Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


Brits angry over anti-BP rage? Give me a break!

posted by Rod Dreher

So the British, including leading politicians, are steamed at American anger at BP, seeing in it anti-British prejudice. Huh? I don’t see this. They’re cheesed off that Obama has referred to “British Petroleum,” pointing out that the company changed its name to “BP” years ago (therefore, Obama can only be using the name “British Petroleum” in his public remarks to stoke anti-British prejudice). Nonsense. I had no idea until very recently that “British Petroleum” was no longer in use, and I think very few Americans outside the oil industry did either.More importantly, this emerging British narrative depends on the belief that if not for anti-British prejudice, Americans would be tolerant and patient with BP’s behavior. I’m sorry, but that’s demented. Since this crisis began, we have learned that BP never had a plan to deal with this sort of thing, despite telling the government that it did. We have learned that BP has a terrible safety record, and ignored clear warnings leading up to the Deepwater Horizon explosion, warnings that something was going very wrong on the rig. We have learned that BP lies. We have seen BP try to keep journalists from telling the full story of what the company’s negligence has done to the Gulf and the people who depend on it. And we have seen entire regions, communities, local economies and ecosystems put in serious peril of extinction. Do the British seriously believe that if BP were Exxon, or any other American company, that the American people would be less angry at them over what their corporate recklessness (aided and abetted by American regulatory laxity) has done? Absurd. Gobsmackingly so.What this is all about is the British economy. BP is a strong British company whose shares are widely held by UK citizens. The British economy is very weak now, and can barely afford for BP to capsize. You know whose fault the perilous state of BP is? BP’s. It’s not the fault of the American people. While one can certainly take pity on pensioners and other small British investors who are taking a hit as BP’s stock price collapses, I prefer to reserve my sympathy for the Gulf Coast fishermen and merchants whose communities and livelihoods are being destroyed because of BP’s negligence. Where are the British coastal towns whose harbors, bays, beaches and marshes are choked with oil? Are British seabirds dying by the score, soaked in BP oil? Where are the British fisherman who will not be able to harvest seafood from British waters for years because of contamination? Those are the parties who deserve the greater part of one’s sympathy. BP stockholders are indeed victims here, but of BP’s management, not angry Americans.Look, British friends, this is nothing personal. Nobody blames Britain for BP’s behavior. But if you seriously think Americans ought to stifle their outrage at BP out of some sense of special regard for British sensibilities, here’s a message for you:



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Al-Dhariyat

posted June 11, 2010 at 9:57 am


What an absurd thought by the B people.
In PA at least, BP only became a presence after it bought Boron (one of the successors to Standard Oil). So as a kid, it was my understanding that BP was an amalgum of Boron and British Petroleum.



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Andrea

posted June 11, 2010 at 10:02 am


I don’t particularly associate the oil company with Britain in general but BP certainly bears a large portion of the blame for the disaster. I’ve also seen enough American bashing in the British papers and on various web sites from Brits to make me extremely unsympathetic to any whining from Brits about supposed anti-British sentiments. The elite over there have bad-mouthed us right and left and when they aren’t bad mouthing us they’re being condescending about “our American cousins.”



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Hector

posted June 11, 2010 at 10:02 am


This is political correctness run amock.
British Petroleum, British Petroleum, British Petroleum. I’m as much an Anglophile as the next man (ethnic Indians and Anglo-Catholics tend to like English things, so I’m two for two on that front) but the British really need to toughen up, and if they cringe when they hear ‘British Petroleum’ then that’s just too bad.



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Alicia

posted June 11, 2010 at 10:06 am


Americans don’t care about the “B” we care about the “P.” If it was Outer Mongolian Petroleum we’d feel the same way. But, as you said, Rod, this is all about the economics. Perhaps the British Government (and the American Government) should have paid more attention to all the corner cutting that BP was engaged in prior to this disaster. It’s too late to cry over spilt milk.



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Peter

posted June 11, 2010 at 10:10 am


Another storm in a teacup created by the media and bloggers.
That said why are you calling it a British company when it is 40% owned by UK residents and 39% owned by Americans?



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Rod Dreher

posted June 11, 2010 at 10:35 am


Peter, is this like your saying the other day that there is nothing to be concerned about over gender and race reverse discrimination, because it doesn’t seem to you that there’s a problem? This isn’t a tempest in a teacup. The mayor of London, the influential Tory pol Boris Johnson, has raised the issue, as has Lord Tebbit, another influential Tory. They are the ones who have framed this issue as one of anti-British prejudice. I don’t think many Americans have thought about this disaster as reflecting poorly on the British people. Anyway, BP is based in London, and is a pillar of the British economy.



