Monday, May 17, 2010

Big Oil’s Call Girls

When Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska rose to the Senate Floor to “object” to a unanimous consent request by Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey that the bill he and Senator Bill Nelson of Florida introduced, raising liability caps for polluters like BP from an absurd $75 million to a still inadequate but more realistic $10 billion, was Murkowski committing a crime? Technically, no. Any more than BP, Deepwater Horizon, and Halliburton are corporate criminals that would be found criminally negligent in any court of law in the land for taking the lives of eleven workers on that rig that exploded into a human and ecological catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.

And not unless the Justice Department were to conduct an investigation into influence peddling, perhaps record conversations between senators and congresspersons in which oil industry executives direct them to take to the Senate floor to block legislation that expands the corporations’ criminal liability in cases already before the courts. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Corruption is very hard to prove in such cases. The Justice Department has limited resources, and its criminal investigations division was under the thumb of the most corrupt and politicized administration in modern times: eight years of deregulation and wanton corruption under Big Oil men Bush and Cheney.

Remember those mass firings of U.S. attorneys by Bush Attorney General Alberto Gonzales? Nothing like a sledge hammer from the top to put a freeze on prospective criminal investigations into “sensitive” areas. (Democrats, Rove-sanctioned political probes were OK, though.) By the time the OIG report came out detailing a “culture of ethical failure … a pervasive culture of exclusivity, exempt from the rules that govern all other employees of the Federal Government,” well, it was September 10, 2008. Guess what was happening on November 6 of that year.

To be fair to the Inspector General, the report took so long to complete (it began in 2006) “primarily due to the criminal nature of some of these allegations, protracted discussions with DOJ [emphasis mine] and the ultimate refusal of one major oil company -- Chevron -- to cooperate with our investigation.” If anything, President Obama understated his PG-13 characterization of an X-rated “regulatory” culture existing between the federal government and Big Oil. He called it a “cozy relationship”— free-flowing sex, drugs, and phony permits between the industry and its regulators, the Minerals Management Service (MMS). The place was a real den of iniquity; and it was still issuing drilling permits after the new boss, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, said he was putting a stop to them!

Nope, it doesn’t work that way. Lisa Murkowski and Mary Landrieu –- let’s call them agents prostitutes, Big Oil’s call girls –- made Crew’s list of ‘The Most Corrupt’ members of Congress in recent years, and will most likely be back on it this year. In Congress, House and Senate, (the polls show people instinctively know this) money talks and bullshit walks. Straight to the Senate floor where Senator Murkowski “argued” that the legislation:
is “not where we need to be right now” and would unfairly advantage large oil companies by pricing the small companies out of the market. Murkowski did signal that she would be open to "look at the liability cap and consider raising it.” Just not at this moment.
Interesting. So Murkowski concedes she is willing to consider lifting the caps, just “not right now … [it’s] not where we need to be.” Why not, Senator? Coincidentally, the very same day Murkowski was making her utterly specious and illogical argument, the owner of the oil rig that exploded in the Gulf, Transocean, was filing a petition asking a (presumably friendly, considering the venue) Houston federal court to limit its liability for the spill to $26.8 million, a microscopic fragment of the anticipated damages. With this legal maneuver, Transocean was seeking to consolidate all lawsuits from the spill “before a single, impartial federal judge” [and to] “establish a single fund from which legitimate claims may be paid.”

Right. Plaintiffs’ lawyers saw right though this maneuver, claiming that the company wanted the more than 100 lawsuits adjudicated in Houston, heart of Texas oil country, because juries there would be most sympathetic to the oil industry. Instead, they will try to consolidate the lawsuits in New Orleans (watch Senator Landrieu try to block cases being heard in New Orleans) or Washington, where they could get a fair hearing.

I’ll bet the following imaginary conversation between Big Oil and Senator Murkowski could very well reside in that sinister black building where the NSA eavesdrops on millions of phone conversations. If only we had a progressive version of J. Edgar Hoover, who could dangle these personal secrets over politicians’ heads and compel them to be honest public servants. It’s easy to imagine a phone call from Big Oil to their girl, Lisa. This is how it would go:

Big Oil: “We’re calling in our chips, Senator. We need you to block, delay, obstruct, kill if you can, the Nelson-Menendez bill. We don’t care how you do it, or what arguments you use.”

