Serving a Corporate Criminal Culture

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has released a devastating ad against President Obama’s handling of the BP oil spill vs Obama’s political words as a candidate via LATimes

Serving up a Criminal Corporate Culture“Never again” is easy political talk. Too easy. And while that ad plays gotcha politics (and fairly so), it also reflects just how bipartisan the anger and frustration has become over the grossly skewed functioning of our government. Because it is government failure that is at the heart of this spill.

As Bob Herbert points out in the NY Times:

The oil companies and other giant corporations have a stranglehold on American policies and behavior, and are choking off the prospects of a viable social and economic future for working people and their families.

President Obama spoke critically a couple of weeks ago about the “cozy relationship” between the oil companies and the federal government. It’s not just a cozy relationship. It’s an unholy alliance. And that alliance includes not just the oil companies but the entire spectrum of giant corporations that have used vast wealth to turn democratically elected officials into handmaidens, thus undermining not just the day-to-day interests of the people but the very essence of democracy itself.

Forget BP for a moment. When is the United States going to get its act together?

And that is what the American people are demanding to know, regardless of whether they are part of the tea party or not.   According to Gallup:

Two-thirds of those surveyed this week describe themselves as “angry” about the way things are going in the USA, the highest percentage in the decade the question has been asked. By nearly 2-1, they would rather vote for a candidate who has never served in Congress over one with experience.

“We’re just going to have to clean house and get people in who really care about the country,” says Stephen Besz, 63, of Hokendauqua, Penn., who was among those called in the poll. He worries about the future for his son, an electrical engineer who has been looking for a job for 18 months.

So while Republicans may find political satisfaction in pointing fingers (and rightly so) at Obama’s abysmal response, I can’t help wondering what part of this oil spill and response would have been different with the Republicans in charge?   Because, in the past, the Republicans have not exactly worked for the best interests of the American people. Putting aside the issue of Bush’s response to Katrina for the moment lets compare apples to apples. In a must read article at Truthout, Scott West, a former EPA investigator, exposes our government’s response under a Republican president in “How Bush’s DOJ Killed a Criminal Probe Into BP That Threatened to Net Top Officials“:

Mention the name of the corporation BP to Scott West and two words immediately come to mind: Beyond Prosecution.

West was the special agent-in-charge at the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Criminal Investigation Division who had been probing alleged crimes committed by BP and the company’s senior officials in connection with a March 2006 pipeline rupture at the company’s Prudhoe Bay operations on Alaska’s North Slope that spilled more than 200,000 gallons of oil across two acres of frozen tundra – the second largest spill in Alaska’s history – which went undetected for nearly a week.[snip]

In a wide-ranging interview with Truthout, West described how the Justice Department (DOJ) abruptly shut down his investigation into BP in August 2007 and gave the company a “slap on the wrist” for what he says were serious environmental crimes that should have sent some BP executives to jail.[snip]

“I don’t think BP learned any lessons,” he said. “They were just doing what corporations do. It’s the government that failed us. Now there’s the disaster in the Gulf. When I first heard about it, I said to my wife that it’s probably a BP rig and I was right. I will bet that when the investigations into the explosion and leak are complete we’re going to find out it had something to do with BP cutting corners.”

West even goes so far as to describe BP as having a corporate criminal culture in this interview with CNN.

SCOTT WEST, FORMER EPA SPECIAL AGENT: They have a corporate criminal culture. And that’s what we were — were dealing with in our investigations.

BOUDREAU: And you say a criminal, a corporate criminal culture. What do you mean by that?

WEST: Well, that, over and over again, we were finding evidence of decisions that were being made by management at various levels that resulted in criminal acts, criminal occurrences. So, that’s how we were able to come up with the label of a criminal corporate culture.

BOUDREAU: What did happen? Did it receive penalties resulting from your investigation?

WEST: Well, they did. They — the company came to the table. They pled guilty to a misdemeanor. Through restitution and criminal fines, it amounted to $20 million for the violation in Alaska.

