Saturday, June 19, 2010

On Shakedowns

This past Thursday BP CEO Tony Hayward went before Congress to answer their questions about how this oil disaster happened. Or to NOT answer their questions, as it turned out. He apparently knew nothing, remembered nothing, and was not a part of key decisions as CEO of one of the largest international companies in existence. And if you believe that, have I got an investment opportunity for you! For the record, congressional leaders sent Hayward a letter beforehand explicitly telling him what questions they wanted answered.

But Hayward's predictable non-testimony wasn't the most bizarre thing to come out of that hearing. No, that moment belonged to Texas Republican Congressman Joe Barton, who's received more money from the oil and gas industry than any other member of Congress. When the time came for Barton's opening comments, he stated that he was ashamed of what happened the day before in the White House (government officials and BP officers agreeing to set up a $20 billion fund for oil spill victims), that it amounted to a shakedown of BP, and then he looked directly at Tony Hayward...and apologized!  In his own words:

I'm ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday. I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown. In this case a $20 billion shakedown.  I apologize. I do not want to live in a country where any time a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong, is subject to some sort of political pressure that is, again, in my words — amounts to a shakedown, so I apologize.

I remember watching him say that and thinking, "Did that just happen?"

Legitimately wrong
So Joe Barton doesn't want to live in a country where a private citizen or corporation (which now enjoys all the 1st Amendment rights of an individual citizen thanks to this Supreme Court, giving them the "right" to spend as much as they wish to influence American elections) can do "something that is legitimately wrong" and be subjected to government forcing them to be financially responsible.  I'm pretty sure I don't want to live in Joe Barton's America.  

Did he really say that?  What amount of thought did he put into those words before releasing them in public - indeed, in front of the cameras of the national media, not to mention on the record of a congressional hearing?  For all their talk during election cycles about "accountability", how is it that any Republican can say it's wrong to hold British Petroleum accountable for the worst environmental disaster in American history?  How could it possibly be wrong to hold them accountable for the damage they've done to the livelihoods of so many, not to mention the local economies of the affected regions?  How could holding them accountable be something for which Joe Barton felt he needed to apologize?

The Truth Behind the Republican Reaction

Republicans reacted as quickly as they could Thursday, issuing statements against his words - some even calling for him to step down as the ranking Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee (**cough**OIL**cough**), but what he said - and even using the term shakedown - was not that different than how they were talking amongst themselves just the day before!

The day before, and amongst themselves, it sounded good. But on camera, in front of the national media, in a public hearing?  As soon as he said the words, it looked a little different I guess.

The truth is, the Republican party apparently sees BP as biggest victim of this entire disaster. They're not apologizing to the fishing industry.  They're not apologizing to the people in coastal towns.  No, they think the biggest problem here is a giant company is having its feet held to the fire for not doing what it was supposed do to protect the people of America from this disaster.  A giant company is being "attacked", and needs to be defended.  What happens to "We the people" doesn't rank.  Ostensibly, they think "We the people" will suffer if the corporation suffers.  Trickle down, blah blah blah.  Jobs, blah blah blah. 

And one of the scariest elements to this development in the BP oil spill saga is elected Republicans aren't the only Republicans who think it's wrong for BP to have to be held accountable!  It is utterly unfathomable to me, but real nonetheless.  Behold, a tweet that came across my TweetDeck yesterday from @carolflowery:

BP's shakedown of the American people

The real shakedown here is the one British Petroleum has been perpetrating against the American people for decades.  They and other oil giants have been reaping huge numbers and have only recently seen profits start to decline, but don't worry about them.  They can make that $20 billion back in a year.  How long do you think the the clean up from this spill will be ongoing?  As I've reminded you in previous posts, the cleanup from the Exxon Valdez is still going on presently.  That happened in 1989.

And the truth is Republicans - and not just Joe Barton - would have them keep shaking us down.  Would allow them to continue to oversee their own industry, if they would have any oversight at all.  They would have BP NOT help the real victims of this disaster they caused and keep their $20 billion.

Apparently they're sorry that they won't be.

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