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Old 06-18-2010, 11:51 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Joe Barton

Finally this slimiest of the GOP rears his head in the public light. This guy is the epitome of corporate infestation and apathy that exists.

He has a long documented history of this, just as a sample [long but good read] here's an excerpt from Matt Tiabbi's The Great Derangement, circa 2008:

Saints have the Vatican, Jews have the Wailing Wall, warriors the fields of Marathon, Stalingrad, and Normandy. Cynics have the Rules Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The home of the Rules is a cramped room with dismal lighting, and on this overcast, unseasonably muggy day, its two-row gallery of vomit-colored chairs is packed with congressional aides and, uncharacteristically , a few reporters.

It's about four thirty in the afternoon, or about a half hour after most of the congressional press called it a day and fled the Hill. The ones who've stayed did so to catch the appearance before the Rules Committee of Congressman Joe Barton (R-Tx), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who's here on a semi-important errand.

While other Republican Leaders tend to favor a public style of fist-pounding hysterics and outright verbal abuse, Barton will respond to committee objection to this or that billion-dollar oil company handout by simply leaning back in his chair smiling, and shrugging. Shucks, we did the best we could for ya...There's jes' wasn't anythin' we could do...I's real sorry ma'am, but we just had to kill the shit out of your bill.

Barton is at the Rules Committee now to shepherd a monstrosity called the Gasoline for American's Security Act- colloquially called the new energy bill, as opposed to the old energy bill, an obscene porkfest passed that summer- through the last stages of the House Approval Process. With the exception of the initial emergency aid package, the Gasoline for America's Security Act has been, to date, the most important piece of legislation proposed in response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster. It is also the first major piece of Katrina legislation to have made it this far, i.e., to the Rules Committee.

Barton is loose. He's been cracking jokes ever since he walked in the room, and even when the Democrats on the committee try to ruin the mood by peppering him with nasty questions, he just answers them with a smile. After Barton delivers a baldly full of shit summary of the bill at hand, Democrat James McGovern comments that if he had given an answer like that to his constituents at a Massachusetts gas station, they "wouldn't like me leave in one piece."

"Well, what I do at a Texas gas station, when people ask if I'm Congressman Barton is this... I just tell 'em I'm his driver."

Laughs all around. Even McGovern laughs. A humor nonaggression pact is in force in most of Congress; both parties always laugh at each other's jokes, particularly when they're of the inside-baseball, high-school yearbook variety Barton has just whipped out at McGovern. A well-timed inside joke is the Get Out of Jail Free card of congressional debate.

Barton is about to say something significantly funnier, but the humor nonaggression behind the next joke in the pipe is not easy to convey without a little background. C-SPAN is boring to the average viewer only because no one has time to swallow the backstory. If you follow it from episode 1, it's funnier than Monty Python.

For Barton's bill is a new low, even for this Congress. A masterpiece of shameless opportunism and sheer balls, HR 3893 of the 109th Congress, the Gasoline for America's Security Act, was conceived by Barton's office before the bodies in New Orleans had even cooled. The storm hit New Orleans on August 29, and this bill was presented for consideration to the house in what would end up being very close to its final form just over three weeks later, on September 26.

Ostensibly, the problem is the bill addresses is the damage caused by the storm to the country's refinery capacity, a problem that came before the public eye via skyrocketing gas prices that swept the country after the storm. The bill was written in the weepy, hands-over-heart, your-pain-is-our-pain language peculiar to corporate handouts disguised as altruistic public relief programs- a literary genre that saw tremendous creative innovation in the period after the historic storm. The relevant passage of HR3893 read as follows:

(3) Hurricanes Katrina and Rita substantially disrupted petroleum production, refining, and pipeline systems in the Gulf Coast region, affecting energy prices and supply nationwide...

(4) It serves the national interest to increase refinery capacity for gasoline, heating oil, diesel fuel, and jet fuel where ever located within the US, to bring more reliable and economic supply to the American people.

