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Newsletter 12-11-2020

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.

No Craic

(1) The Intellectual Property protections enforced by the World Trade Organization have long been a disaster for countries in the global south. Not only have they kicked away the ladder that the north climbed in securing its prosperity and contemporary command over the technological frontier, they have also endangered the health of the bottom billions through limiting the production of generic drugs.

This is relevant because back in November, the olde WTO had a vote on whether it should waive relevant IP regulations when it comes to the vaccines for COVID-19. One will be none too surprised to see how the vote broke down:

The yellow stars are the countries that sponsored the proposal to introduce an exemption for the vaccines

At least the Kiwis broke ranks with the rest of team whitey (it looks like someone else did in southern Europe as well, but I have not been able to find the breakdown of the actual vote).    

(2) Recipients of federal earned income tax credits--a palliative measure extended to approximately 25 million lower and middle-income families in the United States--are audited by the IRS with the same frequency as the country's top 1% of earners. (Note the year when this downward trend began...the Obungler strikes again!).

If the notion of some poor though not sufficiently poor schmuck walking away with a tax credit of $2000 doesn't have us all sickened, frankly, I don't know what will. Glad to see America's policy wonks are working toward plugging the major leaks in the public coffers, and doing so with great moral forbearance.  

(3) Shockingly, a bipartisan coalition in Congress has recently come together in an effort to protect people from "surprise" medical bills. The surprises they speak of come when an individual is forced to seek emergency care at an institution outside their insurance network, or on those occasions when one knowingly or unknowingly gets care from a doctor outside said network; in the United States, acts of wanton criminality such as these have been punished by the wrongdoer being billed at a rate vastly exceeding what an in-network patient would be for the same services.

Anyway, recognizing the stupidity and profligacy of such practices, elected officials from both parties have, with the support of the insurance industry, sought to prevent hospitals from using discriminatory pricing for in-network v. out-network patients. Alas, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, a Democrat from western Massachusetts, is currently stonewalling the initiative. Neal's name may be familiar to you from this summer, when he won a high-profile primary over progressive Alex Morse, a victory largely attributable to the libelous charges of sexual predation that the Democratic party and a number of other vile actors sullied his challenger with.

You'll be unsurprised to learn that Neal is a favorite of Blackstone, a private equity firm with large stakes in hospitals and doctor staffing companies, both of which stand to lose from the proposed legislation.

(4) The European Commission announced a new Counter-Terrorism Agenda earlier this week. The Agenda derives from the same presuppositions concerning radicalization that inform US and UK policies in this domain--falsified at length by Arun Kundnani here--and empowers security agencies (Europol included) to engage in extensive surveillance and pre-crime, Minority Report-styled interventions against populations and individuals practicing behaviors or evincing attributes deemed to be suspect.

In each instance where they have been deployed, the types of anticipatory, preemptive strategies and praxes soon to be enacted by the EC have been used to target Muslim communities in a discriminatory and repressive manner. There is little reason to think things will be any different this time around.  

(5) Uganda is one of the main hubs for international non-government organizations (INGOS) and international financial institutions (IFIs) in east Africa, and is one of the biggest recipients of foreign direct investment in the region. Having achieved high GDP growth rates for thirty-years running under its neoliberal autocrat, Yoweri Musaveni, the country has consistently been hailed as a development success story while being elevated as a model for others to follow by the IMF and World Bank.

Appearances can be deceiving, though, and all this much celebrated development has long belied a rot at the core of Uganda's political economy. As has typically been the case for the IFIs' favorite sons--oh how they swooned over Mubarak's Egypt and Ben Ali's Tunisia in the late 2000s--Uganda's enrichment under liberalization has also been achieved through the deepening of authoritarianism and the spread of violence, inequality, precarity, and exclusion, rather than in spite of such outcomes.

This edited volume put together by Jorg Wiegratz, Giuliano Martiniello, and Elisa Greco and published back in 2018 dives into all these matters with great discernment. For those with an interest in Uganda itself or contemporary development more generally, I'd recommend a read.