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Andy

posted June 11, 2010 at 10:49 am


What this is all about is the western economy. (Insert Lehman / Goldman / AIG etc) are strong American companies.
The western economies are very weak now, and can barely afford for the colossal bank bailouts. You know whose fault the perilous state of the western economies are? American financial institutions.
Sound Familiar – shall we hold them accountable and freeze their assets / demand recompense in London ……
Thought not



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Dave Vinyard

posted June 11, 2010 at 10:55 am


Excellent essay, although, I would point out that the U.S. administration isn’t as concerned about slighting our closest allies even while kissing up to Hamas. There is plenty of blame to go around on the BP disaster. As overwhelming as it is, we will probably read in a few years about the Gulf’s amazing recovery. While BP management is culpable—even stupid regarding prevention and management measures, what is needed now is less finger pointing, less sensitivity, less political jockeying and a large dose of diligent, focused, intelligent team work.



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aaron

posted June 11, 2010 at 11:15 am


It’s a sad day when a Corporation fulfills the need for Nationalism.



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kevin s.

posted June 11, 2010 at 11:17 am


I agree with Andrea. Utter hypocrisy.
In general, I don’t support federal government grandstanding on the behavior of privately held companies until all the facts are known. If Britain held itself to such a standard, these public officials might have a point.



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Edward

posted June 11, 2010 at 11:20 am


We all agree that BP should be kicked; we’re just a little perturbed by the pleasure your President so obviously takes in doing so.
The rig was built by a South Korean company, operated by American Transocean, and (supposedly) regulated by the federal government. So why is BP being singled out? What kind of President says publically that he wants to ‘kick ass’ – the language of a common thug – and makes the flat out statement that ‘BP is responsible, BP will pay’ before the lawyers have even begun talking? Why do Obama and his officials insist on continuously referring to the company as ‘British Petroleum’? Once may be a slip of the tongue, but I assume they’re better briefed than the average American, so why continue doing it? When you look at this against the background of Obama’s history of insults and slights against a country whose troops are dying fighting in Afganistan on America’s behalf, you might begin to understand why people are angered by this.
Compare the President’s gangster-like approach to the British government’s response to the 1988 explosion of the Piper Alpha oil rig, which was owned and operated by an American firm. 165 men died, ten times as many as in this disaster. There was no government-led hate campaign; the press was not full of stories of American irresponsibility and laxness; Margaret Thatcher did not bluster about kicking ass. So what’s with the childish rhetoric now emitting from the top echelons of the US government? Anti-British prejudice? It certainly seems so.
You’re right that some of the British backlash may be about economics – with hundreds of thousands of small investors losing out on this, that’s understandable – but from this side of the pond, Obama’s anger looks almost entirely political.
You might benefit from reading this: http://tinyurl.com/355bpwj



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allbetsareoff

posted June 11, 2010 at 11:22 am


Going after “foreign” corporations is reflexive for politicians. The Brits gleefully went after U.S. banks and financial firms after the crash. We had the “Rising Sun” hysteria over Japanese incursion into the U.S. economy in the 1980s, then the Dubai port-management uproar a few years ago, and now mounting angst over the rise of the Chinese and Indians.
This anxiety is predictable – and it misses the point.
The point is: Multinationals, regardless of their putative home base, owe allegiance to no one but themselves and their partners/co-conspirators. They buy off politicians, regulators, ratings agencies and judiciaries. They shield their executives and directors from shareholders. They spin off dubious subsidiaries based in tax and regulatory havens. They game the bankruptcy system. They coerce employees, consumers and journalists. They snow the public with ad campaigns and Astroturfed “grass-roots” pressure groups.
On rare occasions, one or a few of their executives get nailed and do a stretch in prison; but corporate jailbirds are the exception, not the rule. If regular prosecution and imprisonment ever became a real threat, you can be sure their headquarters would relocate to countries without extradiction treaties.
The corporate forces responsible for this disaster are going to get away with it. One or another firm may be merged or change its letterhead and logo, and a few scapegoats may be prosecuted; but the industry will continue to thrive and will not clean up its act. And we can await the next outrage, confident that it will happen.



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Peter

posted June 11, 2010 at 11:26 am


Wow, that’s a lot of paranoia and crazy, Edward. Is the British ego really so sensitive that they reflect criticism of a British company as criticism of the British people generally?



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Nick the Greek

posted June 11, 2010 at 11:31 am


Well, having moved back to Britain almost a year ago, I’m not convinced anyone here really believes that outside the media and politicial elites. It’s like when those same elites tried to whip up hype against the Mel Gibson film The Patriot, only to see it top the box office charts here.
Having said that, I did wonder about the fact that it’s suddenly being called British Petroleum again, for the first time in years.