The bill in other words, was written with the aim of sparing less fortunate Americans the pain of spending a tenth of their income on gasoline and helping to avoid even steeper costs.

Barton's plan for achieving this, however, included no new measures whatsoever and did nothing at all about the price of gasoline. Instead, Barton simply used the bill to trot out ancient, oft-rehashed laundry list of energy industry wet dreams, including the reigning legislative fantasy of the combustible-fuel industry; the repeal of the new source review provision of the Clean Air Act.

The repeal of the new source review is one of those things- the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for petroleum drilling and the repeal of the capital gains tax being two of the others- that Republican lawmakers ask for whenever any hideous crisis hits the newspapers. The party's gift for this kind of abject political non sequitur has been a defining characteristic for about a dozen years now, but especially in the last five. Terrorists strike New York? We better repeal the estate tax, quick! Asian bird flu on the way? Millions will die- if the Securities Exchange Ace of 1934 isn't overturned!

The classic example of this, of course, as Alaska senator Frank Murkowski's heartfelt plea, just two days after 9/11, to open ANWR for oil development, as a means of combating the terrorist threat. Not surprisingly, Republicans went after ANWR again after Katrina, and also humped another old target- the prohibited offshore drilling zones of the outer continental shelf. Those measures were junked at the last minute in committee, but the gutting of the long-loathed Clean Air Act was the biggest and juiciest prize- and it appeared to have survived in the final version of Barton's gasoline act.

New source review has been a regulatory bee in the bonnet of the energy industry since 1970, when the Clean Air Act Extension first went into effect. Essentially, the measure dictated that pre-1970 plants and refineries could continue to pollute pre-1970 legal levels, but that new plants and old plants modified with new equipment had to reduce emissions and use state-of-the-art scrubbing technology- an expensive proposition, opponents have long said, for the beleaguered oil industry.

Therefore it was with some desperation that Barton decided to apply the non sequitur trick to Hurricane Katrina while bodies still floated in the Ninth Ward. New Orleans is underwater! Quick, repeal those tough air-pollution emissions standards!

Even with a logically discordant parameters of non sequitur politics, this particular piece of legislation was unusually ridiculous and transparent. The ostensible justification for the bill was still about six logical steps removed from the Katrina disaster it was designed to provide an emergency remedy for.

The silliest aspect of the bill was its very status as an "emergency" measure. It would be hard to imagine anything more absurd that the idea of combating a current, immediate national fuel-cost crisis- taking on high fuel and gas prices affecting citizens right now, this week- by passing a deregulation bill that at best provides an oblique and indirect incentive for oil companies to build new refineries years from now at the earliest. Yet the bill was rushed through Congress with all the alacrity of an emergency relief package, as though industry simply could not wait to hurry up and build new plants.

Beyond that, what little logic there was in the bill was based on the assumption that oil companies even want to build new refineries. As Barton surely knew- he had heard plenty of testimony on the matter in the Energy and Commerce Committee debates over this bill- it had been more that three decades since a major American energy company had evinced any interest at all in building a new oil refinery. In fact, in a thirty year period dating back from 1975, the federal government had received just one application to build a new refinery.

In truth, the trend in the industry had been exactly the opposite: oil companies had steadily reduced the number of functioning refineries over the years, closing down nearly half of America's refineries in the course of three decades.

The reason for this was obvious and freely admitted to by industry leaders who met with members of Congress in anticipation of this bill. Fewer refineries meant reduced supply, which in turn meant higher gas prices- and higher prices for obvious reasons were desirable. The idea of providing subsidies to build new refineries was as absurd as giving away farmland to grow wheat during a grain glut.

Higher prices also meant larger profits for the oil and gas industry. In fact, at the time Barton was writing his relief bill- which was designed, remember, to help struggling oil and gas companies bear the burden of high regulatory costs- the oil and gas multinationals were experiencing record revenues. At the time the bill went to the Hose floor, ExxonMobil had just come off a quarter with $7.62 billion in profits.

