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Newsletter 7-16-2021

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) Michelle Flournoy, founder of the Center for New American Security, long-time business partner of Antony Blinken, and the one-time betting favorite to become Secretary of Defense in the Biden Administration, gave a talk last week at a conference sponsored by the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK).

We discussed MEK earlier this year. For those unfamiliar with the outfit, they are an Iranian terrorist organization-cum-cult that has been fighting for regime change for the better part of forty years. (They have also managed to articulate one of the more batshit ideological programs I have come across.)

Whether due to the hefty speaker fees the organization offers or the strange psychoses it taps into, the MEK has frequently been able to attract members of the American political class to its events. In addition to Flournoy, New Jersey Senator and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Menendez, former DNC Chairwoman Donna Brazile, and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were amongst the other luminaries that offered remarks at the MEK shindig this past Saturday.  

After news of her participation in the conference was publicized, Flournoy (hilariously) claimed that she did not know that it was the MEK who had organized the event, and that she would not have participated had she known. This does not quite jive with the sentiments she expressed Saturday, however. Amongst other things, Flournoy said the following: "When there is an internal regime change — when a government comes to power that renounces its revolutionary aims and terrorism — the United States will be the first in line to engage it. In the meantime, we must continue to applaud and support the important work of diaspora groups like yours that keep alive the vision of a secular, free, and democratic Iran.”  

(2) Bernard Reinsberg, Thomas Stubbs, and Alexander Kentikelenis have published a wonderful article documenting and explaining how the International Monetary Fund turns borrowers into long-term marks compelled to return to the Fund time and time again.

The authors' primary thesis is that the policy prescriptions required of debtors by the IMF are so punitive and politically contentious that they inevitably lead to non-compliance. The immediate upshot of non-compliance, of course, is that the market spooks, foreign investors flee, and private creditors refuse to lend to the implicated government. Thereby deprived of alternative financing options, said government then returns back to the IMF with its tail between its legs, at which point the cycle can recommence from the start.    

The publication is open-access so check it out if you have an interest.

(3) As the coronavirus continues to ravage the country--recent pledges of vaccine delivery from Algeria, Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United States not withstanding--public trust in Tunisia's leading political figures has sunk to new lows. Polls run by a local paper show a robust 81% of the population having no trust in Ennahda's long-time leader (and potential Presidential candidate) Rached Ghannouchi. Qais Saied, the sitting President, and Hichem Mechichi, the current Prime Minister, are none too popular either.

(4) Who Profits, a top-notch Israeli Research NGO, has put out a great report on the country's Cyber/Surveillance Industry. Revealing the industry's origins in and enduring dependence on the occupation of Palestine; its connections to academic institutions in Israel; its leveraging of billions in subsidies and grants from the EU; and its growing entanglements with sordid authoritarians from around the world, the publication makes for essential and deeply distressing reading.

(5) Should he have the inclination, Joe Biden has the power to stop the conveyor belt through which the Pentagon passes military wares to police departments across the United States. By Executive Order, he could simply cancel the 1033 Program through which $1.5 billion worth of warmaking technologies made their way into the hands of domestic law enforcement between 2013 and 2021.

Alas, Joe has thus far refused to do so, and between April and the end of June, more than $18 million worth of equipment designated for military use (high-capacity magazines for assault rifles and submachine guns, mounts for weapons, night vision and thermal imaging accessories, and military vehicles) have been sent over to the boys in blue.  

(6) Lawrence Fink, CEO of Blackrock, is calling for the IMF as well as the big multilateral development banks (MDBs, of which the World Bank Group is the largest) to step up their efforts in derisking investment into the global south. Though he doesn't say this bit aloud, in a nutshell, what Fink wants is these institutions as well as debtor governments from the periphery to use a variety of means in order to guarantee the profitability of infrastructure projects. Once they do so, Fink promises that the trillions of dollars worth of patient capital that are managed by mutual funds, pension funds, and sovereign wealth funds and that are currently sitting on the sidelines will suddenly flow to power the development and climate resilience that these societies need, and everyone will win out.

For their part, the MDBs have already broadly accepted Fink's agenda as part of their maximizing finance for development initiative. Despite the enormity of the risks and costs (explicit or contingent) that guaranteeing profitability for Blackrock et al heaps onto poor governments, it seems all the big players in international development are prepared to go forward with this crazy gambit.

(7) A report published by Vivid Economics and Finance for Biodiversity has revealed that a mere 10.6% of the emergency expenditures mobilized by the governments of the world's 30 largest economies in response to the Covid-19 crisis will have a positive impact on the environment. This is so despite many of these governments having pledged to use the historic stimulus packages they raised not only so to stabilize communities, but to expedite the greening of economies.

In aggregate, the stimulus spending of these governments has amounted to $17.2 trillion. Never let a crisis go to waste they say...

Mad Craic

(8) Only years after lib icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg's refusal to retire when the goings were good led to her being replaced by a reactionary goon, Stephen Breyer looks like he wants to run the whole thing back one more time. 83 next month, the Justice apparently likes his job, and therefore wants to stay--consequences for the country and world be damned.


Great Craic

(9) Jair Bolsonaro has been hospitalized after having had the hiccups for more than ten days.  

He deserves nothing more than to spend the remainder of his time on this planet hiccuping.    

(10) Here's a video of some monkeys scaling a building.

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.