Friday, 13 August 2010

Sticks and Stones

Iran has today launched its media assault on defamed adulteress Sakhina Mohammadi Ashtiani by releasing footage of her allegedly confessing to involvement in the murder of her husband. Her repositioning from fallen woman to femme fatale an effort by the Iranian government to move public support toward her swift execution by hanging, having been forced by international opposition to halt their plans to stone her to death. Either way, a woman dies. Scriptonite investigates...

Stoning? I thought that went out with the Stone Age

No, sadly it didn’t. There is a history of Stoning as a punishment in Judaism and this is endorsed by biblical texts. However, this hasn’t been preached or honoured by the Jewish community anywhere in the world for around 2000 years. For completeness’s sake....the crimes once punishable by death by stoning were (thank you Wiki):

1. Bestiality committed by man (Lev. xx. 15; Sanh. vii. 4, 54b; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, x. 1; Mek., Mishpaṭim, 17).

2. Bestiality committed by woman (Lev. xx. 16: Sanh. vii. 4, 54b; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, x. 3; Mek., Mishpaṭim, 17).

3. Blasphemy (Lev. xxiv. 16; Sanh. vii. 4, 43a; Sifra, Emor, xix.).

4. Criminal conversation with a betrothed virgin (Deut. xxii. 23, 24; Sanh. vii. 4, 66b; Sifre, Deut. 242).

5. Criminal conversation with one's own daughter-in-law (Lev. xx. 12; Sanh. vii. 4, 53a; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, ix. 13).

6. Criminal conversation with one's own mother (Lev. xviii. 7, xx. 11; Sanh. vii. 4, 53a; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, ix. 12).

7. Criminal conversation with one's own stepmother (Lev. xviii. 8, xx. 11; Sanh. vii. 4, 53a; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, ix. 12).

8. Cursing a parent (Lev. xx. 9; Sanh. vii. 4, 66a; Mek., Mishpaṭim, 17; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, ix. 7).

9. Enticing individuals to idolatry: "Mesit" (Deut. xiii. 7–12 [A. V. 6–11]; Sanh. vii. 4, 67a; Sifre, Deut. 90).

10. Idolatry (Deut. xvii. 2–7; Sanh. vii. 4, 60b; Sifre, Deut. 149).

11. Instigating communities to idolatry: "Maddiaḥ" (Deut. xiii. 2–6 [A. V. 1–5]; Sanh. vii. 4, 67a; Sifre, Deut. 86).

12. Necromancy (Lev. xx. 27; Sanh. vii. 4, 65a; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, xi., end).

13. Offering one's own children to Molech (Lev. xx. 2; Sanh. vii. 4, 64a; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, viii., parashah 10, beginning).

14. Pederasty (Lev. xx. 13; Sanh. vii. 4, 54a; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, ix. 14).

15. Rebelling against parents (Deut. xxi. 18–21; Sanh. vii. 4, 68b; Sifre, Deut. 220).

16. Shabbath-breaking (Num. xv. 32–36; Sanh. vii. 4; Sifre, Num. 114).

17. Witchcraft (Ex. xxii. 17 [A. V. 18]; Sanh. vii. 4, 67a; Mek., Mishpaṭim, 17).

Those Old Testament folks were strict. And to think...didn’t that guy marry his horse on Jerry Springer? How far we’ve come in those 2000 years.

However, despite there being no reference in the Quran – not one – to stoning as form of punishment for any crime – groups of men in Somalia, Afghanistan and Iran have taken it upon themselves to reintroduce this barbaric punishment through their Shariah Law system into the penal code. Infact, Iran only brought in stoning as a punishment in 1979 following the so called Islamic Revolution. Islamic Revolution only in the sense that it took the core essence of Islam and revolved it 180 degrees to create a horrific mirror image.

Getting Stoned in Iran – The Basics

In short, a woman is buried up to her neck and a man to his waist. Witnesses to the alleged ‘crime’, the sentencing judge and members of the public or police then encircle the person and throw stone at them until they die. This can take some time.

In Iran, stoning a person to death is not against the law. Using the wrong stone is.
Amnesty International
The size of the stone used in stoning shall not be too

large to kill the convict by one or two throws and at the

same time shall not be too small to be called a stone.
Article 104 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code

Now, Iran is a fully signed up member of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and as such the government is legally bound to observe the provisions of this treaty and to ensure that they are fully reflected in the country’s laws and practices relating to human rights.
Death by stoning violates Articles 6 (right to life) and 7 (prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) of the ICCPR. However, despite assurances of a moratorium on stoning in 2002, it is clearly evident that executions this way are continuing to take place.

Infact, women and men in Iran are still being put to death for consensual sexual acts, and the country still has one of the highest rates of executions in the world. By the end of October, Amnesty International had recorded more than 250 executions since the beginning of 2007, far exceeding the 177 executions recorded in 2006.

Stoning didn’t get off to a great start and few were recorded in the few years’ post 1979. However, in 1986, the regulations were changed to make it possible for anyone with a high school diploma OR anyone simply recommended by the judiciary could become a judge. This has led to an increasing number of religious traditionalists taking their seat at the court. It should therefore come as no surprise that there were reported eight stoning executions that year.

The Iranian Penal Code’s standards and requirements, Article 105 gives the judges – who in Iran are all men – the absolute right to condemn the accused to death by stoning solely on the judge’s documented “knowledge” which could be his subjective interpretation of the case.23 This clearly violates fair trial provisions of the ICCPR that Iran has ratified, including the right to equality before courts, the right to be presumed innocent, and the right to be tried by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal. Can you imagine being tried and found guilty not on evidence, but purely on what the judge thinks they know about you from what they’ve heard?

