Dear Mr Obama
This is my first letter to you. I have to confess, I didn’t much care when you won the election. It may have been history in the making but it was American history and I live too far away to care. I didn’t wear Obama T-shirts. I didn’t read the book. I didn’t buy the ‘Change’. Call me cynical. Goes with the job description.
But today, I feel compelled to write to you. You’re having a problem with oil spills. I don’t know how you’re going to deal with it but you’ve been promising compensation and not just ‘nickel and dime’ stuff. Which is good. By and large, the US seems to take accidents, the disabling of human beings and monetary compensation pretty seriously.
I also read about some plans to compensate veterans, those who worked to test nuclear weapons. It says here that the compensation could be pretty generous.
But your people have always fought for proper compensation and establishment of liability. One of your worst disasters was the Texas City Disaster of 1947, in which 581 people died. I don’t need to tell you why etc. But compensation claims were filed against the USA and – I’m wiki-quoting here – “the district court found the United States responsible for a litany of negligent acts of omission and commission by 168 named agencies and their representatives in the manufacture, packaging, and labeling of ammonium nitrate, further compounded by errors in transport, storage, loading, fire prevention, and fire suppression, all of which led to the explosions and the subsequent carnage. On June 10, 1952, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned this decision, finding that the United States maintained the right to exercise its own “discretion” in vital national matters. The Supreme Court affirmed that decision.”
But, “Congress acted to provide some compensation after the courts refused to do so… When the last claim had been processed in 1957, 1,394 awards, totaling nearly $17,000,000, had been made.”
Are you counting the zeroes, Mr Obama? That was the year 1957.
Before that, when the South Fork dam burst in 1889, “victims suffered a series of legal defeats in their attempt to recover damages from the dam’s owners. Public indignation at that failure prompted a major development in American law—state courts’ move from a fault-based regime to strict liability.”
More recently, the 2008 Chatsworth train collision caused 25 deaths. Wikipedia tells me “Lawyers quickly began filing claims against Metrolink, and in total, they are expected to exceed a US$200 million liability limit set in 1997… An attorney representing two of the victims agreed, saying payouts could range from $5 million to $10 million per death or serious injury.”
You people are talking $5 million per death. And here, in my country, we are talking 55 cents per death.
I recognize that this is a failure of our justice system. Ours, not yours. But I pose to you a moral question. Is it okay to shield a wanted man in a case of this kind? Warren Anderson might be a US citizen. But we’re talking over 22,000 lost lives. Enough zeroes, Mr Obama, what do you say?
It’s a mess you’ve inherited, I know. But what would your legal stand be if your daughters, 26 years later, were giving birth to deformed kids, all because Anderson wanted to save a few dollars ($37.68 to be precise, on one critical process)? What would you have done with blinded babies?
Could it be that you are too busy to know that your government has not lifted a finger to extradite a certain Mr Warren Anderson even though there’s a new you, heading a government of ‘change’.
Take a look at this: “On 20th July official sources from the government of India announced that the May 2003 extradition request had been turned down on “technical grounds”. A month later the State Minister for External Affairs, E. Ahmed, claimed the request had been rejected because it failed to satisfy some clauses of the India-US extradition treaty… Warren bhai, who first ignored an Interpol summons to the Bhopal courts some sixteen years ago is, as ever, as silent as the gas cloud released from the factory that a ‘high standard of evidence’ shows the company he ran was at such pains to control. We examine some of the evidence and speculate on how it can be that the world’s most infamous corporate accused is still getting away with culpable homicide…”
And yes, culpable homicide it is.
“After Ashraf’s death (from a chemical poisoning accident at the factory), Union Carbide management sent a team of US engineers to conduct a ‘business confidential’ safety audit. The May 1982 report identified 61 hazards, 30 of them major and 11 in the dangerous phosgene/MIC unit. Safety measures were improved at Carbide’s MIC plant in West Virginia, but not in Bhopal, where, incredibly, Carbide responded to the death of Ashraf Khan by intensifying its cost-cutting in the most dangerous areas of the plant.”
Do I need to spell it out for you, Mr Obama? Just read the bold lettering if you are short on time. US engineers conduct a safety audit. They see a dangerous situation at their chemical factory. They go about making arrangements to cut risks to American lives. They go about increasing the risk to Indian lives.
Should we just spell it out now, Mr Obama. Its called racism. R-A-C-I-S-M.
Your guys – American citizens whom your government is unwilling to arrest and hand over to my country’s law system – knew what they were doing. And I want them punished, sir. Ideally, with imprisonment. But most certainly with a big, fat fine. Not nickels and dimes, sir.
Now look at this: “Dow set aside $2.2 billion to meet Carbide asbestos liabililities in the US. However it bluntly refuses to accept Carbide’s liabilities in Bhopal – or even admit that they exist.”
You know, there is a famous Hindi film dialogue that I quote often. Roughly translated, it is this question: Is your blood, blood, and our blood water?
So Mr Promised Change, how much my life is worth? Is it worth as much as an American life? White, brown, black, whatever. You choose. Decide how much criminal culpability can be established, and what you – as the first representative of the the USA to the rest of the world – should do about this mess. Let Anderson negotiate his own way to freedom if he can. Let him decide how much his freedom is worth. Don’t let him decide how much poor Indians are worth. Dow has said they would prefer to stand trial in India, after all. Send the officials over. They’ve a lot to answer for, and whole lot to pay for.
P.S. Separately, would you consider passing a law that forbids Dow/Union Carbide from leaving the USA? A kind of business internment? In the interest of world peace, security and human rights, it would be helpful if those guys were forbidden from doing business in developing countries. While you’re at it, you could intern Monsanto too. We’ve got enough sh*t to deal with and would appreciate not having to deal with your sh*t. We can’t afford it. If you can, you keep it.
(originally posted here)