The People Versus The Powerful


The People Versus The Powerful

 

As BP CEO Tony Hayward testified before Congress yesterday, oil continued to gush into the Gulf of Mexico for the 58th day after the oil rig his company operated exploded and initiated the largest oil spill in U.S. history. While many lawmakers used this opportunity to press Hayward on his company’s incompetence and malfeasance, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) apologized to BP for the White House’s efforts to make sure the oil giant compensates the victims. Barton’s stunning apology to a giant foreign oil corporation that has devastated the Gulf Coast economy is emblematic of a larger philosophical divide in U.S. politics. On issue after issue, progressives have fought to hold big corporations accountable, stand by everyday Americans struggling to create a better life for themselves, and create a more just America for all. Conservatives, on the other hand, have aligned themselves with the nation’s most powerful interests — Big Oil, Wall Street, insurance companies, labor rights violators, and others whose mantra may as well be “greed is good.” At stake in the battle between these two sides is the very idea of the American Dream — that anyone who plays by the rules and works hard will succeed. The question Americans must ask of their politicians is clear: Which side are you on — the people or the powerful?

THE GULF COAST VS. BIG OIL: The Obama administration, concerned that BP may try to avoid giving full, prompt compensation to all the people its oil disaster hurt, negotiated a $20 billion escrow fund that the company will set up to compensate Gulf Coast residents. Yet instead of supporting the administration’s efforts to hold BP accountable, Barton, the top Republican on the Energy Committee, apologized to Hayward during the CEO’s testimony, saying, “I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday. 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. … I apologize.” Nowhere in his complaints about the supposed “shakedown” does Barton ever ask Hayward or BP to formally apologize for the thousands of livelihoods ruined, the workers killed, or the massive environmental disaster caused by the company’s oil spill. Of course, Barton, who was employed by BP subsidiary Arco before becoming a congressman, may simply be paying the oil industry back for its generous support. He has taken $1.4 million from the oil and gas industry, including $27,350 from BP. Additionally, the top contributor to his election campaigns, Anadarko Petroleum, happens also to be “a 25 percent partner in the Macondo Prospect, which was the site of the Deepwater Horizon explosion.” Should the GOP recapture the House, he may chair the House Energy Committee. Meanwhile, the conservative Heritage Foundation’s Sally McNamara was so offended by Congress’ efforts to hold BP accountable that she referred to the hearing as a “public lynching” on Twitter. Earlier this week, the Republican Study Committee, which includes 114 Republican members of Congress, released a statement by chairman Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) calling the escrow fund negotiated between the White House and BP evidence that “the Obama Administration is hard at work exerting its brand of Chicago-style shakedown politics.” And when Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) offered an amendment to the Senate jobs legislation to repeal billions of dollars in tax breaks and subsidies that the oil industry gets, every single Republican locked arms and defeated it. The move was praised in a glowing press release by the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association.

MAIN STREET VS. WALL STREET: For nearly two years after a global financial crisis shook the world, progressives in Congress have been hard at work overhauling the nation’s financial regulatory system to address the concerns of hard-working Americans. Progressives have fought hard to make the legislation as tough as possible, pushing for provisions that would rein in abusive practices by the credit card industry, stop financial institutions from “trading taxpayer money for their own profit,” audit the Federal Reserve, and break up big banks so that they could never again grow large enough to endanger the world economy. Meanwhile, conservatives like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have fought this financial reform legislation every step of the way, choosing to stand with the nation’s biggest banks over working families. After legislators tried to create a special fund that banks would pay into to bail themselves out, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) slammed the idea, falsely claiming it “institutionalizes” bailouts of Wall Street. Just a week before his statement, McConnell traveled to New York City for a fundraising meeting with “25 Wall Street executives, many of them hedge fund managers,” to enlist “Wall Street’s help” in funding Republican campaigns in exchange for fighting financial reform legislation. While House Financial Services Committee Chairman Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) banned one of his staff members from talking to an ex-staffer who became a lobbyist for Wall Street, conservatives laid out the red carpet for financial lobbyists. Last December, the House Republican leadership huddled with more than 100 financial industry lobbyists to craft their strategy for killing Wall Street reform.

DEFENDING THE AMERICAN DREAM: After decades of center-right control of government that recklessly deregulated Wall Street, stagnated middle class wages, decimated job growth, and left tens of millions of Americans without health care, progressives have put themselves to work rebuking the conservative vision of America by rebuilding the American Dream. Last night, conservatives in the Senate prevented the passage of a bill that would provide states “critical aid that would keep firefighters, police officers and teachers employed.” During the Bush administration, conservatives continually stifled efforts to prevent wage discrimination against women. President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act during his first month in office, expanding and ensuring women’s right to equal pay for equal work. While Bush’s Labor Secretary Elaine Chao spent eight years “walking away from [the department’s] regulatory function across a range of issues, including wage and hour law and workplace safety,” Obama’s Labor Secretary Hilda Solis has lobbyists for big business squirming due to her “aggressive moves to boost enforcement and crack down on businesses that violate workplace safety rules.” While progressives fought vigorously to expand health coverage to 32 million people, conservatives took the insurance industry’s side. Shortly after the Affordable Care Act legislation passed without a single Republican vote, the GOP immediately began talking about repealing it. Speaking at the America’s Future Now! conference last week, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) summed up the contrast between progressive and conservative ideology this way: “When we see somebody who’s unemployed, we want them to have a job; when we someone who is homeless, we want that person to get a home; when you look at it deep down, we’re following a 3,000 year old imperative, one that every just society has known for three millenia, and that’s very simple: it’s to feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless, and to heal the sick. That’s what we believe in. Now the other side really has an entirely different point of view. The other side wants to have you solve all your own problems even if they’re beyond your ability to solve them. They want us to be like atoms bouncing off each other in the void rather than like human beings.”

Posted via web from Street_Visuals

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