Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Republicans oppose capital punishment for murderers

Republicans seem almost unanimous in their opposition to capital punishment--for companies who murder their employees, family members and the general public. Their latest attempt at light sentencing is the WR Grace Bailout Asbestos Bill which would establish a federal compensation trust fund of $140 billion for victims who can show they were harmed by asbestos products.

The WR Grace Company is a named defendant in 129,ooo personal injury suits and their executives have been criminally indicted for a conspiracy to cover up crimes, obstruction of a federal agency and fraud. The company made asbestos products and chemicals and was the defendant in the "Civil Action" case that received the Hollywood treatment. Independent experts put Grace's actual financial liability for compensating the many victims of their criminal negligence at somewhere between $1.6 billion and $3.2 billion. Under the Republican bailout bill (there are also some Democrat collaborators), Grace will pay into the trust fund an estimated $418 million and end all uncertainty about future liability from this source. Pretty good return on their lobbying investment.

The company is currently in bankruptcy proceedings and is "attempting" to reorganize.
"I hesitate to use the word windfall, but it would definitely be a favorable outcome for them," said Crystal Skinner, who tracks asbestos legislation for Susquehanna Financial Group. She pegs the odds of the bill passing this year at 30 percent.

Grace won't realize any of those savings if it emerges from bankruptcy before the bill passes, experts said. The company's reorganization plan requires it to create its own asbestos compensation fund, which the company says would be capped at $1.6 billion. Once that fund is established, the company is stuck paying that amount instead of the $500 million or less that it would pay under the proposed federal legislation.

"No one will say it publicly, but I think a majority of the larger asbestos cases have been stalled due to the efforts in Washington on the federal [asbestos] bill," said Peter Kelso, a senior editor for Asbestos Bankruptcy and International Asbestos Report newsletter. "Obviously, it is going to benefit them greatly, so the longer they play it out ... the more it will benefit them." (The Baltimore Sun)
A frequent excuse for this inexcusable coddling of corporate murderers is that financially executing the company would leave many people jobless (of course the ones they killed are also out of a job). By that reasoning, outsourcing to India should be a corporate crime, too, but never mind:
[S]ome industry experts and economists say Grace remains a fundamentally sound company if the uncertainty associated with the personal injury suits is stripped away. The company reported a 14 percent increase in 2004 sales and pretax income from core operations of $179.3 million, up nearly 21 percent from 2003. Asbestos liability charges resulted in a loss of $402.3 million for the year.

"The managers -- at least the ones running the company now -- are doing a good job," said Emory University economics professor George J. Benston, who published a study of companies forced into bankruptcy by asbestos lawsuits. "The sensible thing to do is let them keep running and extract as much as you can from them short of killing them."
So no capital punishment for WR Grace (or the others in the asbestos death squads). If you think it would be too harsh, let's recall a little corporate history. J. Peter Grace, a scion of the Grace fortunes and company capo after WWII, had an eye for talent. After the war he sprung from prison, hired and employed for thirty years one Otto Ambros, a convicted Nazi war criminal who also had expertise in chemistry, useful for a big chemical company. What was Ambros's chemical specialty? Before and during the war he worked for the German chemical conglomerate I.G. Farben and help develop "Zykon B," the gas used in the Nazi gas chambers. Ambros also gave us the nerve gases Sarin and Tabun. But he was a chemist. Useful fellow.

Oh yes, there was also this:
…Conviction at Nuremberg for the enslavement and mass murder of two hundred thousand inmates at Auschwitz did not bar Otto Ambros from later employment as a high level technical advisor to a major American corporation, W. R. Grace and Company, and as a consultant to the United States Department of Energy. When queried about Ambros in March 1982, a representative of W. R. Grace said 'We do not feel there is anything wrong in employing this man in a technical position years after whatever he did.' The spokesman added that J. Peter Grace, chairman of the board, 'is extremely proud' of his relationship with Ambros and did not find the appointment 'embarrassing in any sense.'

James W. Nance, a special assistant to President Ronald Reagan for national security confirmed with apparent approval that Ambros had "recently" served as a consultant to the Department of Energy. A White House spokesperson declared that Ambros, who served only three years for his crimes, 'had paid his debt to society.' (my emphasis; from Rubenstein and Roth, Approaches to Auschwitz, quoted in Joanne Tuck Preliminary Study on Ethics and German Engineers During the Nazi Period)
Republicans may get WR Grace out of financial bankruptcy, but they'll be keeping them company in moral bankruptcy.

But you know how it is with Republicans: always coddling criminals.