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Newsletter 2-5-2021

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) Lokman Slim, a prominent Lebanese activist, publisher, and political pundit, was assassinated early yesterday morning. Many are speculating that it was Hassan Nasrallah's lot that ordered Slim's killing as the man was an unapologizing critic of Hizb' Allah, a biographical detail notable in and of itself but all the more so for the fact that Slim lived in one of the neighborhoods where the group retains a significant presence. That Nasrallah's son, Jawad, tweeted a triumphant kind of head-nod when all the news broke only lends further credence to the chatter. (Alternatively, it is possible that Jawad, like the sons of many other powerful people, is just a dunce).

Slim's writing, photography exhibits, and documentary film-making had covered everything from the Israeli/Phalangist massacre of Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Shatila to the disappeared of Lebanon's long civil war and the absences they left behind. His activism/organizing had often focused on efforts to democratize Lebanon's political process. In this vein, one of the institutes under his charge, Hayya Binna, had partnered with the US-funded National Democratic Institute's "Citizen Lebanon" project in 2008. Tragically though as is so often the case, this relationship brought with it accusations of Slim being a patsy of the American Embassy. With his passing goes one more of the region's bold public intellectuals.

(2) Tunisia's police union has doubled its efforts in hopes of breaking the protests we discussed here last week. Per Mohamed-Dhia Hammami, the violence of the Tunisian state has been such as to prompt the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT)--one of the winners of the Nobel Peace Price in 2015, an award bestowed upon it due to the role it played in mediating the transition away from Ben Ali's dictatorship in 2011--to issue a statement warning of "a systematized plan to bring (us back to) tyranny."

Hardly a radical outfit, that the UGTT would have used such language suggests things are quickly turning dire. With the National Press Agency having now reported that domestic security forces are engaging in acts "amounting to torture" in addition to "extracting confessions by force, raiding homes without a warrant and depriving arrestees from (the) right to have lawyers present during questioning", Tunisia's fledgling democracy looks to be hanging in the balance.      

Mad Craic

(3) Aleksei Navalny, Russian dissident and martyr/hero for many of the cosplaying Cold Warriors now dominating the liberal wing of America's corporate media, was arrested upon his theatrical return to his home country on January 18th. Protests of varying intensity followed his detainment, which the state wound up greeting with mass arrests.

To the extent that Navalny has earnestly remade himself into a champion of democracy and anti-corruption, these events ought be processed as another bummer in a long line of post-1991 Russian bummers. To the extent that Navalny remains an unrepentant xenophobe--and a man with a history of cavorting with Neo-Nazis and organizing racist anti-Caucasus movements inside Russia--American journalists might be well-served in holding off on his canonization.    

(4) The Indian government has launched a coordinated disinformation campaign aimed at discrediting (checks notes) Rihanna?

Indeed. Earlier this week, Ms. Umbarellaellaella herself and a host of other celebrity activists decided to use their platforms to draw attention to India's ongoing farmers' protest. The protest movement they were advocating for was discussed here a few months back, and has demonstrated considerable resilience since. Pressing forward with their demand that the government rescind reforms aimed at loosening regulations around the sale, pricing, and storage of agricultural products, these lads have sustained street actions without break for more than two months. This is so despite the Indian government having confronted their supporters with paramilitary-led violence this past week and despite Modi and his fellow jabroneys having cut mobile internet in those districts where protestors are currently gathered.

Without a resolution in sight and staring down the first populist reaction to his mix of ethnonationalist identity politics and neoliberal economics, Mr. Modi's gambit appears to be an attempt at presenting himself as the guardian of India's sovereignty, a sovereignty now under-siege due to the imperialist machinations of (again checks notes) the aforementioned Rihanna, Greta Thunberg, and Pittsburgh Steelers' wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster. While no one would accuse the man's base of being the world's brightest, I don't see this particular sell taking.

As always, God speed to the farmers.

