Wednesday 16 June 2010

Obama piles on the anti-BP pressure despite Cameron's efforts to defend Britain in "warm" phone call.

President Barack Obama has again vowed to "make BP pay" for not only the multi-billion dollar clean-up of the Gulf of Mexico but also the restoration of the region's economy, undertaking to force the British oil giant to set aside the money he believes it owes as "a result of [its] recklessness.". So much for the “warm” phone call with David Cameron.

In his fiercest rebuke against the company in the 58 days since the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana, he promised to get tough with BP and to ensure that it meets all costs he believes it should pay.

In a direct attack on the company's dividend policy, Obama said that the money needed to cover the as-yet unquantifiable costs must be deposited in an independent "escrow" account. "This fund will not be controlled by BP. In order to ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, the account must and will be administered by an independent, third party." "I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company's recklessness," he continued.

The strong words, which came in Mr Obama's first national address from the Oval Office in the 18 months since he took office, came ahead of his crucial meeting with Carl-Henric Svanberg, BP's chairman (pictured), and Tony Hayward, its chief executive, at the White House later today.

Mr Obama also used the speech to make public the appointment of Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy, as his new "oil tsar" for the region, charged with developing a "long-term Gulf Coast restoration plan as soon as possible." The plan, which will be designed by states, local communities, conservationists and fishermen and funded by BP, is aimed at reviving the "beauty and bounty" of the Gulf region and co-ordinating how that will happen.

Likening the spill to an "epidemic, one that we will be fighting for months and even years," he went on to detail the government's involvement in the clean-up to date.

In an 18-minute speech replete with military metaphors, he referred to the "battle" the US is "waging against an oil spill that is assaulting" its shores and citizens, and spoke of the "battle plan" of action to clean up the growing slick.

At the weekend the President supposedly reassured Prime Minister David Cameron that his frustration over the mammoth oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is not an attack on Britain.

Cameron's Downing St. office said the two leaders had held a "warm and constructive" telephone conversation for more than 30 minutes.

Cameron is under pressure to get Obama to tone down the rhetoric against of a major British company, fearing it will hurt millions of Britons who hold BP stock in investments and pension plans.

Cameron's office said the prime minister "expressed his sadness at the ongoing human and environmental catastrophe," but stressed BP's economic importance to Britain, the U.S. and other countries.

It said Obama recognized that BP – which he has pointedly referred to in public by its former name, British Petroleum – is a multinational company, "and that frustrations about the oil spill had nothing to do with national identity." Obama said he had no interest in undermining BP's value. The company's stock has lost 40 percent of its value since the oil rig fire on April 20 that unleashed the United States' worst oil spill.

Downing Street said the two men agreed that BP should continue "to work intensively to ensure that all sensible and reasonable steps are taken as rapidly as practicable to deal with the consequences of this catastrophe."

But when the White House finally released its official statement, only one of the 10 sentences referred to the oil spill. It said the two men discussed the impact of the spill, "reiterating that BP must do all it can to respond effectively to the situation."

Later, a senior Obama administration official, speaking anonymously, described the private conversation and confirmed that the president had told Cameron "that our frustration has nothing to do with national identity" but focuses instead on "ensuring that a large, wealthy company lives up to its obligations."

The official said Obama told Cameron that BP "must meet its obligations to those whose lives have been disrupted," and that the administration "will insist everything be done to cap the well, capture the oil, and pay for the cleanup, the environmental damage done and the tens of thousands of economic claims as a result of this disaster."

Downing Street also said Cameron and Obama reaffirmed their belief in "the unique strength of the U.S.-UK relationship." It announced that Cameron will visit Washington July 20, his first trip there since taking office in May.

How naive of those pro-British, pro-conservative bloggers, columnists and commentators to expect Cameron to stand up to Obama and protect those supposed vital British interests. But in actual fact it's a multi-billion pound international corporation that cut corners and precipitaed a monumental natural disaster. The fact of the matter is that the xenephobic British press whipped this up to sell papers. I for one never though for a second that Cameron would do anything other than what he was told.

Was there ever a small hope that the pro-US tories would stand up to Obama? Not a chance. The only sop that Obama made was to allow Cameron’s office to release its view of the phone call first. One which as you see is starkly different from the US version. And has Obama toned down his anti-BP rhetoric as a result of the call? No of course not. The best our dishwater PM could do was to get Obama to stop using the word “British”. How ridiculous of people to have expected Cameron to have done anything other than what he was told to do by the President. Now Mr Cameron is going to trot off to America because butt licking is so much more effective in person.


