Share on Google Plus Share on Twitter Share on Facebook 1 Share on LinkedIn Share on PInterest Share on Fark! Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon Tell A Friend (1 Shares)  
Printer Friendly Page Save As Favorite View Favorites View Stats   3 comments

OpEdNews Op Eds

Why BP Isn't a Criminal

By (about the author)     Permalink       (Page 1 of 2 pages)
Related Topic(s): ; ; ; ; ; , Add Tags Add to My Group(s)

Must Read 1   Well Said 1   Supported 1  
View Ratings | Rate It

opednews.com Headlined to H3 11/17/12

Become a Fan
  (105 fans)


Justice Department just entered into the largest criminal settlement in U.S. history with the giant oil company BP. BP plead guilty to 14 criminal counts, including manslaughter, and agreed to pay $4 billion over the next five years.

This is loony.

Mind you, I'm appalled by the carelessness and indifference of the BP executives responsible for the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 people on April 20, 2010, and unleashed the worst oil spill in American history.

But it defies logic to make BP itself the criminal. Corporations aren't people. They can't know right from wrong. They're incapable of criminal intent. They have no brains. They're legal fictions -- pieces of paper filed away in a vault in some bank.

Holding corporations criminally liable reinforces the same fallacy that gave us Citizen's United v. the Federal Election Commission, in which five justices decided corporations are people under the First Amendment and therefore can spend unlimited amounts on an election. Even if 49 percent of their shareholders are foreign citizens, corporations now have a constitutional right to affect the outcome of American elections.

We don't know exactly how much corporate money was spent on the last election but it's a fair guess that were it not for Citizen's United, the House of Representatives might now be under control of Democrats, and Senate Democrats might have a filibuster-proof majority.

The perfidious notion that corporations are people can lead to even more bizarre results. If corporations are people and they're headquartered in the United States, then presumably corporations are citizens. That means they have a right to vote as well.

I'll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one.

Can we please get a grip? The only sentient beings in a corporation are the people who run them or work for them. When it comes to criminality, they're the ones who should be punished.

Punishing corporations as a whole almost always ends up harming innocent people -- especially employees who lose their jobs because the corporation has to trim costs, and retirees whose savings shrink because their shares in the corporation lose value.

Remember the accounting firm Arthur Andersen, convicted in 2002 of obstruction of justice when certain partners destroyed records of the auditing work they did for Enron as the energy giant was imploding? After the firm was convicted, its clients abandoned it and the firm went under. The vast majority of its employees had nothing to do with Enron but lost their jobs anyway. Yet the real perpetrators came out fine. Anderson's CEO moved to a lucrative job in a private-equity firm, and other senior partners formed a new accounting firm.

Likewise, the people responsible for BP's deaths and oil spill weren't BP's rank-and-file employees or its shareholders. They were the executives who turned a blind eye to safety while in pursuit of their own rising stock options, and who conspired with oil-services giant Halliburton to cut corners on deep water drilling when they knew damn well they were taking risks for the sake of fatter profits.

They're the ones who should be punished. Failure to punish them simply invites more of the same kind of criminal negligence by executives more interested in lining their pockets than protecting their workers and the environment. (Today brought another tragedy in the Gulf when an oil rig exploded off the Louisiana coast -- killing at least two workers and sending four others to hospitals Friday while two others were believed to be missing.)

But the Justice Department's criminal settlement with BP gives these top executives a free pass -- allowing the public to believe justice has been done.

Instead of going after the real criminals, the Department has gone after the schleps who got caught up in the mess. It's filed manslaughter charges against two BP rig supervisors for allegedly ignoring warning signs of the blowout that set fire to the rig, which later sank. And against a former BP vice president who allegedly lied to Congress when he repeated BP's public claim that the leak was limited to 5,000 barrels of oil per day when in fact it was more than 60,000 barrels.

Next Page  1  |  2

 

http://robertreich.org/

Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, "Inequality for All," to be released September 27. He blogs at www.robertreich.org.

Share on Google Plus Submit to Twitter Add this Page to Facebook! Share on LinkedIn Pin It! Add this Page to Fark! Submit to Reddit Submit to Stumble Upon

Go To Commenting
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.

Writers Guidelines

Contact Author Contact Editor View Authors' Articles

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

The Republican's Big Lies About Jobs (And Why Obama Must Repudiate Them)

Paul Ryan Still Doesn't Get It

What Mitt Romney Really Represents

The Minimum Wage, Guns, Healthcare, and the Meaning of a Decent Society

Why the Right-Wing Bullies Will Hold The Nation Hostage Again and Again

The Gas Wars

Comments

The time limit for entering new comments on this article has expired.

This limit can be removed. Our paid membership program is designed to give you many benefits, such as removing this time limit. To learn more, please click here.

Comments: Expand   Shrink   Hide  
3 people are discussing this page, with 3 comments
To view all comments:
Expand Comments
(Or you can set your preferences to show all comments, always)

Why not both, Mr. Reich? Yes, criminals are indivi... by Robert S. Becker on Saturday, Nov 17, 2012 at 12:34:39 PM
This is, Robert, as you so cogently point out, jus... by Bayard Waterbury on Saturday, Nov 17, 2012 at 1:29:56 PM
When the corporation has a culture of lawlessness,... by Jerry Scott on Sunday, Nov 18, 2012 at 6:20:38 PM