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'R'Oil indignation

By Walt Brasch - posted Thursday, 17 June 2010

The British are upset with the United States. That's not too unusual. There was this revolution thing a couple of centuries ago.

But America's Number 1 ally is upset that Americans are blaming BP for that nasty little oil spill in the Gulf. You know, the one where as much as 1.7 million gallons of crude oil a day has given us new species of no-flight pelicans and black-skinned dolphins.

The Brits' FaceBook pages, blogs, radio comments, and letters to newspapers are full of nasty comments about how America is over-reacting, how Americans are unjustly blaming Britain and all that is holy about corporate incompetence.


Boris Johnson, the conservative mayor of London, told BBC Radio he worried about "anti-British rhetoric … that seems to be permeating from America".

Ian Cowie, London Daily Telegraph feature columnist, bluntly wrote, "Much of the rhetoric from other American politicians is plainly jingoistic claptrap with a beady eye on their own chances in the US midterm elections". He is partially accurate; many American politicians, more than a few of whom were in bed with the oil companies throughout their political careers, may be grandstanding. But, there is truly justifiable outrage by all Americans and all politicians.

In response to President Obama's tough accusations and threats to BP, the Daily Telegraph headlined its story, "Obama's Boot on the Throat of British Pensioners," a reference to a reality that BP stock dividends provide a huge source of pension revenue. BP expects to pay a $14.7 billion quarterly dividend, about a 9 per cent return, or roughly nine times what the average American earns in a savings account. Attorney-General Eric Holder is planning to force BP to suspend dividends and is also contemplating criminal charges, something that will interfere with a delightful afternoon tea. A 40 per cent decline in BP stock is attributed not so much to the disaster that BP caused but to President Barack Obama's tough stance.

The British also upset that some people, including President Obama, are calling the world's fourth largest corporation, and the largest one in the United Kingdom, British Petroleum, its former name, and not BP, its legal pseudo-anonymous name. So far, no one's calling it the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, its first name - or the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, its second name. And hardly anyone remembers that Dwight Eisenhower, in the first year of his presidency in 1953, authorised a CIA bloody coup to retake the company that had become nationalised by the Iranians after World War II.

BP had sales of about $239 billion last year, including $2.3 billion from sales to the Pentagon; it employs about 80,000 persons, most of whom know how to find, drill, and sell oil, but apparently have no clue of how to stop oil disasters.

The Brits do believe that most - they hardly ever say all - of the disaster is BP's fault. BP did try to save money by not installing adequate oil rig protections, and didn't have a solid disaster plan. But, in fairness, some of the disaster is distinctively America's fault. The Department of the Interior had become too cosy with the oil industry. During the first decade of the 21st century, dozens of Interior and oil company officials traded jobs, as if they were trading baseball cards. The US, unlike many nations, especially those in the North Atlantic, also didn't require better disaster plans.


British Prime Minister David Cameron, while saying he was "frustrated" by the oil spill and its effects, also stated that "It is in everyone's interest that BP continues to be a financially strong and stable company". George Osborne, England's Chancellor of the Exchequer, reminds Americans of the "economic value BP brings to the people in Britain and America".

Peel away some of their own rhetoric and anger at America, and you get something familiar to Americans: BP is just too big to fail. You know, too big like those large mega-corporations that the Bush-Cheney administration threw billions of bailout dollars to in order to keep them from failing - and then watched as they gave their executives six- and seven-figure bonuses and failed to compensate the hundreds of thousands Americans who they caused to go into bankruptcy or near-bankruptcy because of company mismanagement or greed.

But not getting much benefit are the Gulf Coast's fishing and shrimping industries. They're apparently not too big to fail. Perhaps that's because the income of a ship's captain, the deckhands, or just about anyone involved in the industry is only a tiny fraction of the $6 million that the BP CEO made last year.

Also not apparently too big to fail is the environmental campaigns to save the animals and plants of the Gulf coast. Thousands of unpaid volunteers have come to the Gulf Coast to help wash and rehabilitate the pelicans and other marine life, to try to help humanity by helping preserve our oceans, beaches, and wildlife.

More than 50 passages in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, tell us we must be good stewards of the land and all its life.

We aren't doing a very good job.

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Assisting on this story was Rosemary R. Brasch.

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About the Author

Walter Brasch is professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University. He is an award-winning syndicated columnist, and author of 16 books. Dr. Brasch's current books are Unacceptable: The Federal Government’s Response to Hurricane Katrina; Sex and the Single Beer Can: Probing the Media and American Culture; and Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush (Nov. 2007) You may contact him at

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