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.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Inquiry Schminquiry!

In the wee small hours of May 31st Israeli troops launched an assault on a Turkish humanitarian aid ship bound for Gaza in International waters.  Sometime later, nine of the ‘activists’ on the ship were dead, several Israeli troops were wounded.  The eyes of the world were on the scene and Israel has now announced that it will hold a ‘credible’ inquiry into the events of that night.  Scriptonite looks at how Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu gets the only kind of inquiry he wants.

Fix the terms of the inquiry to avoid the big questions

The formal brief is to:
  • examine the "security circumstances" of the naval blockade on Gaza and whether this conforms to international law
  • decide if the actions of 31 May (the night of the action) conform to the principles of international law
  • consider the actions of those who organised and took part in the flotilla "and their identities"
Firstly, the Israeli government has no problem with being found in contravention of international law.  In 2004, the International Court of Justice in The Hague (the United Nations court for presiding over matters of international law) called for the apartheid wall to be removed.  Israel has built 436 miles of 8 metre high walls through the occupied territories of Palestine.  The wall cuts off villages, turning each Palestinian town into a Ghetto secured by an Israeli operated border control.  The video below was shot by me at the Qalandia checkpoint in 2008. Please excuse the quality of the video, it was taken on mobile phone and not intended for public consumption.
On approach:
In the queue:

A 2005 UN report states that:
“It is difficult to overstate the humanitarian impact of the Barrier. The route inside the West Bank severs communities, people’s access to services, livelihoods and religious and cultural amenities. In addition, plans for the Barrier’s exact route and crossing points through it are often not fully revealed until days before construction commences. This has led to considerable anxiety amongst Palestinians about how their future lives will be impacted...The land between the Barrier and the Green Line constitutes some of the most fertile in the West Bank. It is currently the home for 49,400 West Bank Palestinians living in 38 villages and towns.

Israel didn’t even bother to attend court, preferring to simply submit 246 pages of testimony. 
And this is not the first time Israel has simply ignored the voice of international law.  The United Nations has tabled over 200 resolutions calling on Israel to respect various aspects of international law which it has transgressed since 1948.  From the simple fact of being an illegal occupier in Palestinian territory, to ignoring the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees, to the building of the apartheid wall, to attacks on Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza and the West Bank….and Israel just ploughs on. 

In this context, Bibi has fixed the terms of his inquiry exactly where he wants it.  Any ruling on an international law issue will be refuted and ignored.  He also gets to focus the only part of the inquiry that will be heard in Israel on the actions of the people on the ship.  Cute.

Pick the Jury well – friends first, credible but incapable ‘foes’ second

A small number of folks are conducting the inquiry.  In fact, it’s just three men.  Three rather old men.

Yaakov Tirkel (Leader)

75 year old Yaakov is a former Israeli Supreme Court Judge.  He is most notable for not actually believing in the inquiry which he is about to lead.  Haaretz, hugely critical of Israel’s internal inquiry reports:
Netanyahu’s panel will have no powers, not even those of a government probe, and its proposed chairman does not believe in such a panel. In an interview to Army Radio, Tirkel said there is no choice but to establish a state committee of inquiry. He opposed bringing in foreign observers and made clear that he is not a devotee of drawing conclusions about individuals and dismissing those responsible for failures. When a Haaretz reporter confronted Tirkel about these remarks, the former justice evaded the question saying, “I don’t remember what I said.

Amos Horev (Member)

86 year old Amos is a retired IDF Major General.  He has a military record longer than my arm including commanding units in the battles for Jerusalem and the Negev in 1948, and is seen as the man who armed Israel to win Sinai in 1956 and the six day war of 1967 for his work in establishing and directing the IDF Department for Weapons Development.  He is a red blooded military man.  Difficult to see this lifelong IDF man as a credible critic of his friends and family in the forces.
If the inquiry was examining government culpability in deciding to board the boats and therefore putting IDF troops in this position then he may have been more helpful.

Shabtai Rosen (Member)

93 year old professor in International Law and former Israeli diplomat Shabtai was born in London, fought in WW2, was appointed to the Legal Secretariat of the Situation Committee (the body that established the state of Israel following the British Mandate), has won both the Israel Prize and the Hague International Law prize and has been a member of the Hague Academy of International Law since 2001.  The man has some credentials….perhaps some balance to his counterparts?  We shall see…

Don’t forget the ‘international observers’ to add a bit of legitimacy to proceedings

Oh and there will be two international observers.  Yes, some foreign people to watch proceedings but who have zero powers of decision or veto.  So…which two heavy hitting international witnesses will be in attendance?

