Following up on recent discussions here on the BP oil spill and its
spillover effects on BP dividend recipients, a big-picture look from the
always-trenchant Alex Cockburn.
N.B.: Cockburn, though an American, is of Irish descent and is
UK-educated, thus bringing that perspective into the discussion.
[article at http://counterpunch.org/cockburn06112010.html ]
The Crude Truth
By ALEXANDER COCKBURN
The British learn every few years that their much vaunted "special
relationship" with the United States is actually, in terms of
relationships, rather more normal than they suppose – being a
zig-zagging affair fraught with hypocrisy, deception and self interest,
with underlying patterns of dominance and submission as fetchingly
described by Sade and Sacher-Masoch. The BP disaster is giving them yet
another refresher course in who wields the whip.
It's no use London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, bleating about there being
"something slightly worrying about the anti-British rhetoric that
seems to be permeating from America”, and invoking the "huge exposure
of British pension funds to BP" which makes it "a matter of national
concern if a great British company is being continually beaten up on the
airwaves." (About one in every eight pounds sterling paid out in
dividends in the UK comes from BP, Britain's largest company, which also
deigns to give the reeling UK exchequer a thickish wad in tax money.)
It's worse than useless for Lord Tebbitt, once a Tory minister in
Margaret Thatcher's cabinet, to splutter about "a crude, bigoted,
xenophobic display of partisan, political, presidential petulance
against a multinational company."
We're talking about something infinitely more important to Barack Obama
than the possible bankruptcy of BP, the ruin of BP investors both sides
of the Atlantic, or a eventual takeover of the reeling company by
Petro-China. We're talking about the political survival of Barack Obama
and his party across the next four years, starting with the midterm
elections this coming November.
Two weeks ago the president and his advisors realized that they were
headed for the rocks. The Great Reconciler of 2008 was being
reclassified in the popular mind as the Wimp of the Year in 2010. The
White House had allowed BP's CEO, Tony Hayward, to grab headlines day
after day with absurdly lowball estimates of how much oil was gushing
out into the Gulf.
As BP's initial 5,000 barrels-a-day number, successfully sold to the
Obama administration and the press, sank onto disrepute against the
current very moderate estimate of 30,000 bpd, (equivalent of an Exxon
Valdez spill every 8 days or so, with a higher calculation running
nearer 100,000bpd) , the tar balls started sticking to Obama's elegant
No one can turn on a dime quicker than a panicked politician. Take the
corporate lapdog Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana and at the time of
BP's oil well blow-out on April 20, a figure of fun after his awful
performance on national tv in 2009, rebutting Obama's first State of the
Union speech. These days Jindal is fighting the spill 24/7, rushing from
wetlands to barrier islands, savaging BP and the White House as twins in
dilatory incompetence. Louisianans roar their applause and he's soared
in the polls.
As Gallup's poll showed Obama dipping to a 44 per cent approval rating
he finally got the message and whacked Hayward, saying if it were up
to him he'd fire the guy. Goodbye, Mr
We-Need-To-Get-Beyond-Partisanship. Welcome, Obama the Cagefighter
(novice division): Why hadn't he talked to Hayward in the 49 days since
the blow-out? "Here's the reason: because my experience is, when you
talk to a guy like a BP CEO, he's gonna say all the right things to me.
I'm not interested in words. I'm interested in actions." White House
flack Gibbs also argued very oddly that Obama hadn't talked to Hayward
because, in terms of corporate governance he's not the go-to guy at BP.
When the U.S. government wheels out the heavy artillery and starts suing
BP for damages, the numbers start flying past the $40 billion mark
pretty fast as you tot up Clean Water Act violations, plus fines for
bird and fish kills, compensation for workers, expenses incurred by
state and local authorities …. On and on. Then throw in criminal
charges for willful conspiracy and maybe even the Chinese will think
twice about taking over this target of public and private litigation, in
cases that will stretch out for a couple of decades, at a bare minimum.
More than 200 lawsuits have already been filed.We've got two to three
decades of litigation to look forward to.
It's bad luck for Britain that when BP officially became twin consonants
instead of British Petroleum back in 2001 it didn't knock the B out
altogether. Aggrieved British politicians denounce the Obama
administration for throwing heavy emphasis on the formally discarded
"British" in BP. What do they expect? Here in Petrolia, California (site
of spec oil drilling back in 1864) someone asked me at the post office
yesterday, was it true the Queen owned BP.
What goes around comes around. One of the greatest bailouts in history
came in 1953, when the Eisenhower administration authorized a CIA-backed
coup in Iran. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, owned by the British
government, had been expropriated and nationalized in 1951 by
unanimous vote of Iran's parliament. The '53 coup evicted prime
minister Mohammed Mossadeq and installed Shah Reza Pahlevi, the
creature of the West's oil companies , with full tyrannical powers. The
AIOC got back 40 per cent of its old concession and became an
internationally owned consortium, renamed… British Petroleum.
There are plenty of American ingredients in the company, with such BP
acquisitions and mergers down the years as Standard Oil of Ohio, Amoco
and Arco,. No matter, it's "British Petroleum" now in the minds of
Americans and the company is the designated fall guy – a role it richly
deserves since, as Jeanne Pascal, a former lawyer for the US
Environmental Protection Agency, recently put it, "They are a recurring
environmental criminal and they do not follow US health, safety and
The fashion in killing has an insouciant, flirty style this spring,
with the flaunting of well-defined muscle, wrapped in flags.
Click to see the full signature.