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Newsletter 11-13-2020

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 edition of No Craic, Mad Craic, and Great Craic. Cheers.

No Craic

(1) Multinational corporations are no longer content to hide away their non-US profits in the traditional postwar locales: the Caymans, Switzerland, and Luxembourg. Diversification is the name of the game today.

Per Gab Zucman's graph, you can see that the Emerald Isle actually took the title for world's greatest tax haven back in the mid-1990s. Mythos not withstanding, this provides another data point to suggest that the much celebrated Celtic Tiger--credited with driving Ireland's enormous growth between the Clinton era and the financial crisis of 2008-2009--was largely powered by Leprechaun economics, to borrow a term coined by Aidan Regan. More broadly, it demonstrates that any effort to rebuild equitable tax bases throughout the world and with them, more stable and just societies, will require the establishment of a global regulatory regime. Domestic capital controls in a single country simply won't be enough.

(2) The Mediterranean graveyard has welcomed another soul. The Spanish refugee charity Open Arms reported on Thursday that its efforts to revive a baby boy from Guinea, who was amongst the 111 people lost at sea after their boat sank off the coast of Libya, have failed.

Per the International Organization for Migration, 804 people have died attempting to cross the Med in 2020. The global total of migrant dead has now eclipsed 2500, which, it should be said, represents a 50% improvement over 2019.

(3) UN World Food Programme (WFP) Director David Beasley told the UN Security Council on Wednesday that Yemen is once again moving towards famine and humanitarian crisis. At the time of writing, Yemen's only chance of avoiding such a fate, the aforementioned WFP, has received about half the funding it needs to import and distribute food aid to at-risk populations. Aid Chief Mark Lowcock attributes the financial shortfall to inadequate contributions from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait. The first two of these parties are, of course, responsible for the desperate conditions in Yemen in the first place. Their appalling military campaign against the Houthis--driven largely by Muhammad bin Salman's desire to cosplay a warrior king--has already resulted in more than 100,000 deaths.

As Lowcock reminded the Security Council in his closing remarks, Yemenis are not "going hungry...they are being starved."    

(4) Elisheva Goldberg at Jewish Currents has written a wonderful piece examining the plight of Palestinian Israelis, particularly as relates to the cynical ways through which the Israeli state keeps their villages stuck in permanent legal limbo. Israel's non-recognition of villages such as Dahmash not only results in 800-odd people being excluded from basic municipal services, but in an entire community needing to deal with the ceaseless specter of housing demolitions. Mind you, this is not happening in the West Bank, but roughly 20 minutes southeast of Tel Aviv.

For those unfamiliar with the history, Goldberg provides a parsimonious backgrounder on the Jewish National Fund, the vehicle through which the international Zionist movement purchased lands throughout Palestine beginning in 1904. With a charter dictating that the land purchased remain the "perpetual property of the Jewish people", the JNF has constituted a key institutional/financial mechanism within the larger effort to consolidate a discriminatory, Jewish supremacist regime within the borders of 1948 Israel. It currently controls 13% of all the land in Israel.  

(5) As the fog of war begins to clear, a few ditties on the election:

Courtesy of Matt Karp, it looks like the Democrats' 2018 gains in high-income suburbs are proving sustainable, at least so long as the stench of Trumpism continues to permeate the air. While not constituting Biden's entire (thin) margin, these voters--college educated white people in particular, as Christine Zhang and John Burn Murdoch document here--are clearly coming to represent an electorally invaluable constituency for the party.

These shifts do not, of course, lend credence to the nonsensical proclamations of certain Republicans, who are now prognosticating that their party is set to evolve into a populist bastion of the working class. Such a notion is expressly absurd, not only because of the obvious disdain with which these charlatans look upon anyone lacking a country club membership; it is also easily refuted by a gander at the data, which shows that the Democratic party continues to dominate with lower-income voters, if not as comprehensively as it once did:

This table was compiled by the New York Times' based on exit polls.

That said, it would be naive to understate the importance of the coalitional changes that look to have been cemented between 2018 and 2020. In terms of their consequence on politics and policy, I do think it is important to first offer a hedge against those articulating reductionist, purely class-based analyses.

We are currently in the midst of a profound economic crisis. Well before our current ruptures, moreover, lots of people in the American upper middle classes (inclusive of these suburban folks earning more than 100k) had already experienced declining standards of life, principally driven by the inflationary dynamics that have pushed the prices of education, healthcare, and housing ever higher. As a result, regardless of their "class position", it ought be possible to recruit and mobilize at least some of these people as part of efforts aimed at advancing progressive reform and reconsolidating a baseline of welfarism in the wake of the coronavirus. They too, after all, stand to gain from the establishment of universal public childcare, medicare for all, free college tuition, etc. They too have frustrations with special interests capturing our state (and political parties). This all being the case, the migration of the suburban voter to the Democratic Party need not augur a deepening embourgeoisement of the party's politics.

