THE CORNELL DAILY SUN | Monday, November 26, 2012 9
Elections Need to Have Consequences I
’m going to start this column, my last for 2012, with a bold assertion. Here goes: You do not care as much about politics as you did three weeks ago. The election is over, and with it goes the electoral sport. No longer can we so easily take sides and engage in the political process by gathering around the TV to watch debates or conventions. For the next four years we know who are president will be. For many of us that means we know who won and who lost, and now it’s time for politicians to sort it all out. For the next few years it will be exceedingly difficult to motivate people to have more than a passing interest in
Pennsylvania. Or take the example of Obamacare, an issue that motivated both candidates, but is no longer an electoral detriment to Democrats. Only 33 percent of voters want to see Obamacare repealed, according to a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Voters no longer remember how Obamacare came to be, but they have become accustomed to the idea of it and are now in favor of its implementation. Then look at the stimulus. At the time it was passed, many economists, including Christina Romer, who was President Obama’s first Chairperson of the Council of Economic Advisors, warned the President that his proposed stimulus wouldn’t be enough spending to get us out of the depths of the recession. Paul Krugman was Plain even featured on the Hokum cover of Newsweek with the headline “Obama is Wrong.” The argument those economists were making was twofold. The first argument was that there was not enough spending, but that argument could simply be addressed down the road by spending more, no? That’s where the second branch of the argument came in: that President Obama would not have the political support necessary to pass a second stimulus if the first one looked like it was going to fail. Those objectors ended up hitting the nail right on the head. The Obama administration didn’t do enough with the initial stimulus and had to endure two elections where the economy worked against them. One could argue that a Republican Party that truly cared about correcting the nation’s economic footing would have been willing to work with President Obama on a second stimulus, but none was forthcoming. As Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Senate Republicans, said after the 2010 midterm elections, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” If that’s your goal, then you are going to do everything to make sure the economy is as poor as possible, knowing that presidents are rarely re-elected when the economy is poor.
politics, and there is nothing wrong with that. We have busy lives, and the time commitment that comes from diving deep into legislative debates is something better left for oddball overly political-types (see: me). If that is the case, which I truly believe it is, then it’s time for the lawmakers in Washington to rethink what their legislative strategy needs to be for this term. Instead of focusing on process, they need to focus on results. Look at what helped the President win this past election, besides the much-lauded shifting demographics, the auto-bailout. A few months before the election, I was driving out of Ohio and I passed the Lordstown GM plant. I had never seen such a massive facility and plastered against the side of it was a massive poster; it read “Lordstown Home of the Cruze.” Featured next to the lettering was a scarletred Chevy Cruze, a car whose existence is largely owed to the bailout. Now, we could debate the politics of the bailout, whether Mitt Romney was for it or against it (both?) until the cows come home. What cannot be debated is that the President got credit for the bailout and reaped the electoral rewards in Ohio, Michigan and
McConnell had the right tactic, the President was unable to point to achieve any legislative accomplishments after the midterms. The President was lucky to be reelected, but he cannot afford to forget what worked for him. It was not compromising, it was not bipartisanship, it was successful programs and policies passed under his watch. That does not mean we need to cast off bipartisanship or compromise, but they are a means to a legislative end, and if they do not lead to positive results than they need not be pursued. That’s why when the next Congress meets, there is no more important thing for Democrats to pursue than filibuster reform. As it stands, almost any action in the Senate requires a 60-vote majority to pass. This means that compromise is required for the Senate to work, yet the past four years have shown us that compromise is no longer forthcoming. If parties can win solid majorities and yet are unable to pass legislation through the Senate what’s the point of an election? That’s why it is so encouraging to see Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate pursuing reforms that would require Senators to actually hold the floor for the length of their filibuster. Filibusters will still exist, but they will be significantly harder to pursue. Republicans will cry tyranny, they will argue that this rule change subverts democracy, even though the filibuster has only been around for about a century and has never been used as much as it currently is. This means liberals need to accept that, when we are in the minority, we need to respect the desire of the people. Remember when those Wisconsin state senators fled their state in order to prevent an anti-union bill from passing? Those legislators were loudly, but wrongly, praised on the left, in much the same way that Republican Senators who filibustered Obamacare were praised on the right. So, while the public tunes out of politics for awhile, President Obama’s party needs to ask itself, What will voters care about in two and four years’ time? Results.
