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Newsletter 2-18-2022

Colin Powers
Colin Powers

Hi everyone. Thanks for subscribing. 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) Romania hosts a massive logging industry, much of which operates illicitly. The industry's growth took off post-1989, when firms from western Europe swept in with hopes of extracting the abundant timber still available in the country's sprawling old-growth forest. (Most the continent's richer nations had long since chopped their own old-growth forests down).

Activists and journalists who have attempted to sound the alarm on criminal logging practices have been subjected to attacks by the muscle that the industry's leading players employ. Forest rangers have been murdered and a government minister charged with regulating the industry was poisoned with mercury.

As for cui bono, Ikea, perched atop the manufacturing value chain that begins with the chain-sawing of trees, ranks first. The company sources 10% of its wood from Romania and recently became the country's largest private landowner. (It achieved this status, believe it or not, by buying a bunch of land from Harvard, who had used shell companies, nonprofit formations and connections with shady local businessman Dragos Lipan to amass huge holdings in the early 2000s. At this stage, it is difficult to contest that Harvard primarily serves two institutional missions: property acquisition and offering a safe space for highly esteemed perverts and sexual criminals).

Swedish meatballs and functional furniture come at a steep price, folks.

Great reporting by Alexander Sammon.

(2) After the Taliban's swift return to power last summer, the Biden administration proceeded to freeze the assets that the Afghan Central Bank held with the Federal Reserve. In so doing, the White House was cheered on by the many human rights' champions who had suddenly emerged, scorned and enraged, in the dying light of America's twenty year occupation of Afghanistan.

An odd choice, this was, by the erstwhile humanitarians. The consequence of the asset freeze, after all, were predictably disastrous for Afghan humans. In preventing the country's central bank from carrying out any of its incumbent tasks, the United States ensured the currency's collapse, the banking system's drift into dysfunctionality, and mass starvation, the latter of which was brought on by foreign currency shortages and the resulting inability to import food stuffs. If one seeks clarity on the cruelty that masquerades as decency in Washington, look no further than those cosigning little Afghan girls to death for the nominal cause of Afghan girls' right to an education.

Horrifying as the postwar had already been, it got worse last week when Ridin' with Biden announced he would be unilaterally expropriating half of the hitherto frozen assets of the Afghan central bank for the purpose of covering damages likely to be awarded some families of 9/11 victims as part of a legal case brought against the Taliban in the American court system. This was a batshit move for any number of reasons--the acrobatic leap previously required of the judge in rendering the Taliban legally liable for the actions of al-Qaeda; the laying claim to Afghan public assets in awarding damages; the multiple insane precedents that Biden's executive order would seem to set, to name but a few. Then there is the odd little ditty of the law firm now poised to take home a huge purse as part of the case in question having a former Biden White House Special Legal Counsel (Lee Wolosky)--a man involved in Afghanistan-related policy as recently as this past autumn--as one of its lead attorneys.

Put in the simplest terms, what has transpired is a bald and gratuitous act of theft perpetrated by the wealthiest state on earth against what may be the poorest. Protestations of a kinder, gentler machinegun hand notwithstanding, these events offer further testimony to the brutality of the financial sanctions that the United States' has leaned upon in punishing its enemies ever since catching some bad press for the starving of Iraqi children in the 1990s. Indeed, just as the Obama-era Treasury Department's surgical efforts in targeting Iranian political and military leaders incidentally resulted in collective punishment to the tune of $60 billion per year in GDP losses (see Maraiam Majd's work), the Biden admin's actions here just so happened to have condemned millions of Afghan citizens to unknowable suffering this winter.

The only thing worse than losing a war to the United States, it seems, is to win one.

(3) Due to the global pandemic and the public and private responses summoned in its face, more than 80 million people were pushed into extreme poverty in 2020. Wiping out three decades of insufficient albeit genuine progress, the consequences of this reversal are difficult to overstate. With interest rate hikes now upon us and austerity being pushed in much of the global south, it seems likely that the initial shock's effects will prove semi-permanent if not compounding.

(4) The Bank of England is openly engaging in some class war.

Proceeding from the empirically spurious presupposition that the current inflationary spike is being driven by wage increases, governor of the English central bank Andrew Bailey candidly acknowledged that he was using his powers to bring about a "moderation of wage rises", "painful" though this may be. He is doing so despite real wages in the UK still being below pre-2008 levels, despite their being expected to fall by 2% (post-tax) in 2021, and despite price dynamics being predominantly driven by the vagaries of European energy markets and supply chain issues.

Bailey's conjuring of a wage-price spiral and the specter of the 1970s in making the case for more expensive credit is cynical at the very best. In England as elsewhere, the tightening of monetary policy will not arrest inflation so much as it will retard growth and discipline workers by way of lowering the demand for labor.  

(5) Rifaat Assad, brother of Hafez and uncle of current President Bashar, has allegedly made his way back to Syria. Before Rifaat's bid for power during his brother's brief incapacitation in 1984 led to his expulsion from Syria, he had served as commander of the Defense Brigades, then the most elite unit within the country's military. Under his charge, the Brigades carried out a number of war crimes, including a massacre at Palmyra Prison and the siege of Hama in 1982, the latter of which resulted in tens of thousands of deaths.

Facing a number of charges related to money laundering in France, it looks like Rifaat deemed it time a good time to get home, and that his nephew greenlit it.

Mad Craic

  • No mad craic this week.

Great Craic

(6) Here you can see a monkey get all kinds of freaked out by a rat.

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.