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Newsletter 10-23-2020

Colin Powers
Colin Powers

Hey everyone! Thanks for subscribing. If you feel so obliged, please pass this newsletter around to others you think might enjoy the read. Cheers.

Now, onto No Craic, Mad Craic, and Great Craic:

No Craic

(1) The arts have been devastated by the coronavirus.

According to a survey conducted by Americans for the Arts, as early as late April, 63% of artists/creatives had become fully unemployed, 95% of the workforce had experienced a loss of income, and 78% had no post-pandemic financial recovery plan.

Things didn't get better during the summer. As detailed in a report authored by Richard Florida and Michael Seman, between April 1 and July 31, the creative industries are estimated to have shed 2.7 million jobs in the United States alone (about 9% the sector's total labor force). Disaggregating the data a bit, creatives in the American south look to have suffered the most in terms of unemployment. As a subsector, meanwhile, the fine and performing arts absorbed the biggest hit, with more than 100,000 community theaters, art galleries, music venues, etc. forced to close up shop.

In dollar amounts, the industry had lost roughly $150 billion before the calendar even turned to August.

(2) The US and UAE are still working diligently to advance the cause of peace in Israel/Palestine. More specifically, the two parties have agreed to finance the upgrading of Israel's network of checkpoints in the West Bank.

As someone who has been detained at said checkpoints--and, more importantly, as someone who has observed the ordeals that teenage Israeli soldiers regularly subject Palestinians to as they attempt to get to school, work, etc--I can tell you that everyone I know in the West Bank is super excited at the idea that Israel's apparatus of control and discipline will soon be tech-ified. The efficiency gains that will be realized through the use of biometric data in terms of population flows--most especially for the thousands that will be more expeditiously funneled into military prison, where they can be held indefinitely without charge and where they can even have the joy of dying on hunger strike--are certain to have people parading through the streets in no time.

Equally auspicious for peace was Israel's announcement of 5,000 new settlement homes last week. Consummating all the hard work Yousef al-Otaiba and his pals in DC put into the Gulf's normalization effort, those numbers will take Israel up to 12,150 for the year.      

(3) A team of journalists (James Bandler, Patricia Callahan, Sebastian Rotella, and Kirsten Berg) published a deep dive examining the fall of the CDC for ProPublica.

It makes for fairly harrowing if not altogether surprising reading. Detailing the decades of divestment affecting the American public health system, the contraction in funding allocated to the CDC in 2019 (once ebola emergency budgets ran dry), the shortage of on-the-ground personnel in China, and the institution's innumerable capitulations to the Trump White House, the article offers a comprehensive portrait of America's creeping state failure.

Beyond the calamity of the pandemic itself, the authors also document growing concerns that a "bankruptcy of (public) trust" will compromise all CDC efforts going forward.

(4) The pandemic is smoking the countries of South Asia.

As a region, the World Bank is projecting a 7.7% contraction in GDP for 2020. Given the breadth of informal employment in South Asia--where 75% of all workers lack a contract and access to a social insurance system--these recessions are expected to drive tens if not hundreds of millions into extreme poverty, with urban areas hit the hardest. In Afghanistan's case, this is expected to push the poverty rate beyond 72%.  

Worth noting, Modi's India is looking at a 9.9% drawback while Rajapaksa's Sri Lanka is estimated to experience a 6.8% decline in 2020, corroborating assumptions that right-wing populists are indeed dumb pricks.

(5) Macron's government is going scorched earth on all things Islam in response to the murder of middle school teacher Samuel Paty. Paty was killed by a Chechen immigrant, who had been worked into a furor after a social media campaign concerning Paty's conduct of a classroom discussion regarding the Charlie Hebdo thing from a few years back went viral.