David Trimble (Observer - Northern Ireland)

65 year old Lord Trimble (fresh faced Tory peer) is a household name in the UK where he was first minister for Northern Ireland, Ulster Unionist leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner.  However, David is cofounder of Friends of Israel (launched the day after the Mavi Marmara was attacked), whose mission statement reads: This initiative

“Is promoted by people who are not Jewish and whose motivations are based on the deep conviction that Israel is part of the Western world. In fact, today Israel is a fundamental actor for the future of the West. Although the peace process is important, the members of Friends of Israel Initiative are more concerned about the onslaught of radical Islamism as well as the specter of a nuclear Iran since these are threats affecting not only Israel, but the entire world.
…The sponsors of this Initiative believe there is no West without Israel.”

Nice to have a good old fashioned impartial observer.

Ken Watkins (Observer - Canada)

Former brigadier-general in the Canadian army with a whole load of legal/inquiry experience.  Distinguished, but for those expecting anything from Ken in terms of going up against the big guns in favour of the right of victims – I refer you to the Canadian Afghan Rights Issue which hit headlines in 2007.  Canadian law professor Amir Attaran released to the press document he had been issued under an Access to Information request.  The information revealed that three prisoners in Canadian Military custody were allowed to be tortured by Afghan interrogators.  According to a report in the Toronto Star, while acting as the Judge Advocate General, Ken Watkin advised the Canadian Forces command that they could be "criminally negligent" for transferring detainees to a risk of torture in Afghan hands. Mr. Watkin refused to answer questions when called to testify in Canada's House of Commons about whether he was directed to authorize the transfers or had knowledge of Canadian diplomatic reports of torture, and claimed that solicitor-client privilege owed to the Government of Canada prevented him answering the House's questions ~ Wikipedia

Scare the Bejesus out of anyone thinking of raising their voices

You probably haven’t heard of Anat Kam.  Anat Kam is a 23 year old Israeli journalist (pictured left) who has been under house arrest awaiting trial for treason since last year.  Anat’s crime?  To release top secret military documents to Uri Blau, a journalist on the Daily Haaretz, which proved that the IDF senior command planned and executed the assassinations of three alleged terrorist leaders, in violation of an earlier 2006 ruling of the Israeli Supreme Court limiting the circumstances in which such a tactic could be used.  There is a well enforced gag order on this one, supported in part by Kam and her legal team who are convinced that the less we talk about it the more chance there is she will avoid a 14 year jail sentence.  Having previously covered the treatment of Mordechai Vanunu in the article Good Nuke, Bad Nuke, this is yet another case of the enormous consequences which lay at the feet of those in Israel whom dare speak out with any real force against the IDF.

So….whose coming to the inquiry then?

All we are saying is give peace a chance

The key to ending the blockade against Gaza and the institution of a viable and peaceable two state solution is not going to come from this inquiry.  It is going to come from the vast majorities of reasonable, peaceful men, women and children of Israel and Palestine who are right now buffeted and marginalised by a minority community of beneficiaries of constant war.  Scriptonite casts a shining light on one such group today:

Libby and Len Traubman
This Californian couple have made it their business that there is peace in the world.  Their work and energy knows no bounds.  I have had the pleasure of receiving incredible support from Libby and Len when setting up a peace project in Israel-Palestine a couple of years ago.  They are completely awesome people and you only need to be on their site for five minutes before you get a sense of the great unreported mass of great people working their socks off for peace.  It’s just a matter of time folks.

Don’t get angry, get involved.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Spill baby, Spill! The Truth BP aint Spillin'

The BP Oil Rig Deepwater Horizon has been pumping oil into the Gulf of Mexico for nearly two months,BP stocks are plumetting and the gulf coastal region and it's inhabitants are picking tar balls off their beaches.  But Scriptonite asks: what ARENT BP saying?

So what happened?

On April 20th this year, thanks to a bubble of methane gas, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig off in the Gulf of Mexico exploded. Eleven workers (a.k.a people) died and a pipe ruptured, leaking anything from 12,000-100,000 barrels of oil per day into the sea.The estimate is so braod because BP refuse to let independant assessors measure the rate of the leak....cute.

That doesn’t sound good....but what’s the bottom line?

Well, ecological and socio-economic disaster in short. Tourism and fishing...pretty much THE Louisiana economy wiped off the map for a couple of years together with vital marine and fish stocks, animal, plant and bird life, including habitats and food chain devastation. To date, oilspill-kill found by rescue teams has included 594 dead birds, 250 sea turtles, 30 dolphins and other mammals, and 1 reptile and counting. It aint good.
So far the mass of oil has spread out to cover the surface of the Gulf between 2500 and 9100 square miles (that’s bigger than the surface area of Wales!). This doesn’t include dangerous underwater oil plumes which could be reaching out farther. What’s worse, is it’s already licking the coast of Florida where it will do exactly the same, and if we’re really unlucky and it gets into the Atlantic then all bets are off. The Gulf has the flow travel at about 50/60 miles a day and the Atlantic is around 100. The spill rolling into the Atlantic would be the equivalent of upgrading its wheels from a Nissan Micra to a Lamborghini Diablo.

