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Friday: Hayward, Barton Suffer Fallout; Obama Readies for G-20 Summit

A day after BP chief executive Tony Hayward appeared before a congressional hearing on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster, reaction to his testimony has been unsurprisingly critical — he “mastered the art of saying very little very carefully”; he was “savaged”; he was on the “hot seat”; he was “mind-bogglingly vapid.”

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank summarizes:

“Hayward proved himself to be a most unsympathetic witness, walking into the committee hearing room with something resembling a saunter and listening to members of the panel with something resembling a smirk. His answers suggested he thinks his American cousins are a little slow….By the end, the Q&A had become little more than a collection of “I don’ts” (55 mentions), ‘I’m nots’ (42), ‘I can’ts’ (28) and scores more ‘I wasn’ts,’ ‘I haven’ts’ and the like.”

What was surprising at Thursday’s hearing was not Hayward’s apology to the American people for the oil spill disaster, but the apology of Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, to BP.

Rep. Barton said the deal made at the White House on Wednesday to set up an escrow fund to cover oil-spill damages and claims amounted to a “$20 billion shakedown”:

“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.”

Reaction to Barton’s apology was fierce. He was forced by his party leadership to apologize for his apology or lose his post as the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s top Republican.

Slate’s John Dickerson writes:

“When a player scores on his team in soccer, it’s called an own goal. In politics, it may be known for a while as a Joe Barton.”

But the New York Times’ David E. Sanger thinks the $20 billion escrow does raise a legitimate issue, “a debate about the renewed reach of government power, or, alternatively, the power of government overreach.”

Meanwhile in the Gulf, new research is showing that the crude flowing from the well contains vast amounts of natural gas that could pose a serious threat to the region’s ecosystem.

The oil emanating from the seafloor contains about 40 percent methane, compared with about 5 percent found in typical oil deposits, John Kessler, a Texas A&M University oceanographer, told the Associated Press.

Large quantities of methane, scientists say, can suffocate marine life, creating “dead zones” where oxygen is so depleted that nothing lives.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration acknowledged that methane could draw down oxygen levels and slow the breakdown of oil in the Gulf, but cautioned that research was still under way.

Obama Sets Agenda for G-20 Summit

President Obama asked the leaders of G-20 countries to work together to strengthen the world’s recovery from near-economic collapse, in a letter he sent ahead of next week’s G-20 summit in Toronto. He set out a list of key issues that require global cooperation, including stabilizing public debt and worldwide financial reforms.

“We worked exceptionally hard to restore growth,” the president wrote. “We cannot let it falter now.”

Thousands Feared Dead in Kyrgyzstan Violence

Kyrgyzstan’s interim president said Friday that as many as 2,000 people may have died in ethnic violence in the nation’s southern region. Roza Otunbayeva spoke from the city of Osh, during her first visit since to the region since the clashes began. The U.N. said Friday that up to 1 million people may need aid.

The New York Times reports that the government, which took office in April after rioting ousted the former president, has not been able to quell the violence because it does not have the full allegiance of the military.

“They fear the generals,” Kyrgyz human rights lawyer Nurbek Toktakunov told the paper. “Sooner or later, these issues are going to have to be tackled.”

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