Men have been stoned. However, there is a hugely disproportionate impact on women. According to Amnesty International: Discrimination against women in other aspects of their lives also leaves them more susceptible to conviction for adultery. Women are allowed only one sexual partner in life, their husband, whereas men are allowed four permanent wives and an unlimited number of temporary (sigheh) wives. Men have an incontestable right to divorce, whereas women have only a limited right to divorce their husbands, leaving them free to marry another man. Many women have no choice over the man they marry and many are married at a young age.

The lorry deposited a large number of stones and pebbles beside the waste ground, and then two women were led to the spot wearing white and with sacks over their heads… [they] were enveloped in a shower of stones and transformed into two red sacks… The wounded women fell to the ground and Revolutionary Guards smashed their heads in with a shovel to make sure they were dead.”
A reported witness account published by Amnesty International in 1987

 But surely that’s it? They won’t do this again – will they?!

At least nine women – Iran, Khayrieh, Kobra N, Fatemeh, Ashraf Kalhori, Shamameh Ghorbani,
Mokarrameh Ebrahimi, Leyla Ghomi and Hajar – are at risk of being stoned to death, along
with two men – Abdollah Fariva and an unamed Afghan national – according to information
received by Amnesty International.

This has to end! What Can I do?

Amnesty International are campaigning against the death penalty full stop but specifically death by stoning. Read their info and support the campaign:

Support an indigenous campaign to stop stoning. Lead by Asieh Amini and her team at Stop Stoning Forever. These women work at enormous personal risk and have been arrested on various charges for their commitment to human rights and making their country a better place. Make it worth their while. Their website:

Essentially, this is an issue about the place of a woman in her society. For so long as Iranian society continues to treat women in this bizarre – Madonna-whore fashion, whether a woman is stoned, hung or electrocuted – she is dead before any court tries her anyway. She is subjugated, treated as property to be traded for money or status, feared as the instrument tempting and tormenting men with her sexual powers- lest she be covered head to toe, and where she dare show disobedience – beat her until she does and kill her if she doesn’t. She is caged within the confines of the civil structure. And all the wonder of her contribution stifled and lost.

This can end. Don’t get angry, get involved.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Trial and Tribulation

The Sun headline today reads “24 Carat Bloody Liar” and next to it is a picture of a smug looking Naomi Campbell. Looking across the newspaper stand there is the same smug face and similar headlines. As the jury of public opinion pronounces Campbell guilty of heinous self interest - what, if any are their views on the man on trial – Mr Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia?

It was a bizarre spectacle watching the testimonies of a supermodel, an actress and a Hollywood agent sitting in the witness box of The Hague at a war crimes trial. The three were quizzed about what took place an A-lister charity dinner, hosted by Nelson Mandela at his house in Pretoria in 1997. But before we go into that any further, let’s just get a bit related to what actually happened in Liberia and Sierra Leone between 1989 and 2003.

Who on earth is Charles Taylor?
In the 80's

Charles Taylor is a former lay preacher, warlord and president of Liberia. He was born in 1948, educated in the US and grew up in the regime of brutal Samuel Doe. Whom he later turned on and overthrew in the coup of 1989.

In the dock

What did he do?

His 1989 coup led to the Liberian Civil War which ran from 1989-1996. This is acknowledge as Africa’s bloodiest civil war, in which over 200,000 people died and over 1 million people were turned from their homes into refugee camps and neighbouring countries.

Taylor’s small group of Libyan trained troops, called the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) attacked Liberia from the Ivory Coast with the explicit support of neighbouring African countries and implicit support from the West. The rule of Samuel Doe was known for its severe repression. Taylor was a freedom fighter. In response, Doe meted out an overwhelming wave of violence in an attempt to stop the coup in its tracks. Troops from the Liberian army cased the area of the incursion and opened fire indiscriminately at whomever the found, killing upto 200 civilians in one day. Meanwhile, between 1989 and 1993, Taylors NPFL also made it their business to slaughter civilians, neighbourhood militias and government officers in some of the most mindlessly brutal ways, almost outside of imagining. Many of Taylors NPFL militia, 21% according to were children.

Taylor stayed in the civil war through to 1996 when after 174 consecutive days of bloodshed a negotiated peace deal was secured and the country fell silent for an election on a new president. Taylor won with a massive majority. Although the elections were cited as the most transparent and free that Liberia had seen, they were conducted in an atmosphere of intimidation. The view on the street reported as, if Taylor doesn’t win, he will declare war on whomever does and he won’t stop until he is in power.

This is attested to by the unofficial campaign slogan, sung by children in the streets of Monrovia:

You killed my ma, you killed ma pa, you got my vote.

 Once in power, Taylor turned his attentions from leading insurrection to suppressing it by whatever means necessary. And he was successful. Acts of random violence dropped rapidly for the first 2 years following his accession to power. However, icing on a mud pie, does not make a cake.

The Showman of Africa

When he was once told by BBC icon Robin White that some people thought of him as a murderer, Taylor replied ‘even “Jesus Christ was accused of being a murderer in his time.”

The flamboyant, gregarious personal style of Charles Taylor made his international image something of the loveable rogue. But this is a dark hearted man who had led a violent vigilante force through nearly a decade of bloody warfare, overseeing the drugging of children with amphetamines to turn them into fighters and the most heinous acts of violence.

During his presidency, the roads remained broken and un-networked, pipe electricity and water was still a distant dream and the economy remained completely stalled with a GDI per capita of only $170.

