Mojo - February 2011

Libya’s Exports to Europe: Oil and Immigrants

| Thu Feb. 24, 2011 7:46 AM PST

Muammar Qaddafi and Silvio Berlusconi have more in common than their tastes for lavish parties and sexy young women, or even their notorious 2009 “friendship pact.” Despite being the buffoons of their respective regions, each wields considerable power. And they share a common destiny that revolves around two types of Libyan exports: fossil fuels, which Italy desperately wants, and migrants, which it decidedly doesn’t.

Franco Frattini, the Italian foreign minister, warned on Wednesday that the Libyan uprising could result in 350,000 unwanted immigrants landing on the European continent. According to the Italian news site Adnkronos, Italy asked the EU for support in stopping the migrants, who most often enter through Italian shores.

”We ask that Europe do its duty,” he said during a Wednesday address to parliament in Rome. We want Europe to do more managing the flow of migrants because countries cannot be left alone.”

Italy in May 2009 agreed to begin controversial joint patrols with Libya, turning back thousands of illegal immigrants aboard boats in the Mediterranean.

Libyan leader Muammer Gaddafi hinted that he may unilaterally scrap cooperation, warning that he would allow thousands of migrants to pass through his country on the way to Europe if the EU sided with opponents of his embattled rule.

Qaddafi knows all too well how to frigthen European leaders–especially Berlusconi–who have right-wing, nationalist, anti-immigrant movements at their backs. And in normal times, this sort of scare tactic might have been enough to push Europe into aquiescence as differences were papered over in some sort of “reform.” But it is too late for that. Qaddafi totters, and no one can predict what will happen in the region. Emerging politics might at best result in some version of an Indian-style democracy, at worst chaotic Somali-style warfare with faction pitted against faction.

What may be even more frightening to Italy–and to much of Europe as well–is the prospect of losing Libya’s supply of oil and natural gas. Italy gets one third of its oil from Libya by way of the big oil company ENI. The company has already pulled out most of its employees and cut back the flow of natural gas through the pipeline that connects Libya and Italy.

ENI is the sixth largest oil company in the world. It is 30 percent owned by theItalian government, which has special rights to block mergers and sharply limit holdings of other investors. About 11 percent of the company securities are held by institutions including such big American mutual funds as Vanguard and Fidelity, along with Wellington Management, the big Boston investment management concern. The top 10 institutional holders control about 8 percent of the stock. Unlike the other majors, it has most of its reserves in politically volatile North Africa, which as the oil industry goes, remains relatively underdeveloped.

In turn, as Al Jazeera reports, several other international energy giants have stakes in Libyan oil and gas. Following the 2003 rapproachment with Qaddafi,

European energy firms were quick to invest in the holder of Africa’s largest proven oil reserves, the eighth-largest in the world, while many others signed lucrative arms and construction deals.

Tony Blair, Britain’s former prime minister, signed a so-called “Deal in the Desert” in March 2004, which paved the way for oil contracts worth billions, leading to a close relationship that has come under increasing criticism.

It included Anglo-Dutch company Shell signing an agreement worth up to $1bn and three years later BP agreeing its largest exploration commitment to date, in a deal worth at least $900m in Libya.

A historical footnote: Both Libya and Italy have been important but little-known players in the evolution of Middle East oil. In March 1951 the nationalist government of Mohammad Mossadeq in Iran took over the oil industry from the Anglo Iranian Oil Company, which became BP. The CIA conpired to overthrow Mossadeq and installed the Shah. Then the U.S. stepped in with Herbert  Hoover, Jr., dispatched by President Eisenhower to reinstate the international cartel of big companies that for years had dominated the industry. Iran’s oil reserves were carved up amongst British, Dutch, French and for the first time, American interests. But it did not include Italy, which was entirely dependent on imported oil.

Angered at being cut out of the competition, Enrico Mattei, head of the Italian state company now known as ENI, went to war against the cartel, and after Suez in 1956 he persuaded the Iranian parliament to rewrite the country’s petroleum law to make way for a new sort of production system known as joint ventures. Under this arrangement the company and country became partners, and they replaced the old concessions. In short order, the joint venture opened the way for direct nationalization and the birth of OPEC.

