Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Elizabeth Warren's Call to Action, Why BP Isn't a Criminal

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Sent: Saturday, November 17, 2012 8:25 PM

Call to Action from Elizabeth Warren

I'm honored that I will have the opportunity to serve the people of Massachusetts in the United States Senate, and I'm deeply grateful for everything you've done to help send me to Washington.

You know what I want to do. When I'm sworn in just a couple of months from now, I want to fight for jobs, for students crushed by debt, for seniors who paid into Social Security and Medicare, for equal pay, for clean energy, for marriage equality. I want millionaires and billionaires and Big Oil companies to pay their fair share. And I want to hold Wall Street accountable. You know what I care about.

But here's the honest truth: it will be incredibly difficult to do any of that if we can't get up-or-down votes in the Senate.

Remember Jimmy Stewart's classic film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington? I love that movie. That's what most of us think of when we hear the word "filibuster" -- a single passionate senator speaking for hours about legislation they fiercely oppose until they literally collapse with exhaustion.

But that's not what the filibuster really looks like. Now any senator can make a phone call to register an objection to a bill, then head out for the night. In the meantime, business comes to a screeching halt. 

On the first day of the new session in January, the Senate will have a unique opportunity to change the filibuster rule with a simple majority vote, rather than the normal two-thirds vote. The change can be modest: If someone objects to a bill or a nomination in the United States Senate, they should have to stand on the floor of the chamber and defend their opposition. No more ducking responsibility for bringing the work of this country to a dead stop.

I've joined Senator Jeff Merkley and four other senators to fight for this reform on Day One. Will you join us? Sign Senator Merkley's petition now

Senate Republicans have used the filibuster 380 times since the Democrats took over the majority in 2006. We've seen filibusters to block judicial nominations, jobs bills, campaign finance transparency, ending Big Oil subsidies -- you name it, there's been a filibuster.

We've seen filibusters of bills and nominations that ultimately passed with 90 or more votes. Why filibuster something that has that kind of support? Just to slow down the process and keep the Senate from working.

I saw the impact of these filibusters at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Forty-five senators pledged to filibuster any nominee to head that new consumer agency, regardless of that person's qualifications. After I left the agency, they tried to hold Richard Cordray's nomination vote hostage unless the Senate would agree to weaken the agency and limit its ability to hold Wall Street banks and credit card companies accountable.

That's not open debate -- that's paralyzing progress.

I learned something important in my race against Senator Brown: voters want political leaders who are willing to break the partisan gridlock. They want fewer closed-door roadblocks and more public votes on legislation that could improve their lives.

Reforming the filibuster is the first step. Sign Senator Merkley's petition to reform the filibuster in January.

Our campaign didn't end on Election Day -- and I'm counting on you to keep on working each and every day to bring real change for working families. This is the first step.

Thank you for continuing to be a part of this,



* * *

Why BP Ins't a Criminal

By Robert Reich 

Friday, November 16, 2012

 The Justice Department just entered into the largest criminal settlement in U.S. history with the giant oil company BP. BP plead guilty to 14 criminal counts, including manslaughter, and agreed to pay $4 billion over the next five years.

This is loony.

Mind you, I’m appalled by the carelessness and indifference of the BP executives responsible for the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that killed eleven people on April 20, 2010, and unleashed the worst oil spill in American history.

But it defies logic to make BP itself the criminal. Corporations aren’t people. They can’t know right from wrong. They’re incapable of criminal intent. They have no brains. They’re legal fictions — pieces of paper filed away in a vault in some bank.

Holding corporations criminally liable reinforces the same fallacy that gave us Citizen’s United v. the Federal Election Commission, in which five justices decided corporations are people under the First Amendment and therefore can spend unlimited amounts on an election. Even if 49 percent of their shareholders are foreign citizens, corporations now have a constitutional right to affect the outcome of American elections.

We don’t know exactly how much corporate money was spent on the last election but it’s a fair guess that were it not for Citizen’s United, the House of Representatives might now be under control of Democrats, and Senate Democrats might have a filibuster- proof majority.

The perfidious notion that corporations are people can lead to even more bizarre results. If corporations are people and they’re headquartered in the United States, then presumably corporations are citizens. That means they have a right to vote as well.

I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one.

Can we please get a grip? The only sentient beings in a corporation are the people who run them or work for them. When it comes to criminality, they’re the ones who should be punished.

Punishing corporations as a whole almost always ends up harming innocent people – especially employees who lose their jobs because the corporation has to trim costs, and retirees whose savings shrink because their shares in the corporation lose value.

Remember the accounting firm Arthur Andersen, convicted in 2002 of obstruction of justice when certain partners destroyed records of the auditing work they did for Enron as the energy giant was imploding? After the firm was convicted, its clients abandoned it and the firm went under. The vast majority of its employees had nothing to do with Enron but lost their jobs anyway. Yet the real perpetrators came out fine. Anderson’s CEO moved to a lucrative job in a private-equity firm, and other senior partners formed a new accounting firm.

Likewise, the people responsible for BP’s deaths and oil spill weren’t BP’s rank-and-file employees or its shareholders. They were the executives who turned a blind eye to safety while in pursuit of their own rising stock options, and who conspired with oil-services giant Halliburton to cut corners on deep water drilling when they knew damn well they were taking risks for the sake of fatter profits.

They’re the ones who should be punished. Failure to punish them simply invites more of the same kind of criminal negligence by executives more interested in lining their pockets than protecting their workers and the environment. (Today brought another tragedy in the Gulf when an oil rig exploded off the Louisiana coast — killing at least two workers and sending four others to hospitals Friday while two others were believed to be missing.)

But the Justice Department’s criminal settlement with BP gives these top executives a free pass — allowing the public to believe justice has been done.

Instead of going after the real criminals, the Department has gone after the schleps who got caught up in the mess. It’s filed manslaughter charges against two BP rig supervisors for allegedly ignoring warning signs of the blowout that set fire to the rig, which later sank. And against a former BP vice president who allegedly lied to Congress when he repeated BP’s public claim that the leak was limited to 5,000 barrels of oil per day when in fact it was more than 60,000 barrels.

The Department’s $4 billion criminal settlement with BP isn’t big enough to affect the oil giant anyway. BP’s market capitalization is $128 billion. Yesterday, BP’s stock price closed at $40.30 a share, up 0.35 percent from the day before the settlement was announced.  

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"War's never a winning thing, Charlie.  You just lose all the time, and the one who loses last asks for terms.  All I remember is a lot of losing and sadness and nothing good at the end of it.  The end of it, Charles, that was a winning all to itself, having nothing to do with guns."

    --Ray Bradbury, from the short story "The Time Machine" 1957

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