Thursday, June 17, 2010

Are Laws For Little People?

That appears to be the case:

On the issue of the blowout preventer's capabilities, Grassley asked BP to show that it is in compliance with the Code of Federal Regulations Chapter 30, Section 250.416(e), which requires oil companies to provide the Minerals Management Service with proof that the massive safety devices they use to close off wells are "capable of shearing the drill pipe in the hole under maximum anticipated surface pressures."

The company responded that it applies for permits to drill oil wells "in accordance with the process prescribed by MMS officials," but goes on to say that it was not "MMS practice" to require anyone to comply with that particular section of the law.

"I find it very disturbing that BP asserts that the 'practice' in oil drilling is to avoid current laws designed to keep our beaches safe," Grassley responded in his letter. "And I am outraged that MMS is looking the other way."

Now juxtapose the above with this one:

Rep. Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, noting that he was speaking for himself and not the GOP or any other member, said he was "ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday," referring to BP's agreement to put $20 billion in escrow to cover damages from the oil spill.

"I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown," said Burton, ranking member of the Energy committee.

I'm grasping for something nebulous in putting these two together. It's nebulous because the things one is supposed to say about the oil disaster have changed as the public opinion has changed. But under that surface layer there is a deeper layer which has to do with the question of what laws are for, whether all laws should be obeyed and who is a person for the purposes of not only the laws but our empathy.

Or perhaps the question: What were these mega-corporations thinking? What did they get away with? And did anyone fight them?

It's a bit like lifting a rock in the garden and suddenly seeing all that life wriggling around. Not the people speaking for their corporations, naturally, but my sudden realization that those people indeed are completely cut off from us little people, that they most likely think of us as little people if they think of us at all. It's the stunning ineptness of their PR efforts for the first weeks. It's their continuing efforts to disguise the true amount of oil that is released. The life under the rock was different. It had different rules, secret rules.

And that is linked to the view of corporations as people when they are not. Corporations don't bleed, don't hurt, don't give birth to living children, don't die in the biological sense. The people owning corporations can do all that and their rights should be included in the rights of persons. But we have moved beyond that, to something where corporations in the United States have legal personhood (except when they decide not to follow the laws). This gives the owners of corporations more rights than other persons.

It also makes some of us use the term 'tragedy' not when speaking about what is happening in the sea and on its shores but when speaking about making BP pay for the damage it caused.