 What the f---?! Why aren’t they stopping it?!

In short, they can’t. Several attempts at closing the leak have been made from chucking a load of mud down the pipe (topkill), to sticking a tank over the top of the spill to collect the oil (it grew icicles and had to be ditched), to siphoning off the oil (providing some but not nearly enough relief), but none have as yet proved to be the long sought after silver bullet. In fact, most now realise that until relief wells are completed in August, the oil will continue to be spewed out into the Gulf.
This might push one to question how on earth any oil rig can be authorised without an answer to the most obvious of risk assessment questions ‘what happens if the pipe bursts?’

The pipe is 5000 feet down and BP seem to be incapable of dealing with it. So what was the risk assessment that let this happen? Well, BP told the US Department of the Interior that they didn’t have an answer as to how they would stem the flow of a burst pipe 5000 feet below the ocean’s surface except by building a relief well, an operation which takes months but reassured them that chances of this happening were small. The US Interior said ‘Drill baby, drill!’ That’s it folks.

What are BP saying about all this?

Chief Exec Tony Hayward has employed a number of incredible unsympathetic and irresponsible claims around responsibility for the situation.

First he blamed the owners of the rig, Transocean, saying "This was not our accident … This was not our drilling rig ... This was Transocean's rig. Their systems. Their people. Their equipment."
That failed so he tried to play the whole thing out as a storm in a teacup stating that the gulf is a ‘very big ocean’ and ‘the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to be very, very modest’.
Finally, he seemed to just give up caring and told the baying reporters in Venice, Louisiana ‘I’d like my life back’. Nice... like the eleven men who lost theirs when your rig exploded Tony?

Where’s Obama? I need Obama!

Obama has been all over the news and made several visits to the Gulf and Louisiana to have people feel like he is trying to get to the bottom of things. The normally mild and balanced behaviour of President Obama has been a casualty of this, as his ratings plunged amidst public outrage Obama stepped up stating not only that “He (Hayward) wouldn't be working for me after any of those statements." But went one further in recent days to say that he’s spending time in Louisiana and with experts on the subject ‘so I know whose ass to kick’.
He was successfully arrange for BP to be fully financially accountable for not only ecological impacts of the disaster but the socio-economic consequences too, including paying the wages of unemployed neighbouring oil rig workers to the jobless of the Louisiana and Florida coasts in the coming months. The bill for BP is going to be a whopper.

Sounds like they’re doing their best...why are they bashing our good old British Petroleum?

In three words: they have form! The mood music around BP has been, let’s say, ‘unpleasant’ for a while. You don’t need to do much digging around to see how BP’s attitude of expedience and cost savings over health and safety was absolutely responsible for this disaster.

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.

CNN provide further insight into the survivors’ story below.

And this was just the latest crap decision in a long line of crap decisions for BP as they continued in vain self interest at the cost of lives and the natural environment. The BBC reports that:

“In 2006, a US congressional hearing accused BP of "unacceptable" neglect of pipelines in Alaska after it was forced to shut down oil operations in Prudhoe Bay because of leaking pipes.

In 2007, the company was fined a total of $373m by the US Department of Justice for environmental crimes and committing fraud.
The fine included $50m relating to a Texas refinery explosion in 2005 that killed 15 people and injured 170 more.

The largest single fine of $303m related to a price manipulation scam in the propane market.

Last October, BP was fined a further $87m for failing to correct safety hazards at the Texas refinery.
The company has also faced harsh criticism, from shareholders and environmental campaigners, about its plans to develop oil sands in Canada”.

They’re criminals! Why on earth are we supposed to be defending them?

In a word: pensions. The current share collapse of circa £45 billion from the value of this British pension fund favourite translates into the average £15000 a year pension dropping in value by £400 a year. The threats to stop BP paying this year’s dividend would also see £10 billion effectively taken from shareholders....that’s not the fat cats, that’s BP workers shareplan savings, that’s your Nan and Granddad’s pension.  This argument completely ignores the fact that 39% of BP shareholders are in the US, so portrayals of this being US versus UK are really only for placating the ‘patriot’ vote in the US and avoiding political contamination in the UK.

Basically folks, they're saying 'sssshhhh or your pension gets it!".

Well, thanks for depressing me, now what?

Now we wait and see what happens with the rig and the relief wells and the ecology and economy and the FTSE.

That’s not good enough! I have to do something about this!

Glad you said that, because this situation calls for the kind of emphatic response that you need when disaster hits. Donate your time, your money or your expertise and make a difference....and follow the Scriptonite Mantra: Don’t get angry, get involved!

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