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Newsletter 9-24-2021

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) Investor-state arbitration systems are a load of bollocks, administering a kind of justice designedly shorn of the principle of reciprocity.

Mediated by tribunals of corporate lawyers in most instances, these nocturnal councils operate according to rules stipulating that (i) governments may only act as defending parties and (ii) eligibility for compensation is exclusively reserved for corporate claimants. Established in the first instance for the purpose of protecting international investors against both expropriation and declines in profit brought on by legislative or regulatory shifts, bodies like the World Bank-funded International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) constitute a clear and present danger to democracy, the sovereignty of nations, and, increasingly, the planet itself.

The last of these claims is corroborated by some of the cases currently being heard by the ICSID. At the time of writing, five energy companies--namely Rockhopper, Ascent, TC Energy, RWE, and Uniper--are suing the governments of the Italy, Slovenia, the United States, and the Netherlands for a total of $18 billion. The firms in question demand satisfaction for grievances suffered over bans on offshore oil drilling, the canceling of the Keystone XL pipeline, legislation requiring environmental assessments for fracking operations, and plans to phase out coal-fueled power plants.  

(2) "The situation of the St. Domingo fugitives (aristocrats as they are) calls aloud for pity and charity. Never was so deep a tragedy presented to the feelings of man."

This was Tommy Jefferson's response to the Haitian revolution. The fugitives he mourns are the slave owners Toussaint Louverture et al so cruelly dispossessed of the right to hold others in bondage.  

I reference Jefferson not to open a debate over whether there have, in fact, been greater tragedies presented to the feelings of man than a bunch of rapacious settler colonialists losing their human chattel. Rather, I point to it to draw into relief the throughlines connecting the latest sinful turn in American immigration policy--evinced as much in Jen Psaki's performance of the banality of evil as in the horse mounted border patrol's whipping of desperate people--to a grotesque history stretching back centuries.

More visible than other aspects of the Biden administration's efforts in buttressing the fortress state against unwanted interlopers, the ongoing expulsions of thousands of Haitians from the Del Rio border is the latest iteration of a doomed Democratic immigration strategy. At its core, the gambit is to preempt and enervate the traditional conservative line of attack re: border weakness by more or less adopting their rivals' agenda. The ploy is not only morally abhorrent; it makes for shit politics. As Daniel Denvir reminds, "liberal anti-immigrant policies don't placate the nativist right; they energize the right and, by framing migration as a crisis, concede the premise of nativist politics."

Tough on crime/tough on borders Dems die hard.

(3) Zack Kopplin has a great write-up about Ashraf Ghani, his many corruptions and how it all jived with the broader American operation in Afghanistan.

Presented as a technocratic steward (and an academic to boot!), in actuality, Ghani's leadership style mixed nepotism with cynical and inhumane pragmatism. On the former score, Ghani delivered government contracts worth millions to his brother, brother-in-law, and the networks of privilege more broadly populating the Presidential palace during his tenure. On the latter, I'll just quote Kopplin as a quick summary won't do justice:

From the moment he came to power in 2014, Ghani’s rule was tainted. Leaked tapes revealed election officials stuffing ballot boxes in Ghani’s favor. “[G]iven the apparent closeness of the election and the involvement of the chief electoral officer in fraud, it is almost impossible that we will ever know who won,” said a leaked State Department memo, obtained by The New Yorker. Ghani officially became president after the United States brokered a power-sharing agreement with his closest rival. Then–Secretary of State John Kerry called the undemocratic deal a “triumph of statesmanship.” But during Ghani’s 2019 re-election campaign, which was plagued by similar allegations of ballot-stuffing, Afghans, who did not trust the legitimacy of the election, voted in record-low numbers.
Ghani’s reign was maintained by violence, warlordism, and terror. His first running mate was Uzbek war criminal Abdul Rashid Dostum, a mass-murdering rapist and longtime ally of the CIA and American Special Forces. Dostum is accused of countless crimes against humanity, including suffocating and baking thousands of prisoners in shipping crates, driving tanks over others, directing the ethnic cleansing, including rape, extortion, and execution, of captured civilian populations, and personally overseeing the rape of a kidnapped political opponent with an assault rifle. While human rights activists viewed Dostum’s appointment with horror, foreign-policy experts saw it as a sign of political maturity. “Ghani was showing that he, too, could play politics the old, dirty way,” wrote The New Yorker about the deal with Dostum. And beyond Dostum, the Ghani government was also filled with other notorious war criminals.

