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Britannia oils the waves
In its activities as a law-breaking polluter, BP is an international company, for which Britain bears no particular responsibility. But in its role in bringing profits to our country- or rather, to those in our country who benefit from those profits- BP is an essential and valuable asset which our elected representatives have a duty to uphold and defend.
Obama's "anti-British rhetoric", they said, is endangering the special relationship between the UK and the United States, regardless that BP, with its headquarters in London, has committed criminal acts on a grandiose and grotesque scale. It obtained by deception- albeit with the collusion of corrupt and / or negligent US authorities- the right to drill for oil off the Gulf of Mexico coast, pretending that it had contingency plans which could cope with worst case scenarios; and in order to maximise its surplus, it then acted as was put to BP's Chief Executive Tony Hayward by the Chairman of the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Henry Waxman. The BBC reported:
Congressman Waxman said in his opening remarks that BP had "cut corner after corner" in order to save money, which led to the explosion and fire on board the Deepwater Horizon.
"We could find no evidence that you paid any attention to the tremendous risks BP was taking," he went on.
"We reviewed 30,000 pages of documents from BP, including your e-mails. There is not a single e-mail or document that shows you paid even the slightest attention to the dangers at this well."
A letter to Mr Hayward, from Henry Waxman and fellow committee member Bart Stupak, included the charges that BP:
* Went against the advice of its own plan review regarding the well's design and chose a riskier, cheaper and quicker casing option
* Used only six centralisers to make sure the casing ran down the centre of the well bore, rather than the 21 recommended by sub-contractor Halliburton
* Rejected warnings by its own plan review and Halliburton in preparations for a cementing job
* Decided to forego a recommended safety step in the circulation of drilling mud
* Did not deploy a "lockdown sleeve" that would have prevented the seal from being blown out from below.
But BP's culpability does not end there. Following the catastrophic blowout, which killed eleven workers on the Deepwater Horizon rig, BP issued outrageous lies, one after the other, in order to conceal the huge extent of the catastrophe. Initially, it stated that a mere 1,000 barrels of oil per day were leaking from the well. Even by mid-May, BP was insisting that only 5,000 barrels of oil per day were leaking, of which it claimed that 20% was being captured by the company's 'siphon'.
A Newsweek article listed some of the 'gaffes' by Chief Executive Hayward as the enormity of the disaster became clearer:
On May 14, Hayward attempted to persuade The Guardian that "the Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume."
Only a few days later, he told Sky News that "the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to be very, very modest." That might surprise the many scientists who see the spill as a true environmental calamity, the full extent of which remains unclear.
On May 30, Hayward was less bullish and decided to play the sympathy card. He told the Today show that "there’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back." (He has since apologized for those remarks.)
So Mr Hayward would like his life back. Despite his grudging apology for that vile display of self-pity, Hayward indicated that he was surmounting the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune by means of his typically British character trait, the 'stiff upper lip'; and he reinforced his impeturmability with an English children's nursery rhyme:
"They've thrown some words at me, but I'm a Brit. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me."
The families of the eleven workers who died on the Deepwater Horizon would like the lives of their loved ones back, and many thousands of abruptly impoverished people in the affected coastal area desperately want their livelihoods back. The Newsweek article continued:
On May 31, he [Hayward] told the world that ecosystem-threatening underwater oil plumes—consisting of droplets of partially dissolved oil suspended in water that many scientists have observed—do not exist. He said simply, "There aren't any plumes."
On June 1, Hayward responded to claims that cleanup workers were being sickened by the fumes from the oil they were exposed to by suggesting another possible, non-oil-spill cause. When nine workers fell ill, according to Yahoo News, he told CNN that "food poisoning is clearly a big issue."
These are not gaffes. They are deliberate efforts by the head of the corporation to mislead governments and the public, thus reducing the pressure on BP and the relevant authorities to mobilise the necessary resouces to contain the vast quantity of oil spewing into the sea and onto the US coast, to protect workers and the public from its poisonous effects, and to ameliorate the appalling environmental and econonomic consequences.
