfall just before midnight on Tuesday. Antigua, 25 miles to the south, dodged the full force of the storm, prompting Prime Minister Gaston Browne at first to declare it a miracle that his nation had been spared.

But as it turned out, Browne had spoken too soon. It was only after communication began to be restored and he was able to visit Barbuda that the damage to the smaller of the two islands became clear. "I journeyed to Barbuda this afternoon and what I saw was heart-wrenching, absolutely devastating," Browne said on state-owned television Wednesday afternoon. "In fact, I believe that on a per capita basis, the extent of the destruction in Barbuda is unprecedented. And it is unprecedented, based on the type of storm. Hurricane Irma would have been easily the most powerful hurricane to have stormed through the Caribbean, and it is extremely unfortunate that Barbuda was right in its path."

As noted by Prime Minister Browne below, at least 95% of the island was affected.

My heart breaks for #Barbuda

— Therese Georgiev (@ThereseGeorgiev) September 7, 2017

One of the most irritating (read: rage-inducing) things about the first reports on Irma were the large number of social media posts from people who mistook Barbuda for Barbados, and posted videos like the one below—videos that were not even hurricane footage.

Barbados is not Barbuda. An example of misinformation being distributed/shared

— Rich Grasso (@richgrasso) September 6, 2017

This post pointed out the geographical distance between the two countries, after a journalist for a Charlotte CBS affiliate made the same error.

To clarify, #Barbados is lucky and was not in the path of #Irma (or #Jose). Zander was not "trying to surf in Irma".  ❤️to Barbuda.

— M.K. Hermant (@mkhermant) September 9, 2017

On Sept. 11, the BBC reported on damage to St. Martin, St Barts, and Anguilla.

The hurricane left more than two-thirds of homes on the Dutch side of the island of St Martin uninhabitable, with no electricity, gas or drinking water, and four people confirmed dead. The French government has said its side of St Martin - known as Saint-Martin - has sustained about €1.2bn ($1.44bn; £1.1bn) in damage, with nine deaths across Saint-Martin and St Barts. French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said there had been "massive destruction" to the islands.

The nearby British overseas territory of Anguilla also had extensive damage, with one person killed.

Then Irma hit close to home, making landfall in the Virgin Islands.

Irma found the Tortola's hurricane hole in Paraquita Bay #IrmaHurricane #Tortola

— John Clarke (@johnmclarkejr) September 6, 2017

Overhead footage offered just a glimpse of how bad things were.

This video footage shot from a drone shows the devastation on the island of Tortola, British Virgin Islands, from Hurricane #Irma

— CNN (@CNN) September 10, 2017

As Colin Dwyer wrote for NPR on Sept. 14:

Hurricane Irma arrived on the doorstep of the Virgin Islands just over a week ago. A Category 5 storm, historic in its terrible might, Irma shredded homes and hotels into the bare materials that made them, its winds scattering floorboards and roofs and light poles like so many matchsticks.

Within a day, the storm had rendered the islands so unrecognizable, satellites could register the stark change from space. Where once the Virgin Islands — both U.S. and British — gleamed green in their lush vegetation, that vista is buried brown beneath uprooted trees and the debris of broken buildings.

As nightmarish as those hours were, the days since have seemed a lifetime for many residents of the U.S. and British territories.

"While there were some homes that survived — some lost just roofs — there are homes that are totally obliterated right down to the foundation," David Mapp, executive director of the Virgin Islands Port Authority, tells NPR's Jason Beaubien. "I mean, all you see is rubble."

This short PBS video offers a glimpse of life after the destruction to the USVI.

.@JordynJournals details #Irma's destruction of the US Virgin Islands, including wind-damaged homes and many more w/o electricity.

— PBS NewsHour (@NewsHour) September 13, 2017

In an in-depth segment called “The Forgotten Americans,” Democracy Now! raised questions about the U.S. media’s coverage—or rather, lack thereof—of the devastation to the U.S. territory.

