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If oil spill is 'an act of God,' BP merits divine retribution

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By Dana Milbank
Sunday, June 6, 2010

God spoke to Moses through a burning bush on Mount Horeb. He apparently speaks to Republicans through a spewing oil well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) delivered the startling revelation last week that the BP oil spill was caused not by a faulty blowout preventer but by the Almighty Himself. He explained the spill to an Oklahoma City radio station like this: "Acts of God are acts of God." With this curious theology, Cole has joined the ministry of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a fellow Republican, who last month said of the oil spill: "From time to time there are going to be things that occur that are acts of God that cannot be prevented."

So if God is responsible for the spill, and BP is the spill's "responsible party," what these men are really saying is that BP is . . . God?

This interpretation is at the very cutting edge of ecclesiastical thought. In the past, our Heavenly Father has involved himself in floods, droughts and the occasional earthquake, but this may be his first foray into industrial disasters.

The Valdez spill was an act of Exxon. Bhopal was an act of Union Carbide. But the BP spill is an act of God. Oiliness is next to godliness.

Forgive this blasphemy, but is it perhaps time to question the Doctrine of Boardroom Infallibility? In Washington, belief in corporate divinity has become a bipartisan religion, and it's polytheistic: Lawmakers, despite the occasional bit of populist rhetoric, routinely provide generous offerings to the automotive, aerospace, financial, pharmaceutical and insurance industries, along with petroleum.

An article by The Post's Dan Eggen explains why: More than 1,400 former members of Congress, staffers and federal employees registered as lobbyists in the financial services sector alone since the start of 2009, according to a study by Public Citizen and the Center for Responsive Politics. Many of these lobbyists, of course, moonlight as fundraising captains for lawmakers.

No wonder politicians have got the corporate religion. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), furthering the act-of-God view, asserted that "this is not an environmental disaster" in the gulf "because it is a natural phenomena." Rand Paul, the GOP Senate candidate in Kentucky, said the administration's vow to keep a boot on the throat of BP is "un-American." Former GOP presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani said the criminal investigation of BP is a "mistake."

Democrats have been only slightly less devout. They're giving no serious consideration to the demand from some on the left, including Robert Reich, to put BP into temporary receivership. The administration's criminal investigation of BP has little chance of getting executives locked up. BP CEO Tony Hayward won't even commit to suspending BP's dividend (more than $10 billion last year), as some Democratic senators have demanded, and he put the clean-up cost at a paltry $3 billion over six months, far less than what many analysts say the real cost will be.

That's just one more contemptuous utterance from a man who has already dubbed the spill "tiny," called environmental damage "very modest," denied the existence of underwater oil plumes, suggested that sickened oil cleanup workers had food poisoning and complained that he wanted his "life back."

Americans feel the outrage more than their leaders do. A recent Gallup poll shows that 73 percent think BP has done a poor or very poor job. Overall, Americans are just as distrustful of corporations as they are of the federal government. A Pew Research Center poll released in April found that 64 percent think large corporations are having a negative effect on the country, compared with 65 percent who say that of the government.

Yet the faux populists of the Tea Party train their anger on the government while giving corporations a pass. And Obama, accused of being a socialist, has actually been a no-fault capitalist, cleaning up corporate messes without winning much in the way of new laws to prevent a recurrence.

Too many corporations have survived their misdeeds with no more than an angry hearing or two: GM, Chrysler, Toyota, Goldman Sachs, Citibank, Bank of America, Massey Energy. The legislative dressing-down obviously isn't sufficient deterrent. Neither is firing the CEO, because he's invariably replaced by another just like him.

Pardon the sacrilege, but for a real deterrent, it's time to institute a corporate death penalty -- and BP is a perfect candidate. That sort of retribution would be divine.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company

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