As a corporate entity forced to accept responsibility for one of history’s worst industrial accidents, BP, the British oil company, will be digging deep over the next few years to pay off the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the oil rig blowout in April 2010 that claimed the lives of 11 men and flooded the Gulf of Mexico with an unmeasureable volume of crude oil and methane gas.
BP has accepted a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, pleading guilty to 14 criminal counts and agreeing to $4.5 billion in fines and other payments. U.S. attorneys also threw in a handful of further indictments against lower-ranking BP employees. Announcing the indictments, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said, “I hope that this sends a clear message to those who would engage in this kind of reckless and wanton conduct.”
It is a welcome step to hold corporate officers personally responsible for such “accidents.” Unfortunately, the message Mr. Holder may be sending is that the people at the corporate top, who drive the decision-making at the bottom, have nothing to fear as long as they dirty their hands only with paperwork. It is true that Deepwater Horizon exploded late in the night on April 20, 2010, but the decisions that set the disaster in motion happened months earlier and at a much higher corporate plane than a few white collars on the rig itself.
The settlement will certainly crimp BP profits for a few years, but it continues a trend of hefty fines willingly paid because they have the net effect of terminating investigations that might tease out the truly responsible parties. The people who live along the Gulf of Mexico whose lives were so disrupted by the blowout and the families of the men who died on Deepwater Horizon deserve a complete and thorough prosecution. All parties must be held accountable for their actions and judgment. A payout that once again obscures corporate negligence is not enough.
Don’t Call Me a Saint?
In November the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops enthusiastically supported the canonization of Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement. Thanks to changes in the Vatican’s canonization procedures, the bishop in charge of promoting a person for sainthood must bring the matter before the regional bishops’ conference. In this case the job fell to Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York, where Day’s ministry was based.
But some of her most ardent admirers may not be as enthusiastic. The reason is one of Day’s most famous sayings: “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.” Some feel that supporting her canonization is almost a betrayal of her wishes. But Dorothy Day’s statement more likely relates to her desire to be taken seriously in her own lifetime than to any antipathy toward the saints or the saint-making process. Robert Ellsberg, the editor of her journals and letters, wrote on America’s blog In All Things that Dorothy was devoted to the saints, and that he is in favor of her canonization. “What Dorothy certainly opposed…was being put on a pedestal, fitted to some pre-fab conception of holiness that would strip her of her humanity and…dismiss the radical challenge of the Gospel.” Was he worried that canonization would smooth the rough edges of a woman who favored pacifism, refused to pay taxes and expressed disdain for the free-market capitalist system? No, said Ellsberg. “There are those who might try to fit her into a conventional mold. But I don’t think she will allow herself to be dismissed that easily.”
Occupy in Action
From its beginning, Occupy Wall Street has sought to embody a truly democratic community while also responding to people’s basic needs. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Occupy has been able to coordinate an effective relief effort—hot meals, water, medicine and blankets—because of an internal culture that quickly turns volunteers into organizers and expands its reach. The movement has also worked closely with local churches. “Nearly every major distribution site is a church,” said Nathan Schneider, of Occupy Catholics. “This movement is recognizing the vital role religion can and must play in transformation in this society, both in terms of politics and the imagination.”
In addition to the relief effort, this religious imagination has also helped Occupy develop creative responses to the larger economic problems that plague the country. The Rolling Jubilee campaign, launched on Nov. 15, raises money to buy defaulted debt at pennies on the dollar and then abolishes the debt—drawing from the Jubilee tradition in the Hebrew Scriptures. Tim Worstall, a contributor to Forbes, called it an idea “we can all get behind.”
Lending money, like building a budget, is a matter of moral concern. This is why Occupy Catholics and other faith-based groups seek to increase the usage of the terms jubilee and usury in conversations about economics. “The cruelest features of our economic system” need to “be seen for the sins that they really are,” explained Occupy Catholics. As Occupy Wall Street enters its second year, it is evident that the movement has staying power and is growing in relevance and effectiveness in addressing the nation’s economic woes.