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Newsletter 2-19-2021

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) Dorothy Bohle and Aiden Regan, two of the best scholars in the field of comparative political economy, have just published a new and fairly distressing article on the selection and endurance of national growth models.

Based on case studies of Ireland and Hungary, they posit that the vagaries of electoral politics likely have a negligible effect on the big ticket policies that give shape to an economy (and society's) structural organization. Rather than be moved by the ballot box, the two argue that a country's growth model largely derives from the (formal and informal) interactions of dominant corporations and the policymaking elite. So long as both these parties remain committed to a shared vision--and so long as alternative social forces struggle to cohere, adhere and leverage their collective weight to push for reform--governments can change, leadership can be cast out, and the show will go on all the same.

I feel very seen by this analysis.

(2) A study group established and funded by the US Congress has recently advised the new administration to hold off on withdrawing American troops from the Afghan theater on May 1, as had been pledged by Biden's predecessor. After occupying the country for nearly twenty years now, it seems the study group thinks a bit more time is needed in order to get the conditions right for a Yank exit.

What, you ask, informed the group's thinking on these matters? It is difficult to determine with total confidence, but it might have been the financial ties that two of the group's three co-chairs and nine of its twelve plenary members hold with the major American defense contractors. As Eli Clifton details over at Responsible Statecraft, these firms soak up about half of the $740 billion annual defense budget, and retain an obvious vested interest in the United States keeping its forever war rolling on for yet another year.

(3) Wee Macron in France is making a true bollocks of himself.

Part of a desperate bid to outflank Marine Le Pen from the right, this past week he and his lieutenants first pressed forward with their rather grossly discriminatory "Anti-Separatism" bill, which passed the National Assembly's Lower House  on Tuesday. (While the articles rightfully gaining the most attention are those that will explicitly target France's Muslims, it is worth noting that the current version of the law also contains a number of provisions that, if adopted, will equip the police, national security forces, and courts with new and extremely expansive tools for squashing popular dissent. One article makes the spreading of personal information about public sector employees on social media punishable by up to three years' imprisonment; a second makes the "intimidation" of an elected official or public sector employee punishable by up to five years' imprisonment.)

Next, Macron's dunce of a Minister of Interior went on television to lay out the racism of his jefe's gambit in an even nakeder form, attacking Le Pen during a debate on the grounds that she simply is not tough enough on Islam. Not to be one upped, finally, the President's feckless Minister of Higher Education, Research, and Innovation then jumped on this cresting wave of collective delusion and announced that she wants an official inquiry into "islamogauchisme" (Islamo-leftism) in the French academy.  

Someone get Kylian Mbappe on the Presidential ticket so this little fella can be retired to Elba, where he belongs.  

(4) An Obama-appointed judge (Steven Logan) has denied an injunction filed to halt the company Rio Tinto's mining of Oak Flat. The injunction had been filed by the Apache, as the lands in question are sacred to the tribe and a place previously protected from extractive actions by dint of an Executive Order back in the 1950s.

In making his ruling, Judge Logan quoted a case asserting the following: "The exclusive right of the U.S. to extinguish Indian title has never been doubted. And whether it be done by treaty, by sword, by purchase, by the exercise of complete dominion adverse to the right of occupancy, or otherwise, its justness is not open to inquiry in the courts."

Yes we can!  

Mad Craic

(5) Between 1840 and the 1930s, roughly 10% of the world's population (about 150 million people) left their homes to resettle abroad, joining one of a number of different migratory passages. This map, referenced by Adam Tooze, gives a good sense for the directionality of the resulting population flows; it does a less good job in breaking down the magnitudes at a country-level, so ignore the little table in the bottom right-hand corner.

Great Craic

(6) Last month, Luiz Bauluz, Amory Gethin, Clary Martinez-Toledano, and Marc Morgan put out a neat manuscript looking at the effect that the financial crisis of 2008 had on political cleavages in Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland.

Though all the countries in question were late industrializers--and thereby evince atypical class dynamics--the authors discovered major divergences in their respective responses to the great recession. In Italy and Spain, they document the declining political salience of class divides and a kind of post-modern revision to traditional dynamics: on the one hand, top-income earners after the crisis continued to support conservative parties, in line with historical expectations. In contrast to how things played out in the early-mid 20th century, however, these jabroneys were often joined on the right by low-income earners mobilized by much the same xenophobia/identity-based rubbish as one observes in the United States. Regardless of earnings, meanwhile, the educated strata of the Italian and Spanish populations broadly flocked to social democratic and socialist parties. Taken in conjunction, the aggregate upshot was the emergence of what the researchers call a "multi-elite party system" within both sites.

In contrast, over in Ireland and Portugal, the researchers discovered that the crisis resulted in the calcification of more classical political cleavages. In Portugal, the main parties polarized into left and right camps, with the right (gracefully) finding little joy amongst low-income folks. In Ireland, the old partisans of Fianna Fail and Fianna Gael hemmed and hawed around the center-right, while Sinn Fein rose to represent an alienated swath of low-income/lower-educated voters and activate a leftist flank long dormant within the country's political system. As was the case in Portugal, this absorption of working class folks into socialist-leaning politics in Ireland has, to date at least, spared the country of needing to deal with any of the vulgar right-wing nationalism that has plagued the UK and much of the continent.

May Portugal and Ireland continue to hold strong.

(7) The STAR Program went into effect in Denver in June of 2020. Aimed at reducing the purview of the city's police, small teams of paramedics and mental health clinicians were created and charged with operating as the first responders when it came to for dealing with low-level incidents and non-violent episodes of different kinds.

The results have proven the program a resounding success. Despite fielding over 750 calls as of December, the STAR teams' interventions had managed to prevent a single incident from either escalating into violence or requiring an arrest.

(8) Alex Simon has written a beautiful piece on the Syrian experience in Turkey, parsing the complexities of a life led in limbo. He covers the subject matter with great empathy and nuance, and vests a story so often flattened with wonderful depth and humanity. You should read it if you have some time.

(9) As of 2024, the Saudi government is saying it won't do business with any foreign company should their regional headquarters be located somewhere outside their Kingdom. Materially speaking, they are thereby demanding that all these firms close up shop in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and decamp for Riyadh.

Building on the myriad of quiet tensions that have been introduced to Saudi-UAE relations by consequence of clashing oil production preferences and misaligning goals vis-a-vis Qatar and Yemen, this announcement provides one more signal to suggest that choppy waters are coming to the Gulf. As intensifying beef between the Saudi Royals and the al-Nahyan over in Abu Dhabi will diminish their individual and collective capacities for mucking around in the rest of the region, such an eventuality ought be seen as an unambiguously good thing.  

(10) Here's some video of the Acropolis being snowed on. It's pretty dope.

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.