Scott Brown, Senator with truck, supports big banks

Senator Scott Brown, what would a hedge fund manager drive? Not a truck.

Apparently, Scott Brown is a common man, who drives a truck, just like any other regular Joe six-pack.  However, when Democrats proposed having the banks foot the $20 Billion cost of Financial Reform, he balked.  Instead, he moved for taxpayers to foot the bill.  Say what?

In fact, the $20 Billion will come out of the remaining TARP funds, which were supposed to be paid directly towards the deficit.  Didn’t Scott Brown campaign on deficit reduction? His voters certainly considered it a priority.  Huh?

Some banks, those that take deposits, will have to pay slightly higher assessments to the FDIC; however hedge funds and investment banks get off scot-free.  Sound familiar?  So I guess Brown should probably trade in his truck for whatever hedge fund managers are driving these days.  Porche?  Mercedes?  Anyone have any helpful tips for the intrepid Senator?


The growing consensus around the 2nd Amendment

In the Navy, I was trained to safely use handguns like this one.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision in McDonald v. City of Chicago, ruled that the 2nd Amendment applies to state and local laws, as well as federal laws.  Their decision will likely end the handgun ban in Chicago, two years after a similar law was struck down in the District of Columbia.  The ruling is likely the final blow to gun prohibition in this country as a principle.  However, the ruling was not a free for all for gun rights.  In fact, the decision supported reasonable restrictions on gun rights, enough to make the Brady Campaign President Paul Helmke happy:

‘”The crucial part of the ruling today is that it really is fairly narrow,” noting that the court acknowledged gun-control restrictions that fall short of bans. “The one extreme of handgun bans, total gun bans, that’s off the table now. But they’ve also taken the extreme any gun, anywhere, anybody, anytime–that’s off the table too,” Helmke said.’

Now, advocates of strict gun control point out that 258 Chicago public school students were shot last year.  However, those guns were introduced into the city in the midst of the handgun ban, which begs the question of whether prohibition really works. Certainly, a close look at the ‘War on Drugs’ would show you that the war is being lost.  Looking at guns, what level of restriction is reasonable?  A consensus has grown supporting the 2nd Amendment in this country, so much so that both Sarah Palin and Harry Reid applauded yesterday’s ruling.  In fact, Democrats look to benefit politically from this ruling in November.

However, what about the gun show loophole?  Should potential gun owners be required to undergo a background check before purchasing a weapon?  The loophole, where buyers can get guns from private dealers at gun shows, exists.  The NRA argues that the loophole is a ‘myth:’

“Though Congress specifically has applied the background check requirement to dealers only, and specifically exempted from the dealer licensing requirement persons who occasionally sell guns from their personal collections, gun prohibition activists call this a “loophole.” Gun prohibitionists also falsely claim that many criminals get guns from gun shows; the most recent federal study puts the figure at only 0.7 percent.”

Obviously, there is a conflict between the report from ABC and the NRA legislative wing.  There is no doubt that the NRA would be tickled pink if all gun laws were struck down.  However, the consensus around the 2nd Amendment does not go as far as the NRA fantasizes.  Most people would support reasonable restrictions.

Anyone who has watched the Wire has no illusions about gun restrictions keeping guns away from criminals.  In fact, gun laws are often used as valid charges to arrest criminals by police.  Any gun regulation should make it a sensible process to buy and sell weapons.   However, there should also be enforceable restrictions, requiring background checks, that are reasonable.  Education on gun safety should be part of that restriction.

I grew up in Northwest Pennsylvania, and underwent hunter safety training in middle school.  Guns were very common in that rural community, but it was clear to me at a young age that they were dangerous and needed to be handled the right way.  Later, in the Navy, I was responsible for many weapons, and their safe use.  We conducted lots and lots of training for the folks who had to bear those weapons on watch.  In the Navy, when weapons were taken for granted, the conditions for misuse were created.  That is why training and education are so crucial.

At the end of the day, while some will look at yesterday’s Supreme Court decision as a victory for gun owners and the NRA, I look at it as a reflection of the growing consensus around reasonable restriction.  Like abortion and other emotional issues, there will always be zealots on both sides.  However, as Politico observes, the decision removes those zealots from the decision making process in November.


