Tag Archives: Europe

Libya’s Exports to Europe: Oil and Immigrants

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 Eur0pean 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.

Dr. Dean’s Health Care Prescription: “The Free Market Just Doesn’t Work in Medicine”

On a book tour in southern California recently, Howard Dean–the ex-governor of Vermont, 2004 presidential candidate, and former DNC chair, who is himself a medical doctor–makes a few points about health care that are worth keeping in mind through the bitter partisan debate (if you can still call it a debate). His book from Chelsea Green is called Howard Dean’s Prescription for Real Healthcare Refom.

Remember that it was Dean who, as governor of Vermont, got through a provision guaranteeing health care covering to all of the state’s children. He was ridiculed on the stump in 2004 as an out of control lefty–which is about as true as the accusations that Obama is a socialist. Dean is a moderate-to-conservative New Englander who has never proposed anything faintly resembling socialized medicine. 

But Dean does believe, as he pointed out at one book tour appearance: “The free market just doesn’t work in medicine. You can’t be an informed consumer. I never saw someone with severe chest pain jump off the table and say, ‘Doctor, I’m going to the cheaper guy down the street.'” And he doesn’t favor compromising on a public option, because “the public option is the compromise.”

The above quote was supplied by Miriam Raftery, editor of the East County Magazine, who  provides a fine precis of Dean’s book and the talk he gave last month at a San Diego bookstore: 

Dean noted that public healthcare in Europe was established not by liberals, but was in fact championed by conservative statesman Winston Churchill. “Disease must be attacked, whether it occurs in the poorest or the richest man or woman simply on the ground that it is the enemy; and it must be attacked just in the same way as the fire brigade will give its full assistance to the humblest cottage as readily as to the most important mansion,” Churchill once stated.” Our policy is to create a national health service in order to ensure that everybody in the country, irrespective of means, age, sex, or occupation, shall have equal opportunities to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available.”

Cost savings would occur by moving to a wellness-based medical model that emphasizes prevention, lowering current costs for treating patients who wait and go to the emergency room in a crisis. Eliminating administrative overhead would also save money in a public option. . .

“To fix the economy, we need to begin by fixing our healthcare system,” his book states, noting that General Motors spends more on healthcare insurance for workers than on steel to build automobiles. He cites a Kaiser Family Foundation survey which found that 58% of all small businesses have difficulty keeping up with healthcare costs. “If you want to help small businesses,” he argues, “let them pay lower health insurance premiums.”

Dean has practiced what he preaches. As Governor of Vermont, he led the state’s expansion of Medicaid eligibility to children under 18 in families earning under $65,000. “Basically we made Medicaid a middle class entitlement for children,” he says, adding that the shift saved businesses money and increased profit margins for those that opted to have employees’ children covered by the public plan. Vermont also increased Medicaid reimbursements to assure that doctors would not opt out of the system.

Dean now advocates what is basically a public option, achieved by opening up Medicare to people under 65, while allowing anyone who chooses to keep their private insurance. 

“Americans ought to be able to decide for themselves: Is private health insurance really health insurance? Or is it simply an extension of the things that have been happening on Wall Street over the past five to ten years, in which private corporations find yet new and ingenious ways of taking money from ordinary citizens without giving them the services they’ve paid for?”

Dean dispells myths promoted by the healthcare industry. “There is no country in the world with a public option that doesn’t also have private insurance,” he noted. “A public option allows you to sign up for Medicaid [Medicare] before 65. All the Republicans who’ve been whining and complaining all have a public system,” said Dean, former head of the Democratic National Committee, citing the high-quality government healthcare program that Congress has given its own members. Moreover, satisfaction ratings are high for two other government healthcare programs: Medicaid and Veterans Administration healthcare, Dean noted.

He believes true healthcare reform must include five core principles. Everyone must have the option of coverage. No one should be forced to declare bankruptcy because of medical bills. Health insurance should be portable, meaning you can’t lose your health insurance even if you change jobs, move, retire or have a pre-existing condition. Plus the quality and efficiency of care must be improved. . .

“My bottom line is not single-payer,” he said, noting that most Americans like to have choices. But he added that supporters of single payer should continue to lobby their legislators to prevent healthcare reform in Congress from being watered down to remove a public option. “Public option is the compromise,” he noted.

Dean noted that all countries in Europe now have a public option, except Switzerland and Netherland, where insurance companies are tightly regulated similar to public utilities. Americans spend more on healthcare per capita than any other nation, yet the U.S. ranks dead last in ratings of healthcare quality, access and affordability…