LONDON -- The British media have been ablaze with patriotic defensiveness, upset that President Obama keeps calling BP "British Petroleum." Strange: I was at the Tate Britain museum yesterday, visiting galleries sponsored by ... BP. The London Olympics have as a main sponsor ... BP. Seems pretty British to me.
The media, and the Prime Minister, have also been insistent about the economic importance of BP to ... Britain. The figure floating around suggests that a significant amount of pension-fund income in Britain each year comes from BP. Although it's not British, you recall. And then they point out that almost 49 percent of BP shares are owned by Americans, and that BP grew to its mammoth size by merging with Amoco, an American company, mainly to gain control of Amoco's operations in, of all places, the Gulf of Mexico.
So, okay, a message to BP shareholders, be they Brits, Americans or none of the above. You benefited through the years from the profits generated by the company which accumulated 97 precent of the fines levied against oil companies for safety and environmental violations (not counting Exxon Valdez compensation). You gained financially from the damage your company inflicted on its workers and its surroundings. Now your company, following those same policies, has created enormous economic and ecological damage, and you are concerned about the impact that unlimited liability for that damage would have on your dividend and on the ability of your company to avoid bankruptcy. Question: how many of you complained to management about the policies and practices from which you benefited all these years? Or do you just complain when these policies and practices inflict profound economic and other costs on others, for which your company may be held responsible? Did you complain when management obviously low-balled flow estimates out of the well for at least a month, so as to minimize damage perceived by the potential jury pool?
Or, as seems more likely, are you happy to privatize the gains and socialize the losses?