The Gunrunner

Taylor also stands accused of buying weapons for armed military groups through money raised from the sale of so called ‘blood diamonds’. He started by making himself an alleged billionaire during the civil war and using the war to expand his personal fortune as a gunrunner. He is purported to have continued this betterment when in office by directly supporting a number of groups, but most notably, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in their violent onslaught against the people and government of Sierra Leone.

It is not that Charles Taylor personally took to the streets of Sierra Leone with guns and machetes. But he is accused of having funded, armed and supported the people who did.

What Happened to the child soldiers?

Taylor sought to harness their experience in the civil war by using them in various security forces which came to be increasingly feared by the people of Liberia. By late 90’s, early noughties the country was suffering an epidemic of violent groups of young men, trawling their areas in cars, rushing a public space or home and obliterating every person in the space with machetes. It is also in the hands of the new president for Liberia -

The Legacy of the Man

Walking on gunshells
By 2003, Liberia was ranked 174 out of 175 countries in the world by the UN World Human Development Index, which measures health and living conditions. Life expectancy had dropped from 57 to 47. Child mortality was at 15.7% (155.8 deaths for every 1000 live births). The economy was completely stalled with an unemployment rate of 85% and iron ore production (foundation of the economy) completely stopped.

Charles Taylor was a billionaire. Under enormous pressure and running around like a hunted man, afraid for his personal safety, Taylor fled in exile to Nigeria.

As Taylor has moved through the legal process for this war crimes trial, the country of Liberia has elected a new president: Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Ironically, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was allied to Taylor in the very early days of his campaign for power in 1989. She too believed that armed resistance was the only way to oust the brutal Samuel Doe (who was later executed). She publicly accepts this now as a mistake and a point of regret.

Johnson-Sirleaf has one hell of a task. She is running a country where rape is an everyday occurrence. A place where armed groups of thugs travel the country ready and willing to inflict outrageous violence. She is responsible for answering the question: How do we rehabilitate and integrate an entire generation of young men and women overcoming drug addiction and mental health issues from either being subjected to or inflicting extraordinary violence during the civil war period.

Chickens. Home. Roost.

And now Charles Taylor sits in the Special Court in the Hague, accused and accountable for war crimes including murder, rape, sexual slavery, gunrunning to name but a few.

So, while one might understand a supermodels fear in testifying against one of the world’s most deplorable leaders, one also must ask questions of the intransigence and selfishness implicit in Naomi Campbell’s actions. In the context of the persecution and suffering of the people of Liberia, her (upheld) request for no press at her entry and exit of the trial to protect her personal security seems a little rich.

What Can I do about it?

Loads. There are aid organisations committed to supporting Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in her ambitious goals in making Liberia a country to be proud of, where its people thrive in peace and have the opportunity to enjoy their lives, develop and use their talents and trust in their government. You can donate money or time to any of them.

The International Rescue Committee


Sponsor a Child

You can also get yourself on the ground and volunteer in the country and be part of the teams implementing the projects which kind people all over the world are funding.

Volunteer Africa

Equip Liberia

Thursday, 29 July 2010


On 1st April 2009, Ian Tomlinson was returning home from his days work as a newspaper seller. En route, he was knocked to the floor by a police officer. Minutes later he collapsed and died. The incident was caught on camera. 16 months later, after an extensive investigation, the Crown Prosecution Service has announced the case will not be put forward for criminal prosecution. As a family grieves and a country looks on astonished, how are we going to start holding the police to account for their behaviour on the beat?

Cause and EffectThere is a risk attached to watching CCTV/camera footage of a short snap of an incident. People do feel that they are eye witnesses to an event if they see only some footage of it, despite the fact that the footage is simply a small window into an incident and not the full picture. No one is disputing that. But this argument bears absolutely no relevance in this case. No one, not even the police, is denying that Ian Tomlinson:

a) Was entirely innocent and no part of the G20 protests that day

b) Presented no threat to the police or anyone

c) Was knocked violently to the ground by PC Simon Harwood of Scotland Yards Territorial Support team

Quite regardless of whether the man then died or not, this is assault. Can one even conceive of a volte-face circumstance where a police officer was walking along and a civilian ran up behind them, knocked them to the ground with a baseball bat and no charges were pressed?

Sadly, this is truly the thin end of the wedge in the dark side of the UK police force. There have been 954 deaths in police custody since 1990 and not one officer charged or event tried. If one were feeling inflammatory, one might suggest the police have got so complacent in getting away with killing people in the silence and privacy of the cells. That they are upping the ante somewhat and taking their brutality to the streets.

One thing is for sure, they’re doing it and they are getting away with it, and it’s often the most vulnerable in society that they are picking off.

See No Evil, Hear No Evil

On 21st August 2008, a mentally ill man named Sean Rigg suffered a breakdown at his supported hostel in Brixton. Sean was 40 years old and physically fit despite his mental health problems. He had been taken into mental care by police officers before and was known as vulnerable.

He left the hostel in an emotionally disturbed state and members of the hostel made 6 calls to 999 in a bid to raise the alarm and have Sean transported to the nearest hospital for treatment. A member of the public also dialled 999 after seeing Sean in such a state. At about 7pm, Sean was picked up by police, charged with a public order offense, handcuffed and taken to the station in a bobby van. The van arrived at the station at 7.30pm, but Sean collapsed during the transfer from van to station, semi clothed. He was pronounced dead at hospital in the following hours.
An inquest, an appeal to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), house of commons questions by MP Sadiq Khan and tireless efforts result , no prosecution, not even so much as a cause of death for the family and friends of Sean Rigg.
Furthermore, the family of Sean Rigg have been fed a string of conflicting reports on the nature of Sean’s death. One of the sinister aspects of the case was the absence of any CCTV footage from the station. Intially the police denied that there were any cameras on the premises, then once the family had been to the station and seen the camera overlooking the area where Sean would have been brought in, the station announced that the camera hadn’t worked for some time.

