BP chief faces Congress

By JAKE SHERMAN

After almost 60 days of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico and a critical White House meeting Wednesday, Tony Hayward, the embattled chief executive of BP, headed to Capitol Hill Thursday for what many expected to be a public flogging.

But instead he got an apology.

The first Republican to speak, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), turned the heat on the White House, calling the BP escrow fund for cleanup a “shakedown” and a “$20 billion slush fund.”

Barton, who has had a close relationship with the oil industry, accused the White House of putting undue pressure on BP by having Attorney General Eric Holder threatening a criminal prosecution.

In fact, before Hayward even had a chance to offer testimony in which he will apologize to the American people, Barton apologized to BP.

“I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday,” Barton said in his opening statement. “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 dollar shakedown.”

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) pushed back on Barton, saying it is “not a slush fund and not a shakedown, rather it was the government of the United States working to protect the most vulnerable citizens that we have in our country right now, the residents of the Gulf.”

Democratic Reps. Bart Stupak of Michigan and Henry Waxman of California, the two lawmakers whose staff uncovered the bulk of what’s now known about the Deepwater Horizon disaster, will also have their shot at Hayward, who had come under personal fire for off-color comments about wanting his life back. In a bid to rehabilitate the company’s image, he also appeared in a multi-million dollar advertising campaign.

Waxman, in his opening statement, said BP paid no attention “to the tremendous risks BP was taking” in offshore drilling. Hayward, he said, didn’t pay “even the slightest attention to the dangers at this well.” He said that top BP officials directly in charge of the drilling were “oblivious” to what was happening on the Deepwater Horizon rig.

“BP cut corner after corner to save a million dollars here and a few hours or days there,” Waxman said. “And now the whole Gulf Coast is paying the price.”

Stupak said he is “more concerned than ever” with the corporate culture at BP. He also chided Hayward for an earlier comment that he would like his life back.

“I’m sure you’ll get your life back, with a golden parachute back to England,” Stupak said.

There was a suspended moment of drama when Hayward entered the room. He walked in, to the loud clattering of camera lenses, with a cadre of aides, including BP’s top Washington hand David Nagel. But he did not take his seat until just before the hearing started.

The hearing is not without drama. Diane Watson, a co-founder of Codepink and a native Louisianan, is in Washington with the intent to “confront” Hayward, she said in a statement being circulated before the hearing. She was arrested June 10 for pouring oil on herself in the Capitol, protesting “BP dumping oil on the fishing communities in the Gulf.” A handful of protestors was the bulk of the public allowed in the hearing room.

After a protestor was escorted out of the room last week, police seem destined to prevent such uproar again. More than a dozen police officers surround the hearing room, including plain-dressed Capitol Police inside the room.

Mom: RI school bans patriotic hat because the small Army figures glued to it are holding guns

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A Rhode Island mother says her son’s school cited its no-weapons policy in stopping the second-grader from wearing a patriotic hat he made to honor Army troops.

Christan (KRIS’-ten) Morales says her 8-year-old son, David, was assigned to make a crazy hat for his class at the Tiogue (TEYE’-ohg) School in Coventry. She says they brainstormed and he came up with an idea to glue small plastic Army figures to a camouflage hat with an American flag.

But she says David was not allowed to wear the hat for the project. Morales says his teacher called her to say it wasn’t appropriate because it had guns, violating a school ban on weapons and toy weapons.

The principal did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

The story was first reported by WPRI-TV.

Alvin Greene: The Most Qualified Democrat I Have Ever Seen

by Ann Coulter

Democrats have decided that Alvin Greene’s surprise victory in the South Carolina Democratic senatorial primary must be the result of a Republican dirty trick.

Greene beat Vic Rawl, a former state representative and judge, with a whopping 60 percent of the vote in last Tuesday’s primary, despite Greene’s having no job, no house, no campaign website, no campaign headquarters — indeed, no campaign. Other than paying the $10,000 filing fee, Greene seems to have put no effort into the race whatsoever.

But he does have one thing Rawl doesn’t have: In the grand tradition of legendary Democrats such as Teddy Kennedy, Greene has a felony arrest. (Greene’s inexperience really shows here: Democrats usually wait until after they’re elected to show pornography to college girls.)