  1. Sorry to distract from your post, but isn't Obama holding the phone upside down?

  2. Conan it would appear so, but if you were talking to David Cameron wouldn’t you? I don’t know about the rest of you but I am sick of hearing Cameron’s voice already, that is even less time than it took to get sick of Gordon Brown’s dulcet tones.

  3. Ye can tell how seriously Mr Obama took the phone call tris, cos he wis haudin' the phone upside-doon! Ah huv tae sae an'aw, that that Oval Oaffice o' his looks awfy bare, like it's actually his spare room he's phonin' fae. An' ah hope somebody ca'ed security aboot that man hidin' under Mr Obama's desk. Ye can nivver be too carefu' aboot these things, any time ah've found men hidin' under ma furniture there's been trouble, an' ah widnae want the same thing tae happen tae Mr Obama.

    As tae the meat o' yer post tris, ah can only agree that Mr Cameron's gaunnae get hissel' intae a lot o' bother if he goes tae America an' lick's Mr Obama's butt. But then, if the Marigold wis oan the other haun, an' an American oil company had soaked the North Sea in oil, then we wid expect the American President tae be gaun oot o' his way tae be nice tae us.

    Ye've got tae take the players oot the game sometimes an' staun' back. Oil company's dinnae really care whit mess they make, no when they're rakin' the money in. BP can afford tae pick up the bill fer this, they've likely got enough spare change tae build nice new beaches aw the way roon' the Mexican Gulf. But they're no gaunnae bring back aw the deid fish, the turtles an' the pelicans. It's whit's been happenin' aw ower the world, we jist get excitit when we see it concentrated in the yin place, in big colour pictures oan oor telly while we're eatin' oor tea.

  4. Oh sorry Mr Munguin, ah shoulda seen it wis your post. Awfy sorry.

  5. He he Sophia I think he made the speech lambasting BP from the Oval Office but I think he took the phone call from David Cameron in the junk room off the kitchen where he made Gordon Brown wait. Mr Obama is clearly not an Anglo-phile and it doesn't seem to matter which political complexion our leader has.

    It's going to be a great laugh watching Cameron and Hague sucking up to a man who doesn't care a fig for them or their ghastly island. I'd give good money (dollars not pounds) to find out what he thinks of Scotland without England and the British baggage.

  6. Sophia its an easy mistake to make, but I'm the good looking one with all the money.

  7. Aye. Likely we wid soon be hearin' aw aboot his Scottish ancestry, how his great-great-great-great-grannie's third cousin's step-sister's best pal's auntie's next-door-neebor's dug yince had a holiday at Pittenweem.

  8. Yes Sophia, it was him what wrote it (you know the good looking one, he thinks, with all the money, and that's no wonder with his deep pockets and short arms), but yeah, anyway, whatever...

    I think you've hit it on the head. Oil companies don't give a stuff. And it's not just BP, Shell, Chevron, Exxon-Mobil, Total, Agip, Texaco are all as bad. They are interested in one thing only.

    Of course they take advantage of lax regulations wherever they find them. Although these are British, French, American, Italian and Dutch companies, they happily accept the working practices that are allowed in places like Nigeria, from where, to their credit, BP have pulled out, but Shell, which is half British half Dutch, have not. Yes, there are other companies involved but that doesn’t matter. BP are at the top. It’s their contract. They can apportion the blame, but they should have been supervising properly work that was being carried out on their behalf. And if, as some suggest, the regulations in America are too lax, then this will be a lesson that, however pesky some of the EU regulations are

    I can only imagine that if it was the entire coast of Scotland and much of England that was being affected; if wild life was being washed up along our coasts destroying the eco-system; if what was left of the fishing fleet from the Orkneys to Hull was confined to port; if tourism was finished for 5 or 10 years and if everyone was permanently sick with the smell here, the press would be being supportive of BP.

    The pension funds are important, of course they are, but compared with what Brown did with them back in the early part of his chancellorship, this is nothing. The actual effect of this on the pensions should be very small (unless of course someone finds a way of creaming off money and blaming it on the foreign president who made such a fuss). BP are an obscenely wealthy company in any case.