Do you support the rape of women and children? Check your phone.

Do you like your gadget?  Everyone likes gadgets these days, whether you own an iPhone, a Blackberry, a Kindle, an iPad, or any number of laptops cellphones, and slim cameras, you name it, they are all devices that are tiny, capable, and cool.  Well, did you know that critical components may come from a country known as “the rape capital of the world?”

Nicholas Kristoff described what he has seen in the Congo in a column this weekend:

“In Congo, I’ve seen women who have been mutilated, children who have been forced to eat their parents’ flesh, girls who have been subjected to rapes that destroyed their insides. Warlords finance their predations in part through the sale of mineral ore containing tantalum, tungsten, tin and gold. For example, tantalum from Congo is used to make electrical capacitors that go into phones, computers and gaming devices.”

In the Congo, 5.4 million people have died since 1998, in what is considered the deadliest cnflict across the world since World War II.  In 2006, the Congo held its first democratic election since independance in 1960, and approved a new constitution, but despite the creation of a stable government, violence persists.  Time magazine described the situation after that election:

“The suffering of Congo’s people continues. Fighting persists in the east, where rebel holdouts loot, rape and murder. The Congolese army, which was meant to be both symbol and protector in the reunited country, has cut its own murderous swath, carrying out executions and razing villages. Even deadlier are the side effects of war, the scars left by years of brutality that disfigure Congo’s society and infrastructure. The country is plagued by bad sanitation, disease, malnutrition and dislocation. Routine and treatable illnesses have become weapons of mass destruction. According to the IRC, which has conducted a series of detailed mortality surveys over the past six years, 1,250 Congolese still die every day because of war-related causes–the vast majority succumbing to diseases and malnutrition that wouldn’t exist in peaceful times. In many respects, the country remains as broken, volatile and dangerous as ever, which is to say, among the very worst places on earth.”

Activists are raising awareness on the issue, as you can see in the above video.  In fact, an amendment was included in the financial reform bill that will require companies like Research in Motion, Intel, and Apple to report their use of conflict minerals.  However, it is up to consumers to demand that companies like Apple include minerals from Australia instead of the Congo.  An iPhone with tantalum from the Congo is just not cool anymore.  You can sign a petition here that will be delivered to the 21 biggest electronics companies, and you can demand that companies prove how they sourced their minerals before you buy a new gadget.  It is the very least that we can do.


Financial reform at last – is it enough?

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, Chair of the President's Economic Recovery Advisor Board, and author of the Volcker Rule

Last night, just before the clock turned to midnight, almost two years after the global financial system nearly collapsed, House and Senate committees reached agreement on reconciliation of their respective Financial Reform packages.  The bill should be headed for a successful vote.  What level of protection will we have going forward?

Looking back, the economy nearly collapsed because of too much systemic risk spread across financial institutions that are “too big to fail.”  At the 11th hour, after Bear Sterns nearly collapsed, and Lehman Brothers went into bankruptcy, the surviving financial institutions converted into bank holding companies and received access to the Discount Window at the Federal Reserve, which allowed them to reduce their leverage with basically free money.  In addition to that bailout, much of the toxic assets on the books of these institutions were bought or guaranteed by the Fed.

Would it be enough to require these institutions to hold more capital?  Simon Johnson points out that the targeted requirement of 10-12% is actually what Lehman Brothers had on the book before they collapsed.

One good aspect of this bill is the inclusion of a compromise Volcker Rule.  Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve Chairman who proposed the rule, intended to restrict the ability of banks whose deposits are federally insured from trading for their own benefit. Banks and large Wall Street firms, who view it as a major incursion on their most profitable activity, fiercely oppose the Volcker Rule.  The compromise would allow them to continue some investing and trading activity, no more than 3 percent of a fund’s capital; those investments could also total no more than 3 percent of a bank’s tangible equity.

The proposal by Senator Blanche Lincoln that would have banned banks from any derivatives activities was loosed to a requirement that banks and the companies that own them be required to segregate the activity.  In theory this would prevent depositors money from being traded in derivatives, but isn’t this just shuffling around the balance sheet instead?