The actual amount of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico is now estimated to be up to 60,000 barrels per day, and even that may be a conservative figure; an estimate which is sixty times BP's original admission and twelve times the amount which BP later sought to maintain.
Given that BP's global head office is in St James' Square, London, a naive observer might imagine that the British government might take some responsibility in this ghastly situation; even to take such a small step as to publicly agree with the President of the United States that BP should be required not to pay dividends to its shareholders until it demonstrates how it will bear the huge costs of the clean-up operation and compensation to the victims. And if an atrocity of this enormity had cost the lives, health and livelihoods of people in Britain, and was destroying the British environment on such a scale, and had been committed by any group of people except the heads of a major capitalist firm, what kind of editorial line would be taken by the British newspapers? They would be demanding to know why, at the very least, that their workplaces and homes have not been raided by the police, their computers and documents siezed, the chief culprits put under lock and key.
Instead, the UK government's approach has been one of laissez faire, and the British press has been accusing Obama of endangering the 'special relationship'.
In contradiction to the denials of the UK corporate media, the view of Tony Hayward, as stated on his accession to the post of company Chief Executive following the resignation of his predecessor, the Baron of Madingley John Browne, is that BP is a British company. The Sunday Times reported in May 2007:
In his presentation to the board, Mr Hayward will also emphasise continuity with key strategies set down by Lord Browne. Among other things, BP will remain a British company. BP has mulled the idea of moving its domicile from the UK to the US, but concluded that, regardless of the arguable tax benefits, it would lose its status as a flag-carrying energy company, for ever eclipsed by Exxon Mobil. Mr Hayward also is said to be committed to BP’s joint venture in Russia.
The mood at BP yesterday was said to be sad and angry, as employees dwelt on the circumstances of Lord Browne’s resignation and fumed at the treatment that he had experienced at the hands of the British press. After 41 years at the company, Lord Browne resigned on Tuesday after it emerged that he had lied to a court in his efforts to keep The Mail on Sunday from publishing the details of a relationship with Jeff Chevalier, his former lover.
Lord Browne is understood to have been inundated by e-mails and other messages of support. BP is planning a series of grand farewell parties for him in June and July.
Browne had been forced to resign, not due to BP's many safety infractions which caused ecological damage and the death and maiming of dozens of workers, but because he had lied to a court in order to conceal a gay relationship.
Though headquartered in London, BP since its 1998 merger with Amoco (formerly the USA's fourth largest oil corporation) is no longer a majority British owned and directed company. It is British owned by a slight plurality; 40% of its shares are held by UK companies, funds and individuals, while 39% of the shareholders are based in the USA.
The same can be observed of its board of directors which has thirteen members, of whom five hold sole UK citizenship and four hold sole US citizenship; another two have dual UK / US nationality; there is also a Swede (the BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg, former Chief Executive of Ericsson, who has distingished himself by his shyness in avoiding public attention since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded) and a Dutchman. BP embodies within itself the special relationship between British and US capitalism. Further, as can be seen from the biographies of its directors published on the company's website- a mini-Who's Who of the UK-based elite- BP's board also illustrates the the web of control and influence which stems from the economic top stratum of the capitalist system. And four among them have been honoured by the Queen for their services to society, becoming Knights or 'Commanders of the British Empire'.
For example, of board member Douglas Flint, the BP website records:
Douglas Flint was appointed to the board of BP as a non-executive director in 2005. He is chairman of the audit committee and a member of the chairman’s and the nomination committees.
He began his career with Peat Marwick Mitchell & Co. (now KPMG) and was made a partner in 1988. In 1995, Mr Flint joined the HSBC Group as group finance director of HSBC Holdings plc and in 2009 his role was broadened to chief financial officer, executive director risk and regulation.
