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Newsletter 1-1-2021

Colin Powers
Colin Powers

Hi everyone. Thanks for subscribing. If you have the means, please consider becoming a paying member. If you have the inclination, please pass this newsletter around to others who might enjoy the read. Now, onto this week's special edition of No Craic, Mad Craic, and Great Craic.

No Craic

(1) Public prosecutors in Egypt have closed their investigation into the murder of Italian social scientist Giulio Regeni.

Regeni was kidnapped in Cairo back in 2016 while conducting field research on the Egyptian trade union movement. Autopsies would show that he was subsequently tortured, likely at the hands of the Egyptian mukhabarat, before eventually being killed.

Earlier this month, Italian investigators indicted four Egyptian security officials in relation to these crimes. This week, however, their legal counterparts in Cairo asserted that Regeni was in fact abducted by (unnamed) "enemy parties seeking to drive a wedge between Italian-Egyptian relations", an insultingly obscure claim that passes for normal in the Sisi epoch. On the basis of such findings, the aforementioned security officials will not be made available to Italy's officials/courts.

Diplomatic tensions will likely ratchet up in the days to come as a result of this very public fiasco. With the Italian energy conglomerate Eni holding a major stake in off-shore gas exploration/production in the Nile Delta region, however, one suspects any disruption to the countries' bilateral relationship will be brief.

(2) Jonathan Pollard, a former American intelligence analyst that moonlighted as a spy for Israel, recently had his life-time sentence commuted by lame duck President Don Trump. Flown to Israel on Sheldon Adelson's private plane upon receiving his freedom, Pollard was filmed kissing the ground in Tel Aviv Wednesday morning, with an approving Bibi Netanyahu looking on.

For those unfamiliar with the case, Pollard was a long-time asset of Israel (and a number of other foreign intelligence agencies) who traded volumes of information concerning CIA business for cash. He pleaded guilty to providing top-secret classified information to Rafi Eitan, his Israeli handler, in 1987.

Lest one think he a mere entrepreneurial spirit trying to earn a buck--and lest one think his crimes victimless--the direct upshot of Pollard's many treasons included terrible violence. Indeed, through the satellite images he provided to Eitan, Pollard can be said to have played the decisive role in in an Israeli bombing campaign that the American Secretary of State of the time, John Whitehead, deplored as an "act of terrorism."

Whitehead's words refer to an air raid on a PLO compound in Tunis in 1985 that killed 71 people, most of whom were civilians--be they Palestinian or Tunisian. (The main target of the attack was Khalil al-Wazir, aka Abu Jihad, Fatah's savviest strategic mind. His murder that day would prove deeply corrosive for the future of the Palestinian national movement.)

A journalist of the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot wrote the following of the bombing:

The people who were in the bombed buildings were torn to shreds beyond recognition. They showed me a series of pictures of the dead. "You may take them," I was told. I left the pictures in the office. No newspaper in the world would publish terror photos such as these. I was told a Tunisian boy who sold sandwiches near the headquarters was torn to pieces. His father identified the body by a scar on his ankle. "Some of the wounded were brought out from under the rubble, apparently healthy and unhurt," my guide told me. "Half an hour later they collapsed in contortions and died. Apparently their internal organs had been destroyed from the power of the blast."

You can see this thread from the wonderful scholar Remi Brulin for some of the relevant primary sources.

(3) The Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) that members of the Paris Club brought into effect this past May granted 73 low-income countries a temporary abeyance on debt repayments to institutional creditors (like the IMF) and public lenders (i.e. state entities) from the global north.

Alas, most of the debts held by the 73 countries in question are owed to private lenders (commercial banks and the like), actors who were not obliged to participate in this attempt at providing poor governments a bit of breathing room as they faced down the coronavirus. With some of the governments sitting at the Paris Club also unilaterally opting out of their commitments to suspend debt collection, the effects of the DSSI have proven marginal at best.

Evidence of this, 43 of the countries meant to benefit from the DSSI will spend more on debt repayments this year than they did on public health. This tragic disjuncture is most pronounced for governments in Sub-Saharan Africa.

