Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Looking a gift horse in the mouth 

Ok, this Citgo thing of helping out some Americans by giving discounted heating oil is really starting to get out of hand. You would think that it would be a simple matter of Venezuelan making the donations and Americans saying "thank you". But with a gazzilon right wingers floating around the U.S. things aren't quite so simple. For example, check out what is happening in Conneticut:

Meanwhile, Republican Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell asked state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal on Tuesday to determine whether state law prohibits private, nonprofit energy assistance agencies from accepting discounted Venezuelan oil.

One of Rell's Democratic rivals for governor this election year, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, recently announced that his office and the Citizens Energy Corp. in Boston have secured 4.8 million gallons of oil through the Venezuela-Citgo Heating Oil Program. The program will provide discounted heating oil to New Haven residents whose eligibility is determined by low-income and heating-assistance programs.

DeStefano has also written to Rell about a plan to work with the state's nonprofit community action agencies to distribute the discount heating oil. But Rell said she wants an opinion from Blumenthal before endorsing such a concept.

"I think what the governor's questions do will successfully postpone anyone getting affordable heating fuel during heating season," DeStefano said.

So instead of letting thousands of her constituents get a freeby this Governor wants her Attorney General to see if taking freebys is legal?!?!?!? Well but of course, you wouldn't want to break any laws by accepting a gift, now would you? That's why when I bought my wife a diamond ring she of course refused to accept it saying "thanks honey, but before I can accept something like this I have to first check with our attorney to see if its legal, I don't want to break any laws". And thats why even if I bumped into Donal Trump on the street tomorrow and he offered me a check for a $100,000 I'd have to decline pending approval from my lawyer!!!

And come to think of it, if it turns out that accepting discounted home heating oil really is a crime what is going to happen to all the people in Vermont, New York, Boston, Maine, Delaware, and elsewhere that have already accepted it? They can't really put them all in jail, could they? I don't think Vermont has enough jail space to hold all the offenders. Maybe they will just have to build a wall around the state and declare all of Vermont a maximum security prison.

On a less sarcastic note it does appear the jerk Joe Barton, who initiated the investigation of Citgo for giving discounted oil, must be getting some heat (no pun intended) on this issue. After all he sure seemed very defensive on this issue in his last interview:

2-22-06 transcript of interview with House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton and Dan Grech, Marketplace reporter, Americas Desk/Miami
DAN GRECH: Thank you so much for calling me. I know you’re just coming out of another meeting and I appreciate your taking the time to talk with me. I’m working on a story for this afternoon’s show and I’m just going to have a few seconds, a few minutes now to talk to you about it, basically about the subsidized oil program by CITGO and some of the concerns you expressed in the letter you sent to CITGO. Would you tell me sort of briefly what led you to write that letter?

CHAIRMAN JOE BARTON: Well, we’re not opposed to oil companies, of any stripe, giving heating oil or selling heating oil at lower prices to lower income recipients. That’s a good thing, not a bad thing. What we are opposed to and concerned about is when you have an oil company that’s nationalized, that’s owned by a government, and that government is controlled by an individual like Mr. Chavez of Venezuela, that they use their oil for political purposes. And this particular program, it does appear that the president of Venezuela is using it for political purposes in the United States. So we want to get from the company their criteria and exactly how the program is operated and things like that. But obviously the federal government, my committee that I chair, just authorized in the energy bill, and actually funded an increase in low-income heating assistance to the tune of a billion dollars. That’s real money. It won’t all go for home heating oil -- it’ll go for a variety of heating assistance programs throughout the nation. So we’re not opposed to helping low-income Americans with their heating and cooling needs. We’re just a little bit anxious about a president of a nationalized company perhaps using it for political purposes that are not in the best interests of the United States of America.

GRECH: One of the things that’s been commented on, and I think Chavez has mentioned it, is that the world’s richest country isn’t doing enough to help its poor so he’s decided to pitch in. Do you think that’s unfair?

BARTON: Well, I think it’s not factually based. Again, the LIHEAP [Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program] program this year will spend in the neighborhood of two billion dollars directly on home heating, on heating and cooling assistance, and that’s just one program. States have programs; the federal government has other programs. Many private utilities have special needs programs. So it’s certainly not fair for him to say that we’re not doing a lot. We probably, I think it’s a true statement, we do more in this country than he does in his own country.

GRECH: You know one thing that you mentioned in your letter that President Chavez’s purportedly altruistic motives may camoflage his true motivations. What do you think his true motivations are here?

BARTON: Well, I don’t want to speculate on that. That’s one of the reasons we’re seeking the information that we’re seeking. And, we’ll see. But, he is definitely not... You know, we have a home heating oil reserve that Congressman Markey and I established several years ago in a prior energy bill. You could give, if he is totally altruistic, his company could give, the company, the Venezuelan national oil company, PDVSA, could give the heating oil to that reserve. He could give it to the Department of Energy. There are any number of things he could do so that there would be no hint of any political manipulation. And he has tended to pick particular states and particular congressional districts and things like that. And so we just want to see what their own documents show.

GRECH: You know, it’s interesting, there is an irony, of course, to this because Venezuela is the only OPEC country and CITGO’s the only major oil company that’s responded to the call from the Senate to help out with heating oil. It’s just not the one I guess we wanted to have help us.

BARTON: We already have a number of national federal programs specifically designed that provide much orders of magnitude more assistance than the program that he has initiated. Again, it is not a bad thing for anybody to want to help people that don’t have the means to help themselves. But I think it is a fair question, given his statements and his antipathy towards the government of the United States, just what his motivations are and what the criteria are. I think that’s a legitimate line of inquiry.

GRECH: I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me. Is there anything you wanted to mention?

BARTON: We do have indications that the U.S. affiliate that’s headquartered in Houston is going to cooperate and I don’t think this will be something that drags on. I think we’ll get the information and if we decide to do a hearing, there will be an open, balanced hearing. It may be that we get the documentation and the documents and that we can dispose of this without even doing that. So it’s, right now we’re just in the fact-finding, gathering information stage.

GRECH: What led you to be concerned about this? What got this onto your radar?

BARTON: The way it was, the way Chavez portrayed it in some of his public statements. And then the way that it appears that they were expanding the program. I think it’s time to look at the facts. And then he, some of his statements have not been… His latest statement about President Bush comparing him to Hitler. I think it’s just beyond the pale.

GRECH: OK. Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

BARTON: Thank you.

Oh, so it was Bush being compared to Hitler that started this whole thing. Nothing to do with his top campeign funders, aka Big Oil, being made to look bad. Glad he cleared that up. Now, if we could only get him to go after those $7 billion in unpaid royalties to the Federal government by Big Oil.


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