However, once referred to the IPCC it was discovered that there were both CCTV and audio taken of Sean's arrest and arrival at Brixton police station.
Months of investigation and it was concluded that there was no obvious cause of injury leading to Sean's death.
The family continues to search for the truth.
Nearly two years later the Rigg family are no closer to finding out how and why Sean died.

Technicalities, Technicalities

In 2005, 43 year old Faisal al-Ani was arrested in Southend on Sea town centre while suffering from an acute psychotic illness. Police stated he had collapsed after walking into the station and died. However, CCTV footage of the arrest showed Mr al-Ani being taken to the ground in a major struggle involving multiple officers, being pinned to the floor for five minutes with a number of officers on his back and a foot in his neck, and later footage showed him being carried unconscious into the police station, not walking.

Despite all of this, after referral to the CPS, no charges were to be brought against any officer involved. This is all the more bizarre considering they found that:

“Medical reports indicate that Mr Al-Ani died as the result of a combination of factors, principally an underlying heart problem associated with a struggle and restraint.”

Therefore one could surely conclude that had Mr al-Ani been treated as a mental patient and not a criminal he may well have not died that day.

So, in all of the above cases, the defense has been based on the lack of evidence in terms of CCTV or witnesses, or even when an incident has been witnessed first hand or caught on camera, there is an undermining of the link between the incident with the police officer and the cause of death of the subject.
As in the case of Ian Tomlinson where pathologist Freddy Patel, under inspection by the GMC for four incompetent autopsies and subsequently struck off the Home Office approved list  stated that Ian's cause of death was heart attack. 
The second pathologist found that he had infact died of internal bleeding caused by blunt force trauma in combination with liver cirrhosis.
A third pathologist agreed with the findings of the second pathologist.

Yet the opinion of one discredited pathologist was enough to see the case dropped. 

The Untouchables
One might therefore expect the case of Jean Charles de Menezes to have been open and shut. An innocent man shot seven times in the head while sitting on a tube train waiting to go to work, by police officers who had mistaken him for a suicide bomber.

However, in this case, firstly the media were told the man was of Arabic decent, wearing a backpack, had run from police into the carriage and the police had no choice but to shoot him.

Later, we find he is Brazilian, no police chase occurred, infact de Menezes wasn’t aware he was being followed until after he had taken his seat on the tube, and he had stopped to pick up a Metro as he ambled through the station to the train as CCTV footage later showed.

However, no criminal charges of personal culpability were ever made against police officers involved in the incident. Despite eleven shots being fired in 30 seconds, seven of which hit him in the head, one in the shoulder.

So, what will it take for a police officer to be charged when they break the law in the same way a civilian is?


There are people working tirelessly to hold to account the people responsible for the deaths of not only Ian Tomlinson, Sean Rigg, Faisial al-Ani, Jean Charles de Menezes but all the others. The important thing in most of these cases is that the police officers are human beings. Where a genuine mistake has been made, the person needs to be held to account under their responsibility as a police officer. That responsibility should be accepted and administered with proportionality and understanding. Where an act of brutality has taken place, the same responsibility must be administered with a large audience so people know they are safe and that when the police pick them up, in error or otherwise, that they are not inherently at risk of death.
These cases need to come before the coutrs of the law, not police inquiries and internal disciplinary proceedings.  If I shot someone, I wouldnt go through a grievance procedure, I'd go to court.  Same deal for the police when they cross the line.

Public trust in the police is critical. We are the polices number one source of crime prevention. If we can’t feel safe, and on the same team, there is something fundamentally missing and we are all less safe. 

How to Make a Difference

Watch and promote the film Injustice which seeks to tell the untold story of deaths in prison primarily among ethnic minority men since 1969

Lend support to the family campaign for justice for Sean Rigg

Friday, 23 July 2010

Destination Gaza

May 31st this year, an flotilla of aid ships bound for the Gaza strip were boarded in international waters by Israeli marine commandos and by daybreak 9 civilians on the Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara were dead. This weekend, two Lebanese ships will disembark from Tripoli, their final destination will be Gaza. As the Israeli naval fleet goes on high alert, Scriptonite takes a closer look at the ships, the organisers and the implications if this mission: impossible.

The ships have been organised by Syrian national of Palestinian descent Yasser Kashlak, a 36 year old businessman with reported links to various Palestinian peace organisation, Hezbollah and the Syrian leadership. According to the Jerusalem Post and various pro-israeli organisations he is anti Semitic and has promised to get all Israelis out of Israel and back their European destinations of origin...and then chase them back there to get even.

The plan is for one ship to be exclusively for journalists and one ship to be women only. Interviews with the women planning to sail on the Maryam, the women-only ship, do not sound like the voices of radical islam.

We were all drawn to the project...united by a feeling of stark injustice" says Samar Hajj, one of the organisers of the Maryam

Aside from Samar, the women aboard the Maryam will all take the name Maryam and be distinguished by a number eg Maryam 1, Maryam 2, in order to protect their identities ahead of the trip. Maryam 1 is an Indian lawyer who defines herself as being wholly influenced by Ghandi’s non violent resistance to oppression. She says:

"What the Mavi Marmara attack highlighted was that two sets of rules were applied to humanity, depending on a people's colour, race and religion. But what people fail to realise is that suffering is by nature indivisible."

Sitting across from her was Maryam 2, a former biologist of Lebanese- Armenian descent. "I have been closely following the Palestinian issue and have been moved by the blatant injustice that is practiced against Palestinians by the Israelis," she says.

