Friday, June 18, 2010


Question of the day: “Who the hell is Joe Barton?” I don’t know about you, but I had never heard of the guy until I watched him sitting before a Congressional committee apologizing to BP’s CEO for what he called President Obama’s “shakedown” of BP yesterday. Barton would have us envision some thugs strong-arming BP into coughing up $20 billion. Gee, Joe, did Obama have a cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth, and did they shine a blinding light in the CEO’s face until he promised to ante up?

Joe Barton, as it turns out is a Republican congressman from Texas, who was first elected to public office in 1984. Before that, he was a consultant for Atlantic Richfield Oil and Gas Company. It bears mentioning that of all industries, oil and gas has donated more money to Joe Barton’s campaigns over the years than any other industry. It’s public record. You can look it up. I did. The numbers tell the story. Barton is absolutely beholden to big oil. In all, oil and gas has contributed approximately $1.5 million to Joe Barton. Among all the members of the House of Representatives, Barton ranks highest in the dollars contributed to his campaigns by oil and gas. So, when Joe Barton sat in front of America and apologized to BP, he was thinking of one thing only – Joe Barton.

If there was a shakedown, it was executed by Republican heavyweights, behind closed doors, against Joe Barton. Barton was reportedly threatened that he would lose his seniority if he did not retract his apology. He did. Just hours after he offered BP his heartfelt apology, he publicly stated that BP should be financially responsible for the catastrophe. His statement sounded ridiculous and coerced after what he had said earlier. To use one our Southern expressions – Joe Barton showed his ass when he apologized to the company that caused the biggest environmental disaster in the history of the United States.

In case you are one of the four people in the U.S. who did not hear this yesterday, watch this:

Note to Joe Barton: So go live somewhere else; maybe one of those places with the funny names, like “Uzbekistan.” However, before you pack, you should know that in Uzbekistan if you started a sentence with “I do not want to live in a country where any time a citizen…” you would probably find yourself the subject of a different kind of governmental shakedown. Right now, you live in a country that offers you the freedom to say the stupid things you said yesterday. You used your freedom of expression irresponsibly. Gosh, Joe, after 26 years in Congress, I would think that by now you would know what not to say.

So, how many Joe Bartons are there in Washington? Well, the Center for Responsive Politics, the research group that has been tracking U.S. politics for a quarter of a century, reports that in 2009-2010 the top six beneficiaries of oil and gas money are:
Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) $286,400
David Vitter (R-LA) $242,600
Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) $209,826
Dan Boren (R-OK) $139,700
Robert Bennett (R-UT), $138,400
Roy Blunt (R-MO) $133,100

Joe had an off year – he only got $100,470.

Here’s a snapshot of how the above top five operate: Murkowski (below, left) recently blocked a bill that would raise an oil company’s financial liability after a major spill from $75 million to $10 billion. Environmentalists refer to Lincoln as “Big Oil Blanche,” possibly because she helped the Bush/Cheney regime push through $14 billion in tax breaks for big oil. For his part, Louisiana Senator Vitter introduced legislation in May that would limit the amount of legal damages BP would be responsible for to the last four quarters of profit. Boren vigorously supported The Energy Policy Act of 2005, legislation that provided the oil industry billions in government subsidies. Bennett has come out against legislation that defines goals for a 40 percent reduction in oil use by 2025. And Blunt? Well, he accepted a $1000 check from Haliburton early this month, at the same time his House Energy and Commerce Committee was investigating Haliburton’s possible role in the BP oil spill. The list of Washington legislators who are heavily subsidized by the oil and gas industry is somewhat shocking. Or is it? We “little people,” as BP’s Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg refers to us, may still be somewhat naïve about the ever-sturdy handshake relationships between big oil and our government.

Until the current disaster, most of us did not know that oil companies were the ones writing the regulations for the oil industry. If the BP spill had not happened, perhaps the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service would continue to operate in its Bush/Cheney-era inept fashion and we would be none the wiser for it.

The moral of this dirty story is simply that we, the small people, need to get bigger and better informed. We need to hold our government more accountable for its actions, so that it can exercise enough muscle to hold big oil accountable for its bad behavior. We cannot do that until we know more. And we cannot wait until a natural disaster, man-made disaster or environmental catastrophe to educate ourselves. My thoughts? Put down your remote, get off of Facebook and start learning. And then, deluge your Congressmen with letters, calls and visits, about what you want to happen in YOUR government.

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