    Seriously, if this was an American, or heavy help us, French or Italian company who did this to the North Sea, would we expect Mr Salmond and Mr Cameron to keep quiet?

    Nah, we'd want every cent we could get out of them. And quite rightly.

  9. Oh and btw Munguin... who's the geezer in the pic at the bottom left?

    Conan: They don't have phones in Hawaii yet.

    And Sophia... for heaven's sake, I knew there would be trouble when you ordered all your furniture with big enough spaces for men to hide underneath.....

  10. Tris that is Carl-Henric Svanberg BP's Chairman. I shall alter the text accordingly.

  11. I haven't seen any news reports about this yet, but I really think there's something wrong with that picture. The office looks like it might belong to the third assistant Deputy Undersecretary at the Interior Department. Even the president's private study off the oval office is much nicer than this. And Obama is not only holding the 1960's era ATT Princess phone upside down, there's another guy's hand pressed against the floor at the left of the picture. The prez is using a cheap government-issue office chair to hold notes, and the carpeting looks like it came from a clearance sale at WalMart.

    And then the clock says it's three o'clock. Three PM in Washington is 8:00 PM London time. Odd time to talk to the Prime Minister. The other option is that the president got up at three in the morning Washington time to make the call. Also unlikely.

    And the television is a 3:4 aspect CRT analog receiver. Modern American television receivers are wide screen, digital, high def devices. And a White House set would certainly be one with a modern flat-panel screen. There is no longer any analog broadcasting in the US for that set in the picture to receive.

    And the flag only has 47 stars and 12 stripes. NO...NO....I'm joking about the stars and stripes.

    Anyway, why don't you guys give David Cameron a call and see if he really talked to the president. Something's not quite right here. ;-)

  12. PS: I LOVE the picture. It's really very cool. Definitely suggests a White House operation...LOL.

  13. PPS: And apologies to you Tris. I see your sharp eye had already spotted the other geezer in the picture at the left. Now we must find out why the guy is apparently leaning against the floor.

  14. Munguin.....Obama's current predicament is exactly as you describe it. In a mid-term election year, when everyone is angry about the spill, Obama is scrambling politically. He needs to get tough with if that will actually help cap the leaking well or further the cleanup effort. It was big news when he started pointedly referring to BP as BRITISH Petroleum....obviously implying a "foreign" entity fouling our shores. Last night's Oval Office speech was long on rhetoric and dramatically short on details....a very familiar Obama failing. He simply didn't have anything to say that warranted an Oval Office address. (He always appoints a "Tsar" when he wants to give the appearance of actually doing something.) He told us that in the White House meeting today, he will require Tony Hayward to put BP money in escrow for their liability in the disaster. It's not really clear that he has any statutory authority to require this. But so far, BP has sucked up everything that Washington has chosen to throw at surely as the Gulf of Mexico is sucking up the oil from their well.

    At some point....probably not until the oil actually stops gushing....BP will have to exercise some push-back. Without minimizing the scope of the disaster, but with human nature being what it is, every business and every person in five states who lives or operates within 100 miles of the water will ultimately work up some sort of a damage claim against BP. And the total of all those claims will be huge even by BP standards.

  15. It looks like posh Dave's chair was upholstered in the carpet from Mr President's office. And judging by the look on posh Dave's coupon, i think Bo may have doodooed on it.

    Danny, is there a grassy knoll in the room?

  16. Thanks Danny. BP ought to have thought of that before they polluted the gulf. Now they must pay. You can't blame Obama for being a politician and acting like one as well.

  17. Danny I think it is actually Gordon Brown hiding in the background there.

    Naldo: can you imagine having to listen to posh Dave's smug voice for half an hour?

  18. He he...yes it's Gordon Brown saying "Oh pleeeeease speak to me Sir....please, just once...."

  19. Munguin.....How observant of you to spot Gordon Brown's hand. And yes Tris, he is clearly on his knees. I think I can now explain Gordon's presence in Washington, as well as the obsolete TV set in the room. Such a set WILL still play the output of a DVD player. So clearly, Gordon has come to the US to watch that box set of DVD's that Obama gave him as a diplomatic gift....and which turned out to be playable only on Region 1 (US and Canadian) DVD players.