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Rose

posted June 11, 2010 at 11:53 am


First, I don’t think Obama is enjoying going after BP, Edward. He’s angry, yes, but it’s the American people who want the CEO’s head on a platter. And why go after BP? Because BP has one of the worst safety records in the drilling business (nearly 800 violations in a 3-year period), and BP admits it cut corners to save money. It cost 11 lives and ruined countless others. Its actions are destroying the Gulf of Mexico, and it had NO contingency plan should something catastrophic happen. BP’s CEO comes across as one of the most arrogant j@ck@sses we’ve ever seen, and the national mea culpa commercials aren’t helping his case.
So, frankly, I don’t care WHO in Britain is upset. Let an American company drill off Britain’s coast and have the same thing happen. When oil a foot thick washes up on your shores, destroys your ecosystem, kills countless wildlife and nearly a dozen people, destroys property value, wrecks the tourism industry in half a dozen states, and destroys the livelyhood of tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of people, let us know how p#ssed off all of YOU get. Oh, wait! I forgot that the oil is getting into the Gulf current headed around the coast of Florida, and that a number of scientists have predicted that the oil WILL end up on Britain’s coast sooner or later. Let us know how that works for ya.



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Hypatia

posted June 11, 2010 at 12:23 pm


Edward, I have an idea. Why don’t we dump a couple of million barrels of crude in the fishing lanes off Scotland and in the North Sea and see how you guys enjoy the mess? The HELL with your damned sensibilities, sir. If you seriously think that Americans are more or less angry because it’s a British company as opposed to any other kind, you’ve got delusions of grandeur.



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David J. White

posted June 11, 2010 at 12:36 pm


Why do Obama and his officials insist on continuously referring to the company as ‘British Petroleum’?
Everyone I know still refers to Colonel Sanders’ outfit as “Kentucky Fried Chicken”, even though they formally changed their name to the meaningless “KFC” years ago. I mean, they were started in Kentucky, and they sell fried chicken, so …
Captcha: dictates sometimes



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Franklin Evans

posted June 11, 2010 at 12:48 pm


I respectfully request that those whose reactions to Edward are less than kind take a step back and consider the objective points he makes.
I find his citation of the Piper Alpha accident valid and worthy of examination. The URL under my name is the report generated by the Fire and Blast Information Group (FABIG) [from their about page] a non-profit, membership based organisation committed to promoting the protection of life, property and the environment through the development and sharing of expert knowledge on fires and explosions. The report clearly lists two distinct categories of culpability: Corporate management lacked strict controls over safety procedures; Riggers on the platform were careless, did not follow established safety procedures very well and sometimes not at all.
Key quotes:
The accident was instrumental in bringing about the Offshore Installations (Safety Case) Regulations.
The [Lord] Cullen [of Whitekirk, jurist who lead public inquiry] report on Piper Alpha was highly critical of the management system in the company. Managers had minimal qualifications, which led to poor practices and ineffective audits.
Occidental Petroleum had regular safety audits of its facilities but they were not performed well. Few, if any, problems were ever brought up, even though there were serious issues with corrosion of deluge system pipes and heads and many other issues. When a major problem was found, it was sometimes just ignored.
There’s plenty more there along similar lines.
Edward, Mr. Obama — like every president before him — plays politics on every issue. It comes with the job. Have you followed the stories about his criticism of the government agencies that failed in their jobs as well? While I might not have much sympathy for your subjective reaction to his choices of how to express himself in either case, I do understand your point of view. Take a moment, please, and understand an American’s POV:
Multinational corporations are well nigh immune to mundane, every-day regulation. Every country in which they operate must step up and do its part, and too many of them simply don’t. Even in our two countries, what we do is far from adequate. Your government bears some responsibility, just as it did in the Piper case, but criticism of it should not be taken as bashing. Why? Because claims of bashing is the first refuge of government officials who are, in fact, culpable. That’s an assumption about your government directly based on evidence of its truth in the US.



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James

posted June 11, 2010 at 1:02 pm


Puhleeze. The change to “BP” with the marketing of “Beyond Petroleum” was just greenwashing on one hand and a hope to become considered more international and less regional on the other.
Where is the headquarters? Ah, yes. British Petroleum does make sense, doesn’t it?
(I thought the move was stupid when they did it, much like KFC distancing themselves from “fried.”)