(6) When it comes to brave fiscal interventionism in the face of Covid-19, I was disheartened to learn that Bolsanaro's Brazil has totally outrun the field down in South America. In relative terms (% of GDP), the Brazilian state has devoted levels of resources toward direct support for households, direct support for businesses, support for the health system, and "other measures" far exceeding those delivered by "leftist" governments such as Amlo's in Mexico and the coalition led by Alberto Fernandez in Argentina.

Was he not a total buffoon and had he not entirely bullocksed the public health response itself, one can imagine the aggressiveness exhibited by the Bolsanaro government might have politically boosted Brazilian right wing populism to the degree that it could not meaningfully be challenged.      

Mad Craic

(7) Here's a video of some Palestinians dressed up as Emiratis being treated as celebrities and dear friends by the preciously foolish denizens of Tel Aviv.

Speaking of UAE-Israel stuff, this week, we learned that Hamad bin Khalifa al-Nahyan (of Abu Dhabi's royal family) bought a 50% stake in Beitar Jerusalem, the most racist football club in a country of racist football clubs, and that AIPAC and the Israeli Ambassador to the United States (Ron Dermer) are aggressively lobbying the Trump Administration and Congress in hopes of aiding Abu Dhabi as it closes a deal to purchase $23 billion in arms from the US.

Nothing sweeter than puppy love.

(8) Uber has just offloaded its self-driving car project, which it had allocated $2.5 billion to, and which has always represented its only path to profitability. (Even accounting for the potential labor cost savings that were secured through the appalling Prop 22 vote in California, Uber's business model remains fundamentally unsalvageable lest the firm manages to monopolize the entire transportation market, public transport included).

Importantly, the offloading I refer to does not involve Uber selling this particular division of its R&D efforts to a competitor. There is, after all, nobody dumb enough to buy it other than Muhammad bin Salman, and he is already heavily invested in the mother company. Rather, Uber is, in effect, paying a start-up of its own creation--an entity called Aurora--hundreds of millions of dollars to take over the whole self-driving operation, thereby sparing the firm's executives the public embarassment of needing to own up to the fact that their tech cannot stop crashing, cannot complete the simplest of routes without incidents, and cannot even pretend to reconcile the unpredictability of human behavior.

For a bunch of readings on why Uber--as a business and a technology--is a scam, check out Hubert Horan here. As he argues, the entire enterprise is a "bezzle", a term coined by John Kenneth Galbraith to describe "the magic interval when a confidence trickster knows he has the money he has appropriated but the victim does not yet understand they he has lost it."    

Great Craic

(9) New York Comptroller Tom DiNapoli announced on Wednesday that the state will divest its pension fund from fossil fuels by 2025. He revealed that the fund will be wholly decarbonized as of 2040 as well. Both decisions are the fruits of a long lobbying campaign, one that began in earnest in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Managing $226 billion in assets at the time of writing, New York's contributions to a wider divestment campaign holds the potential to shift the profit rates and/or valuation of the oil-gas-coal industries in a non-insignificant way. Already less cost efficient than wind energy when it comes electricity generation, such an eventuality could see the market deal those sectors their final death blow. Whether that happens in time to save us from the apocalypse that looms is a separate matter. (So long as giants like Obama/Biden favorites Blackrock hedge against divestment from oil and gas--they have moved away from coal, it should be said--the odds of salvation aren't great).

For a quick read on what Central Banks can do to advance the greening of our economies, see the Mariana Mazzucato, Josh Ryan-Collins, and Asker Voldsgaard here.

(10) Here's a video of a little homey starting to do his prayers and then maybe forgetting where he is and then turning to gymnastics instead. It's pretty awesome.

In an unrelated note, this essay by Olufemi Taiwo is the best thing I've ever read on issues dealing with identity politics, broadly defined. If you look at one thing on your time off, I'd recommend Taiwo's work be it.      

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.