(5) At this link, you can watch two numpties sitting a quarter-mile apart lecture their TV audience on why teachers in the United States need to forget about the whole pandemic diggy and, for the sake of the children, "suck it up and stand up and provide an education." You also get to see Mike Bloomberg, one of said numpties and a man last seen wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on a bid for the American Presidency whose only historical analogue in terms of shoddiness was the bid of Jeb Bush (Jeb!), looking pretty dumpy in casual attire.  

Great Craic

(6) Iranian media is reporting recent clashes between protestors and Saudi security forces in the city of Buraidah (located in the central north of the country). According to their accounting of events (and footage circulated online), the mobilization was primarily driven by economic grievances related to taxes, Covid-related quarantines, and unemployment.

As Muhammad bin Salman presses on with a desperate campaign to jointly downsize the Saudi state and open up new spaces for capital accumulation--a campaign meant to buttress the regime for an era of secularly declining oil rents--expect this to be but the first salvo in a coming social conflict. After all, though lagging behind its peers in the region, the Kingdom now walks the same path that previously brought Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, and so many others to intifada.

Like Mubarak et al before him, MbS is reckoning with profound fiscal imbalances and a private sector stunted into sterile dependence by decades of patrimonialism. Like them as well, he is hoping to resolve both issues via neoliberal intervention. In seeking to bring the budget into balance, he too is cutting back on public employment while reducing subsidies and expanding a constellation of regressive taxes first introduced in 2020. In seeking to juice the profit rate for private capital, meanwhile, he is also aggressively off-loading highly valuable public assets--airports, energy infrastructure, and the education and health systems, to name the most obvious examples--to a handful of connected elites. Far from yielding some free market utopia populated by efficient, job creating businesses, like everywhere else, the ultimate upshot of these reforms will be to intensify the country's unemployment crisis, to compromise public service quality, to increase inequality, and to deepen cronyism. From here, in Riyadh as in Tunis, forms of domestic resistance shall inevitably grow, which the royals in turn will hope to put down via securitized means. They may succeed, they may fail; regardless, the old order is dying, and a new one will need to be born.

(7) McKinsey & Company, who had most recently garnered our attentions due to their involvement in the planning for Muhammad bin Salman's hundred mile-long city, are back in the news after agreeing to pay 47 states a total of $573 million in compensation for injuries (individual and communal) suffered as a result of the firm's involvement in the country's opioid crisis. Though McKinsey has refused to "admit wrongdoing", details of how it "turbocharged" the spread of OxyContin and other similar products through marketing and lobbying initiatives are at this point well known. Able to skirt penalty so often in the past (see: Enron), it is nice to see these pricks perform a penance this time around, even if a somewhat symbolic one.

(8) Next Monday, Oregon's Measure 110 will go into effect. The legislation decriminalizes the possession of all illegal drugs. If found carrying, instead of being subjected to jail-time, individuals will be fined $100, a light citation that can also be dropped if the perpetrating party agrees to participate in a health assessment.

This is a great step forward, and will hopefully present the rest of the country with a viable alternative to the violent and punitive system that has ensnared and damaged so many in recent times. May it augur the end to the country's asinine war on drugs.

(9) Biden announced Thursday that the United States will "end support for offensive operations in Yemen." Though Uncle Sam will continue to target Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula at its own discretion, the announcement appears to signal that the our military will no longer aid the criminal air campaigns through which Saudi and the UAE have decimated their poor neighbor to the south. With long-time Sanders' advisor Matt Duss soon to move into a role at the State Department, too, things are getting better (if unevenly) in Washington, at long last.

(10) There is a 33 year-old bat named Statler who is currently being minded by caretakers in Weatherford, Texas. He can no longer fly, as he is quite old. Flying, however, is fundamental to his sense of dignity.

Cognizant of this, Statler's caretakers each day carry him by the midsection as he zooms around their facility, wings flapping, and perhaps convinced that he is the one still powering his flight.

It's about time bats got some good press.

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.