This post originally appeared on Jim Ridgeway's blog, Unsilent Generation.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 24, 2011

Thu Feb. 24, 2011 3:25 AM PST

FORT BRAGG, N.C. – Paratroopers with the Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, engaged enemy forces during a Joint Operation Access Exercise on Fort Bragg, N.C., 14 Feb. The 3rd BCT parachuted from the sky into a real-world scenario where they had to clear an area and establish a base of operations. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Cody A. Thompson, 40th Public Affairs Detachment)

Corn on "Hardball": What Wisconsin Means

Thu Feb. 24, 2011 2:33 AM PST

David Corn and Chris Cillizza followed Marty Beil, the executive director of the Wisconsin AFSCME, on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews to discuss the protests in Wisconsin and how the changing events there portend for similar situations in other states and the future of organized labor as a political force.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter and Facebook. Get David Corn's RSS feed.

In Zimbabwe, Zero Tolerance for "the Egyptian Way"

| Wed Feb. 23, 2011 6:24 PM PST

Have the Middle East's revolutionary stirrings made their way to southern Africa?

Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, isn't taking any chances. On Saturday his government arrested 46 people for attending a lecture titled "Revolt in Egypt and Tunisia: What lessons can be learnt by Zimbabwe and Africa?" The group of students, activists, and trade unionists was charged with treason and could face the death penalty if convicted.

Meanwhile, there are unconfirmed reports that Mugabe has dispatched commandos to the other end of Africa to help Libyan autocrat Muammar Qaddafi repress the popular uprising that is taking over his country. (Read MoJo's explainer for more on Libya.)

Did Gov. Scott Walker Break the Law During Prank Call?

| Wed Feb. 23, 2011 1:01 PM PST

Did Wisconsin Scott Walker break the law during his phone conversation with a prank caller posing as right-wing billionaire David Koch? At least one campaign finance watchdog, the Public Campaign Action Fund, is exploring whether Walker violated a ban against political coordination in Wisconsin.

Walker believed he was speaking to Koch who—along with his brother, Charles Koch—is among the richest men in the US and major funders of dozens of right-wing groups. The political action committee of Koch Industries, the brothers' business empire, was a top donor to Walker's 2010 gubernatorial campaign. In reality, though, Walker was actually speaking with Ian Murphy, a self-described gonzo journalist and editor of the Buffalo Beast. The prank has stirred up a major national controversy, with critics crying foul over Walker's comments to the faux "David Koch."

In his conversation, Walker says that GOP lawmakers in "swing areas" will need support for their decision to back Walker's controversial budget repair bill, which would cut collective bargaining rights for public-sector unions, among other changes. Walker appears to hint that the fake David Koch could be the one to provide that outside support to those swing-district Republicans. Here's the full exchange:

Gov. Walker: "After this in some of the coming days and weeks ahead, particularly in some of these more swing areas, a lot of these guys are going to need, they don’t need initially ads for them, but they’re going to need a message out. Reinforcing why this was a good thing to do for the economy, a good thing to do for the state. So to the extent that message is out over and over again is certainly a good thing."

Ian Murphy (pretending to be David Koch): "Right, right. We’ll back you any way we can."

"If Wisconsin law forbids coordination with political donors similar to federal law, Gov. Scott Walker is not just in political trouble, but in legal hot water," said David Donnelly, national campaigns director for the Public Campaign Action Fund.

There are several looming questions here. First, can what Walker said actually be considered collaboration? And does the law even apply if the caller is a prankster? Adam Smith, spokesman for the Public Campaign Action Fund, says the group is looking closely at Wisconsin law to answer these questions and take appropriate action, if any at all.

The controversy centers around Walker's budget bill, which would, among other things, eliminate public-sector unions' right to collectively bargain and allow the state hold no-bid auctions for state-owned energy assets like power plants. For the past nine days, unions and left-leaning groups have been protesting Walker's bill, demanding that he allow unions to keep their bargaining rights. Walker, however, has refused to negotiate with labor leaders, saying the bargaining provision is crucial to the state's future fiscal health.

