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Friday, June 25, 2010

Let’s get the “shakedown” straight.

In another anti-capitalist hit-piece, Leonard Pitts Jr. once again exploits an out-of-context statement and misleads the people. In his Jun 25th “Meet Joe Barton”, the first line is, “OK, let’s make sure we have this straight”, and he then immediately misrepresents the facts.

The subject is Senator Barton’s preamble to questioning BP executive Tony Hayward in hearings last week. Despite Pitts’ insinuation, Barton does not represent the foreign-owned British Petroleum and many of his Texas constituents would actually be BP competitors. Nonetheless, Barton is a United States Senator, sworn to uphold the Constitution. As such, he was shocked by President Obama’s announced extortion under color of authority, and mentioned it before grilling Hayward and BP.

Pitts accurately excerpts the actual apology, but not the context. The fact is that before the hearings, Obama made a statement that, “I will inform BP that they will place $20 billion into an escrow“, administered by one of his own white house czars. At that moment, two things were happening. First, the Obama administration was continuing to block measures that would limit the damage done (waiving the union-protectionist Jones act and allowing 13 nations to donate their skimming ships and expert crews to remove oil, permitting burning of surface oil, permitting piling of sand burms to trap oil on beaches, permitting use of dispersants to break up oil, etc) and second, BP had already confirmed that they would pay for all damage (and had begun doing so) plus a $75million fine, as required by existing law. This is after Obama’s appointees Salazar and Birnbaum signed off on the Deepwater Horizon’s equipment and plans as adequate, and 1996 federal oil response plans were ignored.

To order BP to pay $20 billion when damage to that point was only approaching $2 billion, and no law or Presidential authority allows him to extract money from private companies, is a “shakedown”: extortion. That means forcing someone to hand over money that one has no lawful claim to (at least not yet). The fact that BP agreed to it in closed door meetings, whether from generosity or due to some other pressure, does not change facts. Sen Barton simply pointed out that he is against the concept of Presidents demanding huge sums of cash, for their personal control, outside of the law. He then went on to investigate what BP had done wrong, since there is no evidence that there was any sabotage or attack to excuse them.

Not only did Obama expect this apparently reckless oil company to pay for damages, fine and $18 billion besides, he randomly shut down all other Gulf oil rigs and expected BP to pay for their lost production and idled workers. This was not for inspection. Inspections could have been completed in the two months it took Obama to get to his threat; no inspections have been scheduled yet. One of Obama’s commissions will look into them next month. It was not for any obvious systemic flaw, as these Gulf rigs have operated for decades with no blowouts until Deepwater Horizon. It was simply an opportunity to prove his toughness for the press, punish an industry for being successful, and set capitalism back on its heels. His approval ratings required it after having ignored the issue and obstructing cleanup for weeks. No matter that idle oil rigs, with thousands of related jobs, will be towed to countries with lower standards and higher production.

A federal judge overruled the specious drilling ban. Obama’s reaction? He re-names the former MMS as the “Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement”. He fires director Birnbaum in favor of yet another Harvard intellectual with no industry or regulatory experience. Finally, he orders Salazar to find a way to get around the ruling and shut down American drilling anyway. The fact is that until this incident, every significant spill has been from oil tankers, not drill rigs. These same tankers, vulnerable to attacks of all sorts, waste millions of tons of fuel plowing across thousands of miles of ocean from foreign oil fields. These fields are mostly owned by unfriendly nations that don’t waste time and money on tough American environmental standards. Also, on-shore and in-shore (shallow water) rigs are much safer and easier to repair, but liberal “ecologists” forced drilling out to sea and into deep water years ago.

Finally, Pitts insinuates that BP bought the brief apology for officials’ improper procedure and demonizing rather than investigating. Pitts tells us that Barton received $1.4 million from the oil industry. He does not mention that this is from many companies over several years. Pitts also overlooks the fact that the single largest recipient of BP money is Barack Obama. The President, who exceeded his authority and the Constitution to sound tough (much like terrorists getting “a fair trial and then be convicted and executed”), got $77,051.00. This is twice as much BP money as the next beneficiary, and Barton was further down the list. He appears to stand for capitalism, responsible oversight and the rule of law.

Now we have it straight, Mr. Pitts.

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