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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Corporations are Literally Insane

Boat cuts through oil slickThere's plenty of blame to go around in the Deepwater Horizon gusher into the Gulf of Mexico. As dead dolphins begin to wash up on shore, we learn that the agency regulating offshore drilling is also the agency that sells leases for the same. With literally billions of dollars of revenue on the line, this creates a huge conflict of interest. As a result, the Minerals Management Service let industry do whatever they wanted -- so much so that the man in charge of the area, Minerals Management Service regional supervisor Michael Saucier, couldn't tell Congress who actually was enforcing safety requirements. "I am not aware of who does the self-certification," he testified. That's a pretty good indication that it was no one.

But the larger lesson here is that, if you don't make corporations obey the law, they'll just go ahead and break it. Whether it's the market meltdown, Enron, Tyco, or this environmental disaster, what we always find when the smoke finally clears is that corporations were involved in criminal behavior. Even in the largely self-regulatory oil industry, it's looking like what few laws applied to BP were broken. Let me be clear about one thing, corporations should be considered criminal by default. The assumption should be that they are breaking the law and regulatory agencies should be in the business of making them prove they aren't -- every goddam day. Calling someone up, asking, "How's your safety compliance on that rig? Go ahead and fax over your forms," then hanging up satisfied should in no way be considered policing. Ever. From now until the end of time, regulatory agencies should operate under the assumption that the corporations they're overseeing are trying to get away with something. Because it's a good bet that they are.

In the case of Deepwater Horizon, it's becoming clear that's exactly what BP was doing. They were getting away with breaking regulations, because they were asked to police themselves. And, of course, they didn't. We now consider corporations people, thanks to an incredibly foolish ruling by a right-leaning Supreme Court. But we need to look at what kind of "people" these corporations are. They don't love, they don't mourn, they have no emotions at all. The people within the corporation may have emotions, but they only serve the corporate body. They aren't the corporation. The corporation itself is all rationality and no emotion, which is the definition of a psychopath. So, if we're going to allow psychopaths to control systems capable of immense environmental and/or economic damage, it might just be a good idea to treat keep an eye on them, rather than just ask them to promise to be good.

Our lack of appreciation of BP's psychopathic nature has not only caused incalculable damage to the gulf region, but may be putting other shores at risk.

Huffington Post:

As the federal and congressional probes continue into the causes of the Gulf oil rig explosion, new information is coming to light about the failure of a key device, the blowout preventer, to shut off the gushing well, which could have prevented the growing catastrophe.

And new questions are being raised about the testing of the preventers. At today's hearing before a House subcommittee, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., revealed that the blowout preventer had a leak in a crucial hydraulic system and had failed a negative pressure test just hours before the April 20 explosion. And at a hearing in Louisiana on Tuesday, the government engineer who gave oil giant BP the final approval to drill admitted that he never asked for proof that the preventer worked.

"In addition, an oil industry whistleblower told Huffington Post that BP had been aware for years that tests of blowout prevention devices were being falsified in Alaska," reports Marcus Baram. "The devices are different from the ones involved in the Deepwater Horizon explosion but are also intended to prevent dangerous blowouts at drilling operations."

So, different equipment, but the same deliberate noncompliance. And with the same possible consequence. Does anyone believe that other BP platforms in other regions aren't operating the same way? This is, after all, a psychopath we're talking about here. BP is by its very nature manipulative, secretive, and supremely self-interested. As a result, it's not concerned with what it can do responsibly, but what it can get away with. It has no morals, no conscience, and no empathy. It is an artificial entity that we're forced by law to pretend is human.

The whistleblower, Alaskan oil rig worker Mike Mason, told Huffington Post that "the culture is basically safety procedures are shoved down your throat and then they look the other way when it's convenient for them." Which is pretty much exactly what you'd expect. The mafia also sees the law as an inconvenience. The comparison doesn't end there.

When criticism by Charles Hamel -- a private oil industry watchdog -- spurred an investigation in Alaska, BP came down hard on him, hiring a private security firm to harass him and try to dig up dirt on him. "They tapped my phone at my home in Alexandria, Virginia, had keys to my house -- I discovered that they went into my house twice," he says. The report also tells us "they sent a group to follow him up in Alaska, including a woman dressed provocatively who tried to get him into a hotel room with her." Hamel settled a lawsuit against Wackenhut, the security firm BP hired.

Now I ask you, does that sound like the problem-solving approach of an emotionally healthy person? No. These are the actions of a psychopath. BP, like any artificial corporate entity, is literally and criminally insane. Some keep it together better than others, living their entire corporate lives as solid corporate citizens, but the ones that don't are incredibly destructive.

If we're not watching every, single thing they do, we're just being stupid. Worse, we're just asking to be abused.


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