He was chairman of the Financial Reporting Council’s review of the Turnbull Guidance on Internal Control and served on the Accounting Standards Board and the Standards Advisory Council of the International Accounting Standards Board between 2001 and 2004. He also served on the Shipley Working Group on Public Disclosure and co-chaired the Group of Thirty Report on Enhancing Public Confidence in Financial Reporting.
Mr Flint was awarded a CBE in 2006.
There is also Lieutenant Sir William Castell:
Sir William Castell was appointed a non-executive director of BP in 2006. He is the senior independent director and is a member of the chairman’s and the nomination committees and chairman of the safety, ethics and environment assurance committee.
Sir William spent his early career with the Wellcome Foundation, holding various positions. In 1989, he joined Amersham plc as chief executive. Following Amersham’s acquisition by General Electric in 2004, Sir William became president and chief executive officer of GE Healthcare, and a vice chairman and a director of the General Electric Company. He retired from GE Healthcare in 2006. Sir William remains a director of the General Electric Company. He was appointed as a member of the board of governors of the Wellcome Trust in 2006, subsequently becoming its chairman.
Sir William was knighted in 2000. In 2004, he received the honour Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order.
And while not, as yet, on the Queen's honours list, Dr Byron Grote is nevertheless quite well-connected. His CV on the BP website reads:
Job title: Chief Financial Officer
Key accountabilities: Dr Grote is a member of the BP board of directors and a member of the BP executive management team.
Other accountabilities: He also has group accountability for BP's integrated supply and trading activities.
Education: PhD in Quantitative Analysis from Cornell University.
Career: Dr Grote joined The Standard Oil Company of Ohio in 1979 and in 1985 became director of planning for The Standard Oil Company’s mining subsidiary, Kennecott. In 1986, he was appointed vice president, retail marketing.
In 1988, Dr Grote became commercial vice president for BP’s Alaskan North Slope production activities. In 1989, he was appointed commercial general manager of BP exploration, based in London. He became group treasurer and chief executive officer of BP finance in 1992, directing the global finance operations of the BP group. In 1994, he took up the position of regional chief executive in Latin America. He returned to London in 1995 to take up his appointment as deputy chief executive officer of BP exploration.
He became group chief of staff in 1997, with responsibility for a number of corporate areas, including strategy, technology, IT, investor relations and solar. Following the merger of BP and Amoco, in 1999 he was appointed executive vice president, exploration and production. Between 1999 and 2000, he was responsible for directing the acquisition of ARCO and managing the integration of its operations into BP. Prior to his current position, he was Chief Executive of BP Chemicals from 2000 to 2002.
External roles: Byron is a non-executive director of Unilever NA and Unilever plc and a member of the Cornell University Johnson Graduate School of Management Advisory Council.
He was chairman of the Chemicals Innovation and Growth Team, a joint initiative of the UK Chemicals sector and the Department of Trade and Industry (2001 - 2002), vice-chairman of the UK Government's Public Services Productivity Panel (1998 to 2000), a member of the Economic Advisory Panel to the Governor of Guangdong Province (2002-2006), and a member of the UK Government's Asia Task Force (2005-2006).
He is currently a member of the [UK] Business – Government forum on Tax and Globalisation.
Another board member is DeAnne Shirley Julius CBE, who has held, and holds, some rather interesting roles. According to her BP biography:
DeAnne Julius was appointed a non-executive director of BP in 2001. She is chairman of the remuneration committee and a member of the chairman’s and the nomination committees.
Dr Julius began her career in 1975 working for the World Bank. In 1986, she became director of the International Economics Programme at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, and in 1989 she was appointed chief economist at the Royal Dutch Shell Group becoming chief economist at British Airways PLC in 1993.
Between 1997 and 2001, Dr Julius was an independent member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee. Since 2001, she has held a variety of non-executive appointments and, in 2003, she was appointed chairman of the Royal Institute of International Affairs. She is a non-executive director of Roche Holdings SA and Jones Lang LaSalle, Inc.
Dr Julius was awarded a CBE in 2002.
