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Rule of Law

I just heard a legislator ask BP’s CEO (whom the president didn’t think was worth speaking with but apparently he is an acceptable sacrificial lamb)  a question which the victim tried to give a very specific scientific answer to.  The inquisitor then cut him off and demanded an aswer to the question “would you define that as a plume?” to which the victim did not know the answer (since this is a purely sobjective question) at which point, the inquisitor declared that he would interpret the victim’s response as a “no” and that this was at odds with all established science.  This offers an almost comical example of how these people operate.  They take “science” and dumb it down into a statement that really doesn’t mean anything–one that is not scientific, then they paint anyone who doesn’t answer the nonsensical question in the way they like as some kind of evil deceptive villain or science-fearing heathen. 

Alright, now what I really wanted to talk about today was the other, even more terrifying thing that Obama said in his speech earlier this week

Tomorrow, I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set asside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of this company’s recklessness.  And this fund will not be controlled by BP.  In order to ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, the account must and will be administerred by an independent third party.

In a rule of law state there is a mechanism in place to act as an “independent third party” for determining fair payments for damages.  It is the courts.  It is not the executive!  Notice the language that he uses.  He doesn’t say “I will ask the chairman to set asside resources.”  He says “I will inform him that he is to set asside resources.”  The president does not have the power to sieze resources.  Not even from a company that has harmed others.  That is the job of the courts.  The “independent third party” of which Obama spoke is his “pay czar” Kenneth Feinberg.  I wonder how much of that money will end up in the pockets of labor unions.

The worst part of this is that there is a law on the books limiting the liability for oil spills to $75 million.  This is a bad law.  I was passed by the government after extensive lobbying by oil companies following the Exon Valdez spill.  Now they are raking BP’s CEO over the coals with questions like “shouldn’t you have drilled a relief well when you first drilled this well?  I understand it would have cost a little more money but wouldn’t that have been better than what we have now?”  (paraphrasing)  Well, yeah that would have been cheaper if you had known that this would happen.  But if there is a small probability of this happening and you know that if it does you will only have to pay $75 million, then the amount you would be willing to spend to avoid it will be very small.  This is something that should be predicted by congress when they pass laws like this.

So they drove BP to this behavior but now they have a situation where everyone is mad at BP and thinks that it would be unfair to stick to the law.  Do they say “wow we shouldn’t have made that law, this is a problem caused by a corrupt legislature that is in bed with big oil companies.  We will change the law, institute term limits and try to restore the integrity of our government?”  Of course not.  They blame it all on BP.  They even criticize BP over rumors that they might be thinking about invoking the law that they had passed.  Then they demand $20 billion.  They are changing the rules after the fact.  Sure they are changing a bad rule to one that would have been better but this is exactly what can’t happen in a rule of law state.  The rule have to be known in advance, even if they are bad rules.  And they need to take responsibility for their bad rules. 

Finally, BP doesn’t realize who they are dealing with.  People are saying that even though they didn’t have to accept this deal, they got off pretty cheap and it was a good public relations move.  But Harry Reid called the agreement “a good start.”  The Wall Street Journal says: …the company hopes thefund can earn it back goodwill.  Earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Holder announced a criminal investigation of the company.  Today they are ripping them appart on the hill.  Every questioner asks him questions which he answers to the best of his ability and then the questioner remarks that they are disappointed by the lack of cooperation.  These people will never let BP go.  They know that their power over them does not come from the law, it comes from BP’s fear of public sentiment.  They more they can demonize BP, the more they can loot.  Thinking that if you just give in a little, they will lay off is sadly misguided. 

Just to be clear, I think that on a moral level, BP should pay for much of this damage (although not for workers layed off by Obama’s moratorium on drilling) but this is not the way things are done in a rule of law society and we need to be concerned about this.

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  1. W. Knowlton
    June 18, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    So, to be clear, the argument is that Obama should do nothing. It isn’t the president’s or government’s place to make BP appropriately deal with the mess they caused but rather it is the court’s place to. The court should apply the rule of law, which in this case only calls for a $75 million liability. It is unfortunate that the court system cannot enforce more of a liability but that is the consequence of congress having put such a limit into law and we cannot change the rules after the matter because that undermines the purpose of the rule of law. Is this correct?

  2. Free Radical
    June 21, 2010 at 12:55 am

    Yes except notice that the court is the government. It’s not that the government isn’t supposed to do this it’s that the executive isn’t supposed to do it. The enforcement of contracts, settlement of disputes, and punishment for crimes or damages do fall within the proper role of government but it can’t be arbitrary the rules must be established before the fact. When you have a particular guy just deciding what is fair based on how he feels about a given situation you have the rule of men not the rule of law.

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