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Newsletter Christmas Day

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 special edition of No Craic, Mad Craic, and Great Craic.

No Craic

(1) Abu Dhabi continues to stink.

While little Sparta--as they are affectionately referred to at the Pentagon--has long been deploying a multinational force of mercenaries as part of their (failing) campaign in Yemen, as CJ Werleman details, a more recent Human Rights Watch investigation has revealed that they are also enlisting unwitting Sudanese men into their war in Libya.

The scheme works as follows: Black Shield Security Services, a private UAE-based firm, hires desperate Sudanese men under the auspices of employing them as security guards at malls and hotels and such. Upon arriving at the airport in Abu Dhabi, however, the workers have their passports seized. They are then shuttled down to a military training compound run by the Emirates Armed Forces. After two months of training, the conscripts are shipped off to Libya, where they are forced to protect oil fields currently controlled by the UAE's preferred warlord, Khalifa Haftar.

In the words of Ahmed Sewehi, a co-founder of the Misrata Psychiatry Department in Libya, this is "worst form of human trafficking in the world, sending people to kill or be killed and against their free will."

Alas, Abu Dhabi's sins don't end there. From Gavin Finch and Harry Wilson's reporting, we now know that the wee Emirate has been using Banque Havilland and its super shady Chairman David Rowland to wage financial war on Qatar, buy-up commodities across Africa, juice the books for Manchester City, purchase the silence of the aforementioned Human Rights Watch back in 2011, and funnel money to Tory politicians.

So yeah, these guys stink, don't ever go to their country.

(2) A CIA-trained paramilitary unit in Afghanistan staged a number of night raids in Wardak Province between 2018 and 2019, raids that resulted in the murder of at least fifty-one civilians. Multiple massacres of school children studying at village madrassas nominally associated with the Taliban represent the most depraved of the unit's crimes.

When The Intercept approached Afghan National Security Advisor with their findings, he had the following to say:  

“It really pains me to hear [of these incidents]...and unfortunately they have not made it to my desk. No one has reported them. [The unit) operates, as you know, in partnership with the CIA.”

(3) Personal income declined in the US in October and November, largely by dint of receding government aid (unemployment benefits in particular). By extension, consumer spending also receded for the first time since spring.

Graph provided by Ben Casselman

Not sure what to make of Trump's eleventh hour intervention with the COVID Relief Bill yet; it would surprise were he to now discover the resolve and concentration needed to actually take on McConnell's lot but we'll see.

(4) Per Gab Zucman, student debt as a share of America's national income more than doubled between 2006 and 2019. That is rather astounding.

Glad to see diamond Joe pumping the brakes on any prospective debt forgiveness.

(5) Rich folks consume an enormous amount of stuff. Those making over $200,000 per annum--about ten million people--allocate on average of $160 thousand dollars each year toward consumption.

Some folks with an eye on climate, Bill Gates included, have suggested that a progressive tax on consumption might represent a way of controlling the gluttonous appetites of the wealthy while also funding redistributive measures. Merits of such proposals not withstanding, they present enormous technical difficulties. That the IRS, who struggles to ensure that corporations and (rich) households report even a fraction of their true income, might somehow gather accurate data on consumer spending smells like magical thinking to me.

In case you were wondering who is driving the consumption and production ravaging our planet at the level of nations, Jason Hickel at LSE has recently put out a paper examining just that. TL;DR: it's whitey.

Hickel's per capita method for attributing responsibility for excess carbon emissions is unorthodox but worthy of consideration. More traditional approaches--which deal with aggregate rather than per capita figures--would assign China a very greater effect on our planet's destruction.

(6) The UN General Assembly had a vote last week on a resolution introduced by the Russkis, a resolution called "Combating Glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fueling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination."

Perceived to be a not so subtle attack on the Ukrainian government--cherished NATO ally, long-time champion of all forms of Nazism, new and old--fifty-one countries abstained from voting, the majority of them in Europe. Apart from Ukraine itself, only one country had the gall to vote against the measure outright. I won't even say it, as you can surely guess.

(7) The pardoning of Blackwater contractors responsible for the killing of fourteen Iraqi civilians in 2007 is truly horrific. If you need a quick backgrounder on the events in question, I'd recommend this piece from the lawyer who defended the victims in the American court system.

Mad Craic

(8) Drifting off the tailwinds of mozzarella's growth, American per-capita cheese consumption has more than doubled since the 1970s. (I use mozzarella in italics as I am sure there are grounds for disputing the authenticity of those cheeses classified as moz here).      

(9) The counties Joe Biden won in November (about 500 in total) generated 71% of national income in 2018. The counties DJT won (about 2500 in total) generated only 29%.

Lots to unpack there and I don't quite have the energy for it at the mo. For now, enjoy the breakdown visually (cheers to Brookings' Metropolitan Policy Program):

The richest county on Trump's ledger was none other than Suffolk, New York. #StrongIsland4ever.

Great Craic

(10) There is a word in Italian for old men in Bologna who pass their time "watching construction sites, especially roadworks--stereotypically with hands clasped behind their back and offering unwanted advice."

The word is umarell, and it is terrific.

Pointed to on twitter by Alain Dellepiane

Happy Christmas, have a great weekend, and may we all be umarells one day.


Colin Powers

Colin received his PhD from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in 2020. He is a two-time Fulbright Fellow.