Saturday, July 17, 2010

The United States of British Petroleum

If you're anything like me, or if you've spent more than five minutes over the last decade glancing at the headlines, you're probably suffering from some form of outrage fatigue. Well, make room for one more thing to get mad about.

From Reuters:
Fishermen in Mississippi say they are angry that under the terms of BP's $20 billion oil spill fund, money they earn doing clean-up will be subtracted from their claim against the company.
The fishermen reacted after Kenneth Feinberg, the federal official in charge of administering the compensation fund, announced the decision at a town hall meeting in Biloxi on Friday.
Cast as a great victory against the heartless oil giant that caused the environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico it turns out -- surprise! -- that the Obama administration was basically working to help limit BP's financial liability. No other excuse flies when the White House's own head of the fund, Ken Feinberg, is pronouncing that all those fishermen who have been busy cleaning up the same mess that destroyed their livelihood have been working for the very corporation that caused it have been doing so for free.

It doesn't help that Feinberg was a patronizing ass when he announced the dick move:
"[W]orkers can file a claim, but we will subtract the amount they are paid from BP from their claim. That is how it has to work . . . . Of course you can file a claim. You must file a claim, but you cannot get paid twice," Feinberg told the meeting.
Right -- the U.S. government reserves paying people twice for corporate agriculture.

Of course, when it comes to the Gulf we're not talking about paying people twice for the same thing, but rather reimbursing them for the ruin by corporate malfeasance and compensating them for their efforts to try and fix the damage -- two separate, distinct things, as far as BP's financial responsibility is concerned.

But not only is the administration's move unjust, it's simply counterproductive and destined to slow recovery efforts -- why risk your health cleaning up the Gulf when you can get paid the same amount sitting at home watching Terminator? And in light of the public mood towards BP, it's also likely to provoke a good deal of grandstanding from across the political spectrum. If there's a significant outcry, I wouldn't be surprised if the White House somehow found a way to reverse its decision, or explain away Feinberg's comments as an unfortunate mix-up, a miscommunication. And it's not hard to see why: the administration's current stance is akin to letting an arsonist burn a house down and then charge the victim for the cost of rebuilding it -- except you'll never really be able to rebuild the Gulf.

Put another way: it's f*cked. It's also a great example of the State swooping in to protect an influential, major corporation under the auspices of punishing it -- great theater, really -- in this instance crafting a compromise settlement that appears aimed at being just enough to quell popular calls for tarring-and-feathering those British, yacht-racing bastards, without actually forcing Tony Hayward to give up any of his private floating islands.

(Cross-posted at AlterNet)


  1. Minor Player6:28 PM

    How many heavy thinkers in D.C. have said on the record that Gulf War II would pay for itself because Iraq's future oil revenue would suffice to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure, etc ? This is exactly the logic of dispatching an arsonist to burn down a house in light of the knowledge that the householder has money buried in the backyard.

    It is old news, really. I don't recall a lot of objections having been made about the faulty morality of that argument in 2003 and since, vis a vis Iraq. Will it be any different now that the argument is made against the interests of US fishermen?

  2. It's amusing to see the xenophobic "British Petroleum " has the worst safety record meme because by far the majority of the problems occurred at properties they inherited with the takeover of Amoco.

  3. Bill,

    And the rig that blew up in the Gulf, was that an Amoco property too? If not, what exactly is the relevance of your comment?