As the video’s YouTube caption explains:

Hurricane Irma made landfall in the U.S. Virgin Islands as a Category 5 storm just over one week ago, knocking out electricity and running water, and cutting off communications with the outside world. Now, Governor Kenneth Mapp says the islands of Saint John and Saint Thomas are still nearly entirely without power. The hurricane also destroyed schools and the main hospital on Saint Thomas. The devastation was so extensive, it can be seen from space. Earlier this week, a U.S. military amphibious ship arrived on Saint Thomas ladened with equipment and supplies. The islands have also received emergency aid from residents of the nearby island of Puerto Rico, where volunteers banded together to collect supplies and transport them on dozens of ships.

But while Hurricane Irma hit the U.S. Virgin Islands days before it made landfall on the Florida Keys, the Virgin Islands have been largely forgotten in the wall-to-wall U.S. media coverage of the storm. And that omission is even more striking given that the U.S. Virgin Islands are in the midst of celebrating their centennial as U.S. territory. We speak with Saint Thomas native Tiphanie Yanique, award-winning poet and novelist. She’s an associate professor in the English Department at Wesleyan University and the author of the poetry collection "Wife" and the novel "Land of Love and Drowning."

Meanwhile, on Fox (not) News, Tucker Carlson attacked USVI Gov. Mapp, based on NRA claims that Mapp’s calling up the National Guard to respond to the disaster included “seizing citizens’ guns.”

FOX Trump Stooge Tucker turns hurricane #Irma into conspiracy U.S. Virgin Islands is talking away guns & ammo from citizens. Gov. denies it.

— Richard W. (@IceManNYR) September 7, 2017

Mapp is the same governor then-President Trump mistakenly called “the president of the Virgin Islands.” It wasn’t until Oct. 3—about a month after Irma made landfall—that Trump actually met with him.

Donald Trump said he "met with the president of the Virgin Islands." (He doesn’t seem to realize he is the president of the Virgin Islands.)

— Maclean's Magazine (@macleans) October 14, 2017

Many U.S. television viewers got their first introduction to USVI Rep. Stacey Plaskett, who went on to be an House manager during Trump’s first impeachment trial; she’s seen here on MSNBC on Sept. 8, 2017.

Perhaps the most high-profile face to step up rally relief for the USVI was retired NBA star Tim Duncan.

ICYMI: Tim Duncan addresses the relief efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands following Hurricane Irma.

— NBA TV (@NBATV) September 13, 2017

Michael C. Wright reported on Duncan’s “amazing” efforts for ESPN.

SAN ANTONIO -- Retired San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan called the response to his plea Friday for donations toward Hurricane Irma relief efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands "amazing," adding that thousands of donors, including the Spurs, local grocery store chain H-E-B and the San Antonio Food Bank, have contributed.

"I'm blown away by it," Duncan said Sunday during a news conference at the San Antonio Food Bank. "In this day and age, it's a little easier to reach a lot of people, and people have come out from everywhere. I've looked down the list of donors, and I've recognized some names. I've gotten support from the Spurs, H-E-B and the food bank -- all across the board. It's just been an amazing response."

Duncan penned an impassioned plea for donations toward Hurricane Irma relief efforts Friday in The Players' Tribune, and by Sunday afternoon, he had reached his $1 million goal. Duncan promised that every dollar donated would go directly toward relief efforts on the ground. Duncan kick-started the fundraising effort with a YouCaring account and an immediate $250,000 contribution, and he pledged to match all donations up to the first $1 million.

Post-Irma, Daily Kos Community member Lefty Coaster documented his work helping the USVI rebuild in early 2019, posting at both the beginning and after the conclusion of his three weeks of service.

Tiny Barbuda, which was completely destroyed, is now facing a different set of problems. A “post-hurricane land grab”  has been reported by Alleen Brown for The Intercept, involving billionaire developer (and Patrón Tequila co-founder) John Paul DeJoria and movie star Robert de Niro.

Residents of the tiny Caribbean island of Barbuda say a planned luxury resort co-owned by the billionaire philanthropist and self-proclaimed environmentalist John Paul DeJoria could destroy the islanders’ way of life. DeJoria’s development company would place a golf course and community of seaside vacation homes on top of a wetland protected by an international treaty.

