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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

BP Does More Damage than Failed Bomber: Strip Corporate Rights

Lamar McKay, president and chairman of BP America, at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Tuesday. From New York Times, 2010.05.11
Corporations are persons, right? Persons who threaten to damage our country deserve to lose their constitutional rights, right?

The Displaced Plainsman takes the square root of those two and asks this arguably reasonable question:

BP has caused millions of dollars of damage to the United States. The damage may be the result of negligence or criminal activity. If true, why can’t BP the individual be declared an enemy combatant for terrorizing the United States? The harm done by the spill is far greater than the harm that would have been done by the Times Square Bomb attempt. In fact, people actually died because of BP’s actions [LK, "A Question in Which I Act Like a Cranky Conspiracy Theorist, Sort Of," The Displaced Plainsman, 2010.05.11].

People want to take away Faisal Shahzad's rights as a person for bumbling in his use of firecrackers. Why don't we get as cranky about the real damage—human, ecological, and economic—done by corporations?


  1. Unless BP intended to harm the US, I don't see how they can be equated with terrorists. However BP should pay the entire bill for the cleanup, restitution for economic losses and some sort of ecological restitution for the long term damage their accident has caused. i.e. buying a large plot of rain-forest and putting it in reserve or wetlands or something of the sort. Also BP and other oil companies need to demonstrate that they have taken concrete steps to prevent it from happening again.

  2. Indeed, intent is an important criterion in determining punishment. But even an individual who accidentally kills 11 people and does extensive economic and environmental damage would likely be arrested immediately, not simply asked to answer questions before Congress and pay for damages. The judicial system does not interrupt the normal life of an accused corporate wrongdoer to nearly the extent that it interrupts the life of an accused individual perpetrator.

  3. Good point Cory: Equating corporations to persons is doubtful at best.

  4. Just to clarify, I was being cranky and hyperbolic with the enemy combatant idea. My point is that corporations abuse the system and treating corporations as individuals is a rather ludicrous proposition. Cory's answer above is the point that Congress and the courts need to address.

  5. They've shown negligence in the operation of the oil rig that led to the disaster? At this point, the closest comparison would be a fire in my home causes an explosion that kills 11 of my roommates. Cory thinks I would likely be arrested immediately. It sounds like the true nature of BP's wrongdoing is the fact that it owned an oil rig, since it is being condemned in the absence of any facts about the incident.

  6. It seems to me that they are doing enough to incriminate themselves. Cory doesn't have to do it for them.

  7. Criminality will require proving they ignored safety standards that led to the explosion. As of yet, the finger pointing has been about technical failures in the BOP, not about any ignored regulations and not about evidence of negligence. Their liability in connection to the oil spill (without any proof of negligence) is limited to 75 million I believe.
    The responsibility to pay for the damage is similar to the responsibility I would hold for someone (or company) who's actions cause a widespread and devastating forest fire. If all precautions deemed reasonably necessary at the time were taken, and every effort was taken to prevent it from spreading, than to what degree should they bound to pay for it? I just don't completely know the legal or moral answer to that.

  8. "proving they ignored safety standards that led to the explosion..."

    looks like the evidence I required may be forthcoming. If this negligence can be shown to have been encouraged practice, I hope criminal charges are possible in addition to an in perpetuity denial of all drilling permit applications for BP. Barry is right that they should be forced to pay for all cleanup cost and to pay for all direct losses. But I'm not even sure I would allow them the opportunity to take steps to prevent it from happening again.


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