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Newsletter 7-30-2021

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) Former US Air Force intelligence analyst Daniel Hale was sentenced to forty-five months in prison this week by a federal district court judge in Virginia. The charges brought against him stemmed from his leaking of documents and photographs concerning the American drone program to journalist Jeremy Scahill back in 2015. The Intercept, where Scahill is a founding editor, subsequently published the materials here.

Amongst the most troubling things revealed by the leak were the "kill chain" that the Obama White House used in picking targets, the fact that operations were given a greenlight based on cell phone GPS data alone (and therefore based on the assumption that particular cell phones were being carried by particular persons), and the empirics on efficacy. As it turned out, according to the Defense Department's own numbers, their attempted drone assassinations almost never kill the intended target, but innocent bystanders instead.

Federal prosecutors primarily went after Hale by alleging that he had violated the Espionage Act of 1917--a rather absurd piece of legislation enacted to prosecute foreign spies, not citizen whistleblowers. The government presented no evidence to suggest that the leaked documents constituted a threat to the nebulous invention they call "national security."

It is estimated that the American drone program has killed between 9,000 and 17,000 people since 2004, including upwards of 2,200 children. The program operates globally and in many theaters where the executive branch has no legal right to conduct acts of war.

(2) Joe Stiglitz, hardly a radical, has just penned a wee blog eviscerating the grift that keeps on giving: Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) for infrastructure development.

He was prompted to do so after learning that the bipartisan infrastructure bill is going to lean heavily on these rubbish arrangements. Writing with great clarity as he usually does, Stiglitz is worth quoting at length on the matter:

The fundamental, flawed premise of these initiatives (i.e. PPPs) is that the government is inevitably inefficient, so giving control of these assets to the private sector represents an opportunity for arbitrage: Both the private and public sectors can be better off.
Experience around the world shows otherwise. There are several reasons for the disappointing results: For example, the private sector faces much higher costs of capital, and infrastructure projects are long-term investments, where differences in the cost of capital matter a lot. This puts the private sector at a marked disadvantage.
Moreover, it turns out that in many areas, the public sector is remarkably efficient and innovative—more than it is given credit for—and the private sector is less efficient than is commonly recognized. It is rife with what economists refer to as “agency problems,” where conflicts of interests and misguided incentives lead to outcomes that are far from socially desirable—as we saw in the financial crisis.
In addition, contracting with limited liability companies is a one-way bet—one of the reasons for the asymmetric outcomes in which the government bears the losses and the private companies reap the gains. When things don’t go the way they’d hoped, companies either walk away from projects or force renegotiations, essentially holding hostage a government that must still provide essential services. And when things turn out better than hoped, when costs are lower or demand is higher, the private firms keep the windfall gains.
Most importantly, it is hard—indeed impossible—in any contract to specify the full range of public concerns that one would want a “good” partner to keep in mind, and these are at the center of many key public infrastructure projects.

Should you be interested in learning about the disastrous global record of PPPs, do check out this report from Eurodad.  

(3) Tunisia's transition to democracy has been hamstrung from the start by the demands of its creditors and by its economy's subordinated position within global monetary, financial, and trade systems. Such structural conditions and the post-2011 political class' broad willingness to acquiesce to them meant representative government's prospects for generating welfare gains were always to be limited, good times or bad. When bad times proved to be the rule--terrorist attacks' crippled the tourism industry; Europe's long stagnation post-2008 limited export growth potential; the old elite staged a quiet capital strike; Covid-19, to name but a few--the social and economic health of the country got even worse.

As early as 2013, the absence of material improvements to people's lives began engendering worrying levels of alienation and anger amongst diverse segments of the population. Consciously or not, many concluded from their experience that politics proper--inclusive not only of the business of parties in parliament but the work of labor organizing--was incapable of aggregating collective interests, never mind of advancing a broader struggle to transform the way society is organized. While the fight was never entirely given up, the spread of disaffection did ultimately facilitate the emergence of different forms of anti-politics. (For more on this phenomenon, I cannot recommend this book by Alex Hochuli, George Hoare, and Philip Cunliffe enough).

The rise of Tunisian anti-politics manifested in lots of ways, including the localization of popular contention: having deemed all intermediaries either corrupt or ineffectual, protests turned away from grander, programmatic ambitions and toward parochial and personal demands--a job for oneself or one's cousins.

This week, it also helped enable the quasi-populist coup of Qais Saied.    

Many other factors are of course at play in Tunisia at the moment, none the least of which is the likely meddling of the UAE. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that Saied moves did not strike "like a thunderbolt from a clear sky", as Marx once wrote. Rather, they are the outcome of man and moment, of the opportunities furnished by history and the coalescence of agency and chance.

Which way from here is difficult to say, but the breaks of power relations and popular sentiment suggest Saied will wind up consolidating control, at least for a time. In view of the growing strength of the state's coercive apparatus alone--which has been financed and emboldened due to the west's obsession with chimera of migration and terrorism--this ought give reason for concern. That said, plots to cut off Covid relief in order to compel Saied's hand, an idea broached by none too few in Washington, ought not seriously be entertained. (The same ought not be said, of course, of budget support offered to Tunisia's men-in-arms.) As recent times have shown many times over, after all, sanctions inflict pain first and foremost on innocent people.

(4) South Africa is bollocksed. Per the recent column of William Shoki in The New York Times, unemployment has breached 30%, hunger is widespread, and the social and political order is "rife with racial tension, communal mistrust, injustice, and corruption." No meaningful political opposition exists, meanwhile, which has left the country at the mercy of an African National Congress party now coming apart at the seams: evidence suggests that the rioting and looting witnessed in recent weeks--initially thought to be a spontaneous revolt from below--was in actuality orchestrated by the loyalists of the now-incarcerated Jacob Zuma, who are attempting to delegitimize Presidency of Cyril Ramaphosa.


(5) American nursing homes rely heavily upon precaritized labor.

A collaborative effort of The Maine Monitor and the Investigative Reporting Workshop shows that in the east's northern most state, contract workers are filling payrolls at growing rates, especially at the six facilities owned by First Atlantic Healthcare.

One may be unsurprised to learn that there is a direct relationship between the staffing of temps and the quality of care provided to residents. Folks staying at facilities where the labor force is >25% contractor are far more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, bedsores, and decreased mobility.  

Mad Craic

(6) Boris Johnson is a dunce. For evidence, here you can watch him struggle immensely as he attempts to open an umbrella:

(7) Nancy Pelosi is building her midterm elections strategy around a new gambit: "blaming Republicans for voting to defund the police."

While I am hesitant to dive into the mind palace of the House Speaker, it seems she intends to leverage the Republicans vote against the American Rescue Plan as a way for positioning the Democrats as the party of #bluelivesmatter.

Folks, you can't make it up.

Great Craic

(8) Here's a photo of volcanic lightning. It is as cool as it sounds.

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.