Murkowski: “You don’t understand the pressure we’re in to do something in Congress. After all, your people are poisoning the Gulf and ruining the coastal and tourism economies of four states. Nelson and his crowd are royally pissed at me. They’re threatening a recorded roll call vote, instead of a voice vote. I just don’t know how long Mary and I can hold them at bay. And now our friends are getting pissed at me because they don’t want to be outed voting against this thing. They, all of us, just love your money, but this is big, really big. You gotta understand!”

Big Oil: “Calm down, Lisa. We’re working on a “friendly” judge (if you know what I mean) to limit liability, as we speak. Perry’s office promises to cooperate, anything we need, the Texas delegation is mostly behind us, Barton’s screaming at that little radical punk in the House, Henry Waxman, that he wants “fair and balanced” hearings. Haha … Fox has their seat at the table. Not much we could do about Ed Markey’s grandstanding with that jar of oily Gulf water and “hole-in-one” shit … Just be thankful we threw so much money at Scott Brown we discouraged Markey from running. Brown’s in our pocket. He’ll play ball. And you’ve got that all-important 41st vote to filibuster …

Murkowski: “No. That’ll look bad … This isn’t healthcare, you know. Even the Teabaggers, I mean Tea Party people … might think critically once that black ooze and dead animals start washing ashore in their backyards … and they won’t like it when their shrimp cocktail, gas pump prices gets more expensive and the seafood restaurants go out of business … They might blame us, not Obama this time! I don’t know how long Dick Armey can control those crazy old coots, and Sarah, well she’s just out for herself. Loose cannon, she’ll say something dumb, I know her well. (Snort)”

Big Oil: “Listen Lisa. You do the talking, we’ll do the thinking. Okay? Play your cards right and we won’t need a filibuster. We just need you to delay for now, until we can get some favorable rulings in court. We’re very close. Just delay, obstruct …”

Murkowski: “But what do I say? They have a point, you know. And the politics of this has gone TOXIC. It’s not simply the Gulf, you know. Everyone here is calculating how this will impact our political futures. We’ve got political and lobbying careers to think about. You didn’t do us any favors with all that finger-pointing at the hearings …”

Big Oil: “Minor setback. Tony’s not happy but he’s got Lamar on a short leash. And we’ve got Tony by the balls, too. He’d better hope it’s us and not the feds. Lamar’s gone after this is all over, but if he fucks up again … No golden parachute. He knows it. They all do. In the meantime, tell them anything, just stall stall stall. Say it hurts small business operators … Haha … Total nonsense, but a standard Republican talking point.”

Murkowski: “Hmm … That might work. But only for so long … I mean, it makes no sense to say this hurts small operators (do they even exist?) if they can’t cover the cost of the clenup … that means the taxpayers will be stuck with the bill and the Teabaggers will be all over me. (Whines)”

Big Oil: “It’ll be all right. They’re too dense to catch on, they still think the rig was blown up by ‘environmentalist wackos’ … Hahaha … Couldn’t ask for better media boosters than Rush and Glenn. (Note to self: make sure they get their stash of drugs.) If all goes as planned we won’t keep you hanging out there too long. We won’t forget this, Lisa. We reward loyalty, you know, and we really appreciate your courage, standing up for the right thing and all.”

Murkowski: “Right …”

Big Oil: “Remember … just as Henry Waxman and Barbara Boxer, and the rest of those tree-hugging alternative energy (snorts) radicals opened their hearings, we held our own little grease-the-wheels confab with your Republican colleagues. Sorry you couldn’t make it, but we understand. Don’t worry, you’ll get yours too. (Joke! Haha.) You’ll be happy to know message guru Frank Luntz was in attendance. We told Luntzie, ‘this is your biggest career challenge! We want you to make us come out the other end smelling like roses and sweet perfume’ … Someone told him taking a dip in the Gulf might help his complexion. He said, ‘no thanks.’ Not much of a joke guy.”

