May 31, 2010


I've never liked the death penalty. When I was a reporter, I saw several cases where the wrong person was prosecuted, and unless you have enough money for a good defense attorney, there's not a lot you can do if you're caught up in that kind of nightmare.

So I've always opposed the death penalty, with one exception: Polluters. From the dumpers who unload toxic chemicals in a small stream where children play, to politicians and organized crime figures who bring tons out-of-state toxic waste into unsuspecting communities, there's nothing that makes me more angry.

Because you've poisoned a place where children play. You've polluted a watershed, and people will eat the fish they catch there. Toxins will seep into the soil, and the air. And while it may be impossible to prove anytime soon, you've almost certainly killed people.

Now, we're hearing all kinds of stories that indicate that BP executives, managers, regulators and engineers either knew or had serious concerns that the Deepwater Horizon rig was at risk for an explosion.

And what else have we seen? A "Three Little Pigs" memo where BP makes it clear it's cheaper to pay long-shot damages than to make the rig safe. Memos where engineers warned of danger. Interviews with BP employees who talked about how the safety tests were rigged.

If you gave your friend a ride to the 7-Eleven, and while you were sitting in the car waiting, he pulled a gun and killed someone during a robbery, you could be tried for murder. Just for sitting there, just on the off chance that you knew something and were knowingly involved.

I think the fine people who are poisoning the world deserve the same treatment. Don't you think we should start applying that same legal standard to corporate malfeasance? No, we can't create a law specifically to punish BP - but we can make a real impression on all the other multinational corporations.

And I'll bet some smart D.A. or U.S. Attorney can find a way to make it happen.

After the Citizens United ruling from the Supreme Court, we were all pretty depressed. After all, the tidal wave of money that washes through the political system is downright devastating to democracy. And what are the odds that our spineless Congress will fix it in any meaningful way?

Ah, but we do love our law and order. If we can institute the death penalty for reckless endangerment of our national resources and the human beings affected, we will have finally created a constitutional way to counteract the effects of money in our political system.

Think how much it would do to clean up corporate corruption if employees could say to their managers, "I could get the death penalty for covering that up -- and so could you." Imagine if they were required BY LAW to report their bosses for telling them to cut corners on high-risk products because it was cheaper - or risk being tried if something goes wrong.

Talk about (finally) being held accountable. Wouldn't you love to see it happen?

In China, when executives are found to have manufactured items that are killing people -- well, at least they have the good grace to kill themselves. We can't count on that; we don't have enough healthy shame left in this country.

Here's Patty Larkin with "Metal Drums", a song she wrote about the Superfund site in Holbrook, Massachusetts:

News broke like a lightning bolt
Across a red hot sky
In the blue TV light
Joanne O'Donnell cried
Seemed like the kiss of death
Hung in the air
When a whole town found out
They'd been poisoned for years

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