After Macron delivered a speech Sunday where he asserted that "the fear is now going to change sides" and that "the Islamists cannot be allowed to sleep peacefully in our country", his Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin swiftly translated words to action by arresting eighty people and beginning procedures to deport hundreds currently on government watchlists due to suspicions of radicalization. This is pre-crime minority report security policy of the worst kind. Read Kundnani for more on this.  

Of note, Darmanin is also working to dissolve fifty-one civil society organizations on the basis of vague associations with whatever his office nebulously calls Islamism. This includes the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, a legal advocacy group supporting Muslims who have been subjected to discrimination. As documented in the link above, the Interior Minister has rather ludicrously charged that the Collective is "an enemy of the Republic." This seems to be because a parent of a student in Paty's class recommended that people reach out to the organization if they thought the teacher had done something inappropriate during his discussions of Hebdo and free expression.

All of this is in keeping with a wider Macronian campaign aimed at more comprehensively regulating and surveilling Muslim life in France. Toward this end, Darmanin has recently been pushing for reforms to phone-tapping laws at the EU level (reforms even Marine le Pen finds too draconian). Ominously, a Macron-authored bill addressing "Islamic separatism" is to come before French parliament in December.

Mad Craic

(6) America's Mayor Rudy Giuliani got got by Borat.

The set-up: Maria Bakalova, a 24 year-old actress playing Baron Cohen's 15 year-old daughter in the gag film, arranges an obsequious interview with an unknowing Rudy as part of her father's wider effort to curry favor with the Trump administration on behalf of the Kazakh government.

The interview she stages is conducted in a hotel room kitted out with concealed cameras. Per Vanity Fair, it is extremely uncomfortable to watch, with Giuliani drinking scotch, holding Bakalova's hand, flirting with her, etc.

Bakalova eventually invites NYC's finest to the bedroom. It is unclear if Giuliani was aware of her pretend age at this stage. Regardless, within a few minutes, he lies down on the bed and begins, umm, reaching down his pants. At this point, Borat (the character played by Sasha Baron Cohen) rushes into the room, tells Rudy the girl is only 15 and therefore too old for him, and offers himself to the Mayor instead.

Folks, you can't make it up.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm can be watched today on Amazon Prime.

(7) Farmers are lobbying the European Parliament to prevent vegetarian goods from being marketed as "burgers", "sausages", "steaks" or in any other verbiage traditionally associated with animal products. This follows from a successful 2017 effort which resulted in the European Court of Justice outlawing labels like "soy milk" or "vegan cheese."

Our descent into a post-modern hellscape where language, form, and signifier are all that matters seems to be complete.

(8) Some of Ghislaine Maxwell's 2015 deposition--part of the Virgina Giuffre lawsuits--were unsealed on Thursday.

Though short on bombshell confessions and the like, Maxwell's attempts at dodging and obfuscating are funny enough. An exchange over Bill Clinton's relationship with Epstein is particularly funny. Per The Guardian:

“You did fly on planes, Jeffrey Epstein’s planes with President Clinton, is that correct?” she was asked.

Maxwell was evasive.

“I have flown, yes.”

“Would it be fair to say that President Clinton and Jeffrey are friends?” Giuffre’s lawyers asked.

“I wouldn’t be able to characterize it like that, no,” Maxwell said.

“Are they acquaintances?”

“I wouldn’t categorize it,” she said.

“He just allowed him to use his plane?” the lawyer pressed.

“I couldn’t categorize Jeffrey’s relationship,” Maxwell said.

(Author's note: Maxwell attended Chelsea Clinton's wedding)

Great Craic

(9) Thailand's protests continue to build.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-0-cha was forced to revoke an emergency decree announced just a week prior. This decree had "banned publishing or broadcasting news--including online--that incites fear among the public", according to Helen Regan's reporting, and imposed austere limits on rights to public assembly (groups larger than five were to be subject to legal recourse from the state). As the Thai people kept right on gathering and demonstrating regardless, this revocation was a fairly lame attempt at saving juridical face.

