'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Friday, May 26, 2006

Holiday Reading 

If anyone is curious, I haven't been posting lately because I finally married my longtime partner, and spent our honeymoon in British Columbia. If you haven't been there, I highly recommend it, especially Vancouver Island and the other Gulf Islands. The weather was fabulous (incredibly, it actually rained back home in Sacramento while the sun was out at Sooke Harbour!), but, as with most places, it is best to avoid the crowds by visiting midweek if possible.

With the approach of the Memorial Day weekend, I think it best to slip back into blogging gently with some holiday reading suggestions. First, consider this excellent article by James Petras, entitled, Latin America, the EU and the US: The New Polarities. Petras, as a radical supporter of the left transformation of the Americas, has consistently subjected the social movements attempting to achieve it to rigorous analysis and accountability instead of romanticizing them.

Here's an excerpt from the article that highlights his method:

There are great many misunderstandings and confusion both on the Right and Left regarding the nature of the conflicts between Latin American nationalists and US/EU states and multinational corporations. The first point of clarification is over the nature of the nationalist measures adopted by President Chavez of Venezuela and President Morales of Bolivia. Both regimes have not abolished most of the essential elements of capitalist production, namely private profits, foreign ownership, profit repatriation, market access or supply of gas, energy or other primary goods, nor have they outlawed future foreign investments.

In fact Venezuela’s huge Orinoco heavy oil fields, the richest reserves of oil in the world, are still owned by foreign capital. The controversy over President Chavez’ radical economic measures revolves around a tax and royalty increase from less than 15% to 33% -- a rate which is still below what is paid by oil companies in Canada, the Middle East and Africa. What produced the stream of vitriolic froth from the US and British media (Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, etc) was not a comparative analysis of contemporary tax and royalty rates, but a retrospective comparison to the virtually tax-free past. In fact Chavez and Morales are merely modernizing and updating petrol-nation state relations to present world standards; in a sense they are normalizing regulatory relations in the face of exceptional or windfall profits, resulting from corrupt agreements with complicit state executive officials. The harsh reaction of the US and EU governments and their energy MNCs is a result of having become habituated to thinking that exceptional privileges were the norm of “capitalist development” rather than the result of venal officials. As a result, they resisted the normalization of capitalist relations in Venezuela and Bolivia in which state-private joint ventures and profit sharing are common practices in most capitalist countries.

It is not surprising that the president of Royal Dutch Shell, Jeroen van der Veer, advised his oil colleagues that the nationalist position of oil rich countries and their redrawing of contracts is a “new reality” that international energy companies have to accept. Van der Veer, the realist, puts the nationalist reforms in perspective: “In Venezuela we were one of the first to renegotiate. Under the circumstances we are quite satisfied we can work our future there. We have harmony with the government, which is very important. In Bolivia, I assume we will come to a solution.” (Financial Times, May 13, 2006 page 9) Likewise Pan Andean Resources (PAR), an Irish gas and energy company, stated it could successfully operate in Bolivia following Morales’ “nationalization” declaration. David Horgan, President of PAR, in justifying a joint venture in gas with the Bolivians, stated, “We don’t really care what precedents it [PAR’s gas agreement with the Bolivian state] sets. What the majors [big oil companies] see as a problem, we see as an opportunity.” (Financial Times, May 13, 2006, p9)

In fact, in Bolivia on May 29, 2006, the Morales government will announce the winning bid to the world’s biggest private mining companies competing to exploit state-owned Mutun with 40 billion tons of iron ore. The new terms of the Bolivian government as outlined by its principle ideologue, Vice President Linera, provides judicial and stable guarantees for all investments, in exchange for profit sharing and joint management schemes. Clearly the big mining corporations are part of the “realist” school of reaping big profits from strategic high-priced raw materials in exchange for paying higher taxes and including Bolivian technocrats in their management team.

The major points of conflict are not capitalism’s aversion to socialism, nor even private ownership versus nationalization of property, let alone social revolution leading to an egalitarian society. The major conflicts are over: 1) Increases in taxation, prices and royalty payments, 2) the conversion of firms to joint ventures, 3) representation on corporate boards of directors, 4) distribution of shareholdings between foreign appointed and state-appointed executives, 5) the legal right to revise contracts, 6) compensation payments for presumed assets, and 7) management of distribution and export sales.

These proposed regulations and reforms may increase state reserves and influence but none of these points of conflict involve a revolutionary transformation of property or social relations of production. The proposed changes are reforms, which resonate with the policies undertaken by European social democratic parties between the late 1940s-1960s and by most of the world’s oil producing countries in the 1970s, including Arab monarchies and Islamic and secular republics. In fact earlier political regimes in both Venezuela (1976) and Bolivia (1952 and 1968) took far more radical measures in nationalizing petroleum and other mining sectors.

There are many other geopolitical provocations in Petras' article. Again, if you are interested in reading it in its entirely, go here.

Next, there is this fascinating piece by Iason Athanasiadis about Iranian measures to respond to an attack by the United States, Iran Oils Its War Machine, posted, of course, on the indispensable Asia Times Online site. It is wise to read such articles cynically, just as we would ones about US plans and preparations, but I must concede, they are irresistable. Is it real or is it Le Carre? Here's a passage to compel you to read further and decide:

Accordingly, Iran has been quietly restructuring its military, while carrying out a series of military exercises testing its new military dogma. In December, more than 15,000 members of the regular armed forces participated in war games in northwestern Iran's strategically sensitive East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan border provinces that focused on irregular warfare carried out by highly mobile and speedy army units.

In another telling development, a second exercise was launched in the majority-Arab province of Khuzestan, reportedly aimed at quelling insurgencies in areas subject to ethnic unrest and prone to foreign influence. Involving 100,000 troops, the exercise provided a taste of how the Islamic Republic would respond to further disturbances in the strategic, oil-rich province.

The exercise came on the heels of news that the irregular Basij forces that led Iran's offensives against Iraq were being bolstered by so-called Ashura battalions with riot-control training.

It is all part of a fundamental transition that Iran's Revolutionary Guard (RG) is undergoing as it moves away from focusing on waging its defense of the country on the borders - unrealistic in view of the vast territory that requires securing and the gulf separating Iranian and US military capabilities - and toward drawing the enemy into the heartland and defeating it with asymmetrical tactics.

Finally, there is the much maligned Pat Buchanan, who yet again proves, in a column entitled, Steering into a Third Intifida, that his personal bigotries do not impair his ability to recognize the perilous consequences of US foreign policy, in this instance, the abandonment of the Palestinians to the imperial aspirations of Israel in Jerusalem and the West Bank:

The West Bank wall will soon encompass all of the suburbs of Jerusalem for miles around. Palestine will be divided into three parts: Gaza and two enclaves on the West Bank. There will be no Palestinian official presence in Jerusalem. No viable nation.

Meanwhile, America will be called upon for new sums of money to subsidize the Sharon-Olmert Plan, even as we are prodded to do our duty and emasculate Iran.

As Olmert is the pilot setting the course, and Bush has signed on as crew to his "bold ideas," our destination is easy to foresee.

The United States alone will recognize Israel's new borders, and her annexations of the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem as Israel's exclusive capital. Israel will ask for and the United States will accede to Israel's request that we commit ourselves militarily to defend Israel's new frontiers. No Arab government will recognize the new borders. America's Arab friends will be further estranged.

For more, especially Buchanan's concluding prediction as to the outcome, written in his inimitable style, go here. Don't hesitate to post your own holiday reading recommendations.

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