The new Consumer Protection Agency is a good move.  If the President puts someone like Elizabeth Warren in charge, we will see standardized, consumer friendly credit card statements, along with many other sensible reforms.  Of course, an exception for Auto Dealers was negotiated at the last minute.  If you go outside any military base you will she signs that say “financing available for E-1 and above.”  What those signs don’t say is that the interest rates for those E-1’s will be 30%, and that those 18-year-old kids just want the shiny new car.  In the same vein, I hope payday lenders will be subject to the new Agency, though I don’t doubt that powerful legislators may have exempted them as well.

Ultimately, at the end of the day, while there are admirable measures in this Reform, and while it is better than the status quo, this bill does nothing to deal with institutions being too big to fail.  The Brown Kaufmann amendment, which was defeated by among other opponents, The White House, would have forced banks to become smaller and limited what they could borrow from the Fed.  We taxpayers will one day have to confront these massive institutions and bail them out again, with the proverbial gun to our head.  It is inevitable.

It is instructive to look at the history of Bear Sterns, as detailed in the excellent book, House of Cards.  When that firm became a stalwart after the Great Depression, the partners were all personally invested in each financial investment decision.  They had skin in the game, and they were much more conservative as a result.  Deregulation in the 1980s and the 1990s allowed firms like Bear Sterns to leverage, more and more, their clients funds, and engage in riskier and riskier behavior.  Without the personal investment, the people in charge of Bear Sterns were no longer worried about the long view, just the next quarter.  Much like politicians who are simply worried about re-election and not about proper governance, these denizens of Wall St. were now only concerned with rising stock price and short term gains.  We lost something along the way, and unfortunately, we are not going to get it back.


Amid many spectacles, a tragic story worthy of your attention

Columbian defender Andres Escobar, whose tragic story is told in The Two Escobars.

The past 48 hours featured a series of inspired sports events that captured the hearts and imaginations of people around the world.  At Wimbledon, in England, American John Isner and Frenchman Nicholas Mahut played for over 11 hours of match time, with Isner prevailing in the 5th set 70-68.  The match, which was twice suspended for darkness, and played over three days, shattered records for the number of games in a set (138), most games in a match (183), most combined aces (215), and most individual aces, 112 by Isner.  Both players held serve for 68 consecutive games in the 5th set, and it was a display of will and heroic play that you rarely see.

At the same time, a hemisphere away in South Africa, several upstart teams played remarkable matches.  Of course, the United States won yesterday, advancing after Landon Donovan scored during stoppage time to beat Algeria.  Today, the Kiwis from New Zealand nearly pulled off the same feat, but failed to score against Paraguay.  The World Cup is always a spectacle, because in these matches, teams do not represent a club or a paycheck, but rather their country.  South Africans were visibly inspired after their team upset Les Bleus of France two days ago.

For Americans, the World Cup is just one small part of our experience; but for many other countries, the World Cup represents much more –the hopes and dreams of a nation, yearning for something more.  Amid these spectacles of sport, which spoiled many a fan in the last few days, a remarkable documentary; The Two Escobars, which premiered on ESPN, tells the story of the Columbian national team leading up to, and during the 1994 World Cup:

“While rival drug cartels warred in the streets and the country’s murder rate climbed to highest in the world, the Colombian national soccer team set out to blaze a new image for their country. What followed was a mysteriously rapid rise to glory, as the team catapulted out of decades of obscurity to become one of the best teams in the world. Central to this success were two men named Escobar: Andrés, the captain and poster child of the National Team, and Pablo, the infamous drug baron who pioneered the phenomenon known in the underworld as “Narco-soccer.” But just when Colombia was expected to win the 1994 World Cup and transform its international image, the shocking murder of Andres Escobar dashed the hopes of a nation.

Through the glory and the tragedy, The Two Escobars daringly investigates the secret marriage of crime and sport, and uncovers the surprising connections between the murders of Andres and Pablo.”

