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Crisis not 'wasted': Obama to nationalize oil companies?
Posted By Drew Zahn On 06/07/2010 @ 12:00 am In Front Page | Comments Disabled
Seize BP banner near BP oil refinery in Long Beach, Calif.
While management of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has shaken many Americans’ confidence in the current administration, some voices in entertainment, news and academia see the crisis as reason to give the federal government even more power – namely, the ability to take over the oil industry.
The notion is catching on with the public, too. A CBS poll recently tabulated 63 percent of Americans believe the Obama administration should be doing more in response to the spill, and activists working through the SeizeBP.org website are planning protests in 50 cities throughout the week demanding the federal government take over BP, the company that owns and operates the leaking oil drill.
The Seize BP organization is demanding BP assets be nationalized not only to clean up the spill, but also to compensate families affected by what the organization calls “this capitalist-made disaster.”
Since BP’s offshore drill began gushing crude into the Gulf of Mexico in April, the Obama administration has deferred to the corporation’s expertise in seeking to stop the flow.
But as the ongoing environmental disaster has extended beyond 40 days and counting, entertainer Rosie O’Donnell, political pundit James Carville and former Clinton cabinet member Robert Reich have joined those calling for a federal takeover of the situation.
On her “Rosie Radio” program earlier this week, O’Donnell quoted Carville, who told CNN’s John King, “This president needs to tell BP, ‘I’m your daddy, I’m in charge. You’re going to do what we say.’”
“James Carville said the best thing,” O’Donnell affirmed, adding that she’d like to see Obama say, “‘I’m signing an executive order and I’m taking over the BP oil spill.’ Like, boom, boom, boom. Someone has to do it.”
In her discussion with Broadway actor Euan Morton, however, the entertainers took the takeover idea even one step farther:
“We don’t live in a utopian – what’s the word? – communist society, but wouldn’t you just love to have the federal government – and I know people talk about big government and all the rest of it; it’s just nonsense – I’d love to have the federal government take over the oil companies, use the money to give our children free education, and then in the future we can educate our children to start doing things like solar power, wind power,” Morton proposed to his host.
“Exactly,” O’Donnell answered.
“I don’t know why it’s not being done, it’s plainly obvious,” Morton continued. “It’s screaming out for someone.”
Audio of the interview, with images provided by The Radio Equalizer, Brian Maloney, can be heard below:
In a series of blog posts on his website, Robert Reich, a University of California at Berkeley professor and former secretary of labor under President Clinton, called for a similar federal seizing of BP, but qualified that it would only be a “temporary receivership”:
“It’s time for the federal government to put BP under temporary receivership, which gives the government authority to take over BP’s operations in the Gulf of Mexico until the gusher is stopped,” Reich writes. “If the government can take over giant global insurer AIG and the auto giant General Motors and replace their CEOs, in order to keep them financially solvent, it should be able to put BP’s North American operations into temporary receivership in order to stop one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history.”
Reich’s proposal takes into account something O’Donnell missed, namely that “BP” originally stood for “British Petroleum” prior to its 1998 merger with Amoco, and the company is a multi-national corporation headquartered in London.
Nonetheless, Reich argues, the White House still has authority to take over the part of the company that operates in the U.S.
“The nationality of a corporation’s shareholders has nothing to do with it,” Reich writes. “If it is operating within the jurisdiction of the United States and poses a serious and imminent threat to the health or safety of Americans, a president would take control of its operations and assets in the United States.”
Arguing that the oil spill is the environmental equivalent of a nuclear meltdown, Reich contends Obama should take over BP’s operation in the Gulf, for, “As long as BP is not under the direct control of the government, [the president] has no direct line of authority, and responsibility is totally confused.”
Never let a crisis go to waste
Public pressure for greater government involvement in the spill has raised alarms among some writers who recognize the same trend of federal takeovers mentioned by Reich and wonder what might be next.
Rabbi Dov Fischer, an adjunct Professor of Law at Loyola Law School, recalls in an article in FrontPageMag.com the words of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who told the Wall Street Journal, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”
“In other words,” Fischer writes, “when there is tragedy and suffering, intense human pain and disaster, a political expert enjoys a unique opportunity to push the least popular parts of his agenda past a distracted electorate.”
Citing how stimulus spending and Obamacare were passed quickly on the swell of perceived crises, Fischer continues, “Considered in the light of this prior experience, it becomes understandable why the Obama Administration has opted to curtail oil exploration, suspending and rescinding permits, in response to the tragic Deepwater Horizon oil rig spill off the Gulf of Mexico.”
Indeed, CNN reports, the president has pledged in light of the Gulf spill that the government would seek aggressive, new operating standards and requirements for offshore oil companies. The federal government has further suspended planned oil exploration of two locations off the coast of Alaska, canceled pending lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and the proposed lease sale off Virginia, extended an existing moratorium on deepwater drilling and halted the issuance of new permits for deep-water wells for six months. Action also was suspended on 33 deepwater exploratory wells in the Gulf area.
Furthermore, in a speech at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University earlier this week, Obama tied the oil spill to a renewed effort to pass cap-and-trade legislation that has until now been stalled in Congress.
“The votes may not be there right now, but I intend to find them in the coming months,” said Obama, who also argued it was time for “finally putting a price on carbon pollution.”
“I will make the case for a clean energy future whenever and wherever I can, and I will work with anyone to get this done,” the president pledged. “And we will get it done.”
As for capitalizing on the crisis to socialize the oil industry, however, the administration has thus far downplayed the idea. President Obama has repeatedly affirmed the government is already “fully engaged” in the cleanup efforts in the Gulf.
A Treasury official told FoxNews.com that it’s unclear whether the U.S. even could put BP into receivership, as Reich suggests.
“I have no idea what the answer is,” the Treasury official said. “It’s not clear we even have the authority [to put BP into receivership]. We have no plans to pursue this.”
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs also said earlier this week, “I’m not entirely sure what legal mechanism one would have to do that.”
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