BP illustrates the need for a corporate death penalty

It’s now coming out that, when Obama was visiting the Louisiana coast a few days ago, surveying the extent of the damage wrought by the BP oil leak, many of the individuals that he, and the rest of us watching at home, thought were BP workers, were in fact temps hired by Tony Haward and the execs at BP in order to convey the illusion that the company was seriously addressing the problem. When Obama left, however, so too did those bussed-in cleanup workers. Yesterday, on that same shore, a dead, oil-covered dolphin washed up. It’s also worth noting that numerous cleanup workers have been hospitalized after coming into contact with BP’s dispersants – you know, those untested and potentially lethal chemicals outlawed in other countries that BP has been dumping into the Gulf. (I’ve read that over 8 million gallons have now been used.)

Oh, yeah, and BP knew about safety issues at their Deepwater Horizon rig well in advance of this disaster. They, however, chose not to address them. Here’s a clip from today’s New York Times:

Internal documents from BP show that there were serious problems and safety concerns with the Deepwater Horizon rig far earlier than those the company described to Congress last week.

The problems involved the well casing and the blowout preventer, which are considered critical pieces in the chain of events that led to the disaster on the rig.

The documents show that in March, after several weeks of problems on the rig, BP was struggling with a loss of “well control.” And as far back as 11 months ago, it was concerned about the well casing and the blowout preventer…

bpSo, the next time you start to leave a comment on this site about the power of the free market to solve all of our problems, and extolling the virtues of deregulation, I want you to think about this. I want you to think about BP, and how they haven’t funded any meaningful safety-related innovation in their industry in over 30 years despite their record profits, how they lied in front of Congress as to warning signs, how they hired temps to pose as cleanup workers in front of the press, how they used chemicals that they knew were potentially hazardous, and then think about the families of hard-working Americans who have been devastated by this preventable environmental cluster fuck, and, once you’ve done all that, then go and look at that dead dolphin that I linked to above. Then, if you still want to hit send, do so with the knowledge that I will likely think that you’re a fool*, and say so.

How anyone in their right mind could suggest that we need to hand over more control to industry, in the wake of what we’re seeing play out on Wall Street and in the Gulf, is absolutely beyond me. If I personally did any one of the things outlined above, I’d be in prison, but BP is allowed not only to continue operations, but to sidestep liability (thanks to the Republicans), and continue raking in obscene profits all the while.

And, speaking of the people who think that what’s needed is further deregulation, I hear there’s a movement afoot to fill the gushing well hole with the collected works of Libertarian hero Ayn Rand. This, I should add, is a much better idea than mine – which is to use the woman formerly known as Baby Jessica to block the pipe. I kind of feel like she might even welcome the opportunity to embrace her destiny, be relevant again, and pay the country back for all the love it once showed her. And what would it really hurt to ask.

Oh, and I should have probably mentioned it earlier but BP’s latest attempt to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf – a maneuver referred to as “top kill,” has failed.

Speaking of dolphins, as I was earlier, I found this amusing… The Republicans, at a loss for what to campaign on, instead of against, have set up a website called America Speaking Out, on which Republicans can leave their thoughts as to where the Grand Old Party should focus its attention. If you get a chance, you should check it out. It’s hilarious stuff. I’ve gone a few times, and read submissions on how child labor laws should be repealed, and how we should identify and remove the reptilian humanoids presently serving in the U.S. government. What makes it fun is that there’s absolutely no way of telling, given the tea partyfication of the Republican party, what’s real and what’s satire. Anyway, back to dolphins, here’s a clip from an article on American Speaking Out in the Washington Post:

…”A ‘teacher’ told my child in class that dolphins were mammals and not fish!” a third complains. “And the same thing about whales! We need TRADITIONAL VALUES in all areas of education. If it swims in the water, it is a FISH. Period! End of Story”…

One last thing, for all of my fellow Michiganders…. BP doesn’t just pollute on the east coast. They dump toxic waste into Lake Michigan too.

[*By “fool” I mean “asshole.” I couldn’t say that at the time, though, as someone was looking over my shoulder.]

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  1. DRich
    Posted May 30, 2010 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    I agree about the lack of regulation of industry. However, BP makes money off of selling oil to US. We drive, we use electricity, we demand energy. Nothing’s going to change without that fact changing. And it’s not going to.

  2. Brackinald Achery
    Posted May 30, 2010 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    They’re already regulated about all this stuff, Mark. It didn’t work.

  3. dan gillotte
    Posted May 30, 2010 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    Regulation without sufficient funding and political will for ACTUAL oversight and ACTUAL fines and penalties for wrongdoing when violations are found on regular inspection DOES fail and produce results like this. BA, can you REALLY say the industry is WELL regulated, as in effectively?

    Good post Mark.

  4. Brackinald Achery
    Posted May 31, 2010 at 12:29 am | Permalink

    I wouldn’t know, dan, that’s the government’s failing. Ask them.

  5. Oliva
    Posted May 31, 2010 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    Yes, good post–thank you. Regulation when crookedness and chicanery are its foundations is meaningless. I do hope they drag that sneering evil guy Cheney into the Gulf and have him swim around in the oil slicks for a day. Not that it will help, though his very presence, all that brazen badness, might just plug the hole. He can meet up with industry execs in those ruined waters and not even tell anyone about it.

  6. elviscostello
    Posted May 31, 2010 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    Since the Supreme Court agrees that Corporations are people, a death penalty, a REAL death penalty is in order for BP, and those BP decision makers who cut corners and allowed this kind of thing to happen.