Having demonstrated strength in the face of state repression, the ambitions of the protestors now look to be growing. At the time of writing, they are not only calling for the resignation of the Prime Minister, but setting their sights on the Monarchy--and the constitutional order that sustains it--as well. Specific to the royals, protestors are demanding an end to the monarch's legal immunity, a reduction to the size of his budget, the abolition of a lese-majeste law which makes criticism of the King punishable by up to fifteen years in prison, a depoliticization of the monarchy more generally, and for the King's personal assets to be separated from his official ones. The last of these demands was prompted by a 2018 transaction which saw the Crown Property Bureau, the institution responsible for minding the monarchy's finances, transfer tens of billions of dollars into the King's personal accounts.

Bonne chance, even if their using of salutes taken from The Hunger Games is a bit cringe.

(10) The Bolivians have restored their democracy.  

Luis Arce, Minister of the Economy for the duration of Evo Morales' tenure (2006-2019), won Sunday's presidential elections in an historic landslide. Securing an outright majority in the first round of voting, Arce--the man perhaps most responsible for the remarkable (and well-distributed) growth Bolivia achieved the past fifteen years--will gracefully be spared a run-off and all the shenanigans (cough, American spooks, cough) it might have given occasion to.

To give some quick background, prior to Arce's Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party winning power in 2006, Bolivia's income per person had just plummeted to levels below those of 1980. Over the next fourteen years, per Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, MAS oversaw income per capita growth of 52%, reduced poverty by 42%, and reduced extreme poverty by 60%. Simultaneous to this, the party also invested heavily in the country's infrastructure and public health/public education systems.

The remarkable turnaround stewarded by MAS was powered by heteredox economic policy choices long out of favor in DC. Most prominently, this included the party's nationalization of hydrocarbon and water industries and the active support it provided to state-owned enterprises, operationalized through the Central Bank of Bolivia's use of quantitative easing, bond purchases, and direct financing mechanisms. Read this report for full details.

Anyway, on the political front, after serving three terms and twelve years, the aforementioned Morales wound up seeking (and securing) judicial permission to run for a fourth term in December of 2018. This was so despite the Bolivian constitution only allowing Presidents to serve two terms, and despite the warnings of Lula da Silva.

Morales went onto win the Presidential election comfortably in October 2019. Shortly thereafter, however, right-wing domestic forces, supported by the Organization of American States--a legacy institution of South America's (US-backed) decades old anti-communist front--mobilized a conspiracy accusing Morales of voter fraud. Though obviously bogus, the American press quickly lined up to endorse the OAS' accusations.

Henceforth, disarray and chaos came to engulf Bolivia, with constant street agitation from right-wing forces lending an extra degree of menace. In this context, the Bolivian police and military approached Morales, the recently re-elected President, to tell him that he, his family, and his allies needed to leave the country or face immediate consequences. Morales opted to seek exile in Mexico City.

Coup completed and the Presidency vacated, an absolute lunatic and friend of the business classes arrived on the scene with bible-in-hand. Her name was Jeanine Annez. Branding herself as a caretaker of sorts, she had herself appointed interim President and promised new elections would be held shortly. The American press again went on with the charade.

Annez naturally proved a complete disaster. She drove the economy into the ground, presided over gross human rights abuses and one of the world's worst responses to the pandemic, oversaw the corruption of the judicial system, and postponed elections time and time again. Alas, they finally did hold those long-delayed elections last Sunday, and despite the right's best efforts to consolidate behind a single candidate, MAS won the day.

Thank goodness. MAS's successes, driven by a robust and militant trade union movement working hand-in-hand with indigenous communities, can be no more inspiring.

That said, all should be prepared for further meddling from the US--where liberals like Ben Rhodes have recently taken to lamenting how Republicans mismanage imperialism (subtext being: be better at keeping the pesky lefties out of power so we can deliver Tesla all the sweet sweet Lithium it desires).  

Have a good weekend.


Colin Powers

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