So this is not good for the Democrats. Naturally, therefore, they’re blaming Republicans.

Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., has demanded that the U.S. attorney investigate, ominously suggesting that Greene may be a Republican plant. Clyburn is the third-ranking Democrat in the House.

MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann interviewed Greene as if he had Lee Harvey Oswald in the dock. Chris Matthews asked guests: “Do you think this has the look of a dirty trick — sort of a Watergate number?” Watergate, you’ll recall, involved the Nixon White House trying to persuade a mildly retarded black man to run for the Senate.

Obama senior adviser David Axelrod said Greene was not a “legitimate” candidate and called his victory “a mysterious deal.” (Yes, how could a young African-American man with strange origins, suspicious funding, shady associations, no experience, no qualifications, and no demonstrable work history come out of nowhere and win an election?)

They’re hopping mad, these liberals, but it’s not clear what their theory of the crime is. Before accusing Republicans of committing a dirty trick, apparently no one asked the question: “OK, but what was the trick?”

The key to Greene’s victory, you see, is that he got more votes. How do liberals imagine Republicans pulled that off? Mesmerize the Democrats into voting for an idiot? If they could do that, John McCain would be president.

There is zero possibility that Republicans skipped their own primary to vote for Greene in the Democratic primary. The marquee South Carolina election in last Tuesday’s primary was the four-candidate, mudslinging Republican gubernatorial primary. That one was so heated, it’s still to be decided in a runoff next week.

Even Sarah Palin got involved in the race, endorsing Nikki Haley (though not endorsing anyone in the Nevada primary, as I incorrectly gave her credit for in last week’s column).

Not surprisingly, more than twice as many South Carolinians voted in the Republican primary (424,893) as voted in the Democratic primary (197,380). Not only that, but a higher percentage of Republican primary voters chose a candidate for Senate (97.12 percent) than did the Democratic primary voters (86.24 percent).

Perhaps realizing this, liberal loons (Keith Olbermann) are now pushing the theory that Republicans somehow … rigged the voting machines! (This is what happens when you know absolutely nothing about politics but are given a TV show.)

I promise you, if Republicans could have rigged any voting machines, they would have made sure Nikki Haley won by 51 percent, instead of 49 percent, to avoid next week’s runoff.

The only thing a Republican could possibly have done is pay Greene’s filing fee. It’s likely that someone paid his filing fee, inasmuch as Greene doesn’t appear to have enough money to buy a sandwich.

But anyone could have paid it — ACORN, a community organizer, a stimulus grantor, Betty White. If a Republican paid the $10,000 filing fee, why not give Greene another hundred bucks for a campaign website? Or how about making it $150, so Greene could buy a new suit?

But, for the sake of argument, let’s say a Republican paid Greene’s filing fee. Even the worst-case scenario is still not half as bad as what liberals did to Sen. Patrick Leahy’s Republican opponent in 1998. To the delight of the media, liberals ran a simpleton dairy farmer, Fred Tuttle, in the Republican primary that year against a millionaire lawyer, Jack McMullen.

As in the South Carolina race, the serious candidate, McMullen, spent far more than the prank candidate — by about $300,000 to $200.

And as with Greene, Tuttle was a feeble-minded everyman. He had starred in a movie, “Man With a Plan,” made by his Harvard-graduate neighbor, about a cornball farmer who runs for Congress. Having “Fred” actually run for the Senate was openly described as a publicity stunt.

Fred won the primary and promptly endorsed Leahy.

The media lavished praise on the “gentlemanly” Senate race, with The Associated Press calling it a “calm, folksy Senate campaign.” Reporters think there’s too much “mudslinging” when the Republican candidate doesn’t immediately endorse the Democrat.

The movie starring Fred was run on PBS, sponsored by Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and Fred — the winsome simpleton — was fawned over throughout the media. (CBS’ Bill Geist to Tuttle: “Are you a sex symbol?”)

That’s a far cry from how reporters are treating poor Alvin Greene:

CNN anchor Don Lemon: You’re mentally sound, physically sound? You’re not impaired by anything at this moment?

Greene: No. Just — I’m OK.

Lemon: No, just what?

Greene: I’m OK.

Lemon: Quite honestly, you don’t sound OK. Are you impaired by anything right now?

Greene: No.

