Thursday, July 22, 2010

BP/Transocean Criminally Negligent

(photo: US coast guard via AP via NYTimes)

New evidence has come to light that workers on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig had safety concerns about the rig. Many components were in poor repair, and many of the working practices were unsound.

According to a separate 112-page equipment assessment also commissioned by Transocean, many key components — including the blowout preventer rams and failsafe valves — had not been fully inspected since 2000, even though guidelines require its inspection every three to five years.

The report cited at least 26 components and systems on the rig that were in “bad” or “poor” condition.

Eleven workers died when the rig exploded.

But my question is this: even if BP and Transocean are found criminally negligent, can the government actually assess a fair punishment? I'm sure there will be some hefty fines involved, but BP is a huge corporation and can probably absorb the losses.

Will anyone at BP actually pay for the poor practices that led to eleven deaths and unmeasurable environmental damage? I do not believe we will see a punishment equal to the crime, which basically makes our legal system pointless. If I commit a heinous crime while trying to increase profits, and my only punishment is to have to give some of those profits back, there is hardly enough incentive for me to stop my immoral practices, and definitely not enough incentive for me to avoid those practices from the start. The punishment must fit the crime.

I think about it like NFL football. Sometimes, players will incur penalties if they think the benefit will outweigh the 5 yards their team will lose. Often, they are right, especially if the play helps their team score, or prevents the other team from scoring. In this way, players have gamed the system. They break the rules to get ahead, even though they get penalized it's still worth it.

As soon as the NFL leadership realizes that the system has been gamed, they modify the penalties to make them hurt more, to prevent players from wanting to break the rules. Example: players were going for hard, bone crushing hits whenever they could, to rattle their opponents and possibly injure them and put them out of the game. The NFL realized that people were getting hurt, and that the game could be broken by an unscrupulous team.

The NFL added new rules restricting helmet to helmet contact, and made it a personal foul, with came with the maximum penalty of 15 yards, plus monetary fines for the offending player.. This had the predictable effect of reducing hard head to head collisions, and made the game safer and more enjoyable for everyone by effectively modifying the rules and increasing the punishments.

We are clearly living in an era where unscrupulous business practices are causing widespread harm to our society. We need good government and leadership now more than ever, but our politicians are tied so tightly to businesses they should be regulating that they cannot, or will not, modify our rules and punishments to promote a fairer, safer society.

This is one of the great failures of our leadership today, and comes as a consequence of corporations having better Congressional representation than regular citizens, which in turn is a consequence of our money-soaked political system.

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