Noah Karr-Kaitin is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at email@example.com. Plain Hokum appears alternate Mondays this semester.
Beyond Profits O
n November 15, BP pled guilty to 14 criminal charges tied to the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion, which killed 11 workers and spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The company will pay the largest criminal resolution, $4.5 billion, including the largest criminal fine, $1.256 billion, in U.S. history. Federal prosecutors were successful in holding not just BP but individual employees accountable. The top two rig supervisors have each been charged with 11 counts of manslaughter for their negligence and David Rainey, the former vice president for exploration in the Gulf, has been charged with obstruction of Congress. When Ed Markey (D-MA), chairman of the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee, chastised BP for lying to Congress and to the American people, he was referring to Rainey’s public, repeated and conscious understatements of the oil flow rate. BP admitted that through Rainey, the company provided a misleading figure of 5,000 barrels leaked per day. Government and independent scientists later estimated that more than 60,000 barrels per day were being leaked. The degree of misrepresentation is at first hard to believe, but on second thought, the decision is entirely consistent with the audacious risks that BP’s leaders have made the company’s modus operandi. The legal team for one of the rig supervisors underplayed its client’s culpability by saying, “After nearly three years and tens of millions of dollars in investigation, the government needs a scapegoat.” Even if this were true, it is not the government but BP who initially made scapegoats of
its employees. The company sacrificed Rainey to do the lying to Congress and to the public. The question of whether the corporation acts as an individual or individuals within a corporation act independently have been hotly debated in regards to the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling. These discussions wrestle with what it means for a corporation to be a moral political and legal actor. Two decades ago, Justin Welby, the next archbishop of Canterbury and a former oil industry employee, wrote a dissertation on whether a company acts as a moral agent, or whether it has only the duty to maximize profits. Arguing the former, Welby said, “The obligation to do no more than obey the law turns the company manager into a schizophrenic, amoral automaton, careful of ethical responsibility in every action except those taken on behalf of the company.” I do find it problematic that a handful of people were charged with negligence when their actions were only consistent with, or perhaps even mandated by, the ethos and policies upheld by a much larger group of people. They are complicit but not necessarily more so than their supervisor or co-worker. That they are targeted by the courts for punishment may not be fair, but it is, in my eyes, still ethical because it serves as a necessary reminder that the moral and legal quality of a corporation cannot be abstracted from the decision making of individual employees. It’s actually quite forgiving to characterize BP’s crimes against the rig workers, the Gulf ecosystem and the people whose livelihoods are dependent on the Gulf as merely negligent. The risks BP took with
worker safety and environmental protection were calculated and deliberate. Yes, they’re now paying for underestimating those risks, but the money could not begin to compensate for the damage done by the oil spilled and by the trials of standing up to BP for compensation and cleaning up the mess it left. Greenpeace was far from impressed by the size of the fine, viewing it as the equivalent of a “rounding error” for a cash cow
spend more on fighting BP in trials and overseeing its safety and ethical conduct for the next four years. One potential trial, scheduled for February, will be on the Clean Water Act, which was not fully resolved as part of the settlement. The fine could be set between $5.4 and $21 billion, but environmentalists are not hopeful since the settlement did not mention gross misconduct. The chairman of BP has already expressed
Jing Jin Ringing True like BP. The company can afford to pay these fines and to some extent (perhaps not on the scale of the 2010 spill), even factors them into its expenses. The fact that BP comfortably took those risks means that the full blame for spills does not rest on oil companies alone. The government — our government — through loose economic and environmental regulations, has allowed oil companies to become so profitable that it is more cost-effective for them to pay the fines than to follow the rules. In permitting offshore drilling, the government has also gambled with workers’ lives, environmental wellbeing and peoples’ livelihoods. The outcome, as the rig supervisors’ lawyers pointed out, is that the government has spent tens of millions of taxpayers’ dollars investigating the spill and will
relief and said that the settlement “allows us to vigorously defend the company against the remaining civil claims.” The government cannot allow BP to put the spill behind it when the ecosystems and communities of the Gulf are still suffering. This settlement succeeded in setting a precedent for holding companies and individual employees accountable for gambling with other people’s lives and shared resources. The government needs to continue to pull out all the stops to ensure that some measure of justice is ultimately served.
Jing Jin is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ringing True appears alternate Mondays this semester.