I suppose you could say the Republican primary in Vermont was irrelevant anyway since Sen. Leahy was a shoo-in for re-election.

But so is Jim DeMint, Alvin Greene’s current opponent. Leahy won his prior election, in 1992, 54.2 percent to 43.3 percent. Jim DeMint won his last election, 53.7 percent to 44.1 percent.

And Alvin Greene is clearly more qualified to be a senator than Patrick Leahy.

The Pulpit of a Bully

By Jay Cost

Mike Allen broke this astounding bit of news yesterday:

Phil Schiliro, the White House congressional liaison, has told the Senate to aim to take up an energy bill the week of July 12, after the July 4 break (and after the scheduled final passage of Wall Street reform). Kagan confirmation will follow, ahead of the summer break, scheduled to begin Aug. 9. The plan is to conference the new Senate bill with the already-passed House bill IN A LAME-DUCK SESSION AFTER THE ELECTION, so House members don’t have to take another tough vote ahead of midterms.

A White House aide has the official word: “President Obama reiterated his call for comprehensive energy and climate legislation to break our dependence on oil and fossil fuels. In the coming weeks he will be reaching out to Senators on both sides of the aisle to chart a path forward. A number of proposals have been put forward from Members on both sides of the aisle. We’re open to good ideas from all sources, and will be working with Senators on a comprehensive proposal. The tragedy in the Gulf underscores the need to move quickly, and the President is committed to finding the votes for comprehensive energy legislation this year.”

The 51st Congress (1889-91) was tagged as the Billion Dollar Congress, a profligate Republican-run legislature that raided the Treasury in an effort to pay off all its supporters. The 111th should go down in history as the Trillion Dollar Congress. An enormous energy package passed during a lame duck session would be a fitting epilogue for the Trillion Dollar Congress, which has been consistently out of step with the public mood.

The only reason to pass such a major piece of legislation during a lame duck session is because the proposal is unpopular. If Democrats could sell the bill to their constituents, they would pass it before the November elections then campaign on it. Party leaders must also expect that the political will for this bill will not exist in the 112th Congress after the voters have spoken in November. In other words, the new representatives coming in are not going to vote for it – so Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Barack Obama had better get the representatives who were just fired to support it before they’re forced into early retirement.

This strategy has the same odor that stank up the final stages of health care reform. After the voters of Massachusetts elected Scott Brown to fill Ted Kennedy’s seat, the President refused to take the hint. Instead, he employed budgetary reconciliation – a technically legal legislative parlor trick that, had the shoe been on the other foot, would have provoked howls of outrage from the left and especially from our holier-than-thou President – to jam through a bill that the public had expressed sustained and significant opposition to.

For somebody who seems detached from the details of policy and largely uninterested in legislative wrangling, Barack Obama sure does come across sometimes like a political bully. But this is not bullying some obstinate backbench legislator. Instead, this is bullying the American people. With health care reform, he basically told the country that he didn’t care what it thought. The fact that people opposed the bill was proof they didn’t know what they were talking about. Now, apparently, the evolving strategy on energy is the same. Don’t like cap-and-trade? That’s your problem, not his. Plan to vote out Democrats in favor of the idea? Like he cares. He’ll pass it anyway.

The President had better tread carefully here. There are political issues that divide the parties, then there are “valence” issues that cut across party lines. Bill Clinton’s sexual indiscretions became a valence issue in 2000, sufficient to prompt Al Gore to nominate Joe Lieberman for the vice-presidency. It didn’t matter what party you belonged to, what Clinton had done was wrong and gross. Ditto Republican chicanery with Jack Abramoff. It didn’t matter what your politics were, you thought that had to stop. The Foley scandal went hand-in-glove with Abramoff. It crystalized the sense back in 2006 that there was something deeply dysfunctional about the Republican caucus.

Passing health care reform over howls of popular protest then jamming energy reform through a lame duck Congress might solidify the impression that this President is a bully who doesn’t care what the people think. That would hand the Republicans a great valence issue for 2012. Nobody likes a bully, after all. And just as the Democrats worked hard to connect Abramoff and Foley to enhance the impression of a broken GOP, Republicans will try to make these connections for the voters, too.

Instead of passing unpopular bills through questionable methods over the opposition of the people, maybe the President should get behind proposals that can actually sustain popular support. There’s a difference between bullying and leading, after all.