Americans might remember the own goal that Andres Escobar scored to propel the Americans to a 1-0 victory at the Rose Bowl.  Drug kingpins assassinated Andres Escobar upon his return to Columbia.  The Two Escobars is haunting; it shows the power of sports to capture the heart of a people, and the many tragedies of Columbia during those years.  Luckily for you the film will appear five more times on ESPN networks during the next month.


USA! USA! USA! USA!

The heartbreak kids have done it again.  After 90 minutes in which another US goal, this time by Clint Dempsey, was negated by another bad (offsides) call, Landon Donovan, America’s leader, scored the winner during stoppage time, breaking a scoreless tie that would have eliminated the Americans from the World Cup.  The Americans once again fought through adversity and many near-miss chances to win their Group for the first time since 1930.  This team has displayed mastery in the clutch moments, scoring often at the end of matches during their qualifying run.  Now they advance out of Group C as the winner.  These boys deserve all the support we can give them.  USA! USA! USA! USA!


Your land, my land, Gasland.

Before I begin to tell you what brought me to tears this morning, I want to ask you what exactly you would be willing to sacrifice for cheap energy.  Think about all the material goods that you buy with cheap energy, all of the disposable and replaceable goods.  Think about all of the devices in your home that consume electricity, and all of the functions they provide for you.   Now, consider what you would be willing to give up in order to ensure that the supply of cheap energy is unending.  What if you learned that the water from your tap was no longer drinkable?  What if you learned that you might have irreversible brain damage?  What if you learned that you might lose your sense of taste and smell?  Would that be worth it?

Gasland Director Josh Fox lighting some polluted tap water on fire.

Well, this morning I watched the new documentary Gasland, which premiered on HBO last night.  Immediately, my connection to the subject matter was visceral, because like the filmmaker, Josh Fox, I am a Pennsylvanian by birth.  Fox owns a home on 19 acres of pristine forest that is part of the Marcellus Shale, a formation of sedimentary rock that stretches throughout the Appalachian Basin from New York, south to Virginia.  Energy companies targeted the Marcellus Shale for its natural gas resources, along with other shale formations across the country.  The Marcellus Shale alone was estimated in April 2009 by the Department of Energy to contain 262 Trillion Cubic Feet of Natural Gas.  However, industry estimates exceed this amount.  To extract natural gas from shale formations, energy companies use Halliburton-proprietary technology.

How is the natural gas extracted?   A technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking is used.  A well is drilled deep (typically about 8,000 feet) into the shale formation, and millions of gallons of water, sand, and proprietary chemicals are injected at high pressure into the well.  The pressure fractures the shale and opens fissures, which allow the natural gas to flow freely out of the well.  Sounds simple, right?  Well, 596 chemicals are used in the fracking process.  In 2005, the Bush/Cheney Energy Bill (known officially as the Energy Policy Act of 2005) exempted natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act?  Why was that legislation necessary?  It exempted the energy companies from disclosing the chemicals used in the fracking process.  For each frack, 80-300 tons of chemicals may be used. Scientists have identified volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylene.  Fracking produces wastewater, and the VOCs in the wastewater are evaporated into the air, where they produce ground level ozone, which can travel up to 250 miles.

Shale formations in the United States.

The really disturbing part of this process is the contamination of drinking water.  Fox travels across the country to Colorado, Wyoming, Arkansas, and Texas, where this technology has been deployed, and goes into homes where the tap water is now flammable.  The scale of the development is extensive.

I urge you to watch this film, and spread the word about this ongoing environmental catastrophe.  This technology raises the question of what lengths we as Americans will go to for cheap energy.  Is our standard of living sustainable?  What are the consequences of that cheap energy?  Economists consider consequences that are not reflected in the cost of a product externalities.  Right now the costs of our energy are not transparent, but purposely opaque.  The 2005 Bush/Cheney exemption is a prime example of this.  Clean natural gas is just as much of a misnomer as clean coal.  There is no free lunch.  Americans need to reconsider the sustainability of our economy, of our lifestyles.  Permanent damage is occuring daily.

However, there is one thing that you can do now to help the communities affected, and help to increase the safety requirements in natural gas extraction: call your Senators and Representatives, and demand that the Frac Act be passed.