(4) Not that it is any way surprising to anyone who has spent time there, but the empirics laid out in a recent article published in the British Medical Journal of Pediatrics concerning the mental health impacts of Israel's occupation of the West Bank are a gut punch all the same. The authors estimate the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder amongst children in the West Bank to be between 34.1-50.4%.

These figures are in excess of four times the global average, and are predominantly a consequence of the home raids that the Israeli Defense Forces regularly conduct in the middle of the night.

(5) Orthodox economic theories present excessive debt to GDP ratios as a fundamental and universal threat to macroeconomic stability. This is so despite the data and historical record rather clearly demonstrating that liquidity is the only thing that ultimately matters: it is not the stock of debt that affects the currency, inflation, etc. so much as a government's capacity to raise enough cash to pay off obligations.

If not of universal remit, the law of debt to GDP ratios unfortunately does still apply to those on the global periphery. Its de facto power in those parts can be attributed to many things: colonial afterlives; the structural character of global monetary and financial systems; the racism of credit rating agencies, etc..

Regardless of provenance, higher sovereign debts in the south do imperil a state's ability to borrow on international capital markets, and in so doing, do tend to trigger liquidity crises and all the macroeconomic effects that tend to follow. The uneven consequence of debt are rather perfectly captured by the visual below. As it reveals, big guys can run up truly bonkers levels without worry (Japan, USA), whereas little guys, even if on their best fiscal behavior (Peru), may wind up facing pressure on their currency, dealing with inflation, or being pressured by creditors.

Mad Craic

(6) Dennis Ross, one of the immortals of the two-state solution industrial complex, sounded the alarm this week after progressive Democrats in the House attempted to block $1 billion of stopgap government funding from being used to replenish missiles for Israel's Iron Dome air defense system. In his own words:

Blocking funding for Iron Dome may well harm Israelis and Palestinians alike. If Israel cannot protect its citizens from Hamas rockets, it will have to  go into Gaza on the ground to prevent them from being fired. In that case, Palestinian and Israeli losses will be much higher.

Just when I think we've seen every nook and cranny of Dennis' mind palace, he opens the doors to a new wing.

Great Craic

(7) Ernest Ming-tak Leung published a fascinating article on the relationship between East Asian developmentalism and the ideas of state socialism thought up in 19th century Germany. Super interesting.  

(8) For soccer heads, Mathias Gjesdal Hammer has a quick write-up on the role the Premier League played in turbocharging the commercialization of the beautiful game.

One of the more interesting points Hammer develops concerns the Premier League's acute effects on income and wealth polarization amongst English/Welsh clubs. Under the arrangements that prevailed prior to the Premier League's launch in 1992, television revenues were distributed according to a 50/50 split: half the pot was divided amongst the teams in the top division, the other half shared amongst the teams of the lower three divisions.

From 1992 onward, the split between the top division and the rest was revised so that 91.25% of these moneys accrued to the 20 teams competing in the top division, and just 8.75% to the 60 below. The impact of these distributive changes was made even more pronounced by dint of a massive spike in the gross sums brought in by TV contracts throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Add in the oil baron owners that showed up around the turn of the millenium and you come to our current configuration.    

(9) If you're interested in getting a sense for what post-Merkel politics might look like in Germany, take a look at Doug Bandow's write-up over at Responsible Statecraft. Very good and quick primer.

(10) Here's a gator struggling to get onto land safely.

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.