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Newsletter 6-4-2021

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 European Commission is prepping the continent for (more) austerity.

In a missive sent this week to the European Parliament and the European Central Bank amongst others, the Commission asserted that the "general escape clause" of the Stability and Growth Pact--which had temporarily allowed EU member states to enact emergency spending and taxation measures in response to the pandemic--will likely be deactivated in 2023, pending an "overall assessment of the economy based on quantitative criteria." Once the clause is deactivated, preexisting obligations regarding limits on fiscal deficits and sovereign debt will be reinstated.

To the extent that Europe has not even yet emerged from its last lost decade--one tragically deepened and extended by an overly conservative response to the financial crisis of 2007-2009--it is difficult to understand why the continent's leadership is so keen to slide into another one. Hopefully the aforementioned quantitative assessment takes output gaps seriously, and gives governments the leeway needed to bring actual growth figures more closely into line with potential growth. If it doesn't, the unemployment-cum-retracting aggregate demand-cum-retracting investment dynamic ravaging so much of Europe will only get worse. Though deflationary spirals have suited finance capital and German manufacturers just fine in the past, this time they too may find themselves squeezed.    

(2) Speaking of European pathologies, as part of the ongoing campaign to better secure borders so to prevent migration inflows, the Greek border police has been testing out what they call a "sound cannon."

From the reporting I've seen, the weapon's development looks to have been financed by EU moneys. In conjunction with the various surveillance technologies now tracking the movement of unwelcome populations, the sound cannon is just another crude device within the global north's toolkit for impeding and/or warehousing those fleeing from war and want. After rendering the Mediterranean a graveyard of the desperate--since 2014, the International Organization of Migration has documented 21,500 people dead or gone missing during an attempted sea crossing--it was inevitable that the borderlands would become the next focus.

(3) The United States became the world's second largest exporter of liquefied natural gas in May, and may well jump the longtime leader in the clubhouse, Qatar, later this year.  

Cleaner than coal, etc., etc. Nevertheless, tough to observe production and investment into the extraction/transportation of LNG ramping up at a time when the transition to renewables and/or non-carbon emitting technologies cannot be delayed a second more.

(4) A UN Report released last week has revealed that the Turkish government deployed an autonomous, weaponized drone in Libya in 2020. Resulting casualties are unknown, and perhaps zero. Parties associated with the forces of Khalifa Haftar, however, against whom the Kargu-2 drones were allegedly used, claim that the technology was deployed against them.

If confirmed, the use of the Kargu-2 will mark the first known occasion of a technology attacking humans without requiring data connectivity between the operator and munition.

(5) Per Ines Abdel Razek and Xavier Abu Eid, I learned that this week marks forty years since Naim Khader, one of the brighter minds in the PLO, was assassinated by Mossad in Brussels.

Khader was an early advocate for a one-state solution. In his writings and his public statements, he frequently and powerfully argued that peace, justice, and collective emancipation could only be realized through the establishment of a single democracy in the lands of Palestine/Israel, a democracy where each resident (as well as the long exiled Palestinian refugees) would be made equal regardless of creed or ethnicity. That he and many others were killed for articulating such humanist and aspirational ideas ought give a sense for the motivating principles of Zionism's self-appointed champions.          

(6) As the United States' withdrawal from Afghanistan approaches, steps are being taken to secure the exit. One of the bigger worries for the Defense Department in these regards has been Hamid Karzai International Airport.

Despite designating more than $500 million for supporting the reconstruction of Afghanistan's civil aviation system, over the course of roughly twenty years, the US managed to neither train any Afghani air traffic controllers nor to integrate any local professionals into the airport's day-to-day operations (which it commandeered upon its invasion). As a result, the skilled labor shortage/lack of local capacity created by its own actions leaves Uncle Sam without the partners needed for a handover of responsibility.

Unsurprisingly, the departing Americans are seeking quick fixes to problems of their own authoring in familiar places: outsourcing and external contracting. Per reporting, NATO has recently awarded the government of Turkey an $130 million contract for managing Kabul's international airport, and will pass over control to the Turks in September.

