BP Chairman: “We care about the small people.”

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"BP Chairman: “We care about the small people.”"

GOP Study Chairman: We don’t care about anybody but Big Oil

Who is more out of touch?  Is it the Republican Study Committee, whose Chair says that the $20 billion escrow fund that Obama got BP to establish is nothing more than a “Chicago-Style Political Shakedown“?

Or is it BP Chair Carl-Henric Svanberg, who uttered these unforgettable words on tape after the White House meeting today:

“We care about the small people. I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies or greedy companies that don’t care, but that is not the case at BP. We care about the small people.”

We’re now supposed to believe this insensitive remark — uttered in English —  “was a slip in translation” from a non-native speaker.  But that isn’t going to mollify anybody in the Gulf who has heard an endless stream of insensitive remarks from native speakers (see BP CEO Tony Hayward: “I’d like my life back”).

The Republican Study Committee, however, has no excuse whatsoever for trash talking the president about the $20 billion escrow fund that he convinced BP to establish.  Only those who have no knowledge of history —  or who are in the pocket of Big Oil — could issue such a strong condemnation of such a necessary policy:

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32 Responses to BP Chairman: “We care about the small people.”

  1. Elmo says:

    I’m pretty sure that you haven’t mastered all the nuances of Swedish. When you have, you might try re-writing this.

    [JR: ???]

  2. villabolo says:

    Elmo says:
    June 16, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    “I’m pretty sure that you haven’t mastered all the nuances of Swedish. When you have, you might try re-writing this.”

    Perhaps, but my instincts tell me that in any language that would be viewed as offensive to American culture. Too the extent that the word/phrase is not considered offensive in its native language, it’s possible that the reason why is because the word/phrase has an authoritarian origin.

  3. Chris Dudley says:

    To me, the escrow is an example of President Obama being very effective. Not sure that Clinton could have pulled this off though his foundation had about $46 billion in commitments for his global initiative in 2008. LBJ might have pulled this off and FDR. Closing the deal seems to be a BHO strong point.

  4. Raul says:

    Closing the deal? Huh?
    Gulf ruined for some time.
    Heat stress is the given for cleanup workers.
    EDF comes back crying after going for a day trip
    to the Gulf of Polution.
    Beyond polution makes a promise.
    Sorry not holding my breath in that mess.

  5. riverat says:

    I’ve heard/seen “the little people” used here in the US from time to time without a lot of rancor. I’ll give Mr. Svanberg the benefit of the doubt on this one.

  6. Chris says:

    “small” in American speak usually refers to class. Someone will call you “small” as an insult, it’s the same way in the Japanese culture. “Small” people (who are really just short) hate being called small. Also, for Americans small anything is an insult. Small car, small member, small house, to people with small things they are of the lowest class. I find it more funny, because I understand the language challenge, and I admire his courage. It doesn’t change the fact that this crisis has had a host of gaffs like this, at the worst possible times, with the worst possible word combination. For billionaires to call fishermen small, because they work hard for a living but don’t bring in as much as sitting on your ass collecting interest, it’s gravely hurtful. You just destroyed their fucking life dude, it’s the time when you need to be extra sensitive.

  7. Leland Palmer says:

    Good for Obama.

    “We care about the small people?”.

    I don’t find this particularly offensive. A little condescending or authoritarian perhaps, but in the context of the establishment of a 20 billion dollar escrow fund, it only merits a reading of maybe two on my offenseometer, on a scale of one to ten.

    It would be really nice if BP would make a pivot similar to that of Obama, and start putting a similar amount of money toward putting increasing amounts of cellulosic ethanol in their products, or make a similar commitment to algae based biofuels, whose CO2 comes from biomass sources like cellulosic ethanol production.

    Many people aren’t aware that there are many ethanol production plants, that produce fairly large amounts of biogenic CO2. Using this CO2 to produce algae based biofuels would result in double use of biogenic CO2.

    So it’s great that BP has agreed to establish the fund. It’s a coup for Obama, IMO, depending on the details, of course.

    But it would represent real progress if BP were to accelerate its efforts to transform itself into a corporation that produces fuels that are increasingly carbon neutral and that are increasingly from biogenic sources.

  8. Chris Dudley says:

    Raul #4,

    Just saying…. $75 million into $20 billion without going to court yet…. Health care reform…. Economic recovery…. China ready to deal on emissions…. There are many ways he is getting it wrong but he is getting it done.

