BP Oil Spill One Year Later (Part 1): It's About Working People:
There will be time, yes, there will be time to talk about dead dolphins and washed-up sea turtles. There will be time to talk about the impact on the seas and the life that exists there. But for today, two days before the first anniversary of the explosion that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and began the long funneling of millions of gallons of BP oil into the Gulf of Mexico, let us think about the people that were on that rig. In fact, let us focus in on one, Gordon Jones, a mud engineer who died that night, and, even more specifically, on the effort his father, Keith, has exerted in a search for justice for his son and the other workers who were killed by the negligence of maybe three different multinational corporations as they attempted to feed our insatiable desire for oil.
Keith Jones has not been silent since his son's death. A statement he wrote was read out loud by writer Antonia Juhasz at BP's annual shareholders' meeting in London last Friday. In part, he said, "You were rolling the dice with my son’s life and you lost. And after Gordon was dead, after his family was destroyed forever, none of you, not a single one, could find the time to do so much as send a sympathy card. A telephone call or a letter from one of you would have meant something to us. It would have told us that you regretted what happened to our Gordon." Juhasz was booed and heckled as she read.
Currently, Jones is trying to get Congress to change the Death on the High Seas Act. The 1920 law does not allow the survivors of anyone who died more than three miles from shore to sue for anything more than direct monetary costs of the death. No pain and suffering. No punitive damages. Gordon Jones' wife and two children will continue to receive his current salary until Gordon would have reached retirement age. But that's not enough for his father, and it should not be for anyone who has lost a loved one because of the savage neglect and whorish profit-mongering of greedy companies who seek the next billion and the next. As Jones told a congressional committee last year, "Reckless acts ... performed to make the most money the fastest will never be deterred by the payment of mere compensatory damages. Payment of punitive damages by irresponsible wrongdoers is the only way they may learn"
Last July, despite opposition from the Chamber of Commerce and the apparently powerful cruise line lobby, a bill allowing survivors of the Deepwater Horizon and their families to sue for punitive damages passed the then-Democratic House "overwhelmingly." But the bill died in the Senate, that graveyard of progress, when Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, who opposed even allowing an investigation into the accident, placed a hold on it. One day, the children of Louisiana will call animal sodomy "a DeMint-ing."
Jones is back at it again, with a less friendly House, where no Republican feels safe in voting for anything that might harm a corporation and help workers, where the idea of punishing a company for murder is ludicrous. He knows the score now. He told the Times-Picayune, "No one down here thinks about these rigs operating in a safer way...Every mistake they made, every risk they took was to make more money faster."
No one is saying that BP hasn't paid. But they what they've paid has been as punishment for the oil. And neither BP nor Transocean nor Halliburton has paid much of a price for the lives lost a year ago. That may change. But unlike the men who leaped into the water that night, you shouldn't hold your breath.
(By coincidence, the Rude Pundit is heading down to the Gulf coast today, to an area that's supposed to be pristine. If he sees anything hinky, he'll report.)