(Regarding Pentagon business back home, Sara Sirota and Lee Fang at The Intercept show that the Biden administration is currently filling the senior ranks of America's military command with defense contractors and lobbyists.)

(7) The latest Economic Monitor report from the World Bank asserts that Lebanon's economic crisis is "likely to rank in the top 10, possibly top three, most severe crises episodes globally since the mid-nineteenth century." Due to the confluence of the pandemic with pre-Covid financial collapse, Lebanon's GDP per capita declined by a harrowing 40% in 2020. At the time of writing, two out of every five families are having difficulty accessing food and other basic needs, and unemployment is nearing 50%. Problems with inflation/superinflation are far from over, and foreign currency shortages may soon lead to power generation systems falling into disrepair (contracts for maintenance are denominated in dollars and/or held by non-national parties).

Pray for these folks, victims of their bankers and politicians and so many more.

Mad Craic

(8) A few years ago, you might have come across one of the thousand newspaper articles written about ISIS and the radicalization of western Muslim youth. Therein, you'd likely be told of disaffected Belgian or French teens seduced by some Imam online, how this ideological persuasion led to their joining the ranks of the organization's foreign fighters in Syria or their engaging in lone wolf terrorism in Europe/the US, and how they may have been available to such seductions by dint of their faith. Regarding that final proposition, you would have been instructed on how Islam incorporates its practitioners into a transnational community/identity system that transcends the contemporary nation state and necessarily renders secular fidelities conditional, partial, or fragile (i.e. what was said about Catholics up until the mid-2oth century). While the vast majority of Muslims are good Muslims and therefore capable of resisting the draw of extremists, the authors would nevertheless tacitly or explicitly assert that Islam contains some ontological, unchanging properties that make some of its adherents eternally vulnerable to the appeal of jihadists. (Jihadists in their telling, mind you, are wholly dehistoricized and depoliticized: ISIS is ideology manifest and those that line up under its flag do so strictly out of religious convictions). Once one reaches the bottom of the text, there are but two conclusions to draw: that Islam need be subject to reform, and Muslims subject to universal surveillance.

Apropos of nothing, in the video below, you will see a bunch of young people from around the world, motivated by their membership in a diffuse transnational ethno-faith community, decide to leave their home country in order to join a foreign army. It seems a highly analogous phenomenon to the ISIS scare discussed above, yet for some reason, the story hasn't quite caught the eye of The Atlantic. Hmm.

Great Craic

(9) A wonderful essay for those of you inclined to do some reading: Alex Hochuli on the "Brazilianization of the World." Give a look if you have the chance. One passage to entice:

Surveying the rankings of pandemic readiness from before Covid-19 struck—like the Global Security Index or the Epidemic Preparedness Index—one finds that the United States and the United Kingdom were supposedly the two best-prepared countries, with EU countries ranked highly, too. These were states that felt they had nothing to learn from the previous experiences of countries such as Brazil, Chi­na, Liberia, Sierra Leone, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And although countries that have managed the pandemic well are few and far between, state failure in the heart of Western capitalism puts paid to any complacent notions about the End of History and the primacy of one model over another. We all seemingly live in “less-developed countries” now.
The reality is that the twentieth century—with its confident state machines, forged in war, applying themselves to determine social outcomes—is over. So are its other features: organized political con­flict between Left and Right, or between social democracy and Christian democracy; competition between universalist and secular forces leading to cultural modernization; the integration of the labor­ing masses into the nation through formal, reasonably paid employment; and rapid and shared growth.
We now find ourselves at the End of the End of History. Unlike in the 1990s and 2000s, today many are keenly aware that things aren’t well. We are weighed down, as the late cultural theorist Mark Fisher wrote, by “the slow cancellation of the future,” of a future promised but not delivered, of involution in the place of progression.

(10) Here's a video of a chimp feeding some fish.

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.