  9. Leif says:

    $20 billion is a good start. Now if Obama can get the fossil industry to to acknowledge the science of climatic disruption and quit throwing sand in the gears of humanity’s endeavors to achieve sustainability, then we might have something. That is a concession that ALL fossil fuel corporations owe humanity the world over.

  10. Magnus W says:

    In Sweden the term lilla or some times små which means small is used in a similar way and not as a bad thing… More used as describing support for handicapped ppl… ppl with drug problems… people that have a real problems… some times politicians speak about the little human being, like it is important to not forget the most struggling ppl when making decisions… not only to focus on the ppl in the middle.

    However, this would have been a bit but not as clumsy in Swedish… and should he not have some one that checks this for him?

    For example exactly when did BP do something for the “small” ppl?

  11. Dan B says:

    BP just managed to do something for the “small” ppl – stopped dividends and stopped the economy of the Gulf.

    I’d be happier to applaud if they announced they were “afraid of” the “small” ppl.

    I’d applaud if the so-called Tea Partiers through a real fit against BP management, upper management, not just the folks brave enough to show up in the Gulf region.

  12. johna says:

    Each week GOP ‘leadership’ plumbs new depths of irresponsibility. But I have no reason to think Chairman Svanberg’s comments were insincere.

    Last month I would’t have imagined the U.S. could extract a pledge of $20 bn for potential damages.

    But then, just multiply the current lower-bound spill estimate by the standard $1,100 / barrel fine – it gives $84 bn. And if BP is found criminally negligent fine rates could quadruple. It will be interesting to see what sort of promises BP received in return.

    CP: PBS Oil Spill Widget

    Also, LATimes reports Administration will use BP money to fund restoration of Louisiana wetlands, beyond that caused by the most recent oil damage.

  13. Whatshisname says:

    What he meant to say was “Incredible Shrinking Man.”

  14. Steve says:

    Obviously, ‘small people’ is what linguists call a false friend. Perhaps Mr.Svanberg also speaks German. In this language the term isn’t offensive or condescending, either. It usually means local people, small business owners or working class people. I would give the BP Chair the benefit of doubt in this case.

  15. Whatshisname says:

    Chicago-style political shakedown, eh? Well, Senator John Cornyn offered BP and friends a back alley rubdown in his newsletter today: “Unfortunately at a time when the full attention of our government should be devoted to the environmental and economic impacts of the spill, Democrats in the Senate used the disaster as an opportunity to push more reckless, deficit spending…….”

    Seems the Democrats are raising the barrel tax and the revenue will indeed be ‘devoted to the environmental and economic impacts of the spill.’

    This from a man who once used a dead canyon as the backdrop for a campaign ad to show off his environmental side.

  16. Peter Mizla says:

    To the Republican party- which is the autocratic ‘leader’ of the Oil Companies- and the Insurance Companies et al- is the comment surprising by the GOP Study Chairman? We have corporate Democrats as well, however- playing the same dreadful games.

  17. Chris Dudley says:

    In context, he is saying that BP cares about the same people President Obama cares about. The word choice is suggestive of an attitude that corporations rightfully have higher status than people, but it is hard to expect different from someone who benefits so much from supporting such an arrangement.

  18. Raul says:

    Thank you Chris Dudley
    Certainly marketing research supports beyond polution’s
    stance that the large majority of consumer use is at the
    little gas pumps. Certainly, those pumps work for gov.
    Employees. Such corporations probably count on that
    they haven’t visibly terminally poluted everywhere as
    yet.

  19. paulina says:

    As per some of the comments above, the Swedish expression he had in mind has a different connotation. In this context, it would even be fair to translate the Swedish into English in terms of BP caring about “the individual.” So, the idea was to claim that BP cares about the individual, or individual families, say (not just the corporation).

    Which means that what Svanberg intended to say (which was simply a variant on “BP cares”) should seem more preposterous than what he was interpreted as saying.

    But we (individuals) don’t seem to know how to address, sufficiently effectively, the fact that, although corporations do not care about individuals — because corporations do not care about individuals — power cannot simply be pitted against a lack thereof.

    “Power to the people” ; “BP cares” : just noise.

  20. Philip says:

    Re. Elmo, #1

    Danish and Swedish are basically two dialects of the same language, so I imagine that the expression used here, “the little people”, would correspond to the Danish words smaafolk or smaakaarsfolk, which more correctly could be translated as people of humble or modest means. Literally though, smaafolk means (small)/little people.