Though the BP website does not mention this, DeAnne Julius is a former Central Intelligence Agency operative- or at least, she is no longer officially on the CIA payroll. An article in the Times in 2004, headlined 'Ex-CIA analyst brings mountain of experience to UK's top companies', gave the following version of events:
During the closing stages of the Vietnam War, an optimistic recruiter for the Central Intelligence Agency did the rounds of US colleges. He met with a hostile reception at Iowa State University, where the student socialists organised a boycott. The student liberals sent a young economics undergraduate to break the picket line. She liked what she heard, and, months later, DeAnne Julius was working as an analyst with the CIA in Washington.
Years later, this soft-spoken Iowa girl was helping to forge UK interest rate policy, as a member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee. She has worked as chief economist for Shell and British Airways and, at 55, is highly sought after for her boardroom skills.
Julius is non-executive director of BP, Lloyds TSB, Roche and Serco, and is chairman of Chatham House, the international policy think-tank.
The Times article added that Dr Julius left the CIA because the job “wasn’t that exciting”.
Serco is a UK based company which is a major benificiary of privatisation and contracting-out of public services. It accrues its revenues by running a wide range of functions previously performed by the public sector, including prisons, schools, local government computer systems, and railways.
The Royal Institute of International Affairs, also known as Chatham House, headed by this 'soft-spoken Iowa girl', is Britain's semi-official policy forum on international strategy. According to Foreign Policy magazine, Chatham House is the world's top non US-based think tank.
BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward also has other friends in strategic places. On 10th June, Bloomberg News reported on a gathering of the rich and / or powerful at St James' Square, London:
On the night of June 7, a group including Vittorio Colao, head of telecom company Vodafone Plc, Martin Sorrell, chief of advertising firm WPP Plc, and John Sawers, director-general of the intelligence agency MI6, gathered on the sixth floor of BP Plc’s London headquarters to show support for Tony Hayward, the company’s beleaguered chief executive officer.
Why was the head of MI6, which is officially entitled the Secret Intelligence Service, present at this display of solidarity with Mr Hayward? The answer will not be found on the MI6 website, which declares:
As Britain's secret service, SIS provides the British Government with a global covert capability to promote and defend the national security and economic well-being of the United Kingdom.
SIS operates world-wide to collect secret foreign intelligence in support of the British Government's policies and objectives. Regional instability, terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and illegal narcotics are among the major challenges of the 21st century. SIS assists the government to meet these challenges. To do this effectively SIS must protect the secrets of its sources and methods.
But regardless of that secrecy, we can be sure that John Sawers did not come to investigate the corporate criminal and perpetrator of mass environmental destruction, but to support him.
And what of Lord John Browne, Hayward's predecessor as Chief Executive? When one door closes for a member of the capitalist elite, another door opens. After his resignation in 2007, the New Labour government gave Browne the post of chief advisor on the question of university funding and student fees; in which position, unimpeded by his very considerable wealth, the Baron upheld the view that students from all walks of life should personally bear the cost of their education.
And then, immediately on his election / appointment as Prime Minister, Britain's Conservative-Liberal leader David Cameron decided to employ a 'super director' for the UK's public services, to recommend ways of cutting costs and injecting dynamic and efficient private sector practices into the British public sector. In early June he announced that the person he has chosen for this role is Lord Edmund John Philip Browne, the Baron of Madingley.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Cameron briefed the press that Lord Browne has nothing to do with BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster, and bears no responsibility for that calamity. But that would seem to be contradicted by Tony Hayward's 2007 assertion of "continuity with key strategies set down by Lord Browne". Indeed, since rising to the post of BP Chief Executive, Mr Hayward claimed that he would improve on the record of the Baron of Madingley on social responsibility, safety and the environment.