At the daily meetings, Maryam 2 bonded with other women from diverse backgrounds, particularly a Turkish journalist. Turkey and Armenia have been at odds since the Turkish massacre of Armenians in the early 19th century.

"The journalist, who barely speaks English told me I was a godsend when she discovered I could speak some Turkish. Here at the Maryam headquarters, nationality and religion dissolve behind the common resolve of breaking the siege of Gaza," she says.
Most Maryam passengers are impatient to set sail.
"We will not fight Israelis with weapons, stones or knives, but with our free will," says Maryam 3, a single woman working in the Lebanese government. "And we will not surrender."

In Israel, the army chief, Gabi Ashkenazi, told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee on Jul. 6 that every effort should be made to ensure that no more flotillas set sail for Gaza.

In response, The Foreign Ministry instructed Israeli ambassadors to ask senior officials in the United States, United Nations, European Union and Egypt to pressure Syria and Lebanon to stop the flotilla, which Israel deems a “provocation” in light of its recent decision to end its civilian blockade of Gaza.
Syria has been included because senior Israeli officials say it is helping to organize the flotilla. Hezbollah is also involved, they charged.

This is a clear and organized provocation, one official said.

And one can see why Israel might be getting more than a little twitchy as one nation after another produces a ship destined to break it’s internationally criticised blockade of the Gaza Strip. Infact, there is an even more controversial ship being planned in the benefactor nation to Israel. A Us organisation is raising funds as we speak to send a US ship to break the blockade and are planning to name her..wait for it:

The Audacity of Hope....*chuckle

It warms me to think of the 1.5 million imprisoned people of Gaza being able to see that such an international acknowledgement of their suffering has taken place and that people are willing, despite the slow and ineffectual machinations of their respective governments, to take sail across the world to support the principles of freedom and equality of rights for all peoples.

The non violence of this resistance is what makes it so beautiful and so effective. And is surely, the bridge to peace.

Please note: The Israeli press has reported the two ships are called Junia and is unclear how this miscommunication has taken place or if there are infact three ships.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Budget 2010 - Don't Hate the Player, Hate the Game!

Uk Chancellor George Osbourne unveiled the longest awaited Emergency Budget in history yesterday. Libdems were trending all day on twitter as folk queued up to denounce the ‘evil’ Libdems for selling out on their promises and principles. As commentators all round cry foul – Scriptonite asks if people even realise the rules of the game they are playing.

Budget: Key Points

Generally well received by the business community with an emphasis on small business and entrepreneurship, the budget focussed on start ups and relieving the tax burden on growing small to medium enterprises (SMEs). Corporation Tax and NI contributions down. There is also NIC relief for new business and small business tax drops to 20%. Happy little entrepreneurs!

Tax bands rearranged to grant a £1000 further tax free income for the lowest earners in the UK. This works out as an average £170 per annum kept in the pocket for those people and is intended to open the gates of the benefit trap, where the tax burden of those attempting to come of benefits and into work is so great, that it acts as a deterrent to seeking work.

VAT goes up from 17.5% to 20%, but unlike worst case predictions does not spread to currently non VATable items like kids clothing and food.

Capital Gains Tax (CGT) flew up from 18% to 28%. However, with Entrepreneur’s relief this will be restricted to 10% on lifetime earnings and those outside Entrepreneurs Relief but whose taxable income is under £37,500 will remain at 18%. The point is, the tax is designed to target the highest earners and not the little guys and girls setting up their first business or trying to expand their existing businesses. Great news. Thanks coalition.

Fags, Booze and Fuel
Apart from the impact of the VAT increase, no increase in duty. Also, those of us in the west country will be relieved to see the coalition government revoke the previous governments plans to increase duty on cider. Hooray!

Public Sector Pay
25% budget cuts over 4 years with only Health and International Aid protected from the cuts equals short term pain for the public sector.
In short, anyone earning over £21,000 will have a pay freeze for two years. Anyone under that threshold gets a flat £250 increase for both years. They’re more likely to be impacted by job cuts however as the department cuts bite over the next couple of years. Sucks but no surprises.

Hooray! After all that faffing around the basic state pension will linked to earnings from April 2011 AND the pensions will rise in line with earnings, prices or 2.5%..whichever is highest. Fantastic news.

The eagerly anticipated bank levy will be introduced based on balance sheets of the big banks with small banks being exempted. More detail to follow but looking good.

Why Are We Here? The Bigger Picture

Firstly, a context setter. In immediate terms, the economy failed, the banks nearly collapsed and the taxpayer basically exercised reverse socialism…creating a welfare system for the financial services sector. This cost hundreds of billions of pounds.

In longer and more strategic terms…we have a defunct and unfair monetary system that demands winners and losers.

Most people are incredibly incurious about how the monetary system works, which is kind of weird when you consider most people spend a lot of their lives obsessed with the stuff. Either we’re musing on how to acquire more or over how to acquire things with the money we have.
Yet most of us never actually seem to ask the question – where does this stuff come from? How does this whole thing work anyway?

Welcome to Life in Platos Cave

If most people inquired they would need to start thinking and, perish the thought, even acting based on this new knowledge.
Like the prisoners chained facing the wall in Plato’s cave, we carry on regardless, listening intently to the scholars reading the shadows, rather than breaking free,turning around and taking in the whole cave…and dare I say, even moving forward and out of the cave and into the bright sun of the big wide world.

The basis of our economy is debt. Fact.  All money in our fiat currency based economy is issued as a loan from a central bank to a nation state. All of it. Every penny. No kidding. In the UK, the Bank of England issues currency to the government in the form of a loan which the government guarantees to pay back in the form. Government gives a bond (a paper or electronic IOU) to the Central Bank to say: thanks, will pay you back PLUS interest agreed. Which raises the question….where does the money to pay the interest come from? And therein sits the glitch in the system….if all currency comes from the central bank, then the loan is never fully repayable once interest is created.