Recognized as vital in a future marked by climate crisis, the lagoon’s mangroves, seagrass beds, and coral reefs support a lobster fishery, endangered hawksbill and leatherback turtles, and the largest nesting colony of magnificent frigatebirds in the Western hemisphere. The vegetation also helps protect land from eroding during increasingly severe storms, such as Hurricane Irma, which destroyed the island in 2017.

Locals, who are citizens of the sovereign nation of Antigua and Barbuda, are also raising concerns that the resort constructed by DeJoria’s company Peace, Love and Happiness is playing a role in upending the island’s collective land ownership system, which has survived since slavery’s abolishment.


The project is one of two large developments — for tiny Barbuda, at least — to benefit from a series of disaster capitalism-style legal maneuvers advanced in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, as Barbudans fled wholesale destruction. The other project is being led by actor and hotelier Robert De Niro, who plans to build a tony resort called Nobu Beach Inn on a different stretch of sand. Though the Nobu Beach Inn will not be located on the Codrington Lagoon, locals have decried both projects as part of a “land grab” — enabled by a pro-development government in Antigua that lured the resorts in and rammed through a post-hurricane change in land laws that turned the projects into significantly more attractive investments.

The impact of these new luxuries worries Barbudans.

On the Caribbean island of Barbuda, big changes are afoot: a new airport, golf course and luxury resorts are being built. But some worry about the environmental impact and question the benefits the developments will bring. New from @Newsy + Bellingcat

— Bellingcat (@bellingcat) August 31, 2022

We’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, cross your fingers and hope that the Caribbean makes it through this season with no major storms.

Join me in the comments to share your memories of Irma, and for the weekly Caribbean News Roundup. 

Ash Wednesday’s universal message: Honor sacrifices made for our future

In the past ...

Ash Wednesday 2001 was also in February, just a few months after a close election decided by Bush v. Gore in December of 2000. I was a Catholic graduate theology student at a Methodist institution, in a suburb of Atlanta, filling my car up with gas. The station was literally across the tracks in a poorer part of town where the cheaper gas fit my budget. I had just come from a church that was hard enough to locate in the days before GPS.

Asking for directions to a Catholic church in the south often got me weird looks. And on that night, I had a big smudge on my forehead while I pumped my own gas. The night was dark and I wore a Syrian keffiyeh as a neck scarf against the cold.

When I went to pay, the Arabic employee just sort of stared at me. I was not his usual customer at this late hour in the evening. He didn’t quite know what to make of me. So he gestured with his hands as he fumbled for change. He pointed to my scarf and I said, “My sister in Washington, D.C., gave it to me.” Then he pointed to my head, which is when I realized I still had ashes there. “Why?” he asked. “What does it mean?” 

Since it was very cold and we both wanted to get back to our warm places, I fumbled with something quick to say. “It’s Ash Wednesday,” I said. But that didn’t get very far. “I’m Catholic … it’s a religious thing.”

I don't know what that conveyed to him, but that was as far as we got.

Less than a year later, I moved to D.C. to complete my theological training. I began my studies on September 11th. I stopped wearing my keffiyeh not long after when I rode the metro. During my studies, which included interfaith dialogue, I’ve gone back to that moment more than once.

I realize now, the simpler explanation could have been: “I am a sinner entering Lent.”

In the present ...

So here we are in 2021. Ash Wednesday this year falls after the 57-43 vote on Former 45’s second impeachment for the January 6 insurrection (our own self-inflicted 9/11). It also comes after Valentine's Day/Parkland Anniversary and the Super Bowl amid Black History Month to remind us of all the things we can cram into the shortest month. And like everything in 2021, the calendar cycles through a lens of how it’s not 2020, but we’re still not past its shadow either.

I don’t know whether mainstream media will make a big deal of Ash Wednesday with our second Catholic president. I suspect he might go to mass and would most likely have ashes imposed (perhaps placed on his forehead, perhaps sprinkled). 

The scripture readings for the day are a bit ironic. They talk about how to not make a show of yourself. For example, if you are fasting, you should still clean yourself up and go about your day. After all, what you are doing isn’t for others to see, but for God to see. At the same time, there is a collective call for a public gathering and display so that everyone in the community understands and commits themselves to this period of reflection and preparation in advance of Easter.