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Rombald

posted June 11, 2010 at 1:28 pm


I think Edward’s comments are pretty silly.
Actually, I’ve heard very little here of the view that Obama’s speeches are anti-British. There were Boris Johnson’ comments, of course, but everyone thinks of him as a bit of an idiot – mayors of London tend to be. Opinions that I’ve heard expressed range from sympathy to violent anti-capitalism.
I don’t think many Americans are more angry about BP because it is British. If I scrape the barrel for points of agreement with Johnson and Edward, I suppose it is odd that BP alone is being picked on, rather than the companies it was working with, and I do get the impression Obama is personally anti-British. However, I don’t put much weight on these.



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David J. White

posted June 11, 2010 at 1:48 pm


I don’t think many Americans are more angry about BP because it is British.
True. But if the company were called French Petroleum, I’m pretty sure the “freedom fries” brigade would come out of the woodwork again.
(I remember in the summer of 2003 seeing a loaf of French bread from the supermarket where the plastic bag enclosing the loaf said “French bread”, but the supermarket label pasted over it said “Freedom bread”. So help me. I *really* wish I’d saved it!)
Existential Putinist Captcha: vladimir is



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Andy

posted June 11, 2010 at 1:55 pm


@ Hypatia – I suggest you research Bhopal or Piper Alpha or the Nigerian Delta to see examples of what American companies have done



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MBB928

posted June 11, 2010 at 2:02 pm


The American government is blaming bp, didn’t the us government give them permission to drill there in the first place?….
Why are they calling it British Petroleum when it hasn’t been that for 13yrs. How much % does the us own of bp?.



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Pat

posted June 11, 2010 at 2:27 pm


Did anyone else notice that some of the people involved in Bhopal were finally convicted this week? I believe they got 2 years.



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Robert C

posted June 11, 2010 at 2:49 pm


Personally I think the North Koreans were involved. As far as the Brits and Obama, well, isn’t it amazing how fast the idolatry dissipates.



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James Kabala

posted June 11, 2010 at 4:10 pm


I was surprised to see Peter Hitchens (the good Hitchens) jump on this bandwagon and even assert that this “ingratitude” is a reason why Britain should withdraw from Afghanistan! (This may be and probably is a good idea in and of itself, but hardly for that reason.)



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Peter

posted June 11, 2010 at 8:38 pm


Rod, you are probably mistaking me for another Peter since the name is fairly generic. I’m generally against ‘positive’ discrimination such as the all female short lists Labour uses.
I don’t follow UK politics much any more but I think the number of appearances he has had on Have I got News For You disqualifies Boris from consideration as a serious politician.



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Richard Bottoms

posted June 11, 2010 at 11:04 pm


BP has for years been “BP” plain and simple. Yet Britons are noticing that President Obama keeps referring to the company as “British Petroleum.” They sense an attempt to mobilize American nationalism against Britain in order to evade political blame for the disaster.
Who does Obama think he is, calling a British company by their name instead of using their focus group tested Greenwashed moniker.
BP is beyond petroleum. They’ve moved on to strangling wildlife and suffocating birds.



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Rombald

posted June 12, 2010 at 3:38 am


Andy and Pat: Yes, I’ve heard a few commentators note that the US lets its companies do pretty much whatever they like in poor countries, and that the USA has refused to allow extradition of those responsible for Bhopal to India.
However, I don’t think this is all that relevant to the debate about Britain and BP, because Britain, and most rich countries, have records of allowing atrocious corporate behaviour in poor countries. I seem to remember that the company with the worst record in the Niger Delta is Shell, a Dutch company.
I suppose one, rather strained, analogy is between the regulatory negligence of the US government, and the complicity of the Indian elite in Bhopal, in their contempt for the rights of the Indian poor.



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Ian

posted June 12, 2010 at 7:26 am


The worst ever oil rig disaster in British oilfields was the 1988 Piper Alpha explosion where scores of workers were killed. The rig was owned by Occidental Petroleum, a US company.
I think the name ”British Petroleum” has given a scapegoat opportunity. The word is used like they’re talking about redcoats in 1700s Massechusetts.
Wht annoys me about this is how the US government has bailed out bankers who mismanaged billions, letting them keep their jobs and lifestyle, yet attacks and publicly humiliates an oil company. It’s as though actual blue-collar based industry is nowhere near worthy the consideration given to elite banking.