In addition to donating to Walker's 2010 campaign, the Koch Industries PAC also gave more than a million dollars to the Republican Governors Association, which in turn spent more than $3 million attacking Walker's 2010 opponent, Democratic Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett.

Indiana Conducting "Immediate Review" of Official Who Called For Using "Live Ammunition" on Wisconsin Protesters

| Wed Feb. 23, 2011 11:25 AM PST

UPDATE: Jeff Cox has been fired

ORIGINAL POST: Wednesday morning, Mother Jones reported that Jeff Cox, an Indiana deputy attorney general, had called for using "live ammunition" against Wisconsin protesters. Cox's bosses have issued a statement noting that they are conducting an "immediate review" of the prolific tweeter and blogger and that the state attorney general will take "appropriate personnel action" when the review of the "serious matter" is complete. The statement:

The Indiana Attorney General's Office does not condone the inflammatory statements asserted in the "Mother Jones" article and we do not condone any comments that would threaten or imply violence or intimidation toward anyone. Civility and courtesy toward all constituents is very important to this agency. We take this matter very seriously.

An immediate review of this personnel matter is now under way to determine whether the assertions made in the "Mother Jones" article about an employee are accurate. When that review is complete, appropriate personnel action will be taken.

The reporter who wrote the "Mother Jones" article informs us that the offensive postings over the weekend were made using a personal Twitter account and personal email, not a state government email account.

As public servants, state employees should strive to conduct themselves with professionalism and appropriate decorum in their interactions with the public. This is a serious matter that is being addressed.

Meanwhile, People for the American Way, a national progressive advocacy organization, has called for Cox to resign. The group says Cox's "call for violence" is "beyond the pale" and adds that he "should step down immediately."

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What's Happening in Egypt Explained

| Wed Feb. 23, 2011 8:40 AM PST

This regularly updated explainer was first posted at 1:00 p.m. EST on Tuesday, January 25. It is no longer being updated as of late February.

(Missed a day? Jump right to it: January 25 | January 26 | January 27 | January 28 | January 29 | January 30 | January 31 | February 1 | February 2 | February 3 | February 4 | February 5 | February 6 | February 7 | February 8 | February 9 | February 10 | February 11 | February 12 | February 13 | February 14February 15 | February 16 | February 17 | February 18 | February 19 | February 21 | February 22 | February 23 )

The basics: Egypt is a large, mostly Arab, mostly Muslim country. At around 80 million people, it has the largest population in the Middle East and the third-largest in Africa. Most of Egypt is in North Africa, although the part of the country that borders Israel, the Sinai peninsula, is in Asia. Its other neighbors are Sudan (to the South), Libya (to the West), and Saudi Arabia (across the Gulf of Aqaba to the East). It has been was ruled by Hosni Mubarak since from 1981 until February 11

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 23, 2011

Wed Feb. 23, 2011 3:30 AM PST

Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 8th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, currently deployed to the U.S. Army's National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., fire the M777 A2 Howitzer Feb. 19. (U.S. Army Photo By. Cpt. Angela Chipman, 2-8 FA UPAR)

Did Scott Walker Get Crank-Call Pwned? (AUDIO) UPDATE: YES

| Wed Feb. 23, 2011 3:15 AM PST

UPDATE (1): Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's office confirms that the recording of a call between the governor and an alt-weekly writer posing as David Koch, one of the billionaire GOP financier brothers, is real and that it is actually Walker on the recording. The governor's office has released a statement:

The Governor takes many calls everyday," Walkers spokesman, Cullen Werwie said in a statement. "Throughout this call the Governor maintained his appreciation for and commitment to civil discourse. He continued to say that the budget repair bill is about the budget. The phone call shows that the Governor says the same thing in private as he does in public and the lengths that others will go to disrupt the civil debate Wisconsin is having.

The Buffalo Beast site, which organized the prank, is down, but you can hear the call below.

UPDATE (2): Ian Murphy, the guy with the catch of the week, responded warmly to our questions about his call to Walker. His comments have been added in the original post below.