The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (H.R. 2766), (S. 1215)—was introduced to both houses of the United States Congress on June 9, 2009, and aims to repeal the exemption for hydraulic fracturing in the Safe Drinking Water Act. It would require the energy industry to disclose the chemicals it mixes with the water and sand it pumps underground in the hydraulic fracturing process, information that has largely been protected as trade secrets. The House bill was introduced by representatives Diana DeGette, D-Colo., Maurice Hinchey D-N.Y., and Jared Polis, D-Colo. The Senate version was introduced by senators Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.  Needless to say, the energy industry opposes this act.  Gasland breaks my heart, because the Pennsylvania that I grew up in is at risk.  So is the water supply of New York City and Philadelphia.  Please see this important film, and take action.


Prosperity without growth?

Ronald Reagan once said, “There are no great limits to growth, because there are no limits of human intelligence, imagination, or wonder.”  In the United States, growth is mostly unquestioned as a source of prosperity and happiness.  In fact Reagan, under the influence of economist Milton Friedman, believed that the U.S. could prosper, as long as the economy was freed from government influence.  Neo-classical assumptions rule U.S. economic development, to the point where politicians of the right and the left wings both fervently believe it in. Barack Obama, during a campaign speech in Berlin, said:

“This is the moment when we must build on the wealth that open markets have created, and share its benefits more equitably. Trade has been a cornerstone of our growth and global development. But we will not be able to sustain this growth if it favors the few, and not the many. Together, we must forge trade that truly rewards the work that creates wealth, with meaningful protections for our people and our planet. This is the moment for trade that is free and fair for all.”

Obama, like Reagan, believed that growth was essential, but he felt that we should take some of the surplus and provide it to the poorest Americans.  He also understood the importance of “meaningful protections for… our planet.”  Based on the policies his White House has proposed during the first 18 months of his administration, Obama clearly believes that we can protect the planet – preventing runaway anthropogenic climate change – by relative decoupling, a reduction in the ecological intensity per unit of economic output.  Like Reagan, he has faith that Americans will continue to discover technology that will make unending growth possible, with greater efficiency and greater performance.

However, that faith in human innovation is running directly into the ecological limits that Earth provides.  With a growing population, with increasing standards of living, unending growth is in doubt.  In Prosperity Without Growth, Tim Jackson examines the dilemma of growth, and how prosperity and flourishing relate to it.  He writes that: “the truth is that there is as yet no credible, socially just, ecologically sustainable scenario of continually growing incomes for a world of 9 billion people (the United Nations projected 2050 global population).”

If we assume that continuing growth is not sustainable, then what norms can guide economic activity?  Jackson identifies an important factor that helps to inspire our need for growth, our “tendency to imbue material things with social and psychological meanings:”

“Consumer goods provide a symbolic language in which we communicate continually with each other, not just about raw stuff, but about what really matters to us: family, friendship, sense of belonging, community, identity, social status, meaning, and purpose in life.”

With the limits of growth, on an Earth with an expanding human population, finding ways to circumvent that opulence, to find a way to short-circuit the positional race.  In the United States, that race was known under the mantra ‘Keeping up with the Joneses.‘  The task, it seems is to decouple those important qualities, which Martha Nussbaum identified in her essay “The Good As Discipline, The Good as Freedom,” from material opulence.    In contemporary societies, the institutions that can best influence and nurture that decoupling would be religious and community groups.  Institutions that would be most affected by that kind of shift would be groups like the Chamber of Commerce, that favor growth at all costs.

Additionally, another norm that can help to guide the transformation of the economy, and society, would be an emphasis on quality in everything that we produce.  Right now, the goal of growth encourages the production of cheap, disposable objects that consumers will need to replace.  These cheap goods are often produced on the other side of the Earth from where they are consumed, in Third World economies.  An emphasis on quality, and the nurturing of artisan producers, would help develop local economies to sustainably, and collectively, prosper.  The nurturing of local production would also reduce transportation, and environmental costs.