Nevertheless, one cannot ignore the warning signs now flashing.

Voter turnout increases as you scale the income ladder, and no one is more likely to vote than the well-educated and well-heeled. Dem apparatichiks know this truth well. It therefore strikes as likely that they will seek to further cater the party's messaging around the sensibilities of college-educated, relatively well-off suburban dwellers going forward, as they are the ones most certain to show up to the polls.

This is problematic in that it will worsen long-enduring communications failures and widen the culturalist cleavages that have opened up in recent times. For decades running, the language and style of contemporary big L Liberalism in the United States has done little to combat perceptions of elitism and snobbery. This has alienated masses of people unversed in the dialects of postmodernist bullshit but otherwise sympathetic to progressive governance. As the party accomodates itself even more to the customs and mores of the educated suburbs, one can expect that larger percentages of these masses will either be pushed into total disaffection or be made more amenable to the aww shucks simplicity of conservative snake oil salesmen.

Nor do our troubles end there. Members of the college-educated professional middle class (PMC) are also uniquely susceptible to the hollow appeals of identitarian politics. They are, as a result, more likely to be distracted by symbolic gestures towards diversity and satisfied by victories of representation--by two women, say, Susan Rice and Michelle Flournoy, taking the reins of American Empire--than they are to fight for victories of substance. This, too, is not good.

TL;DR: History is contingent, though material conditions always matter. In view of the latter, the suburbanization of the Democratic Party ought cause considerable anxiety for anyone hoping for a livable and equitable future. Losses in Rio Grande Valley, documented and analyzed by the great Mike Davis, may indeed be a harbinger of things to come.

(6) While the news out of Pfizer and Moderna is great, a number of issues related to the distribution and administration of the vaccine remain deeply concerning. To begin, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are of the mRNA type, which means they must be kept at a temperature of -103 degrees Fahrenheit to stay stable, and that they must be administered to each individual twice, twenty-eight days apart. This presents a fairly immense logistical challenge, and one most state governments in the US are unprepared to overcome, as the folks at ProPublica explain.

Then there is the issue of hoarding. Per this study out of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center, the US, EU, UK, Japan, India, and Canada have already procured enormous stocks of those vaccines currently entering the final stages of tests and trials. In the US and Canada's case, these preemptive buys are well in excess of their respective population's needs (in the Canadians' case, the government has secured enough vaccine to inoculate the country's residents five times over).

The upshot of gratuitous oversupply in the global north is intense scarcity in the global south. Though middle and lower income countries will have partial access to collectively owned vehicles such as COVAX, the quantities we are speaking of will leave them well short of what is needed to cover their entire populations, as the graph below makes clear:

Let's hope this gets sorted out.

Mad Craic

(7) Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov unveiled a spectacular tribute to his favorite dog.

If the gold statue wasn't impressive enough, the base of the monument also appears to offer running video content of the dog's greatest exploits.

(8) A Japanese village on the northern island of Hokkaido has deployed two "monster wolf robots" in its efforts to keep bears out of residential areas. Per The Guardian, when its motion detectors are activated, the wolf "moves its head, flashes lights, and emits sounds ranging from wolfish howling to machinery noises."

Folks, tech has done it again!

Great Craic

(9) Thanks to some tireless work from ProPublica and others, details on the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program--a $525 billion part of March's CARES Act--will soon be available for public scrutiny. The program provided loans forgivable on the condition that employers kept staff on payroll, and was initially heralded as a socially-measured intervention in sharp contradistinction to the corporate bailouts of 2008-2009. Regardless of its nominal purpose, however, it is widely believed that the SBA's efforts allowed for lots of fraud on the part of business owners.

It will be nice to have a look at the data.

(10) This article, on climate change and California's colonial legacy of fire suppression, is a triumph. Written by Jordan Thomas, a firefighter and anthropologist, it is a sprawling and thoughtful read. Give it a go if you have the time.  

(11) Georgia's Senate seats are still up for grabs. Given that McConnell's refusal to do a real stimulus recently forced the state to cut $1 billion in education spending, centering the Democratic campaign around the cruelty of austerity and the prospects of a bold alternative would seem an easy sell. That was not how the party chose to run in the general though, so who knows. First things first, inshallah the spurious charges of anti-semitism currently being leveled against Reverend Warnock--on account of his recognizing that Palestinians deserve basic dignity--don't stick.

Have a great weekend.


Colin Powers

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