BP Proves Corporations Can Get Away with Almost Anything with No Risk of Prison

I was motivated to write this piece by the recent headlines that a judge had allowed BP to buy its way out of any prison time for 11 manslaughter charges emanating from the Deepwater Horizons oil rig explosion and subsequent oil spill.

I don’t know the exact date when legislators, judges and corporations became a troika of greed and corruption enablers but our “anything goes for connected corporations” society relegates most citizens of this “democracy” to helpless bystanders.

The Alliance for Justice (AFJ) website has compiled some recent Bush (both of them)-era decisions of the highest court in the land that could have been (and probably were) written by corporate attorneys. Without going into details, the Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that if a defective medical device seriously injures a consumer, the manufacturer couldn’t be sued if government regulators approved it even if the company knew it was a dangerous device.

In two different decisions, 2001 and 2006 the court forgave many waterways from honoring provisions of the Clean Water Act, even though resulting pollution could dirty up the water for over a third of Americans. The ruling stopped 1,500 pollution investigations in their tracks and reduced by 50% actions brought by the EPA against water polluters.

And in yet another AFJ revelation of the big boy-friendly Supremes, conservative justices obliterated a century of anti-trust laws and legal precedent in allowing a leather apparel manufacturer to set a minimum price that retailers who sold their products must charge. In his dissenting opinion, Justice Breyer referenced studies that estimated consumers would pay an additional $300 billion dollars PER YEAR for goods because of the far-reaching ruling.

And we discovered in January of 2010, that, like Pinocchio, inanimate objects are really real live people. Corporations are people, right Mr. Geppetto? Sure they are. That definition was inscribed on corporations once and for all with the Supreme Court’s ridiculously right-wing Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision trashing campaign reform legislation going back to 1907. Thus 5 rabid ideologues constitutionally afforded brick and mortar the unfettered right to dump multiple millions into each election cycle.

In his minority dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that allowing corporations the unfettered power to pour money into political campaigns “will undoubtedly cripple the ability of ordinary citizens, Congress, and the States to adopt even limited measures to protect against corporate domination of the electoral process.” To make sure that “unfettered power” remained unfettered, last June the Supremes struck down (5-4 of course) a century-old Montana law attempting to keep giant corporate money out of state and local political races.

So, “Top of the Mornin'” to you, Eddie Exxon. And how might the family be, Mrs. Fed Ex? You’re looking lovely today, Miss Koch Industries.” Supposedly each corporation is a collection of people, and what a lucky collection they are. Beyond Citizens United they can screw the public out of Madoff-like dollars and not face a day in the slammer. A money laundering multinational English bank, HSBC, with subsidiaries in the U.S. and damn near everywhere else in the world is a prime example. The bank camouflaged around $800 billion in Mexican drug cartel and Iran-connected money, the latter against both U.S. and British law. A $1.9 billion fine was levied; chicken feed for an institution with $2.6 trillion in assets. No big bank officials went to jail. The pathetic excuse? A loss of trust would close the operation down.

Speaking of “Eddie”, another 2008 decision saw the court lop off 90% of the punitive damages a jury awarded in the Exxon-Valdez oil spill. May it please the court; the world’s largest company thanks you for getting it off the hook for honest compensation for the 30,000 people whose lives and communities were essentially destroyed.

But let’s examine the granddaddy of accidental spills where we discovered that big corporations can also manslaughter with impunity (the numbers don’t matter) and walk away with little more than having to pay for their sins with shareholder money. Again, a single minute in the joint is not in the cards.

I refer of course to the April 20, 2010 explosion of a BP-contracted rig that claimed 11 lives, by cremation as the father of one victim put it, and tore a healthy hunk out of Mother Nature’s hide, not to mention oil-boarding nearly 200 million gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico and along the shorelines of 5 states. But not to worry, the shareholders will again take care of that little vexation.

The rig was owned by Transocean, the Leviathan of offshore drillers. No offshore driller is bigger than this sea monster. Transocean is a Swiss-based company (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) that had its erector set rig built by Koreans. Since Switzerland is landlocked I’m confused. Why would a giant offshore global drilling company headquarter in Switzerland where there is no shore to drill off of?

I’ll ask Mitt. He’ll know.

According to numerous experts, Transocean did a piss-poor job in the areas of safety and maintenance and yet escaped with a wrist-slapping penalty totaling $1.4 billion, including an insulting $400 million in criminal penalties. Did I mention this company of collective humans also had to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges of violating the Clean Water Act? Poor baby!

Transoceans corporate sugar daddy, BP (headquartered in London), contracted for the rig and its subsequent operation. BP was hit with $4 billion in penalties. The estimated total cost to BP of the Gulf oil mess is $42 billion. Last time I checked, BP’s total assets (including cash, stocks, bonds or anything of value owned by the oil giant) were over $300 billion, an improvement of nearly $50 billion in a two-year period. That covers the 42 billion, not counting insurance. BP had a great third quarter in 2012 and just missed a full-year profit record. They (the collective corporate people) also raised their dividend 9%.

If you watch any TV at all, you’ve been treated to that putrid propaganda commercial funded by BP to make it look like the massive oil spill was a blessing for the affected areas. Grinning (and likely well compensated) BP sycophants effusively crow about how great things are at a restaurant in New Orleans, a marine park in Florida, a place called “The Hangout” in Alabama, and business in general in Biloxi.

Be advised that the government estimated 200 million gallons of oil, give or take 20 million, were spilled as a result of the explosion. The consequences were devastating. BP, of course disagrees. I think the National Resources Defense Council said it best on their Website. “Whether we look to habitat and wildlife, employment and pay, or basic health and family welfare, the BP oil blowout has devastated the region. The people of the Gulf Coast still live with the disaster every day.

The total damage assessment could be years away by which time BP will have long taken leave of any further responsibility. That’s the way it works in our “corporations as people” society. As long as they’ve got decent insurance, a few bucks in the till, political contributions to the right people and a witless Supreme Court majority, corporations will always receive preferential treatment.

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