Our companies are designed to maximize efficiency at the cost of people and the planet.  To trace one example, by making meat production local, the meat becomes more expensive; however, that meat better bears its cost to the environment and to our continued prosperity.  This emphasis on quality and local production would impact the global business world, namely the companies which have grown on such a scale as to become more powerful than many States.   For example, ConAgra is a dominant player in food production.  They are already being affected by the locavore movement, and have bought numerous brands in order to find a niche in that economy.  The question of course, is whether we, as consumers, will nurture the artisans instead of the ConAgras of the world.


The apology heard ’round the world.

Republican Rep. Joe Barton apologized to BP yesterday.

Yesterday, as I described during my live coverage of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s questioning of BP CEO Tony Hayward, Rep. Joe Barton, from oil industry haven Texas, apologized to BP for the “shakedown” that the company faced from the White House:

“I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) during a hearing on Thursday morning with BP’s CEO Tony Hayward.” I think it is a tragedy in 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 — with the attorney general of the United States, who is legitimately conducting a criminal investigation and has every right to do so to protect the American people, participating in what amounts to a $20 billion slush fund that’s unprecedented in our nation’s history, which has no legal standing, which I think sets a terrible precedent for our nation’s future.  I’m only speaking for myself. I’m not speaking for anyone else, but I apologize,” Barton added. “I do not want to live in a county where anytime a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong, [it is] subject to some sort of political pressure that, again, in my words, amounts to a shakedown.”

Rep. Barton did not agree with the $20 Billion escrow account, which Tony Hayward agreed to with President Obama, and would ensure that money is available to pay “all legitimate claims.”  Well, Rep. Barton apparently hoped that BP would be able to use their army of lawyers to fend off legal challenges, like two other notable companies: Exxon Mobil and Dow Chemical.

25 years after a plume of fatal toxic gas escaped from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, and killed thousands of sleeping Indians instantly, and tens of thousands later, eight former executives were finally found guilty and sentences to two years in prison and a fine of about $2100, only last week.  In 1989, Union Carbide, which was later purchased by Dow, paid only a $470 Million settlement, which provided only $550 per victim.   Additionally, Dow is not taking responsibility for cleaning up the site.  In fact former Union Carbide officials still refuse to take responsibility for the leak, blaming it on sabotage.

In the other case, Exxon was required to pay only $500 million, from what was once a $5 Billion punitive award, after a nearly 20 year legal saga. BP can fight this battle much longer than any Louisiana fisherman.  The $20 Billion escrow fund is an act of good faith on the part of BP.  For Rep. Barton to insist that is it a “shakedown” is to say that the Dows and the Exxons of the world should be able to avoid accepting the consequences of their actions.

Apparently Barton, after being condemned by fellow Republicans, retracted his apology.  However, many conservatives do support Barton, and object to the escrow account.  It is a mystery how one could side with BP on this case, with clear evidence of their liability.  Ultimately, a huge company like BP has more power than most modern States.  Even in the United States, companies like BP can capture the regulators and ensure favorable legislation through their financial support.  In that environment, how can conservatives claim that the power of mega-corporations should go unchecked?  How on Earth could Barton side with BP, when we now know all the cost-cutting that led to the disaster on the Deepwater Horizon and in the Gulf of Mexico?


Live coverage of Energy and Commerce Questioning of BP CEO Tony Hayward

Rep. Henry Waxman chairs the committee grilling BP CEO Tony Hayward

Here is live video of the hearing.

Rep. Henry Waxman expressed his exasperation in his opening statement:

“BP repeatedly took shortcuts that cost lives and increased the risk of catastrophic blowouts… There is not a single e-mail that indicates that you understood the danger… We are seeing in the oil industry the same corporate indifference to risk that we saw in the collapse on Wall Street.”

Rep. Bart Stupak scores this zinger:

“You owe it to all Americans, we are not small people, but we deserve to get out lives back… Mr. Hayward, I am sure that you will get your life back, with a golden parachute to boot.“

Republican Rep. Joe Barton called the $20 Billion compensation fund a “slush fund” and a “shakedown.”  I suppose he trusts BP to settle quickly, unlike Exxon, which only recently finished its legal case on the Exxon Valdez spill, and paid limited settlements.  I suppose he forgets that Dow Chemical only recently completed its legal settlement after the 1984 Bophal catastrophe, where approximately 15,000 Indian people died after a chemical leak.

