S&R Exclusive: Obama finds his Hypocratic voice on BP

Just not meDuring the course of 2009 and 2010, Toyota recalled over 9 million of its vehicles due to production-related faults.  An alleged 37 people have died due to these faults since 2000.  However, Toyota is only part of an industry that recalled 16.4 million vehicles in 2009 alone.

US President Obama remained mute.

During the course of 2008, the US financial system collapsed requiring massive bailouts directed at individual companies and state-agencies to the amount of $356 billion.  $169 billion of the $245 billion paid to US banks has been repaid. $21 billion has been spent propping up US automakers since they are unable to make products anyone wishes to buy.  Bank and industry bosses paid themselves big bonuses while still on government-life-support.

US President Obama remained mute.

Since April 2010, the Deepwater Horizon disaster has resulted in the despoliation of the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people as BP grapples to contain a leak at their exploratory rig.  BP has committed more than $1 billion so far to containment, mop-ups and insurance claims, as well as committing to covering all government and private expenditure related to the event.

US President Obama is no longer mute.

S&R: President Obama, don’t you think it is somewhat hypocritical to ignore the failings of all these other companies and organisations, and use state money to pay for those failings, and then rounding on BP when they’re actually spending their own money to solve the problem?

PO: Yes, of course it’s hypocritical, but up until recently no-one had blamed me personally for any of those other problems.  We successfully shifted blame from the regulators, who should have oversight over the financial sector and the motor industry, onto the bosses.  As long as the American people were willing to blame them and not me then I could overlook these things.

S&R: So, what you’re saying is that BP is just unlucky and you’ll sacrifice a big foreign-owned company that employs millions and is vital to US energy needs to save your own skin?

PO: Yes, exactly.  Look, I accept that failure in certain industries carries much greater impact than in others.  I mean, McAfee – the anti-virus people – managed to fuck up their April release update and caused millions of computers to shut down.  The only way to fix the problem for most people was to format their computers and reinstall.  Goodness knows how many jobs were lost as a direct result of that mistake, but it was relatively invisible and no-one blamed me.

S&R: So you accept that some companies have an asymmetric risk profile?  That, as a consequence of being in business, some companies do have the potential to cause tremendous harm?  You know, like nuclear energy plants, oil companies, banks, airlines?

PO: Of course I do, and that is why it is essential to have tremendous external oversight of these industries.

S&R: But you’ve pointed out that the oversight failed, so shouldn’t you – as chief executive of America Inc. – be accepting ultimate responsibility for any failures?

PO: Not a chance.  It’s much better for me if I can find someone else to blame.  Trust me on this, if I don’t blame them, they’ll blame me.

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4 replies »

  1. I am going to assume that you don’t have access to a television, radio, newspaper, public-affairs periodical, or pair of ears, because Obama talked relentlessly about Toyota and CEOs of bailout-backed corporations giving themselves bonuses. The man was literally criticized by the right-wing media for talking TOO MUCH about Toyota. I don’t know how in the world you missed that, but just because you weren’t paying attention to something doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. Of course, Obama is spending more time talking about BP, but creating the worst environmental disaster in the history of the country is bound to generate a little bit of extra attention.

    Also, I have no idea what the word “hypocratic” is supposed to mean, but I commend your efforts to add a new word to the English language.

  2. Has Obama threatened to rail-road any other private corporation through a kangaroo court, threatened to “kick the asses” of their executives, and prevent them from operating their business activities and paying out dividends to shareholders?

    BP made profits of some $7 billion in the past 12 months. They want to pay out a $1 billion dividend, which they can afford, and which pension funds on both sides of the Atlantic rely on to finance their pension payouts. Obama wants this stopped. How is this anything other than victimisation?

    So, yeah, I don’t see anything other than hypocrisy going on here.

    And I’m quite proud of “hypocratic” so thanks for noticing 8)

  3. Of course Toyota didn’t put hundreds of thousands of people out of work, destroy hundreds of miles of beaches, obliterate multiple tourist economies, irrevocably poison an area bigger than some European countries, and deal what will probably be the finishing blow to a few dozen endangered species.

    BP may have committed a billion, but it wasn’t all to containment, mop up, etc. Quite a bit of it has gone toward PR and telling people how awesome they are for containing, cleaning up, etc. Even thought they’re not really cleaning up much of anything, and a billion won’t even come close to fixing the damage they did. And you’ll pardon me if I don’t believe any number they give for a second, since they’ve lied multiple times.

    BP are the victims? Are you shitting me? When you profit from having the shittiest track record of an oil company (which is quite the accomplishment) you have to accept the risk of losing your ass when the company finally screws the pooch and goes too far. And that’s exactly what should happen.

    Also, oversight wasn’t the problem. Deregulation and allowing companies to mingle with the regulators was the problem. Which, coincidentally, is exactly what caused the problem in every other scenario you mentioned. Only in America can someone look at a corporation destroying all it touches for the sheer hell of doing it and say “The problem is the government is too oppressive! They’re killing that poor business!”

  4. JThompson, please, don’t foist opinions on me that I never expressed.

    “BP are the victims?” You’re debating someone else. I never made this statement or expressed this sentiment.

    My argument is about consistency. If law-making is ad hoc and arbitrary then it undermines the entire legal process. One can question the slowness of payouts and business support by BP, one can question their processes, but to be subjecting the company to arbitrary penalties and their executives to insults and jeers is distracting and potentially libellous. After all, once this is all over the US will still be reliant on outside and private companies for its energy needs.

    “Also, oversight wasn’t the problem. Deregulation and allowing companies to mingle with the regulators was the problem.”


    Over the past few months the FDA has forced Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, McNeil, to recall 200 million bottles of Tylenol because of breaches of safety compliance. The FDA is arguing that they need more powers to act faster, and this can certainly be debated, but what is beyond doubt is that the FDA takes their oversight roll very seriously.

    On the other hand, the Mineral Management Service regulators spent much of their time downloading porn and snorting cocaine. It certainly didn’t help that they’re tasked with issuing licenses (for which they make a nice income) and regulating the industry. We don’t allow accounting firms to consult to their clients because of similar moral hazard and banks will soon not be allowed to mix their clients and their own investments.

    The SEC similarly spent time ogling porn rather than spotting the rather obvious fraud being perpetrated by Bernie Maddoff. If a regulator couldn’t spot Maddoff, then how were they ever supposed to understand the risks involved in subprime CDOs?

    Failures of oversight are most definitely the problem. The two regulators which most singly failed to do their jobs have also presided over spectacular disasters.

    The reason we have regulators is because, in technical fields, only fellow technical experts have the skills to tell whether or not safety is being adhered to. Pharmaceuticals, complex financial instruments, super-deep oil extraction … all very complex.

    That people take whatever shortcuts they can get away with should not come as news to you. That is why we have auditors, regulators, courts and oversight. But those services must do their jobs.

    So, yes, BP is accountable for their actions, but so too is the state. BP is taking responsibility, and further court action will seek to apportion damages. The state should not be interceding in that process. As I said, that is arbitrary.

    Now it is also the turn of the state to take full responsibility for being quite useless gits when it comes to their responsibility for protecting the interests of the public.