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Newsletter 9-10-2021

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) Anand Gopal's investigation into life under Taliban rule in rural Afghanistan was published by The New Yorker earlier this week. (His research was conducted during the summer of 2021, at which point the Taliban already controlled much of the country).

Tracing the contemporary history of Helmand province through the story of one family's indefatigable matriarch (a woman named Shakira), Gopal spotlights just how terrible life has been throughout the post-American invasion period. For all effects and purposes, the US/Nato deputized governance and security in the region to a sweetheart of the American Special Forces named Amir Dado, a terribly corrupt and violent legacy of the Mujahideen campaign against the Soviet Union in the 1980's. Dado's predations eventually opened the door to a Taliban resurgence, a development that American/Nato forces responded to by escalating drone operations circa 2008-2010. At this point, Helmand became a true hell on earth, as evinced by Gopal's inquiries in one small village (Pan Killay), where he discovered that on average, families lost between ten to twelve non-combatant members "in what locals call the American war."

It is a beautifully written if heartbreaking piece. Worth the read.

(2) A new report released by Airwars, an organization tracking civilian casualties in conflict zones, estimates that American airstrikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen have killed more than 48,000 civilians over the past twenty years. Iraq suffered the brunt of these tragedies during the initial years of the war on terror. The Trump administrations' purported efforts at rolling back ISIS pushed Syria to the top of this harrowing leaderboard as of 2017.

(3) Simmering tensions in Tunisia may soon boil over.

While many social and political actors have bid their time to see how Qais Saied's gambit plays out, Tunisia's grand trade union--the UGTT--now looks to be prepping the ground for confrontation. A statement put out by the organization's Secretary General Noureddine Tabboubi earlier this week indicates that the union, a savvy political survivor if there ever was one, is not willing to acquiesce to the President's indefinite pausing of parliamentary life.

In the midst of an economic collapse that has left 20% of the population food insecure (and with more austerity still to come), it remains to be seen if the UGTT is willing to use labor actions--and the pain they will bring--to exert leverage on the President. With virtually every actor now on the scene trapped between Scyllas and Charybdises of different types, it is hard to see how Tunisia's short to medium-term futures won't be filled with more suffering.

(4) Once (naively) championed as the catalyst of the Arab Uprisings, social media platforms in the Middle East and North Africa have since devolved into technologies for spreading state-issued propaganda. Exploited and manipulated by extremely well-financed communications operations (the vast majority of which are housed within the state apparatuses of Saudi Arabia and the UAE), Twitter in particular has been rendered into a machine for inundating onlookers with disinformation of uneven quality. Though difficult to determine ceteris paribus effects, these cynical interventions into the public sphere have surely had some kind of influence on political developments. As Marc Owen Jones summarizes:

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have a terrible record when it comes to human rights and freedom of expression, and influencers there generally have to toe the government line. There is no free market of ideas where individual citizens can say what they want.
On Arabic Twitter, this is why narratives against democracy prevail—not because that is what the majority of Arabic-speakers think, but because so many of those who use Twitter cannot really say what they want. Even when they do, they are drowned out by anti-democratic messaging and outright propaganda reflecting the foreign policy interests of two authoritarian countries in the Gulf that are trying to chart and control the course of political development in the Arab world.

(5) Canada, often seen with rose-tinted glasses in the US, actually stinks.

The pension fund of Canada's federal public sector workers is currently highly vested in the privatization of Rio de Janiero's water system, securing constituents' retirements at the direct expense of the tariffs poor Brazilian folks will soon be paying for a basic need. At the same time as Justin Trudeau laments the difficulties young Canucks are facing in buying a first home, Canadian asset management firms handling the portfolios of other pensioners are buying up billions in residential real estate across Europe, intensifying a housing shortage already leaving a generation without hope. Taking advantage of fairly soft legal prohibitions vis-a-vis overseas human rights/ecological abuse, finally, one ought also note that a robust 60% of the world's mining corporations have chosen to domicile on the equity markets of America's northern neighbor as well, just for the craic like.

Something something about the need for an internationalist leftism...

(6) Christopher Webb has written a deft critique of efforts aimed at shoehorning financial inclusion into social protection systems, specifically exploring the dangers that come with structuring welfare around digital government-to-person cash transfers alone.

In Webb's estimations, these transfers likely represent a first step toward embedding poor folks in debtor relations with finance capital--something made all the easier when governments outsource the operations/infrastructure of cash transfer programs to private fintech firms. More broadly speaking, he sees financial inclusion initiatives as part of a broader, ongoing bait and switch whereby citizenries across the world are asked to cede basic social and economic rights-cum-entitlements in exchange for access to credit.  

Mad Craic

(7) An 116-year old Turkish woman recovered from a bout with Covid-19.

Not sure what else there is to add. Blessings up.

(8) Having gone silent for weeks, former President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani bravely decided to publicly commune with the Afghan people on Wednesday so to explain why he fled the country in the middle of the night last month (with millions in cash possible in tow).

Showing his deep connection to the country and its people, Ghani did so by writing a missive in English, and disseminating the letter on Twitter.

Yes we can!

Great Craic

(9) France's highest court (La Cour de cassation) has ruled that the multinational cement producer Lafarge can be prosecuted for complicity in crimes against humanity for having paid millions to ISIS so to facilitate corporate activities in Syria. (For what it is worth, revelations from oral depositions suggest that French intelligence was well aware of Lafarge's relationship with ISIS).

This is a good outcome in and of itself. Hopefully the decision also opens the door for cases to be brought against firms involved in these types of crimes elsewhere, even in those instances where the human rights violator isn't a cartoonish baddy like ISIS.

(10) Here's a gibbon crossing a bridge.

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.