I will leave it to priests’ homilies and secular pundits to apply these things to our everyday lives. I have a habit of wanting to experience things anew, not simply to repeat them. While I enjoy rituals and traditions, I am much more interested in change and transformation. Lent always begins with Ash Wednesday. It’s always 40 days. It always involves fasting, abstinence, and works of charity. It always culminates in Easter and Jesus’ resurrection.

In short, as I used to say when I taught such things in parish ministry, HE always rises. Good for Him. The question is, what happened to us? How have we changed? How do I have a better answer for the stranger who was less concerned about me paying for gas and wanted instead to know more about me and why I was there?

The simplest thing I can say in 2021 is this. “Remember you are dust, and to dust, you shall return.” This is often what is said as the ashes are traced on foreheads in the sign of the cross. After 2020, mortality stares us in the face globally in a remarkable way. It’s the great equalizer. The baseline from which the human spirit arises in solidarity and acknowledgment of our inherent dignity. (Notions of pro-life don’t quite capture that.)

The other thing we Christians try to remember is that someone died for us and that calls us to change our lives radically. I don’t expect non-Christians or secular people to come to that exact same conclusion. But I think we can all look at 2020 or our lives before and acknowledge that sacrifices have been made and that people have died before us. And we owe them something. We need to do something to honor that debt and pay it forward.

  • We owe Officer Brian Sicknick and two other fallen officers for doing their duty on January 6, alongside the courage of Officer Eugene Goodman, who is still with us.
  • We owe our investment to better public health and safety for the 2.4M dead worldwide and 450K+ in the USA from COVID-19.
  • We owe our continued commitment to social justice in the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Lewis.
  • We owe it to George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, among so many other lives that matter to work for systematic change.
  • We need to dedicate ourselves to addressing climate change as at least 54 are reported dead and another 200 are missing in India after a glacier broke in the Himalayas.
  • We bear the burdens of 500+ children, separated from their families while trying to cross the border seeking asylum. They are still missing.

The list could and does go on. We all know loss of one kind or another. We all find hope somewhere that this is not the end for us. We have to be prepared. We have to get ready. Are 40 days enough? Are Biden’s first 100? Be resolved, we know what it has cost.

Somebody died for you. Make your life count for them.

Postscript ...

My first protest of the Trump era: Neighbors protesting the Muslim Ban Feb. 7, 2017, stand in solidarity outside ADAMS center in Sterling, Virginia, near Dulles airport, while Muslims come to pray.

I spent time with many Muslims in Atlanta aside from that gas attendant. Hassan was the chief of security at the museum where we both worked. He was a high-level engineer from Iraq, but this was the only job he could get in the states, perhaps because of his background as a soldier. I remember calling him from near the World Trade Center just moments after we first started bombing his country.

“It’s OK,” he said. “He’s a madman.” I also remember his last words to me before I left the area. “When I look at you, I see your keffiyeh and say to myself: There is my friend...

Republicans just proved it: If the filibuster doesn’t end, we cannot restore our democracy

The founding fathers, chafing under the malign thumb of Britain's monarchy, most definitely envisioned the potential for a Donald Trump. Alexander Hamilton pretty much nailed Trump in 1792: "When a man unprincipled in private life[,] desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper … despotic in his ordinary demeanour—known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty—when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day—It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may 'ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.'"

Thus we have the tool of impeachment and the checks and balances of a legislative, executive, and judicial system. What the founders apparently didn't account for in their careful crafting of the three branches was a Mitch McConnell, a lawmaker so unprincipled that he would enter into a bargain with Trump to enhance his personal power at the expense of the whole Senate, and use that power to subvert the third branch—the judiciary. The reasonable "cooling saucer" of the Senate created to counterbalance the rabble in the House of Representatives wasn't supposed to become a tool of the corrupt, but here we are—and not for the first time. There's a throughline in all of American history for the fight against majority rule democracy: white supremacy. Every sustained backlash against progress has come from privileged whites. We saw its violent and very public resurgence in Trumpism, a storm Republicans have been happy to ride. There are myriad reforms the country has to undertake to beat that back down again, but it has to start now and in the Senate, with the filibuster.