    Naldo....I've not spotted a grassy knoll yet, but you were sharp eyed to identify that Dave's chair is upholstered with the same carpeting as the "White House" office. That carpeting sale at WalMart was apparently international in scope.

    More seriously, I agree that BP must pay all legitimate claims. (They were careless and failed to apply state of the art technology to their drilling operations in US waters.) But the devil is always in the details. And at some point the legitimate claims will have to be separated from all the others...and there will be LOTS of others. For example, Obama has placed a moratorium on all deep ocean drilling in US waters until the cause of the disaster can be sorted out. Very sensible thing to do. But now some politicians are demanding that BP should pay the salaries of everyone employed by all of the OTHER oil companies who are off work because of the federal moratorium. So where will the direct legitimate claims on BP end, and all the legally arguable, but patently crazy, claims begin? However deep the pockets of BP, the phony claims will be beyond imagining.

    The evil that can be done by posturing, self-serving politicians in an election year cannot be overestimated. I'm not talking about Obama here, who is generally acting responsibly. But he's being pushed hard by political forces in both parties. Even at the level of political theater, it's getting silly. Obama's carefully orchestrated comment about "kicking a**" was inappropriate as a public comment from a president.

  20. Danny: do you think that Obama's call to Cameron was warm and constructive or do you think that the Tories will just fall into line. Is Obama just posturing or is he an anglophobe?

  21. Munguin....There's no doubt a lot of political theater is going on. His occasional political posturing aside, Obama seems to be a sensible man with a cool, rational approach to things. No anglophobe for sure.

    I'm not sure what the phone call was really supposed to resolve in any case. The press release about it, now posted on the White House website ( , simply said that the matter was discussed. The only substantive information about the conversation was in the press release from No.10.

    Of more significance surely was the meeting with top BP officials at the White House yesterday. The agreement to set aside $20 Billion in a third party administered escrow arrangement seems to provide a sensible basis for administering the ongoing claims process.

    At the press briefing a reporter asked if, during the meeting, Obama had pounded his fist on the table. Seriously! He asked that. Hard to know whether politicians or reporters are the bigger jerks. They surely deserve each other.

  22. I guess Danny that the President talking to the prime minister of the UK is hardly a big deal for Americans...on the other hand Cameron will be proud as punch that he got a few minutes of Obama's time, and will want us to know all about it. It bigs him up.

    Tony Benn recalls in his diaries the fact that Jim Callaghan, recounting a telephone call with, I think, Gerald Ford repeated over and over what the President had said, emphasising the fact that the President had called him Jim....


  23. Tris...Very good point. I suppose that both sides actually needed that phone call after Obama found it politically expedient to start talking about "kicking a**" (a***) while emphasizing the British base of BP by repeatedly referring to it as "BRITISH Petroleum." (He then caught some heat in the press for not having yet talked to Cameron about the matter.)

    And on the British side, surely Cameron needed to do something about the push-back from your side of the pond about all the bashing by US politicians. And then there is the monetary loss to British shareholders. It's reported that about 40% of BP dividends go to Britons, and those dividends were very likely (now, definitely) to be lost for a while. BTW, while the British shareholders are often emphasized in the American press, we hear very little about the 40% share in the company owned by American investors. There has been a huge American stake in BP after its merger with "Amoco," the former "Standard Oil of Indiana."

    There was a good story published in the New York Times last week about the American political British bashing, and that British backlash. It quoted Lord Tebbit, identified by The Times as a Conservative peer, as calling the American response (up to and including the presidential level) "a crude, bigoted, xenophobic display of partisan, political, presidential petulance..."

    Now that is a way cool piece of political invective. I don't know anything about the noble Lord Tebbit, but he certainly wins the alliteration award in my book.....LOL.

  24. Yep, I can see that Danny... good analysis.

    Mr Tebbit is a contemporary of Mrs Thatcher. I would imagine that he, like she would be very very pro American. I doubt that he would deviate much from anything that she thought.

    He has moments of good sound common sense, but he is from the far right of the party (and the "far" anything is always dangerous).

    Mr Tebbit would never of course be bigoted, xenonphobic, crude, petulant or partisan... Never....

    You will recognize him from the "Spitting Images" puppets we talked about some time ago. He was the one in the leather jacket, with the east London accent....

  25. But yes, his alliteration, intentional or otherwise is rather impressive....