Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Modest Proposal for BP CEO Tony Hayward

Dear Mr. Hayward,

Let me just say right at the top that I know you have already taken far more heat than your limited personal involvement in BP’s Gulf Coast oil spill probably merits. I have no doubt that the events leading up to the spill occurred too far down the corporate food chain for you to ever notice until it was too late. That said, you are the company’s CEO for at least a few more months. Fair or not, the buck stops with you. It is human nature to want to attach an individual face to any major event. Yours is the face of many of BP’s past successes, and it will forever be the face of this catastrophe. To paraphrase Batman’s rationale for sacrificing his reputation to uphold Harvey Dent’s in The Dark Knight, this crisis needs a symbol. That symbol has to be you.

I do hope that you count yourself lucky, Mr. Hayward. You are getting out of this morass with only a presumably brief period of unemployment (subsidized by a multi-million-dollar pension, no less) as your penance. That is a lenient sentence by anyone’s standards, especially considering the very public penalties paid by your counterparts in China. Had this happened in Chinese waters, you may well have been executed for your negligence, just like a number of officials and executives who oversaw recent safety violations by Chinese corporations.

Now, far be it from me to advocate China’s philosophy toward crime and punishment. Their human rights record is far too heinous for me to ever seriously endorse their punitive methods. Still, it is oddly refreshing to consider a system that regards the architects of massive corporate violations as roughly equivalent to hit men, drive-by shooters and other profit-oriented murderers.

And make no mistake, Mr. Hayward – you and BP are indeed murderers. Even beyond the 11 lives snuffed out in the initial explosion, beyond the myriad animal species driven to the brink of extinction, your callous incompetence has shattered the existences of thousands of families across the Gulf Coast and beyond. Worse than that, the ongoing devastation wrought by your oil spill threatens to effectively extinguish one of the last vestiges of indigenous society in America. The Louisiana bayous are home to a distinctive Creole and Cajun culture that has survived for hundreds of years. Now your oil is on pace to obliterate the livelihood and surroundings that have previously sustained that culture through all manner of natural and man-made disasters. I hope that I am wrong, but it is quite possible that BP has launched what amounts to environmental and economic genocide.

I’m sure you genuinely believe yourself to be mostly blameless in this whole debacle, Mr. Hayward, but as a human being you must understand our need to see someone suffer some consequences for this. That, I believe, is what is especially maddening to many observers – the knowledge that neither you nor anyone else from BP will spend so much as a day behind bars. Yes, I know there are possible criminal charges pending. You know as well as I do that BP’s pool of attorneys runs too deep for anything of substance ever to come of those. The worst the company is looking at are a few hefty fines and maybe some probationary sanctions.

Fortunately, I believe I have identified an acceptable middle ground between state-sponsored execution and getting off scot-free. Mr. Hayward, the most honorable action you could take now is to commit seppuku. I am not the first to suggest this course of action for you and your associates, but as the situation has developed, it seems more and more like the only satisfactory solution. So long as you continue to draw breath, your existence will stand as a constant reminder to Gulf Coast residents that the people who destroyed their way of life are still out there moving freely and making money. Even if you were to somehow end up in the prison cell you so richly deserve, you would still be a living, breathing, taxpayer-subsidized symbol of the arrogance and negligence that has savaged us in more ways than we can count.

So seppuku it is. It needn’t be an ignominious thing. In fact, it could be a borderline heroic acknowledgment of your sins against humanity and nature. Like Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends.” If you are truly a friend to the people who have dedicated their lives and labors to making you and your cronies obscenely wealthy, then I would advise you to rent The Godfather Part II and take some tips from the final conversation between Tom Hagen and Frankie Five Angels. Or, if you really want to make your contrition known to the world, you might read up on the very public demise of State Senator Budd Dwyer of Pennsylvania. Either way, your passing would be a symbolic act above all other symbolic acts.

I suppose there might be one other way for you to redeem yourself and begin the healing process on the Gulf Coast. You could liquidate that golden parachute BP so generously strapped across your shoulders, withdraw all the contents of the numerous bank accounts you no doubt hold and dedicate that money exclusively to the oil spill clean-up and restoration effort. You could then call in favors from your presumably extensive network of expert colleagues in the energy industry and devote yourself wholly to developing clean, sustainable alternative fuel sources that will help to eliminate future spills like the ones currently destroying Louisiana, Nigeria, Michigan and so many other places around the globe.

Oh, but who am I kidding? That scenario is much too far-fetched. No, best to stick with the original plan. Please, Mr. Hayward, for the good of yourself and everyone involved, fall on your sword, as literally and as quickly as possible.

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