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Newsletter 11-20-2020

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) Four members of the Kings Bay Plowshares Seven, a group of Catholic pacifists, will be sent to federal prison soon. The individuals in question were convicted of conspiracy, destruction of government property, and depradation after they broke into a naval base in Brunswick, Georgia a few years back as part of a protest action. Motivated by a righteous opposition to nuclear weapons, the group spilled their actual blood on some military equipment, spraypainted some stuff, and used some hammers to dent a few pieces of metal. They'll all be spending between ten and and fourteen months in state custody--in facilities, of course, ravaged by COVID-19.  

You can learn about the history of the Plowshares movement, which traces back to Dorothy Day, in the podcast linked to here.

(2) Europe looks to be in really rough shape, economically at least. Activity metrics are showing major declines the past few months:

Partially as a result, investor sentiments are turning increasingly dire as well:

This doesn't bode well for the continent's recovery, at least until vaccine administration is able to restore a modicum of normalcy. Aggressive monetary and fiscal stimulus will be more needed than ever.

(3) Per Lyn Alden, the United States now has a lower labor force participation rate than Japan, a country with a famously ageing population.

Unlike Japan, America's decline is not a function of demographics. Rather, it is an outcome born equally of the jobless recovery that followed the 2008 financial crisis and the malaise of our current moment. By dint of the latter, larger and larger percentages of the working-aged are finding themselves without any place in the contemporary economy, and withdrawing en masse as a result.

For those people who haven't given up entirely (i.e. those still at least looking for work post-COVID), a growing share are joining the ranks of the long-term unemployed. As of October, roughly four million unemployed Americans had been without work for more than six months.

Visual provided by Matt Klein

(4) Diamond Joe Biden recently appointed Cedric Richmond to lead the White House Office of Public Engagement, where he will primarily be tasked with liaising between the business community, activists, and the bureaucracy as concerns climate policy.

This is problematic because as a House Rep, Cedric Richmond was long one of the Democrat's biggest recipients of fossil fuel industry money, as you can read about here. To those who might argue that donor moneys don't affect the way Robinson advocates for his constituents, I present the counterpoint that our man's electoral district contains seven of the country's ten most air polluted census tracts. His voting record on climate offers another distressing piece of evidence.

Yes we can!

(5) The President-elect also looks likely to name Bruce Reed, notorious deficit hawk and long-time aide, to head the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). (Reed's only real rival for the position appears to be Jeff Zients, a Wall Street-aligned fiscal conservative). The OMB is one of the most important institutional hubs in the White House. Along with the the National Economic Council, it is largely responsible for the design and implementation of the executive's fiscal agenda, especially on the spending side.

This is all very bad. After all, Reed was a co-founder of the Democratic Leadership Council, an organization as responsible as any other for the Dems' lurch to the third-way right over the past thirty-five years. Established in 1985 and shaped by this vanguard's fear of and admiration for Ronald Reagan, it was the DLC that pushed the party away from the Rooseveltian principles which had oriented it throughout the post-war era. Once New Deal welfarism was cleared away, these folks also went on to consolidate a new strategy endeavoring to challenge the ascendant Republicans through both adopting many of their ideological/policy positions and courting many of their donors (the donor outreach bit was how Rahm Emmanuel cut his teeth, by the way). From here, you ended up with the pro-market, pro-business, tough-on-crime brand of politics that Bill Clinton rode to power and that Obama largely leaned on while in office (if less so as a candidate). Reed actually worked for the Obama administration as its Executive Director of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform while also serving as Biden's Chief of Staff. While in these posts, he spearheaded efforts aimed at cutting Medicare, Social Security, and other social insurance entitlements.  

(6) Student debt is in the news. On that topic, one might be curious to learn that two-thirds of black borrowers owe more than 100% their original loan balance a full twelve years after they started college, according to the findings of Mark Huelsman over at Demos. Though this figure stands out in relative terms, Asian Americans are the only demo even moderately keeping their heads above water; more than a decade since matriculation, 37.2% of all American college borrowers haven't managed to chip into the principal of the loans they took out.

