BP and The Power of the Free Market

Frank Rich of the New York Times

Pretty much every time I hear a Conservative or Libertarian talk about “the power of the free market” and the intrusive nature of governmental regulations, I get a little irritated at their naive assumption that corporations are well-intentioned, humane citizens.

I just read a New York Times editorial by Frank Rich from June 4th, and it got me a bit more irritated.  The editorial is sharply critical of President Obama’s willingness to put undeserved trust in his cabinet members and advisors, and though I’m a big Obama Fan, I must say I’m on Rich’s side about this.

The part of the editorial that really got me, though, is a paragraph near the end of the article talking about BP’s record of irresponsibility.  I’m quoting it here, with a snippet from the paragraphs that precede and follow it for the sake of context.

Yet the White House’s designated point man in the crisis, Adm. Thad Allen of the Coast Guard, was still publicly reaffirming his trust in the BP chief executive, Tony Hayward, as recently as two weeks ago, more than a month after the rig exploded.

This is baffling, and then some, given BP’s atrocious record prior to this catastrophe. In the last three years, according to the Center for Public Integrity, BP accounted for “97 percent of all flagrant violations found in the refining industry by government safety inspectors” — including 760 citations for “egregious, willful” violations (compared with only eight at the two oil companies that tied for second place). Hayward’s predecessor at BP, ousted in a sex-and-blackmail scandal in 2007, had placed cost-cutting (and ever more obscene profits) over safety, culminating in the BP Texas City refinery explosion that killed 15 and injured 170 in 2005. Last October The Times uncovered documents revealing that BP had still failed to address hundreds of safety hazards at that refinery in the four years after the explosion, prompting the largest fine in the history of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (The fine, $87 million, was no doubt regarded as petty cash by a company whose profit reached nearly $17 billion last year.)

No high-powered White House meetings or risk analyses were needed to discern how treacherous it was to trust BP this time. An intern could have figured it out.

Read the whole article if you have the time.  It’s good writing.

Or, if you don’t have time, just meditate on this image from the front page of Huffington Post this morning:

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