THE MEETING. THE FUND. THE REDISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH

By Neal Boortz

What must it feel like to be the “go-to” guy when it comes to redistributing other people’s wealth? For an answer to that question, we would have to ask Kenneth Feinberg. Prezbo has tapped Feinberg .. better known as our pay czar .. to be in charge of the $20 billion escrow account from BP. As the Wall Street Journal says, “Ken Feinberg isn’t God. But forgive us if we get confused from time to time.”

So yesterday Obama met with BP executives at the White House … for 20 whole minutes! It’s day 57 of the spill, and the BP execs get 20 minutes. But what was agreed upon in the meeting should have you far more outraged. While Obama has zero legal authority to seize $20 billion in funds from BP, he resorted to the next best thing: intimidation. Unfortunately our federal government has managed to find a way to do what it wants, despite any limitations placed on it by the Constitution or our laws of the land. Some pundits have gone as far as to say that Obama has managed to create his own sense of a legal system. So BP saw the writing on the wall and agreed to the $20 billion fund. This fund, as Obama stated, would be run by an “independent party.” That “independent party” just happens to be an Obama appointed czar. Who signs his checks? The government. Only an ObamaZombie will buy this “independent” nonsense. Feinberg is there to please Obama first .. to address a sense of fairness second.

But moving right along … in order to pay for this fund, BP has indeed decided to suspend paying dividends to its shareholders for the rest of the year. Those dividends keep a lot of British pensioners afloat. But on top of the $20 billion fund, BP will also set aside $100 million to compensate oil field workers for lost wages. Why is this? Well by the rules of government logic, it is inevitably BP’s fault that the Obama administration has called for a six month moratorium on drilling. This moratorium affects thousands of workers .. workers who will now be compensated by the government, out of a BP account.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting in any way that BP should escape liability for the damages it caused. I am saying that we have a legal system to address those liabilities. BP had initiated and was handling a claims process on its own. As I said yesterday, Obama could not stand by and watch a huge corporation actually address its responsibilities in this manner. Government had to be a player. The narrative of the evil corporation doing right only under the watchful eye of an omnipotent government must not be lost here.

Let’s watch over the coming months and see how many improper payments are maid to fraudsters with BP’s money. Should be interesting.

Era of Obama rhetoric is over

The President made a speech regarding the Gulf oil spill from the Oval Office Tuesday — ending an era in which many people believed in his supposed rhetorical genius. (Alex Brandon/AP)

President Obama’s Oval Office speech Tuesday marked the end of an era — an era in which at least half the population believed any crisis could be defused by one man’s supposed rhetorical genius and personal charisma. The derisive reception of President Obama’s Tuesday night speech from the Oval Office on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill makes it clear that Obama’s sweet voice no longer suffices, not even for his biggest boosters.

The thrill that Obamian rhetoric once sent up the leg of MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews is apparently gone. Obama’s repeated references to Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s Nobel Prize, Matthews said, now make him want to “barf.” He compared Obama with former President Carter. Host Keith Olbermann, who normally wouldn’t hesitate to lavish praise on Obama for coughing, was almost as blunt. “It was a great speech if you were on another planet for the last 57 days,” he said. Even Howard Fineman, a font of Washington conventional wisdom and a huge fan of the president, suggested that Obama wasn’t acting like a commander in chief.

All three liberal commentators agreed: The speech contained little substance and far too few specifics. Even Obama’s fans are catching on to a key feature of his political success. Biographer David Mendell described it before Obama’s election as his “his ingenious lack of specificity. … While talking or writing about a deeply controversial subject, he considers all points of view before cautiously giving his own often risk-averse assessment, an opinion that often appears so universal that people of various viewpoints would consider it their own.” Now that a crisis is afoot, such hedging no longer helps Obama become all things to all men. Instead, it makes him appear unprepared. He is once again the state senator who voted “present” 130 times, and who on at least one occasion was present and near the Senate chamber but absented himself from a controversial vote.

The same day Obama spoke, a new poll from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found that 50 percent of Louisianans think Obama’s response to the spill is poorer than his predecessor’s response to Hurricane Katrina. The tainted, oily tide has turned on the inexperienced man whom Americans placed in the Oval Office based on hopes and dreams and little else.