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British Petroleum failed to take safety  seriously, used the wrong  diagram to fight the disaster, lied about the scope of their fiasco, keeps minimizing the disaster, and can't say where all the oil has gone. Large balls of tar are washing up on shore as the uncontrolled vent puts 70,000 barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico every day -- the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez every four days.

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All that was bad enough. Then last night, Sen. Lisa ("Lease-A") Murkowski (R-BP) blocked an effort to raise the liability cap on oil companies from $75 million to $10 billion. BP has already spent $350 million; costs will probably reach the billions before the cleanup is done. There is nothing to stop BP from declaring its liabilities finished and walking away while oil still clogs the beaches of Mobile Bay.

Murkowski's motivations have everything to do with the prominence of BP in her state's oil and gas industry (.PDF). Her campaign coffer contains $426,000  of oil and gas industry cash. This action amounts to a billion-dollar taxpayer BAILOUT of a foreign corporation, and a very wealthy one at that, in exchange for a relative pittance.

But all is not lost. In fact, this is a crisis we cannot afford to waste.

We should be no less active than Senate Democrats, who plan to hold this same bill up for a vote every day next week. From Greg Sargent:

"Senate Democrats, led by Senators Menendez, Lautenberg  and Nelson, are going to continue next week to pass common-sense  legislation to ensure that BP pays for the full cost of cleanup and that  taxpayers in Nevada and across America are protected.

"Inexplicably, Republicans are protecting negligent oil companies  like BP and blocking our efforts to prevent a BP bailout. Through their  obstruction, Republicans are leaving taxpayers on the hook to pay for  BP's negligence."

All that's lacking here is a handy buzzphrase, so I nominate "STOP THE BP BAILOUT." The taxpayer shouldn't be hit with a single thin dime of the cleanup expenses; every penny should come from the company that screwed up so badly.

The populist center of the American conversation CAN be moved to the left. I saw retired Army General Honore on CNN today; as I met and briefed him in 1998, I am comfortable reporting him to be a  very conservative man. He's a Republican with political ambitions, yet I heard him say today that if necessary, the president should nationalize the company's assets to resolve the situation.

Make no mistake: the damage is even worse than you probably know. Honore pointed out that the minimal oil spilling after Hurricane Katrina knocked out the fishing, oyster, and shrimping industries for 18 months. This disaster is going to leave boats and crews unemployed for years, if not destroy their livelihood altogether. (In fact, the oil may still be flowing from the seabed years from now.)

The resulting costs will inevitably fall on social services provided by the taxpayer. That's why everyone, everywhere should start calling their Senator to demand they STOP THE BP BAILOUT. We must call comment lines, write letters to the editor, and otherwise get the word out that WE WILL NOT TOLERATE THIS BAILOUT OF OF A FOREIGN CORPORATION.

We must call on the tea party to join us in STOPPING THE BP BAILOUT. (They won't, and that is the point.) Yes, polls recently showed a majority of Americans still support offshore drilling; but polls always lag events. We can turn this tide of offshore drilling by hoisting the right upon its own BAILOUT-hating petard.

This is the perfect season for us to respond to the ideological overreach called Citizens United. We can make this conversation take place on progressive terms if we demand Congress STOP THE BP BAILOUT.

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Originally posted to Matt Osborne on Fri May 14, 2010 at 02:05 PM PDT.

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