  7. Mike Shecket
    Posted May 31, 2010 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Stuffing the well with Baby Jessica (“You have to go baaaaaack! It’s your DES-tineeeeeeeeeeeeee!”) sounds like the plot for a season of Lost.

  8. mSS
    Posted May 31, 2010 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    You all need to read about regulatory capture theory.

  9. Brackinald Achery
    Posted May 31, 2010 at 11:26 am | Permalink


  10. Robert
    Posted May 31, 2010 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Mark, homicide laws have been in place for centuries, but people keep murdering. So obviously these laws don’t work.

    It’s funny how Brackinald Achery’s comments have become empy one liners. He normally writes essays. I wonder what’s changed.

  11. elviscostello
    Posted May 31, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    mss, I did read about regulatory capture. So, with no regulation, should all damaged parties be able to sue BP? It seems that would be the only recourse…

  12. Peter Larson
    Posted May 31, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    Bizarro world BA:

    Private enterprise always fucks up. Let’s abolish private enterprise.

  13. mSS
    Posted May 31, 2010 at 9:56 pm | Permalink


    I mainly wanted to point that out in response to comments from dan and oliva about the quality of the regulation. The current regulatory state tends actually to benefit large politically-connected corporations, and from a political economy perspective, anything else is something of a pipe dream.

    But, yeah, suits for damages and injunctions for further restraint were how trespassing and property rights violations were settled for a long time. Normally you would sue the owner of the property from which the pollution was emitted, because they allowed someone to engage in risky drilling operations without considering how it would harm their neighbors. However, the “owner” of the gulf is the US gov’t, and cases involving one party that owns the court system, acquire resources by force, and can’t go bankrupt, often don’t end well.

  14. mSS
    Posted May 31, 2010 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    see also:

    “Law, Property Rights, and Air Pollution,” by Murray Rothbard

  15. Fuzzy Math
    Posted June 1, 2010 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    BA: Your logic would also reason that, because the levees in New Orleans failed, they should be torn down, rather than reinforced to the point where they’re actually able to do the job.

  16. Don Cappa
    Posted June 1, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Permalink


    U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder says he has launched a criminal investigation into the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

  17. Posted June 2, 2010 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    The free market is not really at work here. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 limits BP’s liability to direct cleanup costs plus $75 million, even though insured losses (fishing, tourism industry, etc.) are currently projected to be in the $3.5 billion (Swiss Re estimate) to $12 billion (UBS estimate) range, and total losses much more than that.

    I’m not suggesting that the Deepwater Horizen disaster wouldn’t have happened if the liability cap hadn’t been in place, but I think it’s pretty likely that BP (and other companies) would have taken the possibility of such an event much more seriously if they had been fully liable.

  18. Robert
    Posted June 2, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    If there was one good thing that came out of this BP oil spill it is that BA is no longer posting to this blog. It almost seems like a fair trade-off.

  19. Robert
    Posted June 4, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    I think it is very possible that Exxon contracted through Halliburton to sabotage the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig. They are certainly the major beneficiary who is now reaping the benefits of BP’s disaster, while nearly everyone else loses.

    Exxon and BP are the two biggest kids on the block, and after the racket they pulled off together in the Middle East over the past decade, it was pretty inevitable that one would make its move to overtake the other.

    Competitors do not cooperate for long in big business.

  20. Robert
    Posted June 4, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    Before you dismiss the notion, remember Exxon has been known to dabble in the sabotage of oil rigs:


    There is also growing evidence that there may have been some who had forknowledge of the Deepwater Horizon ‘accident’:


    This is the real world of multinational business my warm and fuzzy little mm.com friends.

  21. Robert
    Posted June 4, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report) – In what is looming as another public relations predicament for Goldman Sachs, the banking giant admitted today that it made “a substantial financial bet against the Gulf of Mexico” one day before the sinking of an oil rig in that body of water.

    The new revelations came to light after government investigators turned up new emails from Goldman employee Fabrice “Fabulous Fab” Tourre in which he bragged to a girlfriend that the firm was taking a “big short” position on the Gulf.

    “One oil rig goes down and we’re going to be rolling in dough,” Mr. Tourre wrote in one email. “Suck it, fishies and birdies!”

  22. Robert
    Posted June 4, 2010 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    Ok, well The Borowitz Report thing is a joke, but I guess it is true that Goldman Sachs did sell $250 million of BP stock before the spill. At least that is what the folks at The Raw Story are claiming:


  23. Robert
    Posted June 5, 2010 at 6:14 am | Permalink

    I guess the recounting of the arguments which occured between Schlumberger employees and BP executives suggests this really was just a major screw-up on the part of BP. It sounds more and more like they just kept pushing everyone to do what they all knew was dangerous. The BP higher-ups just seem to be so disconnected from the unique conditions at the Deepwater Horizon rig. They thought they could just treat it like any average drilling when it was pretty clear the pressure of the oil and gasses in this particular deposit are beyond what most of the equipment was built for.

  24. Ted Lemmer
    Posted July 25, 2010 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    This whole situation just leaves you stupefied, BP has failed in my opinion. They have no credibility left. It is really hard to believe how a major cooperation like BP could be so incompetent. They have been doing this for over a 100 years! We really do give companies like them far too much credit. This whole situation is really sad. The worst part of the whole situation is that is that so many people have had their livelihood pulled out from under their feet.

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