And I was told to be happy with that, that that was a big corporate fine. But the fact still remained that the decision-makers were not held accountable. And corporations do not make decisions. Individuals within them do. And those are ones that should be held criminally accountable for these sorts of disasters.

Why is this government and a whole different administration showing the same sort of protection to this foreign corporation? I — I just don’t get it. And I would like to have that question answered.

And West is not alone. In another must read at Truthout, “Ex-EPA Officials: Why Isn’t BP Under Criminal Investigation?” former EPA special agent Bob Wojnicz who worked with West investigating the 1999 Olympic Pipeline explosion in Bellingham, Washington explains:

In the case of the Olympic pipeline explosion, which killed three children, Wojnicz said the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), one of the agencies involved in the investigation, treated it “like an accident.” But EPA “got involved right away and we looked at the incident and found apparent crimes and were able to make recommendations for charges. You can’t really get to that point unless you have preliminary criminal investigation into what happened.”

So how Is BP somehow above being treated like any other criminal suspect?” asked Wojnicz, who is also an attorney. “Recall that they are not just criminal suspects – they are convicted criminals still on federal probation. This whole affair needs to be aired out thoroughly. There is more than enough information available to justify initiating a criminal investigation. The fact that this has not yet happened is evidence of either gross incompetence by government officials or complicity by those officials in covering-up the true nature of BP’s conduct. Either of those possibilities is completely unacceptable and should be dealt with immediately and harshly.”

And Jeanne Pascal, an EPA debarment counsel with more than a decade working on issues related to BP’s environmental crimes convictions, discloses to Truthout:

“This is a company that views itself as above the law,” Pascal said. “Now why is that? The only thing I can come up with to explain the failure to launch a criminal investigation is that BP has so much political influence. Congress needs to step up if the president won’t do the right thing. The FBI ought to be investigating this matter criminally along with EPA and [Department of Interior]. This is the fifth major incident committed by this company in 10 years.”

She said the power the company wields might be due, in large part, to the fact that BP supplies the military with 80 percent of its fuel needs. Because of that, she had to proceed with caution. BP pled guilty to a felony in connection with a March 2005 explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery, which claimed the lives of 15 employees and injured 170 others; BP pled guilty to a criminal misdemeanor for two oil spills in Alaska in March and August 2006 due to a severely corroded pipelines on which BP failed to perform maintenance; and, BP entered a deferred prosecution agreement related to price fixing scheme involving propane trading.

“If I had debarred BP while they were supplying 80 percent of the fuel to US forces it would have been almost certain that the Defense Department would have been forced to get an exception,” Pascal said. “There’s a provision in the debarment regulations that says in a time of war or extreme need exceptions can be granted to debarment so that federal agencies with critical needs can continue doing business with debarred contractors. I was in a quandary. If I moved forward with debarment we would have had a major federal contractor doing business with the federal government with no governmental oversight or audit provisions. I felt oversight terms and conditions were critical with BP, so I pursued settlement of the matter in the hopes of getting oversight and audit terms.”

Our government has proven time and again, that it can and does work exceptionally well at serving the interests of corporations and industries.  We all have seen plenty of evidence of that in the last few years alone with regards to the health care, credit card, banking, auto, oil, agri business industries. Unfortunately, time and again, this skewing towards corporate interests has proven disastrous for the American people.

Yes, we need more than words. We need leaders. And thinkers. And just plain common sense doers. But every person in government, whether in the White House, on Capital Hill, or in offices scattered across the US must be honest, knowledgeable and committed to working for and protecting the interests of the American people — first, last, and always!

Unfortunately for us, neither party has moved beyond the politics of words and finger pointing to become a government of deeds when it comes to serving the American people.

In case you haven’t heard.  Today on Face the Nation (via The Washington Post) presidential adviser Carol Browner said:

The “American people need to know that it is possible we will have oil leaking from this well until August when the relief wells will be finished,”

Browner also warned that the spill could get worse for several days as BP attempts to put in place another containment structure. That effort will involve cutting a pipe that rises from the seabed, and because a kink in the riser may be limiting the flow, cutting it could release as much as 20 percent more oil over a period of four to seven days..


[Cross posted at No Quarter]


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