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Newsletter 1-8-2021

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) Wednesday, the metripole of the American empire was stormed by a coalition of dusty whites and Ford F-150-driving Applebees franchise owners. In contrast to the steely reserve exhibited this summer in facing down the peaceful protests mobilized in support of the Movement for Black Lives, this time around, the nation's famed security services--the only apparatus of the state that has not been divested from over the past forty-odd years--found themselves quickly overwhelmed. A meta storming of the Bastille followed, one laden with cosplay, self-delusion, caustic irony and the confident airs evinced only by those assured that they will never face consequence for their actions (as it turned out, this confidence was misplaced for at least one of them). In Mike Davis' inimitable words:

What was essentially a big biker gang dressed as circus performers and war-surplus barbarians--including the guy with a painted face posing as a horned bison in a fur coat--stormed the ultimate country club, squatted on Pence's throne, chased Senators into the sewers, casually picked their noses and rifled files, and, above all, shot endless selfies to send to the dudes back home.

Reckoning with a cause-effect relationship and the fruits of their sins for the first time in modern memory, many Republican elites are in a state of panic at the moment. Happy to leverage Trumpist politics in order to advance the economic aspect of their ideological project (which the aforementioned Davis deftly describes as "colossal tax cuts, comprehensive rollbacks of environmental and labor regulation, and a meth-fed stock-market) and to build a garrison for permanent minority rule, the uprising of the riffraff violently renditioned Grassley, Cotton et al onto the sloping climbs of their very own road to Damascus. Fearing for the investment climate, the corporate allies that have sponsored the Republicans' cynical nurturing of white nationalism for their own crass ends have grown suddenly pious at the sight of the mob actuated as well.

Unfortunately, the chastening of those once only too happy to midwife the Frankenstein of rightwing populism looks likely to augur a renewed bipartisan centrism, at least in the Senate. As has become abundantly apparent over the past four years, the dominant faction within the Democratic Party is not built for war times (Pretenses notwithstanding, the Obama White House's unwillingness to prosecute or even revisit the crimes of his predecessor and/or the financial houses that sunk our economy suggests this faction lacks the stomach needed to buttress the rule of law, too). Now stewarded by a man who sees hazy but warm images of Strom Thurmond in the fevered recesses of his decaying mind, that the Democrats might use their power to fight the fights that need be fought, punish and expel those who need be punished and expelled, and refuse a compromise with those who have delivered us to our present juncture strikes as fanciful hallucinations best reserved for Alyssa Milano and other members of the #resistance. This being the case, the spectre of failures like those of post-civil war reconstruction haunt our future ominously.  

Politics are about conflict and coalition-making. Specific to the former, it ought be clear that a long war of position must be waged with Trumpism--which worryingly though unambiguously pervades many of the coercive arms of the American state-- across a number of different registers (economic, institutional, political). It ought be equally clear that total subordination is the cost of joining this fight for any of the reformed Republicans no longer interested in reaping that which they have sown. Ergo, the only bipartisan consensus that ought be countenanced is one where the disgraced junior partner (McConnell, the Kochs, etc.) are charged with disciplining and reeducating the dipshits they have just spent decades training and empowering as the shocktroops of their broader conservative project. If they don't accept this role--and if they don't agree to lie down as bold social and economic measures are advanced in order to unwind the structures from which Trumpism grows--they ought be named among the ranks of democracy's enemies, and treated as such.  

Ours are to be scary and volatile times. Given how frequently those holding power within the Democratic party have sullied their left flank for being utopian and non-pragmatic, it would be nice if just this once, they practiced the realpolitik they style themselves masters of.

I won't hold my breath.

(2) Statistical measures of inequality are really bad.

Per Grace Blakely, methodological issues have forced a number of national governments as well as international institutions like the OECD to recalculate income-related metrics like the GINI coefficient. Most of the methodological issues stem from failures to properly incorporate income derived from capital gains, which contribute a great deal to rich folks' earnings (and almost nothing to poor and lower-middle class folks'). After properly accounting for these flows, income polarization shows itself to be far greater than previously thought    

Wealth-based inequality measures are also proving deeply unreliable. As documented in a recent analysis put together by the Resolution Foundation, the Wealth and Assets Survey conducted by UK's Office for National Statistics has vastly and systematically undercounted the wealth of the country's richest citizens. According to the Foundation's calculations, the wealthiest 1% of British people are in fact $1.085 trillion richer than official figures have posited.

The UK is not alone in its analytical folly. Blakely's article details that the wealth held by Canada's top 1% is $2.36 trillion greater than suggested in government statistics, and that Germany's 1 percenters hold 35% of the nation's aggregate wealth rather than the 22% put forward in earlier state-run reviews.

