Tag Archives: BP

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Let VW Face the Same Penalties as Us — or Let Us Go Unpunished Too

            If you did it once, you’d be fired.

If you did it hundreds of times, you’d go to prison.

Why should a corporation worth billions of dollars be treated more leniently than we individuals?

“Volkswagen has admitted installing software in 11 million vehicles that was used to provide false results about emissions, though it was not clear if it was used in all countries where the cars were sold,” The New York Times reports. The United States, however, accounts for 20% to 25% of the automaker’s sales.

“Those U.S. [diesel] vehicles would have spewed between 10,392 and 41,571 ton of toxic gas into the air each year, if they had covered the average annual US mileage. If they had complied with EPA standards, they would have emitted just 1,039 tons of NOx each year in total,” according to The Guardian. That’s “roughly the same as the UK’s combined emissions for all power stations, vehicles, industry and agriculture.”

VW executives broke federal pollution control laws. They knew they were breaking those laws. And they did so on a massive scale.

Now I want you to imagine, if you can, what would happen to you, if you did the same thing — assuming you were in a position to do the same thing.

If the feds found out that you’d rigged your car with a device that fools state vehicle inspectors into thinking that your pollution-belching piece of crap was as green as a Leaf, they’d take your car off the road, maybe confiscate it. They might slap you with a stiff fine ($25,000 in Texas, $295,000 under federal law). Maybe even a jail term.

Volkswagon will wind up paying hundreds of millions of dollars, or more, to the U.S. government for this crime. But that’s far, far less than they — or their top executives — deserve. We live in a time in which corporations enjoy the same benefits as people, and in which some politicians even claim that they are people. Shouldn’t corporations face proportionately equivalent penalties when they commit crimes?

Let’s start with civil penalties.

The average American citizen has a net worth of $45,000. A $295,000 federal civil fine would wipe him out six times over. Since VW has assets of $14.4 billion, the equivalent civil fine should be $94.4 billion.

VW should cease to exist. Alternatively, it could be nationalized by the U.S. government, with its future profits used to pay down the deficit.

Anything less tells American citizens that they are worth less than a corporation. Not even an American corporation — a German one. A German corporation founded by Adolf Hitler!

Then there’s the issue of criminal penalties.

The maximum term for fraud under federal sentencing guidelines is 30 years in prison. Seems fair in this case. Let the company’s top executives face those terms, as well as the company itself — it should be placed in a virtual financial “prison” by being banned from operating for its own financial advantage for 30 years as well.

Of course, the chances of VW being put out of business, or its execs facing prison for their crimes, are zero.

Corporations are responsible for lawbreaking and murder on a scale that Jeffrey Dahmer couldn’t have imagined. So why is it just little old us, private individuals, who get the book thrown at us?

Look at, if you can stand the stink, British Petroleum.

Federal and state fines and settlements related to the catastrophic 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico will total $18.7 billion. Sounds like a lot of money, but thanks to quiet leniency by the Obama Administration EPA, that expense will mostly be tax-deductible.

Not to mention, it’s a drop in the bucket.

BP has $87.3 billion in assets. Which means its total cost for the Gulf spill is just 21%, barely over a fifth.

BP will be able to pay off its entire Gulf spill tab with just over a year of profits. No layoffs. No salary cuts. No replacing the gold faucets in the bathroom of CEO Bob Dudley, who “earns” $5 million a year.

If we’re going to treat corporations like people, let’s treat people like corporations. Either slash the penalties we face when we screw up — or ramp up those faced by big companies so they’re in line with ours.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net, is the author of the new book “Snowden,” the biography of the NSA whistleblower. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)


I Want to be a Drone President

It’s easy to criticize President Obama for continuing and radically expanding President Bush’s program of targeted assassinations using unmanned drone planes. But let’s face it. Everyone knows what they would do with those drones if they got the job.

No, we are NOT “all BP”.

(This commentary is posted by Susan Stark, a guest here who crashes on Ted’s virtual couch now and then. I haven’t been here in a while, so I thought I’d stop by again.)

Whenever a disaster strikes as a result of corporate malfeasance, there is particular argument that well-meaning people make that annoys me, mainly because it’s not completely true. Take this New York Times letter to the editor:

In “BP’s Responsibility” (editorial, June 12), you say that while a possible total bill of $40 billion for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is breathtaking, the “destruction BP has wrought is even more so.” Like so much commentary on the disaster, this focuses blame wholly on the oil company.

Undoubtedly BP is responsible, but so are all of us who drive cars, travel by plane or consume goods produced and shipped with oil. If we didn’t use it, BP wouldn’t drill for it. Until we recognize that demand for oil is as much the problem as supply, and start to change the way we live to reduce it, environmental destruction is inevitable.

We are all BP.

Martin Brown

I beg to differ. This type of argument is something that actually works in the favor of corporations like BP, because it essentially lets them off the hook for what they do. It allows them to say, essentially, that “We are just giving the people what they want, don’t blame us for the result”.

But even if it’s true that we are responsible because we consume oil, we are not all equally responsible. Someone who drives an SUV or any other gas-guzzler is more responsible than someone who takes public transportation. A person who jacks up the thermostat in winter is more responsible than someone who wears extra layers of clothing. If you use air-conditioner rather than a fan, then you are more responsible for these types of disasters than if you chose the fan.

But the people who are the most responsible are the members of the corporate “personhood” of BP. They made the decision to cut safety procedures in order maximize profit. They made the decision to forgo obtaining a kill switch which would have prevented the disaster, merely because it would’ve cost them five hundred grand (which is a drop in the bucket for a multinational oil company like BP).

So yes, we are all responsible, but not equally. BP is the most responsible, and needs to pay for what they did.