Rep. Mike Ross, Democrat of Arkansas, pointed out the obvious: “Mr. Hayward, since this hearing began one hour ago, 112,846 gallons have spilled into the Gulf… It seems apparent that BP put profit before safety.”

Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont artfully described the numerous accidents and safety failures that BP operations produced in the last decade, and concluded: “We’ve heard time and time again from BP that this is an aberration… for BP, regrettably this is business as usual.  This is déjà vu, again, and again, and again.”

The opening statements are over, and Tony Hayward already is slumped. Now he is ready to testify. After Mr. Hayward was sworn in, and was about to begin his opening statement, a woman in the back screamed that Mr. Hayward needed to go to jail.

Tony Hayward’s opened with this: “The explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon and the resulting oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico never should  have happened, and I am deeply sorry that it did.  When I learned that 11 men lost their lives, I was personally devastated. Three weeks ago I attended a memorial service for those men, and it was a shattering moment… I can only begin to imagine their [friends and families'] sorrow.”

I understand how serious the situation is.  It is a tragedy.  I want to speak directly to the people who live and work in the Gulf region.  I know that this incident has had a profound impact on your lives, and caused great turmoil and I deeply regret that.  I also deeply reget the impact the spill has had on the environment, the wildlife, and the ecosystem of the Gulf.  I want to acknowledge the questions that you and the public are rightly asking.  How could this happen?  How damaging is the spill to the environment? Why is it taking so long to stop the flow of oil and gas into the Gulf?  We don’t yet have all the answers to these important questions.  But I hear and understand the concerns, frustrations, and anger being voiced across the country, and I know that these sentiments will continue until the leak is stopped and until we prove through our actions that we are doing the right thing.”

Well, Tony Hayward and BP may not have all the answers, but the House committee will try to get them.

Tony continues: “I’ve been to the Gulf Coast.  I’ve met with fishermen, business owners, and families.  I understand what they are going through, and I promise them as I am promising you, that we will make this right. After yesterday’s announcement (of the $20 Billion fund) I hope that they feel we’re on the right track.  I’m here today because I have a responsibility to the American people to do my best to explain what BP has done, is doing, and will do in the future to respond to this terrible accident.”

Tony Hayward certainly claims to understand everyone’s troubles.  It reminds me of Bill Clinton, he used that language a lot.

“To sum up, I understand the seriousness of the situation, and the concerns frustrations and fears that have been and will continue to be voiced.  I know that only actions and results, not mere words, ultimately can give you the confidence you seek.  I give my pledge as the leader of BP that we will not rest until we make this right.  We’re a strong company, and no resources will be spared.  We, and the entire industry will learn from this event, and emergy stronger, smarter, and safer.”

OK, I give in, Tony Hayward really understands.  While stock prices rose yesterday after the establishment of the $20 Billion fund, I am not sure BP is, or will remain a strong company.  Words may not hurt Tony Hayward, and words will not give confidence, but Tony will be under fire shortly, and will have to provide some tough answers.

Mr. Hayward is tapdancing early.  He was asked the following questions by Rep. Stupak, which is gave the identical non-answer:

Should there be a ban on companies with miserable safety records drilling off our coast? … Who are we going to hold accountable?  … Do you expect to be CEO of BP much longer?

Tony’s response to all: “Since I’ve become CEO, safe reliable operations have been our first priority.”

Rep. Michael Burgess, (R-TX) is, like his colleague Joe Barton, most concerned with the $20 Billion fund, and not the CEO right in front of him.

Rep. Waxman asked if BP made a fundamental mistake in the selection of the casing?  Tony responded: “I wasn’t involved in that decision.”  Tony is not taking responsibility for the decisions and actions of his company.

Rep. Waxman and Tony Hayward had this remarkable interchange:

Rep Waxman: “Don’t you feel any sense of responsibility for these decisions?

Tony Hayward: “I feel a great sense of responsibility for this accident.”

Rep. Waxman: “What about the decisions?”

Tony Hayward: “I can’t pass judgement on those decisions.”


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