From these levels of polarization--polarization that has been expedited and intensified by the tax avoidance/evasion practices of the rich--grow all kinds of social and political pathologies. They need to be addressed, and soon.

(3) You may have heard that the life expectancy of Americans is tracking downward. (This is so despite the country reaching a zenith in 2014--79 years--roughly a half-decade short of most countries in the global north).

What you might not know is that we spend about 35% more on healthcare (on a per capita basis) than any of our relevant comparators.

This, folks, is the efficiency of our famed market forces.

(4) A study recently published by the Association of Detainees and the Missing in Sednaya Prison provides a truly distressing account of Syrians disappeared and families financially extorted.

Preying upon parents and siblings desperate for information, the entrepreneurs atop the regime's prison sector have charged thousands for an update on an individual's whereabouts (dead or alive) and thousands more for those hoping to visit a detainee.

Cheers to Alex Simon for pointing me in the direction of the study.

The sample sizes are fairly small, but there is little reason to think they are unrepresentative.

(5) A court in Jordan has sentenced five leaders of the country's teachers' syndicate to a year in prison, and ordered that their union be dissolved.

I wrote a long piece on the long-running conflict between the teachers and the Jordanian regime back in October (you can read it here). This was the outcome I ultimately expected, though the finality of the court ruling still makes for difficult reading.

As welfare declines and endemic jobs crisis pervade (and even spread into the countries of the GCC in the years ahead), expect authoritarian regimes across the Middle East and North Africa to lean further and further into coercive praxes as they look to batten down the hatches against popular forces. The days of manufacturing consent through redistribution and welfarism look to be well and truly behind us.

Mad Craic

(6) Scotland has reportedly refused Donald Trump an exemption to their travel ban. According to The Independent, DJT was hoping to squeeze in a quick eighteen at his golf course in Turnberry during Biden's inauguration. Alas, Scotland's first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has told the press that "We are not allowing people to come into Scotland without an essential purpose right now...Coming to play golf is not what I would consider an essential purpose."

(7) Crows are super smart. They may even have consciousness, according to a recent study published in Science. Experiments show birds in the broader corvid species can do jobs, share knowledge, ritualistically mourn the dead...that they "know what they know and can ponder the content of their own minds."

Might be time to turn the shop over to these lads/lasses.

(8) I learned from Zach Wehrwein that in the 1670s, Charles II "issued a proclamation that Turkish coffee was making men effeminate because it shrunk testicles. A cartoon at the time laments how weak men have become: they used to be knights and read the bible, now they just smoke pipes and sip coffee."

As someone who has drank a lot of Turkish coffee in his time, I can confirm the veracity of the behavioral changes alluded to by Charles II, though I object to the physiological ones.  

Great Craic

(9) Google employees have established a minority union (the Alphabet Workers Union) and will be represented/affiliated with the Communications Workers of America.

As a minority union, they have not needed to go through the National Labor Relations Board in order to secure a legal existence, or to win a majority share in a vote of all Google employees. Focused more on organizing and activism than contract negotiations for the moment, leaders have said the union will look to recruit temp workers and full-time employees into their ranks. Like most tech firms, Google has used contractors as a way of juicing its profit rate and problematizing labor organizing; the union's attempt to bring these folks onboard is therefore as strategic as it is ethically imperative.

For its part, ownership at Google has retained the services of IRI Consultants, a union busting enterprise of some renown, for dealing with these new developments. Back in 2019, IRI was brought on to help two Seattle hospitals fight back a union drive. As part of their efforts, they put together dossiers on all of the employees involved in the organizing campaign. The intelligence featured in said dossiers included profiles asserting that one individual or another was "lazy", "money oriented", "aloof", "from Samoa", "a follower", "impressionable", and a "single mother."

Like everything else in this country, even our Pinkertons have become decadent and feckless.

(10) Despite aggressive efforts to break into the local market place, Saudi and Emirati news networks have been unable to attract many Tunisian viewers. Hamdillah, none of their channels currently rank amongst the top twenty in terms of viewership.

This is an extremely good thing, as both Gulf parties have long been using nefarious means to poison the demos against Rachid Ghannouchi and Ennahda (a post-Islamist party loosely connected to the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar, and Turkey). In addition to cultivating local proxies (and maybe attempting a coup last summer), flooding the country with disinformation is a key part of a Khaliji strategy aimed not only at unseating Ghannouchi et al but reversing Tunisian democracy. Glad to see they are failing so far.

Have a great weekend.  

Newsletter

Colin Powers

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