ORIGINAL POST: Is that really Scott Walker? [Update: Yep.] A New York-based alt-news editor says he got through to the embattled Wisconsin governor on the phone Tuesday by posing as right-wing financier David Koch...then had a far-ranging 20-minute conversation about the collective bargaining protests. According to the audio, Walker told him:

  • That statehouse GOPers were plotting to hold Democratic senators' pay until they returned to vote on the controversial union-busting bill.
  • That Walker was looking to nail Dems on ethics violations if they took meals or lodging from union supporters.
  • That he'd take "Koch" up on this offer: "[O]nce you crush these bastards I'll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time."

But was it for real? Check out the details on the guerrilla caller and audio of his conversation below the jump.

South Dakota Advances Bill Mandating Controversial Anti-Abortion Counseling

| Tue Feb. 22, 2011 6:13 PM PST

Last week, South Dakota's legislature shelved a controversial bill that appeared to legalize the killing of abortion doctors. But South Dakota's powerful anti-abortion lobby and its political allies didn't let one defeat stop them from pursuing their agenda. Far from it: on Tuesday, the state's house of representatives voted 49 to 19 to approve HB 1217, a first-of-its-kind law that supporters hope will drastically restrict access to abortion in the Mount Rushmore State.

The legislation, which is expected to face a vote in the state senate in the next few weeks, would require women to visit crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs)—facilities that are most often run by anti-abortion groups—before obtaining an abortion. A woman would need to first consult with the doctor providing the abortion, then visit a CPC and wait 72 hours before undergoing the actual procedure. There has been controversy at the federal level about taxpayer dollars going to support CPCs, but this would mark the first time that a state would force women to visit such a center.

CPCs are not regulated, and are generally run by anti-abortion Christian groups. They are staffed by volunteers—not doctors or nurses—with the explicit goal of discouraging women from having abortions. (See Maddie Oatman's post on a documentary detailing what happens at CPCs.) A congressional investigation into CPCs in 2006 found that the centers often provide "false or misleading information about the health risks of an abortion." Many make false claims about ties between abortion and breast cancer, decreased fertility, and mental illness. "This may advance the mission of the pregnancy resource centers, which are typically pro-life organizations dedicated to preventing abortion," the congressional report concluded, "but it is an inappropriate public health practice."

The text of HB 1217 doesn't mince words about the bill's purpose: the law is intended to help women "maintain and keep their relationship with their unborn children." It goes on to explain: "It is a necessary and proper exercise of the state's authority to give precedence to the mother's fundamental interest in her relationship with her child over the irrevocable method of termination of that relationship by induced abortion."

The bill's sponsors have been equally clear about their goals. "We feel that with proper assessment and hearing both sides of the story, that the number of abortions in South Dakota will be seriously and drastically reduced, which of course is admittedly is an objective of this type of legislation," state Rep. Roger Hunt told the Christian radio program VCY America in an recent interview.

Besides requiring women to visit CPCs, HB 1217 would also require doctors to develop an analysis of "risk factors associated with abortion" for each woman. Critics of this measure say it is intentionally vague, and may expose abortion providers to lawsuits. The Nebraska legislature passed a similar measure last spring, but a federal judge threw it out it last July after finding that it would "require medical providers to give untruthful, misleading and irrelevant information to patients" and create "substantial, likely insurmountable, obstacles" for women seeking abortions. Pro-choice groups in South Dakota are hoping that, should this bill become law, it will suffer a similar fate in the courts.

As written, HB 1217 would force women to be "pounded to a pulp emotionally, psychologically" after they have already consulted with their doctor, says Sarah Stoesz, the president of Planned Parenthood for the upper Midwest. "This is not about options. This is about brutality," she added. "By the time [women] are 72 hours away from their procedure, they have already made their choice." Under a 2005 law, the state already requires doctors to read a script to women that states that an abortion "will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being."

In South Dakota, where Stoesz's organization is the only abortion provider, the new law would also create a significant logistical burden. Extending the wait time and requiring a woman to consult first with the doctor, then with the CPC, and then meet with the doctor again before obtaining an abortion isn't exactly easy in South Dakota. Planned Parenthood flies in a doctor once a week to its clinic in Sioux Falls, and women may have to drive up to six hours to reach this lone clinic offering abortion services. But if you take Rep. Hunt at his word, those sorts of barriers to access are exactly what HB 1217's supporters have in mind.