If I had an infinite pile of bricks and you had none. I loan you ten bricks. You can only ever give me back ten bricks without needing to ask me for more. So if I give you ten bricks and ask for 12 in return, you will need to come back to me for those extra two…at which point I will request you return not only the 12 bricks, but the ‘interest’ on the additional two bricks. And so it goes.

On top of this, the Bank of England is not part of the government. It is it’s own entity, a private concern.

The point of explaining this is to bring a wider view to the conversation about national debt. The circular conversations about percentage points of VAT, or the level of the deficit are the conversations based on the shadows on the wall and not on the wider , holistic view. The economists and the correspondents are the prisoners best able to read and forecast the actions of the shadows, not the freed prisoner able to provide us with insight, innovation and freedom from our current view.

The point is, to cry foul inside of this game is redundant. It is unfair. That’s how it is designed. Energy spent is valuable only in mitigating as far as you can, the inherent silliness of it.

I don’t like it – this game is rubbish

Then how about speculating in conversations about how money could work? How about taking on telling at least one person this week about how money actually works?

There are also political means of engaging and being part of the wider conversation about how to manage trade and monetary interests.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Love Thy Neighbour - The Divide and Conquer Principle

Two thousand two hundred people dead.  Three hundred thousand people now homeless refugees.  Untold numbers of rapes.  Homes burned to the ground.  As tension boils over in Kyrgyzstan, Scriptonite consider the real forces at play in this ethnic tension deja vous.

Bisected by the Silk Road, the 2000 year old trade route linking Europe and Asia, the five countries of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan are commonly referred to as The Stans.  The region is filled with UNESCO world heritage sites and some of the most spectacular scenes of natural environment in the world, including the Al-Archa National Park and Lake Issyk-Kul (pictured below).

However, in the heart of the Stans, Kyrgyzstan; political and social matters are considerably less harmonious.  
Conquered by Arab invaders in the 8th century, the Kyrgyz region has since been successively overrun by everyone from the Uzbeks, the Chinese and most recently the Russians.  During this time, the population might have learnt that whenever the forces in charge wanted to retain power or distract folk while it increased it’s powers, it set the population up against itself.  Let’s take a look at two such incidences.

First Time Round – June 1990

In 1989, the occupying Russian regime of the USSR was on the outs.  The USSR was under pressure and leaking territory.  It had made attempts to ‘Russify’ the populations of its key territories in order to impact the results of elections. Basically, just importing the friendlies.
It’s policy was to drive the inhabiting populous out to the country and beef up Russian residents of the cities, including access to jobs and services.
This led to an acute housing and employment crisis for the Kyrgyz.  This is borne out by the contemporary census which reveals ethnic Kyrgyz made up only 22% of residents in these cities compared to over 60% Russian and other Slavic residents.   There was also an unemployment rate of neary 30%.

The Uzbek minority who, although representing only 15% of the population as a whole, about equalled the Kyrgyz in number in the South including the capital Bishkek and Osh, created a rights group called the Adalat which sought to establish the Uzbek language as a main language of the region and redistribute some of the (for reasons specified above) highly scarce arable land.  In response, the Krygyz set up their own rights group in opposition, called the Osh Ameigy (Osh Land).

The call went out….it was the Uzbeks nicking all the land and housing.  In a final and fatal push, the local authorities approved build plots to Kyrgyz on an Uzbek dominated state farm.  Cue anarchy.   Groups of jobless, angry young men on both sides met on the disputed plot of land only to be mown down by the bullets of local militia who were authorised to use lethal force to disperse the crowds.  Hundreds died and the people of Kyrgyzstan were successfully divided amongst ethnic lines.

The Russian occupying forces however, who had initiated the housing crisis, the failing economy, the lack of employment opportunities for the native population and shot dead most of those killed, got to rule the place for another year.

This buying of time was crucial for the USSR. The beleaguered empire spent the whole year doing it’s best to ensure its continuation by nobbling the local politicians.  However, they failed and the country managed to crawl into independence in 1991.

This Time Round – June 2010

The above video is not of current clashes.  In fact, bloody clashes have been breaking out intermittently once more in the nation under a succession of corrupt, power hungry and ineffective governments.

Despite international willy-waving like joining various trade agreements including the WTO, the Kyrgyz leadership has been fairly questionable in it’s application of ‘democracy’ since it’s independence in 1991.

The first leader of the new republic was Askar Akayev.  Post independence, the new government did just about everything it could to increase the power of the president while curtailing the powers of the legislative branch of it’s democratic system. 

Don’t let the smiling face fool you.  Askayev is not benevolence personified.  He was elected in 1991 as the compromise candidate, and was viewed as a modern liberal communist.  He attested to this himself and viewed private land favourably.   Hopes were high.  However, his principal mission became ruling as hard as possible for as long as possible.

He went on to win a two further elections, both of which were internally and internationally akcnowledged for widespread ballot rigging.  When rigging the votes wasn’t enough, Askayev proceeded to lock up the opposition.  In March 2002, he locked up opposition deputy Azimbek Beknazarov.  The charge? Well, being in opposition.  When protesters hit the streets in outrage at this latest arbitrary arrest by the ever encroaching Askayev regime, they were shot down.  Five innocent people were killed where they stood by state security forces.  In echoes of 1990, the local enforcement were authorised to use live ammo on the peaceful protest.