“Speaking of jokes and swimming in these waters, Haley Barbour should really stop telling people it’s OK to go to the beach. Truth is, we really have no idea what effect the tons of dispersants we’re dumping in the Gulf will have on humans, long or short term, and we don’t intend to find out! The last thing we need are more lawsuits from a bunch of Haley’s Mississippi constituents who went swimming because he said it was safe and got a bunch of skin lesions for their trouble.”

Murkowski: “Gotta go. The bill’s coming up shortly. I’ll think of something, for now, but you’d better get me those Luntz talking points STAT! (I know, we said it during the healthcare debate, too.)”

Big Oil: “Go get ‘em, tiger! One more thing, Lisa, before I forget. Make sure you coordinate your message with Mary. We want this thing to look bipartisan. Optics are very important; it’s the only thing keeping the public from the reality of what’s going on in the Gulf.”

Murkowski: “Landrieu? She’s great! You don’t have to worry about her, why, she’s a true believer. Did you catch that interview she had with Ed Schultz over at MSNBC? She rolled that fat man like he was the tarp coverin’ the baseball infield during rain delay! Haha … I think she set the ground rules for the interview, ‘cause he said the ‘floor is yours.’ Talk about how not to conduct an interview … not that I’m complaining, but we need more places to get our message out than just Larry King and Fox News … And when the Ed Show inflated your contributions to her (I should be so lucky!), Mary got them to retract it, not once, but twice! Poor Lawrence, he was just sitting in while Ed’s off playing golf somewhere. Ed got so flustered that he didn’t even mention Mary was the top Senate recipient of campaign contributions from BP in 2008. Didn’t you just love it how she lectured fellow Democrats, her own party, not to ‘retreat’ or ‘react with fear’? She sure showed Eddie, she fears no one. I’m good, but honestly, you couldn’t have a better girl in your corner!”

Big Oil: “We appreciate Mary’s commitment and enthusiasm, and her single-minded pursuit of our money, heh, but she’s got to bring it down a few notches. All those intemperate statements, while they could be good at rallying our rank-and-file troops, we can take care of our own. They know we’re the only game in town, and they need us. But Mary’s sanguine cheerleading, I must say Lisa, is beginning to backfire. I can understand her refusing to return our contributions, you don’t bite the hand that feeds you, but all this talk, what did she say … “I mean, just the gallons are so minuscule compared to the benefits of U.S. strength and security, the benefits of job creation and energy security, so while there are risks associated with everything, I think you understand that they are quite, quite minimal.”

I watched that hearing, and the look Chairman Barbara Boxer gave Mary, hell, that woman’s glare even scared me … but Mary was unmoved. The point is, it’s one thing to roll big Eddie over at MSNBC, and Mary’s one tough lady –- that’s why she’s on the payroll, so to speak, hehe –- but she’s gotten the attention of the President. And he’s furious, Lisa. Fuming. We’ve gotten an earful. It’s bad for business. It’s bad for you, me, Mary, Joe, Blanche, all of us. You know the drill. (No pun intended.) This week what with Massey Mining’s Don Blankenship testifying, before you know it, it could be open season on CEOs!

Did you catch that part where Mary said, let me get this straight, that Transocean person ‘was impressive, and that’s not just from advocates but from critics as well’… I think that rubbed President Obama the wrong way. Next thing you know, he comes out and says: ‘I did not appreciate what I considered to be a ridiculous spectacle during the congressional hearings into this matter. You had executives of BP and Transocean and Halliburton falling over each other to point the finger of blame at somebody else. The American people could not have been impressed with that display, and I certainly wasn’t.” Seems like the President was saying to Mary, ‘I’ll call your “impressive” and raise the American people’s,’ ya think? Not good, Lisa. Not good at all …

Murkowski: (frowning) “I’ll set Mary straight, but the President, that’s above my pay and contribution scale.”

Big Oil: “We’re counting on you. (Click.)

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