Wednesday, June 09, 2010

"British Petroleum"

The political fallout from the BP spill continues, with President Obama continuing to make shamefully populist attacks repeatedly using an archaic name for the American Oil Company (Amoco merged with BP in 1998, the resulting multinational is no more "British" than it is "American") to stir up international discord. The fact that the operators of the drilling rig, Halliburton and Transocean, are both US companies is getting lost behind the attacks on the "foreign" owner - which employs twice as many people in the US as in the UK.

The latest version is that Tony Hayward, Chief Executive of BP, "wouldn't be working for [Obama] after any of those statements". Because political interference in private companies is a sign, nay a hallmark, of free and capitalist societies. Obama has tried to tell the company what it can do with the money it's earned, and paid taxes on, and now he's trying to tell it who it can and cannot employ. In between golf games.

Yes, it's understandable that the POTUS is angry. This is a disaster. A dozen people died in the Deepwater Horizon explosion and many citizens on the Gulf Coast are being harmed by the leaking well. It's also understandable why he's lashing out: he can do nothing about this and feels impotent - there is literally nothing that the US government can do about this leak. Understandable doesn't make it acceptable, however, and this sort of divisive rhetoric is ugly.

One one side, we have the world's foremost experts in undersea drilling and oil leak capping, who have been working night and day to fix an unprecedented problem. Over a month ago, they had crews working around the clock to weld together a funnel to catch the oil. Trouble is, it started "icing up" with hydrate crystals. Then came the "top hat". Then a "top kill" attempt failed. Finally, the latest cap has had some success, learning from the previous difficulties (e.g. using methanol to prevent hydrate build-up). It's not over yet, but it's clear that these people have been working hard and when Plan A failed, they tried Plan B, and so on until something finally gets results.

On the other side, we have politicians threatening to "push BP aside" because they've been missing "deadline after deadline". Doesn't that sound like the most incompetent manager you've ever worked for? Pulling dates out of his arse and demanding that everything is fixed by then, then shouting and screaming when reality fails to comply. Just who would they be replaced with? A large committee who will order the oil to stop flowing by fiat? These political lightweights have been implying corruption and attacking the finances of a company which has volunteered to pay (so far) 20x the statutory maximum liability - what bastards they must be! Now someone who's visited the area three times is trying to sack someone who a) doesn't work for him and b) has been dealing with this 24/7 for a month and a half, on the grounds that he was looking forward to the problem being solved, instead of looking back for someone to blame.

I'm disappointed, though sadly not surprised, that Obama is still relying on hollow soundbites and words instead of actions. That political points-scoring works well as a candidate, but not as President. "Yes we can"? No, it's clear you can't. A leader would have immediately and unconditionally offered whatever support could be useful and saved any recriminations for later. The priority isn't making BP look bad, or making yourself look good, it's stopping the oil leak.

If you're not part of that solution, you're part of the problem.

- KoW

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