(4) Saudi Arabia's largest sovereign wealth fund--the Public Investment Fund (PIF)--is taking its venture capital game into sketchy new domains. Personally steered by Mohammed bin Salman--the daytrading savant renowned for his WeWork and Softbank plays--the PIF has just announced its establishment of a National Security Services Co.

As presented in the euphemistic vernacular that is the trade secret of Harvard Business School graduates, National Security Services Co. will provide "security consulting, security solutions, training and development, and a range of specialized services." Put more plainly, the Saudi government will soon have its own Blackwater-type enterprise up and running!  

These types of private security firms are likely to proliferate throughout the Gulf in the years to come as the royals seek new domains for capital accumulation amidst secularly declining energy markets and slumping real estate prices. In Saudi's case, this growth won't be driven by profit seeking alone, but by social exigencies as well. As larger and larger segments of the population find themselves without work and needing to navigate a retreating welfare state, I'd anticipate that both the Saudi state and major corporate entities will increasingly employ armies staffed with foreign mercenaries in order to keep the peace. The need to discipline and/or warehouse surplus populations will likely provide an opportunity for Israeli security businesses to sell their surveillance tech and knowhow, too.  

(5) The great Perry Anderson wrote a massive, fifteen thousand word piece on the EU, its history, and contemporary function.

One of the great Marxist scholars of the late 20th and early 21st century--and a brother of Benedict Anderson, another intellectual giant--Anderson's essay is expectantly insightful and historically rigorous. If you don't have the time to read it in full, know that Anderson details the Nazi and fascist architects that were central to the Union's formation and early administration. As he shows, sitting on the European Court of Justice at its inception was Massimo Pilotti (Court President), Mussolini's former representative to the League of Nations; Otto Riese, a German who was an unrepentant member of the Nazi Party until 1945; Karl Roemer, another Nazi who managed French Banks and commercial entities during the war on the behalf of the Third Reich; and Maurice Lagrange, who was a senior functionary for the Vichy government in France.

As our own times corroborate, shitty people rarely pay for their sins. Rather, they get rehabilitated by new systems of power while their grisly deeds fade into the memory hole of publics too exhausted or distracted to notice.

(6) Well, looks like the US is making a bollocks of the vaccine rollout. At the current rate of administration, it will take ten years for the entire population to be inoculated. Due to incoherent strategy and non-existing public communications, many of the doses currently in the possession of those charged with doing all the injecting may wind up spoiled as well.

Table compiled by Bloomberg

Perhaps decades of outsourcing and contracting out all public services was a bad idea.  

Mad Craic

(7) For a more uplifting tale, you can read about how a one-legged, seven-fingered brigadier and his three hundred men have completely owned the UAE's billion dollar war machine down in Yemen.

I very much enjoyed it.

Great Craic

(8) While the American political system faceplanted time and time again throughout the age of Covid, the Danes' Red-Green alliance has been building up the country's welfare state and taking exciting steps to promote the democratization of the workplace.

As detailed by Poya Pakzad, an expert working group financed by the current government is working on policy proposals aimed at transitioning private companies presently owned by shareholders into workers' cooperatives. These are obviously early days yet, but it will be interesting to see what they come up with--and to observe what forms of resistance emerge in order to challenge their reform initiative.

(9) Stefan Muller and Aidan Regan have penned a very interesting article on Ireland's leftward political drift and the new (productive) cleavages this drift is opening up. Tracing new electoral dynamics and the changes that have been witnessed at the level of civil society, they show the degree to which the financial crises of 2007-2008 and the exclusionary dynamics introduced by the hegemony of the tech/pharma/finance sectors reoriented the structures of the country's politics, and how this has opened up opportunities for a more equitable and ecologically sustainable future to be imagined.

Let us hope these opportunities are seized.

(10) Finally, below is a six-minute compilation of very good dogs doing nice dog things in 2020. It makes for excellent viewing, particularly when the one fella falls backwards out of the tub.

  Happy New Year.  


Colin Powers

Colin received his PhD from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in 2020. He is a two-time Fulbright Fellow.