In the elections of 2005, Askayev took his megolomania to whole new levels of crazy.  He indicated, publicly, that he was considering the principle of divine hereditary rule for his children.  His children then, in another clearly dodgy vote, won their seats.  In rage and fear of defacto rule by Askayek to his death, or an Askyev Dynasty, the country launched into revolution.

The Tulip revolution took place in March 2005 and despite the horrors, Askayev was successfully deposed.  Opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev who had received 89% of the vote with a 53% turnout and was duly appointed President.  Good news?  Not really, Bakiyev was widely accused of rigging as many of the votes as Askiyev.  The nation hoped for a change regardless....what else was there to do?

Sure as eggs, despite his promises to reduce the power of the president and restore power to the prime minister and parliament, Bakiyev’s period of rule was a bloody disgrace.  It was marred by the murder of several prominent politicians prison riots, economic strangulation and financial scandal.  

In 2007, massive protests in Bishkek saw violent clashes between police and protesters.

In the 2009 election, surprise surprise, beleaguered and hated Bakiyev WON the election.  It was clear that voter fraud and corruption were now manifest. 
By winter that year and early 2010, rolling blackouts were commonplace across the country, heating bills went up 400% and electricity went up 170%.

By April this year, the opposition forces had endured enough and following bloody riots, the government of Bakiyev was overthrown.  After a final row he picked up his wife and children and fled to Kazakhstan.

In the meantime, a coalition government lead by Roza Otunbayeva was created.  A referendum was called for June 27th where the resignation of Bakiyev would be announced and the public would have the opportunity to legitimise the new government.

However, over the border, Bakiyev was not done.  In his own words:

"I, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, am the legally elected president of Kyrgyzstan and recognised by the international community. I do not recognise my resignation. Nine months ago the people of Kyrgyzstan elected me their president and there is no power that can stop me. Only death can stop me"

It is alleged that Bakiyev and his supporters have deliberately incited ethnic tensions within the country to destabilise it to the degree that the upcoming referendum doesn’t take place.  It is alleged that Bakiyev recruited Tajik groups to fire upon crowds of Uzbeks and Kyrgyz and blame either side for it.
Thus incited, angry young men once again clashed, this time in a club in Osh.  The violence quickly erupted across the city and what ensued was a siege of rape, bloody violence and terror.

Pic 1.  Dead Uzbek men looked upon by passers by.

Pic 2. Dead uzbek mother and her children, stamped to death in the rush to flee.
Pic 3. Fleeing Uzbeks crowded at the border

The nation looks unstable, the referendum looks in doubt and Bakiyev looks on from the wings, no doubt licking his lips and making deals.

A voice from the region attests to this.


Christian Aid

The British Red Cross

International Rescue Committee

Help them help the displaced people of Kyrgyzstan.

Friday, 18 June 2010

BP v Bhopal: It's Health and Safety Gone Mad!

60 days after the gulf oilspill, BP agrees to $20 billion US dollars of compensation and clean up money. Meanwhile, 25 years later, victims of the Bhopal gas leak in India are still fighting for adequate compensation. Scriptonite puts the spotlight on this less reported case and asks: has health and safety really gone mad?

BP's Disaster

This week Tony Hayward, CEO of BP, has confirmed the company is to put US$20 billion in an independently administered fund for cleanup and compensation costs related to the gas explosion which sank the Transocean Deepwater Horizon deepsea oil rig on April 20th this year. 11 workers on the rig lost their lives and triggering environmental disaster. Hundreds of millions of galls of oil have leaked (and continue to leak) into the Gulf and is washing the shores and habitats of 4 states. The 40% methane content of the oil drilled at this depth also means that oxygen levels in the ocean have depleted between 2 and 30 percent in the affected area (which by the way, depending on the currents of the day between the size of Luxembourg and the size of Wales). the small microbes that live in the sea have been feeding on the oil and natural gas in the water and are consuming larger quantities of oxygen, which they need to digest food. As they draw more oxygen from the water, it creates two problems. When oxygen levels drop low enough, the breakdown of oil grinds to a halt; and as it is depleted in the water, most life can't be sustained. This may well result in hideous outcomes for the marine life ranging from suffocation, long term ‘dead zones’ where no life is possible, and in the words of David Garrison, project director for the US federal governments National Science Foundation’s Biological Oceanography Program:

"This has the potential to harm the ecosystem in ways that we don't know"

BP’s Rap Sheet

The bitter pill currently being swallowed by tired environmentalists, newly redundant fishermen and tourism workers, and grieving families is that key cost cutting decisions and a blatant disregard for health and safety brought this otherwise entirely avoidable disaster to the world.

Firstly, the US coastguard has issued 18 citations for pollution against Deepwater Horizon since 2000 and investigated no fewer than SIXTEEN fires and other incidents. It has been reported that multiple oil rig workers and managers aboard Deepwater Horizon had expressed concern about well control and gas pressure on Deepwater Horizon from 2009 through to March and April 2010.
In fact, the rig mechanic Doug Brown has stated on record that the well had problems for months and that the drill repeatedly kicked due to high gas pressure providing resistance. The levels of gas coming up from the well were twice as high as he'd ever seen in his career.

On the day that bubble of methane blew out the drilling pipes and exploded, BP had won the argument against it’s chief driller Drewey Revette, Doug Brown and other workers. The workers were concerned at BPs choice to use sea water rather than heavy mud to suppress gas. BP wanted to use the sea water as it was quicker and therefore less costly. BP won, Doug and Drewey lost. Drewey Revette died that night.

In a final insult, the ‘failsafe’blowout preventer, designed to stop this very thing happening…failed. A bloody disgrace and no amount of money will bring back the eleven workers or directly undo the unimaginable and as yet unknown damage to the ecosystem of the Gulf and who knows where else. 