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The vehicle for that is singular: H.R.1, the For the People Act of 2021, and its companion in the Senate, S.1. The House bill, first passed in 2019 and subsequently ignored by McConnell, would enact substantial and groundbreaking electoral reforms. It would remove existing barriers to voting, secure the elections processes to secure the integrity of the vote, expand public financing to fight the pernicious entrenched and monied interests, and ban congressional gerrymandering to ensure equal and fair representation in the House of Representatives. It would also start to chip away at the imbalance of representation in the Senate—where states like Wyoming have a fraction of the population of the nation's largest cities—by granting statehood to the District of Columbia.

That bill is not going to pass the Senate if the filibuster holds, nor is any of President Joe Biden's agenda. Senate Republicans made that abundantly clear from Biden's first day in office, and even before. When the Senate flipped into Democratic hands on Jan. 5 with the runoff results in Georgia, McConnell started in, refusing to bring the Senate out of recess until Jan. 19. (That also built in his excuse for not voting to convict Donald Trump in his impeachment—he could say then, duplicitously, that a former president couldn't be convicted.) McConnell then spent three weeks refusing to allow Biden to form a complete Cabinet by blocking an organizing resolution for the Senate, the necessary piece of business for all of the committees assignments be made and the committees to start serious business, like considering legislation referred to them and processing Biden's nominees.

McConnell—with the tacit support of 49 Republican senators—insisted that this was all in the name of "unity," just like Biden wanted. His stance was that Democrats had to prove that they wanted unity by capitulating to his demand that they promise not to get rid of the filibuster and let him continue to block Biden's agenda and his nominees. To Schumer's credit, he didn't get that. To Joe Manchin's and Kyrsten Sinema's discredit, they agreed with McConnell. Sinema, in fact, has continued to do so.

Sinema is insisting that she'll oppose a minimum wage increase in the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that Democrats are pushing through using budget reconciliation, a limited tool that isn't subject to the 60-vote majority rule and thus can't be filibustered. More than that, Sinema says: "I want to restore the 60-vote threshold for all elements of the Senate's work." That would mean handing a veto of every Biden nominee—including potentially to the Supreme Court—to McConnell.

Sinema is undoubtedly trying to hedge her bets just in case Republicans retake the Senate in 2022, trying to worm her way into their good graces. As if McConnell and team would reward a Democrat for anything. As if it wasn't a betrayal of her own constituents, who support a minimum wage increase. As if it wasn't a betrayal of the LBGTQ community in which Sinema claims membership. She's expressed her willingness to help Republicans filibuster the Equality Act, which bans discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity. She's saying that she'll reimpose the 60-vote threshold to block Biden's pro-equality judges after Trump appointed so many anti-equality judges, needing just 51 votes.

She somehow believes that this can be put in the hands of Senate Republicans, only seven of whom voted to convict the guy who incited and directed an insurrection against them, a mob that was primed quite literally for their blood—and very nearly got it.  So, sure, these will be the people who will provide the 10 votes necessary to help Biden save the nation from COVID-19, provide health care to everyone in the aftermath of this pandemic, and finally enact comprehensive immigration reform to help border states like Arizona.

Which takes us back to the For the People Act. The events of Jan. 6 and the Senate Republicans' acquittal of Trump underline just how critical it is that Democrats respond forcefully and quickly to stamp down the radicalized Republican Party, to end its ability to maintain outsized power while representing the minority of the nation's population. It means, particularly for the likes of Manchin and Sinema, realizing that the Republicans they pal around with everyday are not their friends. That they would perhaps lament their deaths at the hands of a violent mob, but aren't going to act to prevent it from happening. It means ending the filibuster.

The For the People Act is the vehicle to use to do just that, because it would level the playing field for Democrats. More than that, it would allow for actual majority rule—for the majority of voters to have their will enacted. To have universal accessible and affordable health care. To have an economic system that's not weighted against them. To not have their families living in fear of separation. To have a government taking on the changes in the climate that threaten to make living in their home regions impossible.

None of that happens without a profound change in our electoral system, and H.R.1/S.1 would start that process. It's also where to dare Sinema and Manchin to thwart the will of the majorities who elected them, to dare them to stand with the white supremacist Republican Party that is fighting to keep whole communities of color disenfranchised.