BP and its contractors were likely thinking about the $500,000 per day cost of renting the Transocean rig when they decided to go ahead, despite grave warnings, to suck out the heavy drilling mud.  Transocean’s driller and tool pusher objected, but BP overruled.  Eleven human deaths and untold thousand of marine mammals, sharks, crustaceans and birds lost, the inquisitions unfold on Capitol Hill and in New Orleans.

The political odd couple James Carville and Mary Matalin live in Louisiana, at least part of the time.  Both of them are outraged and disgusted; it’s a new phenomenon to see them together on television ripping industry and government.  Mary says “The Coast Guard talks about a boot on BP’s neck?  They don’t even have a ballet slipper on BP’s neck.”

Carville wants a grand jury investigation and he wants to send BP execs to a Louisiana prison.

This kind of talk, even though we viscerally cheer him on, is counter-productive.

The Coast Guard and the Minerals Management Service is conducting a hearing in New Orleans.  Any witness who fears that a statement might lead to prosecution is taking the Fifth Amendment.  I have this directly from an attorney attending the hearings.  The inquisitors are getting no information.

Putting people in jail serves one societal goal, but it does not let us find out what went wrong and how to prevent it the next time.  Transocean employees who did not want to be fired, BP lower-level employees looking for a promotion; all of whom did not want to run up costs when looking at a huge bonus well; they made mistakes.  Horrible, hugely costly, unimaginable mistakes which sicken anyone who cares about marshes, ecosystems, wildlife, economies, people.

BP will be punished; its shareholders will watch the company treasuries be drained of billions of dollars over the next 15 years.  A corporation can be indicted and convicted of crimes.  Let that happen.

But if we want to find out which technical, electrical, hydraulic failures happened, and which chain-of-command personnel failures happened, we are going to have to grant immunity from prosecution of the people who made the decisions.

Sue BP.  Indict BP.  But get the facts.  No BP employee rotting in a Louisiana prison will bring back the pelicans; getting the facts might save next year’s pelicans.

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