Talk of the Nation today had a discussion of the Gulf oil spill, following Obama's press conference, discussing who is and isn't doing what. One of the speakers, by phone from Louisiana, was James Carville - remember the Ragin' Cajun from the Clinton administration? Mr. Carville is only moderately pleased with Obama:
"For the life of me, I can't believe that he hasn't called the secretary of the Interior on the carpet, and in fact, he didn't know today that they had actually fired - at least somebody finally got fired in this government. That was wonderful."
and feels he isn't pushing BP hard enough. Carville specifically wants to see Obama file criminal charges against BP, and sock them with billion-dollar damages. Listen to the broadcast, or read the transcript; Carville is always entertaining, and he's really fried right now because he's been out in the marshes, and he says there was nobody there cleaning up the oil. But his final point was this:
... if he [Obama] drops his hammer on BP, who believe - you understand the chairman of the BP board had the utter gall to say, look, we're a big, important company, and the U.S. is a big, important nation. If he made, if he got them to the brink of going to jail and made that company put up billions of dollars to recompense people for this disaster, I think his approval rating would be 75. I do.
Criminal charges for this sort of corporate misfeasance. Interesting concept, isn't it? It's becoming clear that BP was cutting corners in every direction. But it made me think of the corporations insistence that they are "persons" and that their political donations are protected "free speech."
If a corporation is a person, and has all the rights and freedoms of a person, does it not also have all the responsibilities of a person? To obey the laws, to refrain from destroying the environment? A guy in the L.A. area was convicted of setting a major wildfire, and I believe he went to jail. (But he was just a guy.) This is worse than a wildfire. This is turning into one of those events you date things by, like the Kennedy assassination or the Rodney King riots. We're going to date things by this for a long time, and it's happening because BP put profit ahead of safety.
If corporations are "persons" before the law, then when they break the law, they should face a court and a jury, just like actual persons. And if they are convicted, somebody should do some time. That's what happens to real people.