Another peer of the realm, the former Conservative government minister Lord Norman Tebitt, did not buy the idea that John Browne is completely unconnected with the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Tebbitt stated in his Daily Telegraph blog:
The facts are clear enough. Under the leadership of Lord Browne, BP not only contracted out the management of those nasty dirty jobs like drilling for oil and refining it, it progressively got rid of anyone who knew any thing about such old-fashioned activities. The New, Modern, Green, Progressive, BP made excellent profits, but failed to heed the failures in parts of its business for which it was still responsible but had discarded the skills to manage.
Tebbitt, who hates environmentalism, social responsibility and 'progressiveness' to the extent that he is disgusted that a corporation makes even the superficial concession of remaking its image to accord with those values, derides the BP board for attempting to distance their company from its dirty and practical oil-drilling operations by contracting them out to other firms. Lord Tebbitt is also an unabashed disliker of homosexuals, which may also account for some of his derision of Lord Browne.
But the contracting-out of production and maintennance functions- to cut costs and enhance 'flexibility'- is a long-standing practice of big corporations, carried out increasingly by British companies while Tebbitt was a government minister (and, at the insistence of the UK government, by the public sector also). In the case of the Deepwater Horizon operation, BP engaged the US corporation Halliburton (of Iraq war contractor fame) and the Swiss-based firm Transocean.
Should private sector-type practices, as exemplified by BP, be the model for delivery of services to the public? BP was most dynamic in its successful bid to drill oil in the gulf of Mexico, and we are now beginning to learn the extent to which did indeed cut costs in carrying out the operation; but in its response to the Deepwater Horizon explosion and its consequences, it has been efficient only in its attempts to evade responsibility.
The idea has been dominant, since Thatcher and Reagan overturned the previous concensus in the 1980s, that private 'free market' capitalism is the paradigm of efficiency and wealth creation (while publicly-owned industries and services are supposedly 'sleepy' and inefficient). But for private owners and directors of capitalist industries and services, the production of whatever the firm produces, and the safety of workers, the public and the environment, are merely secondary matters- the primary concern of the operation is to make money, by any means necessary. Whereas in the public sector, it is at least possible for safe and efficient production, allied to the welfare of the public, the workers and the ecosystem, to be the primary aims of the organisation.
The vaunted 'dynamism' of private enterprise springs from a source which was described succinctly by a 19th Century commentator:
'Capital eschews no profit, or very small profit, just as Nature was formerly said to abhor a vacuum. With adequate profit, capital is very bold. A certain 10 per cent will ensure its employment anywhere; 20 per cent certain will produce eagerness; 50 per cent, positive audacity; 100 per cent will make it ready to trample on all human laws; 300 per cent, and there is not a crime at which it will scruple, nor a risk it will not run, even to the chance of its owner being hanged.'
The alleged superiority of laissez faire capitalism was not borne out by the experience of privatisation, notably the selling-off of the railway system in the UK which resulted not only in a worse and more expensive service, but in several serious safety failures; as a result Railtrack, the notorious firm which owned and ran the track and other railway infrastructure, had to be effectively re-nationalised. The current global economic crisis, which was precipitated by the implosion of the privately owned and minimally regulated financial system, is the result of another disastrous private sector safety failure; it demonstrated also that the 'wealth creation' which had supposedly been taking place in the financial sector was merely the creation of fictitious and even fraudulent value, and the state had to step in to avert the total meltdown of the global economy, not only throwing many hundreds of billions at the privately owned banks, but temporarily nationalising several of them.
Still nothing has been learned. The pace of privatisation is being stepped up, the banks are being de-nationalised, and we are witnessing the start of a massive onslaught of cuts to the remaining public sector services. And, even if Tony Hayward were eventually to be accorded his rightful abode at the hospitality of his country's special relationship partner, the lessons of the BP Gulf of Mexico catastrophe will not be learned, either by the corporations or by the governments which act in the interest of those firms and their shareholders. But, disaster by disaster, the workers and the wider public will eventually draw the lessons. And then, perhaps, we will see a turning point, as significant or even more significant than Thatcher and Reagan's revolution of the 1980s, but in the opposite direction.