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The Right-Wing Lie Behind Haley Barbour's BP Talking-Point

I'm going to try to make a point by stringing 3 short pieces of text together.

First, 2 paragraphs from my book, The Fifteen Biggest Lies about the Economy (And Everything Else the Right Doesn't Want You to Know about Taxes, Jobs, and Corporate America),which'll be available on September 27*:

According to [conservatives], large corporations, the embodiments of American-style capitalism, are equally vulnerable to the meddling of no-nothing bureaucrats: the job-eaters. Again by definition, government intervention in the free market drives them away to sunnier locales or threatens their very existence. However well intentioned, it ends up costing workers their jobs.

You’ll never see a corporate mouthpiece arguing on a cable news show that increasing the minimum wage will hurt fast-food companies’ bottom lines; it’s always about the jobs that will be destroyed.

Next, a few words from Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, a former tobacco lobbyist, bashing Obama for pressuring BP to set aside $20 billion for damages in the Gulf Coast (via):

Well, look, BP is responsible to pay for everything. If BP is the responsible party under the law, they're to pay for everything. I do worry that this idea of making them make a huge escrow fund is going to make it less likely that they'll pay for everything. They need their capital to drill wells. They need their capital to produce income so that they can pay that income to our citizens in Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, and to pay for all the damages done. BP needs to pay, is supposed to pay, must pay every penny. But this escrow bothers me that it's going to make them less able to pay us what they owe us. And that concerns me.

He's trying to protect the company's profits, but he's basing the argument on BP's obligation to pay the tab for the cleanup -- it's a variation on the theme.

But BP, contrary to Barbour's claim, isn't in fact "responsible to pay everything." It's liability is capped under the law. It has no economic incentive to clean up the Gulf Coast beyond what's necessary to repair its tattered public image. Its directors have a responsibility to preserve their investors' value, and that means doing the minimum it can get away with in the Gulf.

And it's a lie. BP can raise $20 billion without any hardship at all (beyond suspending dividend payments for a year). Here are a few selections from an Associated Press report -- our final text:

Under Wednesday's deal with the Obama administration, BP will suspend its dividend for the rest of 2010, freeing up $8 billion. The company also plans to raise $10 billion from selling some assets. Add cash lying around in bank accounts and in short-term investments and BP could raise $25 billion without breaking much of a sweat.


BP holds enough oil in its reserves to single-handedly supply the United States for two years. It has little debt for a company of its size and makes more money than Apple and Google combined.

So when the White House arm-twisted its executives into setting aside $20 billion for the Gulf oil spill, investors weren't worried it would bankrupt BP. They barely batted an eye...

BP posted $17 billion in profit from its vast operations around the globe last year, compared with $5.7 billion for Apple and $6.5 billion for Google. More important, in the past three years the company generated $91 billion in cash flow from operations...

BP has spent about $1.8 billion on the spill so far, but that's the first drop in a very large bucket...

Analyst estimates of BP's total cost range from $17 billion to $60 billion. If the worst predictions about the leak come true, that figure could surpass $100 billion, based on a Goldman Sachs estimate that each barrel of oil spilled could wind up costing as much as $40,000 in cleanup and compensation.

Pressuring BP to set aside real money to pay claims now, when the disaster has the public's attention, can be summed up in 2 words: Exxon Valdez. It devastated the Alaskan coastline in 1989. A jury awarded those impacted by the spill $5 billion in punitive damages. They got nothing at all for 20 years while Exxon appealed the ruling again and again. Finally, long after the incident was in the news, the Supreme Court reduced the damages to just $500 million, a 10th of what the jury had originally deemed appropriate.

The Deepwater Horizonmay be gushing the same amount of oil spilled by theExxon Valdezevery 4 days, off a much more densely populated coastline, and it may go on through December.

* The little book excerpt in this post isn't the final copy-edited text, which I haven't gotten back from the publisher yet.

Also, isn't this a nice blurb from Nomi Prins?:

Joshua Holland’s brilliant, data-rich, accessible, and in-your-face book,The Fifteen Biggest Lies about the Economy, should be required reading for every American livid about floating a political-financial system that benefits powerful institutions and megalomaniac leaders, by screwing and misleading citizens, at every destructive turn. Thank you, Joshua - for having the guts and analytical skill to tell us the truth.