For lower and middle income folks, student loans function as a tax on social mobility, as Neoliberal Dad, a great Twitter follow, argues here. Stoked that sensible wonks persuaded Biden et al against enacting a meaningful debt jubilee.

Mad Craic

(7) The national security apparatus in the United States is jumping the shark at the mo.

First, we've got the CIA calling on its staffers to "rock their mocs" (i.e. wear moccasins to work, which the pictures suggest means Uggs) in honor of Native American heritage month. Great friend to the indigenous populations of South America as the Company has always been, this gesture is certain to warm many hearts.

The same day the CIA tweeted out that directive, an online community identifying itself as the #NatSecGirlSquad announced that it is "revolutionizing how we recruit, retain, promote, and support the national security workforce." It's a shame they didn't manage to squeeze "disrupt" into their proclamations of a coming revolution, too.

Whenever I think we've reached peak neoliberalism...

(8) In the same vein of foreign policy jabroneyism, DC's Blob--which refers to the bipartisan collection of neocons and neolibs forever directing the movements of our benevolent empire--is currently doing lots of pearl clutching after DJT announced his intention to withdraw about half the 4,500 American troops still stationed in Afghanistan. Approaching our twentieth year of occupation there, these self-styled pragmatists have described Trump's move as dangerous, overly hasty, and immoral--as "rushing to the exits", in their words.  

Andrew Bacevich and Adam Weinstein lay out the patent absurdity investing such strains of thinking. Staying the course when the course has only ever produced calamity for all parties involved is, after all, an awfully strange prescription to offer.

Though years of incompetence and folly tend to undermine one's career prospects in other fields, this will never be the case for those high up in the swamp.  

(9) In Barry Obama's new memoir, he discussed the shallow intellectualism of his college days, writing:

Looking back it's embarrassing to recognize the degree to which my intellectual curiosity those first two years of college paralleled the interests of various women I was attempting to get to know. Marx and Marcuse, so I had something to say to the long-legged socialist who lived in my dorm; Fanon and Gwendolyn Brooks for the smooth-skinned sociology major who never gave me a second look; Foucault and Woolf for the ethereal bisexual who wore mostly black.

If the content of his reflections is pretty cringe to begin with, the style with which he expresses them makes it even worse. For a man with such high regard for his own writing abilities, the choice and deployment of these descriptives (long-legged, smooth-skinned, ethereal) is derivative crap ripped straight from the templates of mid-century American novels. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by 44's mid-century affinities, particularly after seeing the interview he just gave to everyone's favorite foreign fighter turned media luminary Jeffrey Goldberg*. There, Obama discussed his sympathies for the traditional ideal of conservative masculinity, which he identified as a kind of stoicism best embodied by, umm, movie stars like Gary Cooper and John Wayne. Wayne, of course, dodged military service during World War II.

(*Goldberg, an American from Long Island, volunteered for the Israeli Defense Forces as a young man, for whom he wound up serving as a jailer of Palestinians during the First Intifada. It is a shame he has never injected any of his lived experience--as an individual that was radicalized through membership in a diffuse, transnational religio-ethnic community into joining a foreign army operating in constant violation of international law--into The Atlantic's analyses of American and European Muslims who go to go fight with ISIS.)

Great Craic

(10) Peruvian protestors managed to take out the country's corrupt, business-aligned interim President (Manuel Merino). Merino was appointed to his post after the legislature cynically impeached the incumbent President (Martin Vizcarra) in an attempt at stopping anti-corruption investigations.

Though much remains unsettled, the man currently in the top job, Francisco Sagasti, is at least regarded as an honest broker. Like in Chile, young folks are looking to change the country's constitution. Bon chance.

We'll leave it there for now. More international stuff next week.

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.