What did it cost BP?

$20 billion for compensation and clean up
$8 billion wiped off the value of the company in trading
Global bad publicity including the president of the united states personal condmenation
CEO of BP cross examined by Congress and promise of a Presidential Inquiry into the incident.

Imagine if BP did this…

Small mercy – BP are having to take responsible now, and completely for what they have done.

But what if BP walked away from the rig?
What if the day after the leak, BP upped sticks and left the oil pipe still leaking leaving behind $400 million?
What if the beleaguered local economy couldn’t support rectifying the situation and the oil continued to leak, destroying the local ecosystem entirely?
What if 25 years went by and people continued to die from illnesses caused by the spill?
This would an unimaginable nightmare would it not? You may even consider simply impossible and the stuff of the apocalyptic horror movie genre. However, this is basically the situation in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India.

Bhopal’s Disaster

On the night of December 3rd 1984, at the majority owned Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL – a subsidiary of Union Carbide Chemicals or UCC) pesticide plant in Bhopal, a tank full of lethal methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas and other toxins, including hydrogen cyanide began to leak.

The deadly cocktail of gas covered the area and over 500,000 people were caught in the noxious cloud. The timeline below covers the main events of the night.

At the Plant
• 21:00 Water cleaning of pipes starts.
• 22:00 Water enters tank 610, reaction starts.
• 22:30 Gases are emitted from the vent gas scrubber tower.
• 00:30 The large siren sounds and is turned off.
• 00:50 The siren is heard within the plant area. The workers escape.
• 22:30 First sensations due to the gases are felt—suffocation, cough, burning eyes and vomiting.
• 1:00 Police are alerted. Residents of the area evacuate. Union Carbide director denies any leak.
• 2:00 The first people reached Hamidia hospital. Symptoms include visual impairment and blindness, respiratory difficulties, frothing at the mouth, and vomiting.
• 2:10 The alarm is heard outside the plant.
• 4:00 The gases are brought under control.
• 7:00 A police loudspeaker broadcasts: "Everything is normal".

Aside from the thousands of immediate deaths from choking, pulmonary oedema and other such appalling ends, there were massive and quite inconceivable long term health impacts.
170, 000 people sought medical treatment the next day.
The still birth rate shot up 300%
Miscarriages rose by 200%
20,000 people have died SINCE the leak from related illnesses

There were devastating impacts on the local eco system also with over a million animal carcasses,bloated with gas needing to be disposed of and ‘dead zones’ of contamination which are no go areas for animal or plant life.

The bitter pill in this case is that Union Carbide decommissioned the site in the style of rats fleeing a sinking ship, leaving their site to continue contaminating the groundwater in the local area.

The Union Carbide Rap Sheet

• The MIC tank alarms had not worked for four years.
• Civil action suits in India as late as 1998 revealed that unlike Union Carbide plants in the US, its Indian subsidiary plants were not prepared for problems. No action plans had been established to cope with incidents of this magnitude. This included not informing local authorities of the quantities or dangers of chemicals used and manufactured at Bhopal.
• There was only one manual back-up system, compared to a four-stage system used in the US.
• The flare tower and the vent gas scrubber had been out of service for five months before the disaster. The gas scrubber therefore did not treat escaping gases with sodium hydroxide (caustic soda), which might have brought the concentration down to a safe level. Even if the scrubber had been working, according to Weir, investigations in the aftermath of the disaster discovered that the maximum pressure it could handle was only one-quarter of that which was present in the accident. Furthermore, the flare tower itself was improperly designed and could only hold one-quarter of the volume of gas that was leaked in 1984.
• To reduce energy costs, the refrigeration system, designed to inhibit the volatilization of MIC, had been left idle—the MIC was kept at 20 degrees Celsius (room temperature), not the 4.5 degrees advised by the manual, and some of the coolant was being used elsewhere.
• The steam boiler, intended to clean the pipes, was out of action for unknown reasons.
• Slip-blind plates that would have prevented water from pipes being cleaned from leaking into the MIC tanks through faulty valves were not installed. Their installation had been omitted from the cleaning checklist.
• Water sprays designed to "knock down" gas leaks were poorly designed—set to 13 meters and below, they could not spray high enough to reduce the concentration of escaping gas.
• The MIC tank had been malfunctioning for roughly a week. Other tanks had been used for that week, rather than repairing the broken one, which was left to "stew". The build-up in temperature and pressure is believed to have affected the magnitude of the gas release.
• Carbon steel valves were used at the factory, even though they corrode when exposed to acid. On the night of the disaster, a leaking carbon steel valve was found, allowing water to enter the MIC tanks. The pipe was not repaired because it was believed it would take too much time and be too expensive.
• UCC admitted in their own investigation report that most of the safety systems were not functioning on the night of December 3, 1984.
The culpability here is really not in any question whatsoever. The company outright ignored the matter of making the plant safe, in favour of making things happen more quickly and at a lower cost. 

What did it Cost Union Carbide?

$470 million
8 local workers convicted and given two year prison sentences and fined $2000

That’s Paltry! What’s next?

Today, the Indian Government announced that it is to reopen the case on the Bhopal Gas Leak which is acknowledged as the world worst industrial disaster.

You can get involved by donating to the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal and supporting this inspirational group in holding this company to account and regenerating this completely blighted area of the world.

Can’t afford to donate? Then simply retweet this story or post it to your facebook page so more people know about it. In the same way that BP was held to account by a public and a government that wouldn’t take no for an answer, Union Carbide must be too. Companies worldwide must learn that health and safety legislation is ignored at their peril – especially considering this sadly appears to be the only language they know.

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