Saturday, June 12, 2010

Ecology versus investments

By Don Klein

Some Brits are annoyed with the American reaction to the despoiling of our coastal lands by BP. They don’t like the oil giant being branded by most Americans as the self-centered, lying entity that it is. Some of them say we are xenophobic and petulant.

The Brits are worried about their freaking investments – about their dividends and the viability of their pension funds. That is more important to them than the destruction of a large portion of the US ecological system. All they see is evaporating profits.

Their loss of dividends affects them more than the loss of income of thousands of innocent American workers in the area. It is a higher priority than the decimation of American wildlife and the potential for the oil spill to travel up the East coast spreading its devastation to half the population of the country.

Many Britons are upset, according to a report in The New York Times, at what they see not just as the economic costs of American anger, but also at language they say demonizes Britain, America’s partner in the so-called special relationship — "loose talk that taps into the British suspicion that Americans are insular and overly nationalistic."

A Conservative peer, Lord Tebbit, in an astonishing statement of ridiculous snobbery quoted by The Times called the American reaction "a crude, bigoted, xenophobic display of partisan, political, presidential petulance against a multinational company."

That is similar to accusing a rape victim who has just identified her attacker as a person driven by "peevish revenge."

To begin with, let us get a few things straight. No one in the United States to my knowledge, has blamed the Brits for the spill. BP, once known as British Petroleum, is the culprit not the British people. If the outlandish defenders of BP were interested in continuing good relations with the US wouldn’t it be in their best interests to stay out of the fray. The oil spill that is corrupting our natural resources has nothing to do with the British people, and no one on this side of the Atlantic thinks it does.

If this ruinous oil spill had happened off shore in Britain and was despoiling its natural resources, putting its citizens out of work and threatening to spread over a wide range of the British Isles, would these same defenders of BP be calling outraged locals xenophobic and petulant?

It is understandable that British pensioners who depend on BP dividends to sustain their level of comfortable retirement are concerned, but any loss of income on this score is not because of anything Americans have done. It was all brought on by BP’s negligence and people in this country are irate, as should be the Brits.

Lord Tebbit and others can scold us all they want, but the more they talk this way the worse they sound. Tebbit and his greedy friends are concerned with dividends for their long range financial security but don’t give a seagull’s muck for the thousands of Americans who are victims of this debacle.

If they want a target to lambast, look to BP. Their bloody executives agreed to cut corners on safety and to increase the flow of oil all for a single purpose – to make more profits.

That may have been okay for shareholders and pensioners as long as it paid-off, but it did not in this case and they may now turn into the unintended fiscal victims of the problem having to face uncertainty– as will many Americans who have lost their livelihoods. No Brits died on the failed rig, 11 Americans did.

My advice to the Brits who find fault with the vigorous American response to being ravaged by an oil company based in England: Get used to the harsh language, it ain’t going away.

The new British Prime minister, David Cameron, took a more temperate route. "I fully understand the US government’s frustration because it is catastrophic to the environment," he told reporters, "BP needs to do everything it can clear up the situation. The most important thing is to mitigate the effects and get to the root of the problem."

You can bet that Cameron will wait for a later date when passions have cooled and no one is paying attention before he will make his appeal to the US to soften its claims against BP.

There is speculation that BP, third largest oil company in the world after Exxon and Shell, will either get away with murder by buying off enough congressmen to escape full responsibility or it will suffer the opposite – extinction.

Either way the liabilities are too great for even BP and in the end the taxpayers will again foot a portion of the bill to protect an industrial giant. A reprise of the unpopular Wall Street bailout. They screw up and we get screwed. A familiar story, but for the British to take the attitude that their money is more important than our livelihoods and our environment really should freak out lots of Americans.

The Brits have offered no assistance in the cleanup. Offered no technology worth a damn to help mitigate the situation. They have done nothing but take pop shots while ingesting their afternoon tea. That won’t do and we will remember that the next time the Brits are in need of crucial help from us.