In sum, oil companies had no interest in building new refineries, could easily have afforded to build them even if they wanted to, and were in fact, instead of building or trying to build, closing down existing facilities. For all these reasons, and for many others, the core premise of the Barton Bill- that costs associated with new source review were preventing the construction of oil refineries and therefore driving up fuel prices- was clearly absurd on its face. In its own way, even the Bush Administration had itself admitted as much years before, when the EPA issued a report flatly denying a link between new source review and refining capacity.

"The NSR has not significantly impeded investment in refineries," the agency wrote in June 2002, in it's "New Source Review: A report to the President."

Barton's bill almost certainly had nothing to do with refineries at all. Clearly, this was about repealing new source review restrictions on other kinds of Clean Air restricted facilities.

New Orleans was still underwater, gas prices were still soaring, a mean winter for nearly a million displaced persons was just around the corner- and the first emergency response of America's reigning political party is to help the very richest companies in the world get out of paying fines for dumping acid rain in Canada, whether or not the produced gasoline or heating fuel. That's what this bill amounted to. It was an ingenious, inspired piece of insider politics- and Barton was the perfect man for the job.

Barton performed ably on most all these counts with the post-Katrina bill. The original plan for the bill included virtually the full energy wish list, including opening ANWR to drilling, the loosening of regulations to allow offshore drilling in previously restricted outer continental shelf area (OCS, which includes waters off Florida and Georgia, among other states), the repeal of parts of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (allowing the expansion of oil traffic in Puget Sound), and a long list of other horrors.

Eventually the ANWR and OCS provisions were junked, but Barton did manage to put together a bill in the Energy and Commerce committee markup that included at extension of Clean Air cleanup deadlines for states located upwind of polluting states, the rewriting of judicial procedures to force litigants opposing the construction of a refinery to pay the legal fees of the refinery proponents, and the designation of new classes of federal property for use in private refinery construction. Deregulation and giveaways, all of it- the currency of American congressional politics.

The bill also included a measure against price gouging, which at the time was a hot-button issue as gas consumers were being hit hard by opportunistic energy suppliers after the storm. But the Barton price-gouging penalty was a one-time $11,000 fine. In other words, Barton's bill punished the owners of small individual mom-and-pop gas stations for price gouging but specifically exempted the large oil companies from the same offense. The bill also contained no clear definition of what price gouging was. It had no teeth or meaning. High-sounding meaningless bullshit: the currency of American public relations.

One by one, the Democrats listed all the reasons this emergency refinery hurricane bill had nothing to do with gas, refineries, or the hurricane. Slaughter, the Democrat from Buffalo, read Barton a quote from the Washington Post nothing that the United States has not built a refinery since 1976 and that most oil executives feel the number of refineries needed to be reduced, not increased. She also quoted the chief refining director at the American Petroleum Institute, Edward Murphy, who said that there was no shortage of capacity.

"Do you think that passing the bill will change their minds and they will suddenly want to build refineries?" Slaughter asked. "Or are they going to take less regulations on Clean Air and run and be happy?"

Barton smiled and twirled a pen in front of him. "Well, I want to re-emphasize we are not reducing the environmental requirements on a refinery," he said. Then seeming inspired to add an additional comment, he straightened up in his chair and clasped his hands in a prayerlike posture.

"I think it is a good thing that we have environmental law," he said piously. "And I think that it is a good thing to enforce it."

A few of the Republicans chuckled. The Democrats all rolled their eyes. Barton's facial expression was deadpan, his mouth a complete level plane. Environmental law is good. That was a hell of a line, under the circumstances.
Think like a man of action, act like a man of thought. -H. Bergson
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Old 06-18-2010, 12:21 PM   #2 (permalink)
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What a fine example of 'Do you hear the words coming OUT of mouth?'

Also underscores that premise that someone of Barton's ilk is clearly NOT cut from the cloth of the people he represents, but is truly wound up around the bobbin of his own self interests.

His baffled attempt later in the afternoon at restating what he claims he meant so as to avoid any 'misconstruction' of his original apology?

Top shelf cement for the foundation of an idiot.
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