Censorship, limited liability etc

The censorship-as-trade-barrier argument is a consequentialist one, a very slippery slope, and an insult to the idea of freedom. Unfortunately, Google plans to paint China into a corner by joining hands with people who have no great respect for freedom—the governments of the USA and those of many European countries—and who think this is a brilliant defense of freedom-

Robert Boorstin, Google’s director of corporate and policy communications, said the company is working with the Office of the US Trade Representative, the State Department, Commerce Department and European officials to build a case to take to the World Trade Organization.

Such a case could help US tech companies seeking greater access to Chinese consumers while furthering the US government’s human rights agenda.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her technology advisers have promoted Internet freedom as a basic human right.

“Google believes very strongly, as do other companies, that censorship is a trade barrier,” Boorstin said…

Clinton can tell those dying on the streets of Tehran that freedom is all about a trade dispute-

The leaders of the so-called Green Movement — the former presidential candidates Mir Hussein Moussavi, a former prime minister, and Mehdi Karroubi, a former speaker of Parliament — have not dropped their demands for more political freedom. But they have dropped their policy of direct confrontation with the government, saying it is not worth the price in blood and heavy prison terms, and canceled demonstrations planned for Saturday after failing to receive a permit.

The security services made clear in the days leading to the anniversary that anyone taking to the streets would be dealt with harshly. On Friday, people in Tehran reported receiving a threatening text message on their cellphones.

“Dear citizen, you have been tricked by the foreign media and you are working on their behalf,” the message read. “If you do this again, you will be dealt with according to Islamic law.”

Ahmadinejad and the Ayatollah must be rotfl-ing.

The oil spill is evoking comparisons to the Bhopal gas leak, as it should. There is a lot in common.

The NYT is debating the US government’s plan to force BP to skip its dividend payout. There are a couple of libertarians in the debate who are against such an action. I don’t support their view. I don’t support the planned action either.

There is something fundamentally wrong with the concept of a limited liability company and the protection such an entity receives under the law. Of course such an entity could tie its clients, suppliers etc down into contracts with a limited liability clause. But it cannot limit its liability to third parties this way. And neither should governments do so. That’s why the cap that the US government has in place for various disasters such as nuclear meltdown, or an oil spill, and the one that the Indian government is considering, is bad law.

In an ideal situation, BP would be allowed to pay out the dividend as and when it wanted. But its shareholders would be responsible for every last penny that the company is unable to shell out when the time comes to pay the compensation. Bankruptcy will not be an option.

And this is why the Indian government’s action in the Bhopal case is unforgivable. Instead of investigating the incident and fixing responsibilities, it became a party to the dispute by taking over the power to settle on behalf of the dead and injured. After making a bad settlement and screwing up on the distribution front, and failing miserably on the investigation front, its hunting for a unicorn. As if hanging Anderson will make its sins go away. Bharat Desai describes an interesting sequence on his TOI blog-

Being in such august company, it was easy for me to know what had happened. Chief minister Arjun Singh had apparently not consulted the caretaker Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi before ordering the arrest of Anderson on December 7. After the arrest, Rajiv Gandhi’s powerful aide and cousin, Arun Nehru, telephoned Arjun Singh and told him that US President Ronald Regan had called up the Indian PM and ‘requested’ him to release Anderson immediately. Now, Rajiv Gandhi was an Indian Airlines pilot, accustomed to taking only orders from air traffic control. The job of prime minister was thrust upon him because of his mother’s assassination just one month before the gas disaster. He couldn’t have resisted the top man in the White House.

Having spent many years in Congress politics trying to cultivate a relationship with Indira Gandhi, Singh gave ground easily because the orders were obviously coming from a new leadership. A wily politician, often called Chanakya in Madhya Pradesh, he was quick to understand that his survival in the uncertain world of politics depended on his serving his new political masters, rather than upholding Indian law in a city strewn with thousands of human corpses. Instead of cross-checking with Rajiv Gandhi on such an important issue, lest he upsets Arun Nehru in the process, he passed on the order to the then chief secretary Brahm Swaroop. The bureaucracy’s head told the Bhopal district magistrate Moti Singh to release Anderson and even escort him to a waiting state government aircraft which flew him to New Delhi. Superintendent of police Swaraj Puri obediently helped Moti Singh carry out the orders. Arjun Singh had failed the Indian Civil Services examination before turning a politician but he knew how to have a firm grip over the bureaucracy.

There are times when I envision “Congress ka haath” as a hand with its middle finger pointed towards the citizenry.

[Sauvik has written quite a few posts on why torts and not criminal cases are the way to go in such cases. Read them.]

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