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Newsletter 8-27-2021

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) Per the Watson Institute's Costs of War Project, the total bill for America's misadventures in Afghanistan will likely clock in around $2.3 trillion by the end of financial year 2022. Interest payments on war borrowing alone will exceed $500 billion.

To the extent that human costs can be calculated, the researchers at Watson estimate that between 171,000 and 174,000 Afghans have perished by direct consequence of war, about a quarter of which were civilians. (This figure excludes all those lives lost due to disease, infrastructure destruction, etc.).

(2) Erik Prince, one of the world's biggest scumbags last seen selling the Trump administration on the privatization of America's war against the Taliban, is currently running chartered flights out of Kabul. According to the Wall Street Journal's reporting, he is charging $6,500 a seat, hoping to exploit the desperation of folks yet unable to catch a ride on military aircrafts.

As defense contractors' hopes of swaying the Biden administration on the merits of an eternal occupation have fluttered away--not due to any lack of effort, of course: they've mobilized virtually the entirety of the foreign policy cognoscenti in an effort to sway public opinion--Prince's example suggests they are determined to grab every last buck still available.

(3) While the borderlands have long been the focus of attention, most the contraband moving into Tunisia today actually arrives via its ports. This costs the state hundreds of millions in foregone revenues each year, and at a time when the public debt is making the leap above 100% GDP.

The emergence of Tunisia's illicit maritime trade dates back to the reign of Ben Ali. As Hamza Meddeb writes,

Under the former regime of president Zein al-Abedin bin Ali, maritime networks prospered for at least two reasons: The first was that those who imported goods by sea could trade higher volumes of goods than could be brought in by land, with opportunities to pay fewer taxes through misinvoicing.
The second was that maritime networks could benefit from overinvoicing imports as this facilitated capital flight in foreign currencies, which in return permitted the illicit accumulation of capital in such currencies, giving these networks more latitude to import larger quantities of goods. This allowed economic elites allied to the former regime to prosper and accumulate wealth.

As jihadist jimmy jams saw borderlands with Libya and Algeria became more and more securitized post-2011, ever growing shares of the goods being informally imported into Tunisia have trafficked through the ports. This logistical shift has hurt communities near the Ras Jdeir crossing with Libya, which have long relied upon the gains that could be had through arbitraging the cross-national price differentials on gas, oil, and foodstuffs (differentials created as a result of the different subsidy regimes that were maintained by the two national governments). Still subjected to neglect and disinvestment as has been the case for the better part of modern Tunisian history, the drying up of the smuggling economy in these parts is set to deepen social crises even further.

(4) The latest data shows that the Middle East is warming at twice the global average, and projections reckon the region will experience a 4 degree Celsius gain in temperature as of 2050. Greenhouse gas emissions have tripled since 1990. Water reserves, meanwhile, exceedingly scarce to begin with, are being exported to Europe via irrigation-fed vegetables and fruits from a number of MENA's non-oil producers as part of a frantic scramble for foreign currency.

The Max Planck Institute in Germany posits that many cities in MENA will be proper uninhabitable by the close of our century.  

(5) With Lebanon's intensifying economic crisis making the acquisition of diesel on international markets increasingly difficult, the donor community is the only thing standing in the way of a full blown water crisis.

Last month, UNICEF published a report estimating that most water pumping facilities would cease running by early September due to the collapse of the power grid, with poorer folks likely to suffer the earliest and most acutely. Simultaneously, the supply of bottled drinking water has drawn down, driving prices up eight fold (as compares to 2019) at a time when most people no longer have a way of generating income.

Mad Craic

(6) The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) apparently just made a $1 million ad-buy on facebook. For those still using the service, you may come across the following sell in coming days:

Girl-boss pilots or super sketchy terries wearing eye-liner? Which side are you on?

Great Craic

(7) Junfu Zhao has written a really interesting piece on the US-China tech war, with a particular focus on semiconductors. Tracing the intersections of national rivalries and international political economy, the article make for great reading.

(8) Over at New Left Review, meanwhile, Adam Hanieh has penned a remarkably discerning piece on oil. Turning the focus away from the commodity's function as an energy source/transport fuel, Hanieh foregrounds how oil also powered modern capital accumulation (and oriented international affairs in the process) through midwifing "the birth of a world composed of plastics and other synthetic products derived from petroleum." If only to pique your interest, I will quote his introductory remarks here at length:

The making of a synthetic world is a missing piece in understanding the place of oil in contemporary capitalism. It is a story that begins in the early 20th century with the growth of the chemical industry in Germany and the us, subsequently moving through the rise of fascism and two World Wars that pitted Germany’s coal-based chemical giants against their weaker us counterparts. By the end of the Second World War, the us emerges as the dominant global chemical power. Its dominance, however, is premised on a chemical revolution that takes place during the War itself—the shift towards the use of oil and gas as the main chemical feedstock, rather than coal. This shift was deeply synergistic with oil’s rise as the world’s primary fuel, and with the emergence of the us as the hegemon of the new oil-centred world order. The new petrochemical industry also carried distinctive and radical implications that fundamentally transformed the nature of post-war capitalism itself—qualitatively increasing the scale and scope of available consumer goods, cheapening the cost of industrial production and enabling huge increases in productivity through labour-saving technologies. The commodification and massification of social life, including the rapid ascendancy of industries such as tv advertising, were in good part based upon the new synthetic products derived from petroleum. All of this was inseparable from continuous scientific and technological innovation, which in turn drove the restructuring of state–business relations and far-reaching changes to industrial organization and the corporate form.

As always, Hanieh is well worth the read.

(9) This one is funny but a little sad, too:

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.