  21. Philip says:

    Correction – he did use “the small people”, an even more precise mistranslation than “the little people”!

  22. PSU Grad says:

    Dan B. #11, “I’d applaud if the so-called Tea Partiers through a real fit against BP management, upper management, not just the folks brave enough to show up in the Gulf region.”

    I’m not clear on this. Are the “Tea Party” people protesting against BP/Transocean/Halliburton people in the Gulf, or the people trying to clean up the mess? Since the “Tea Party” movement is actually a top-down command and control entity created by Freedomworks (and paid for with corporate dollars), it’s no surprise they’re giving senior management a pass. But who are they throwing a fit against in the Gulf?

    Also, I’d cut the guy from Sweden a bit of slack. There are both cultural and language issues here, and some things just don’t translate well into English. Having been to Sweden twice, some things they say in English just sound funny without the proper context.

  23. Lars Karlsson says:

    “The small people” is a clumsy translation of the Swedish expression “den lilla människan”, which means the common person with little economical and political influence.

  24. Lore says:

    Dwelling on an inappropriate remark lost in translation does little to get the job done. While I don’t expect people who have had little contact with other cultures to interpret the unfortunate use of words as just a cultural gaff, I would expect that those with any intelligence on the differences to give it a pass and focus on the problem.

  25. mike roddy says:

    Lore, what you say makes sense, but…

    The fact is, wealth is becoming far more concentrated in the US and Europe, and most of those who have it really believe they are better than the rest of us. Svanberg’s remark was dishonest and condescending, even if he thought his intentions were good.

    It’s especially disappointing because Sweden is far more egalitarian and enlightened than the US. Like everyplace, though, they have a dark side (think WW II collaboration), which we’re seeing here.

  26. fj2 says:

    Obviously, way out-of-touch with their “inner human,” it is long overdue that the oil industry be well-educated about ethics and responsibility, their place in the grand scheme of things, and being extremely capital rich the extraordinary capability of doing great good.

  27. Chris Dudley says:

    President Obama has exceeded his own record of highest annual percentage increase of coal mining fatalities by failing to close a mine with a history of fatalities. A miner was killed yesterday at the Lone Mountain Processing Inc.’s Clover Fork No. 1 Mine, a mine with a bloody history run by a company with even more blood on its hands. http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/2010/06/16/another-coal-miner-dies-on-the-job/ This is the 38th coal mining death of the year, entirely preventable by an administration with any spine when it comes to enforcing regulations, during a time when the MSHA is concentrating on just the kind of danger involved in this death, falling objects. President Obama now ties the prior administration’s third worst year for mining fatalities, a period when progress in mine safety stagnated, and the year is not even half over. President Obama may be well on the way to reversing progress in mine safety, something else no other president has done.

    President Obama is compiling a record of worst evers that seem to constellate on energy supply. He should focus his attention on this issue with greater concentration than he has so far. Understanding the details of Waxman-Markey might be a good start. $20 billion bandaids don’t cut the mustard on the broader issues.

    [JR: Mine safety takes years of bad practice to lead to disaster. Yes Obama needs to clean up the place, but hard to overcome the cultural of recklessness in the mining industry.]

  28. Chris Dudley says:

    Joe in #27,

    Just close the mines with a history and replace the employment with silicon refining. We’ve got plenty of natural gas generating capacity to make up any shortfall in coal. If we only used Wyoming coal, we might have a year with zero mining fatalities from time to time. President Obama needs to get off the dime.

  29. Michael Tucker says:

    The Titans of industry, mining, and finance – THE BIG PEOPLE

    Everyone else – the small people.

    Since our modern world cannot currently function with out the products from crude and since the oil companies are some of the most profitable and wealthy on the planet, they are the BIGGEST PEOPLE.

    That is how they see themselves. It is apparent in the insulting and insensitive comments they have made and continue to make.

  30. Rob R. says:

    In other words BP stands for “Big People”.

  31. Barney Fife says:

    I vote for Lars Karlsson’s explanation in #23, and the phrasing did not offend me. If he had described the well leak or the catastrophe as “small,” then them’s fightin’ words. Now, Joe Barton–HE offended me.

  32. “bp” is definitely BIG POLLUTERS=BIG PEOPLE; We “little people” are the ones who BUY their oil — if they bring about global devastation,who then will buy their oil? (OTHER Big People?)…..Wow! Scarry stuff!!