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Newsletter 4-9-2021

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) The Polisario Front's National Gendarmie Commander Addah al-Bendir was assassinated by a drone on Wednesday.

For those needing a bit of context, the Polisario Front is a national liberation organization based in Western Sahara that has been engaged in a long-running independence struggle against the Moroccan state. Morocco's claims on Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, have no grounding in international law, and continue to be rejected by the United Nations and the European Union. Regardless, the monarchy has occupied these lands all the same for nearly fifty years, and has refused to hold the referendum on self-determination that was agreed to as part of a 1991 UN-mediated ceasefire.

After normalizing diplomatic relations with Israel in December of last year, the Trump administration rewarded Mohammed VI's lot by reversing precedent so to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the entirety of Western Sahara's territory. Apropos of nothing, given the means of al-Bendir's assassination, one may be keen to learn that the Moroccan state has been purchasing weaponized drones from Israel for some time now.

(2) A "privately governed charter city" located thirty miles off the coast of Honduras is set to launch in the next few months. Named Prospera, the city is at once a tribute to and apotheosis of neoliberal delusion. Brainchild of Paul Romer, former Chief Economist and Senior Vice President of the World Bank, Prospera will be governed by a separate constitution and legal code and organized as an Economic Development and Employment Zone (ZEDE). The primary authority in the city will be a Technical Secretary, who will be mandated to consult an unelected body called the Committee for the Adoption of Best Practices (CAMP) when it comes to policymaking. As for the composition of the CAMP, original proposals specified the inclusion of libertarian American luminaries such as Grover Norquist and Richard Rahn (once of the Cato Institute). Though Norquist has since been cut, as of the time of writing, the twelve-member Committee is still set to contain a large foreign contingent, with Rahn and Barbara Kolm--Vice-President of the Austrian National Bank and head of the Friedrich August von Hayek Institute and Austrian Economics Center--ranking most prominently amongst them.

Amongst Prospera's big financial backers is Peter Thiel...

(3) Vice Media Group, having built its brand as a renegade outfit speaking hashtag truth to power, is going forward with the opening of an office in Riyadh as well as with a partnership with the Saudi Research & Marketing Group. The office opening had been put on hold due to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, though after waiting long enough for that vile crime to drift into the memory hole that swallows all things in the United States, Media Senior VP Jason Leavy appears confident that his firm's move to MbS' kingdom will draw little in the way of public scrutiny. Vice, it should be noted, already has a regional operation based in Dubai.            

(4) Because there is nothing better than indulging in the hilarity of Joe Biden being a more ambitious executive than the Obungler (at least as concerns domestic affairs), see the graphs below detailing the extent to which America's 44th President reduced public investment below prevailing trend lines.

To be fair to B-O, it is the case that the spending declines corresponded with (and were to no small degree caused by) the Republican's takeover of the House in 2010. Nevertheless...

(5) Chris Jones, Yama Temouri, and Alex Cobham have published a wonderful analysis detailing the extent to which the Big 4 accountancy firms--PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, Ernst&Young, and KPMG--facilitate the tax evasion/avoidance of multinational enterprises. Per their analysis, PwC alone helped multinationals obtain at least "548 legal but secret tax rulings in Luxembourg from 2002 and 2010." As they detail:

The rulings allowed MNEs to channel hundreds of billions of dollars through Luxembourg, arising from economic activities that took palce in other jurisdictions and with effective tax rates so low that they saved billions of dollars in taxes.

If implemented, Janet Yellen's push for a global minimum corporate tax, discussed here, may at long last put a squeeze on these corrosive practices. Inshallah.

(To the Irish reading--yous may need a new developmental model soon.)

(6) Prompted by the desperate conditions introduced by Covid-19, the IMF has proposed increasing Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) allocations available to member countries by $650 billion.

Per Eurodad, SDRs are "an international reserve asset, created by the IMF in 1969, to supplement its member countries' official reserves and provide liquidity support when experiencing balance of payments crises." Importantly, SDR's are costless, in that they do not add to a sovereign's existing debt, and they are one of the few IMF facilities that come without conditionalities attached to them.

If certainly a positive step forward, Daniel Munevar and Chiara Mariotti show that the prospective SDR allocation lacks the scale and distributive schema needed to help the poor countries that could most benefit from them. By their calculations, the governments of low-income countries will only receive roughly 1% of the SDR package referenced above, or about $7 billion worth:

(7) Zaynab al Khawaja has written a rather heartbreaking essay on her family's suffering at the hands of the al-Khalifa regime in Bahrain. Imprisoned herself (with her infant child) for three years due to her tearing of a picture of the Bahraini monarch, al Khawaja's father Abdulhadi has now been locked up for more than a decade, where he has been subject to torture and all the indignities one would expect.

Mad Craic

(8) Jay Carney, former press secretary for the Obama administration, has managed to get his name back in the news by dint of his feckless PR work for Amazon.

Where are the rest of the Obama alumni now, you say? Well, Luke Savage at Jacobin has written up a wee piece detailing some of their trajectories, and, umm, let's just say Carney is no outlier.

Great Craic

(9) Helene Rey and her co-authors have published a fascinating study on global trade and finance networks and the various hubs that dominate them.

The one on top captures trade; the one below finance.

Pretty neat.

(10) Here's a bear enjoying her/himself in a tub at the Oregon Zoo. Great Craic.

   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.