By John M. Williams
Watching chief executive officers testify before Congressional committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate can be nauseating and informative. It is nauseating to watch people from Goldman Sachs, British Petroleum, Transocean, Halliburton and Massey Energy place the blame for catastrophic failures on others. Their appearances should be mandatory viewing in classrooms (fifth grade through graduate school) across the country. Viewers could see that these titans of industry, idolatrized by conservative Republicans, are liars, cowards, bullies and conceited. Viewers would learn that these CEOs believe they are above the law.
One reason CEOs blame others for mistakes is they have been lawyered. They have been warned that if they accept responsibility for decisions that cause recessions, accidents and deaths they can be held liable and suffer the consequences â€“ jail time. Obviously they never heard the lines â€“ donâ€™t do the crime, if you canâ€™t do the time.
By blaming someone else for their mistakes, CEOs show they are cowards, and they are not to be envied. By lying they show they canâ€™t be trusted. By forcing people to work in hazardous environments, they reveal that they are bullies. They show they are conceited by double talking â€“ avoiding answering questions.
Profits determine the survival of businesses. Excessive profits drive CEOs and their boards to take dangerous risks without concern for the consequences â€“ even if it ruins peoplesâ€™ lives. Unchecked businesses have always operated that way. And politicians have always supported them, which is why politicians, mostly Republicans, are silent about condemning Wall Street for the recession, BP and others for the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, Massey Energy for the deaths of 30 miners, and for other calamities. Silence can be interpreted as consent.
Federal employees, particularly people appointed by former President George Bush, will undoubtedly say â€œIâ€™m not responsible for not regulating Wall Street; for regulating mines; and for regulating the oil industry.â€ They will not be punished for the disasters they helped cause by their willful decisions not to regulate. They knew their positions would protect them.
Some years ago, seven CEOs from the tobacco industry under oath before a Congressional committee swore that tobacco was not addictive despite knowing evidence to the contrary. None of them were cited for perjury. They believed they were above the law. They showed their contempt for truth because they knew the government would not prosecute them. They set the example for future CEOs to follow.
Until we start sending business leaders and their supporters to prison for crimes, businesses will continue to operate unchecked and disasters will continue to happen and lives will continue to be ruined. And culprits will continue to blame others.
Archive for June, 2010
By John M. Williams