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Rod Dreher

posted June 12, 2010 at 9:18 am


Ian, I don’t know if you’re posting from the UK or not, but let me assure you that nobody is scapegoating the Redcoats in all this. It’s just not part of the mainstream discourse in the US over the BP disaster. The anger at BP started to come not when the disaster itself happened — after all, accidents happen — but when it started to emerge that BP had behaved with shocking recklessness, not only in managing this particular well, but in failing to have the required emergency plan in place for such an event. BP has behaved abominably in managing this disaster. If they were Exxon, I assure you people would feel exactly the same way. If Obama is getting tough with BP, it’s in some measure a reaction to the fact that the US government was reprehensibly lax in regulating the oil industry for safety.
You bring up the banks — as if that were a defense! I agree with you that the government was shamefully lax in regulating banks, and I absolutely agree with you that the leadership of those institutions ought to have been sacked as a condition of having received bailout money. The infuriating fact is, though, that if those banks had gone under, the rest of the economy would have gone down the sinkhole. That’s not the case with BP. More practically, the damage the banks did with their bad behavior was real, though it was more abstract in appearance. The fruits of BP’s recklessness are there to see every night on the news, washing ashore, killing birds, destroying industries, wrecking communities. Anyway, it’s not much of a defense of BP: “Hey, leave us alone! We’re no worse than Lehman Brothers!”



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Oifield Worker

posted June 15, 2010 at 12:11 am


Unbelievable. You said you did not know that BP changed there name? Therein lies the problem, you media hounds spew off about things you do not know about all the time only to incite the ignorant who feed off of your dribbling.
I’ve worked in the offshore drilling industry since 1996 and spent 11 years in the US Navy before that. One thing for certain is that there always is a captain of a vessel. On a DP semi-submersible like the Horizon there is a “Captain” but he is largely only responsible for the marine side of the vessel’s operation and usually has no knowledge of ongoing drilling operations particularly on a day to day, hour by hour basis. His job is to drive the vessel to a specific location and keep it there until told to move it again.
The person that is ultimately responsible for the vessel’s safety is the Offshore Installation Manager (OIM). Like the captain, he is also employed by the vessel owner and has ultimate authority for the vessel’s operation, in particular, ensuring that the drilling operation is conducted in a safe manner at all times. Period, the buck stops there. I’ve seen OIM’s and even tool pushers take over well control situation from the owner.
So why not look a little further into that deep dark crevasse that no one seems to care to talk about?
Or how about look at the nitwits at MMS who blindly signed off waivers and changes to the drilling program that BP put in front of them.
Or hey, how about the fact that there is NO LABOR SAFETY REGULATIONS outside of 50 miles offshore, in particular on a foreign flagged vessel? Do you people have any idea how many men are killed in the Gulf of Mexico and there is no investigation by Coast Guard, OSHA, MMS? I did not think you did, and as far as I’m aware, no one knows because offshore labor is not regulated or monitored. The rig owners want to keep it that way.
Let’s think about the fact that there are no standardized guidelines for gulf of Mexico maintenance personnel working offshore in regards to whether or not they are qualified for the job? We could learn a lot from our British, Canadian and Norwegian brothers and sisters regarding formal training, apprenticeships, internships and journeymen. On shore, we require an electrician to have a journeyman’s license to wire up a barn but we will let any person with a pulse and good resume run a team of offshore maintenance people? Where is the sense in that?
Oh there’s lots of mud to be slung around so why beat up so much on BP alone? Let’s not be the usual Myopic Americans we have in the past 25 years, let’s look at the big picture which is to say, “What can I do to help clean up this mess, I have a shovel and a broom, just tell me where to go” and when the mess is cleaned up, THEN hold the tribunals.
Seems to me that in the only wars we won this century, we held court after the victory was won. When we held court during the war, we lost.



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Becky

posted June 15, 2010 at 8:20 am


Thanks for publishing my comment, Rod. Too near the truth, was it?



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John

posted June 16, 2010 at 8:23 pm


In response to the comments made by “Oifield Worker”…..Thank you! From the darkness calls the voice of reason and truth, not the usual response of ignorance and blind following of them.



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spindrift

posted June 18, 2010 at 3:35 am


For an alternative account of those involved
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1287226/GULF-OIL-SPILL-Whys-BP-taking-blame.html
Now have a look at this – Union Carbide (Bhopal) where the US citizens involved cannot be extradited?
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1284623/7-men-jailed-1984-Bhopal-gas-tragedy-killed-15-000-people.html
Of course fictional rhetoric is far better than reality



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Hypocrit spotter

posted July 6, 2010 at 12:16 pm


One rule for the US…
11 People killed in accident on oil rig leased by British company BP, resulting in four presidential visits, a $1.6bn clean-up and the establishment of $20bn compensation fund in two months
15,000 People killed in accident at Bhopal plant owned by American company Union Carbide, resulting in 0 presidential visits, no clean-up and $470m compensation in 25 years



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