Friday, July 18, 2014 

A pound of flesh.


Three branches of the Entez family, around 60 people, were sheltering in a house in Zeitoun when it was struck by an artillery shell shortly after 8.45pm. Three of the family were killed – Abed Ali, 24, Mohamed Ibrahim, 13, and Mohamed Salem, two – and four injured. Three of the exterior walls were destroyed in the blast.

In the wreckage of the home on Friday morning, Salem Entez, 29, Mohamed Salem's father, approached the Guardian with a plastic bag, which he opened to revealed pieces of flesh he was collecting for burial. "This is my son," he said.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014 

The differentation of fools.

It begins.  Still 10 months away from the election and the two constituent parts of the coalition are starting their differentiation strategies.  Apparently we're meant to believe it was pure coincidence Danny Alexander penned an article for the Mirror detailing how deeply iniquitous the bedroom tax, sorry the spare room subsidy is just after Cameron launches his biggest reshuffle of the parliament and news "leaks" out about how the Tories intend to engineer a "legal car-crash with a built in time delay" with the European Court of Human Rights.  The Tories are feigning shock at the duplicity of the Lib Dems at the same time as Nick Clegg claims to have been left "blindsided" by the very much anticipated sacking/retirement of the ministers opposed to leaving the ECHR.  If it wasn't all so obvious you'd be forgiven for deeming it cynical.

What certainly is cynical is the Liberal Democrats only now deciding the bedroom tax doesn't work, can't work and is extraordinarily unfair even by the coalition's benefit reform standards.  It was the report this week (PDF) that truly opened our eyes they say, ignoring the assessment by the Department for Work and Pensions carried out beforehand which predicted exactly the outcome we've arrived at.  This can only be explained in one of three ways: either they didn't read the assessment, they didn't believe it, or they just didn't care either way.  The Conservatives for their part say not once had the Lib Dem leadership raised concerns with them over the policy, and on this occasion it's difficult not to believe them.

After all, this is the same Nick Clegg who gave a speech back in December 2012 claiming that the welfare system was in danger of becoming unaffordable, in only one of many remarks Iain Duncan Smith or David Cameron could just as easily have made.  The only thing that's changed between now and then is, unlike most of the rest of the welfare reforms, the bedroom tax has become unpopular as a direct result of people knowing friends or relatives affected by it.  When there are no suitable alternative properties for someone to downsize to, as the government knew there wouldn't be, the policy was always going to result in flagrant injustice.

While the Tories have been in the vanguard of attempting to portray all those claiming benefits (with the possible exception of child benefit) as scroungers, both of the other main parties have been happy to go along with it, not prepared to fight against the increasingly pernicious narrative pushed by both the tabloids and broadcast media (although the Lib Dems should be given some credit for opposing the Tories on limiting housing benefit to the over 25s).  Labour eventually realised so many of those who couldn't be easily dismissed as dole scum were being affected they could oppose it without the Tories and the tabloids tearing them to pieces.  Now the Lib Dems, despite having voted against Labour's attempts to alter the legislation as recently as February, have moved on the most obvious policy they can quickly say they were never convinced of in the first place.

It's precisely the kind of politics that only increases cynicism, rather than as the Lib Dems clearly believe might persuade a few former supporters to return home.  It's also one thing for the Tories to move to do something they've threatened for quite some time, regardless of the politics involved; it's another for the Lib Dems to row back on a policy that would have never passed in the first place but for them.  Just as every previous attempt by the Lib Dems to make amends for broken promises has been rebuffed, so too will this latest desperate gambit be.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014 

You will be buried in the same box as a killer.

Back in the good old days of the Cold War, the estimated time between the warning a Soviet ICBM was heading towards your area and the actual strike itself was four minutes, although most think even that was a tad optimistic.  It certainly didn't leave long to get to anywhere that might be safer, unless say you lived within running distance of an underground station and weren't knocked over and trampled to death by all the others with the same idea.

Fortunately, our good friends the Americans remain the only people to have decided to go nuclear.  Less fortunately for the Palestinians, the latest humanitarian gesture on the part of the IDF is to fire a "warning" missile at houses they intend to destroy, not just leaving it to chance the occupants will answer the phone.  Caught on film is one house getting a "knock on the roof", then being struck by the following, far more destructive projectile.  The time between the warning and the attack? Four minutes.

We shouldn't feel sorry though for the owner and his family, or indeed any others living in the building as multiple families usually do in the crowded Gaza strip.  The owner's sons are apparently Hamas members, therefore completely justifying the razing of his house.  Moreover, as the Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said, since Hamas rejected the terms of the proposed Egyptian ceasefire everything that happens in Gaza from now on is solely their responsibility.

Not that it wasn't already.  A hospital struck by an Israeli missile was clearly a Hamas hospital, while the 55 UN installations either damaged or destroyed (since June 1st) were UN/Hamas installations.  The water supply infrastructure the UN warns is in danger of collapse due to the damage inflicted on it is a Hamas water supply.  How can it not be when Hamas members use it? The four cousins between the ages of 9 and 11 killed by an Israeli shell today were on a Hamas beach, inside a Hamas fishing shed, and it was witnessed by Hamas journalists who treated the survivors.  All 47 of the children killed so far have been Hamas children, still terrorists, just smaller.

Israel doesn't just have the right to defend itself, it has a responsibility to do so. The Palestinians by contrast don't just have the right to die, they have a responsibility to.  Hamas might rule the Gaza strip, and they might be responsible for everything that happens there, but they don't have the right to defend their territory, to resist.  Their use of rockets is a war crime, as they are too indiscriminate to properly target anything or anyone that could be considered as legitimate, not that there is anywhere in Israel that could be considered a legitimate military target anyway.

To step back from rocking the snark for just a second, Hamas was far too hasty in dismissing the Egyptian ceasefire proposal.  You can understand why they did; it only offered further talks rather anything substantive.  When we've been here twice before, Israel making promises to loosen the siege of Gaza that have subsequently come to nothing, it's not a surprise Hamas wants something this time they can hold the Israelis to.  In both previous examples it was also Israel rather than Hamas that broke the fragile peace.  Nonetheless, when the option is on the table to halt the suffering of the people Hamas claims to represent, to not at least give it a chance is close to unconscionable.

True, it's far easier to sell a ceasefire when the number of casualties on your side is 1, rather than 200 as it was yesterday for the Palestinians and there's little to show for it.  It doesn't however absolve Hamas of continuing with a policy which failed in the past and is going to again this time.  Israel has no intention of lifting the siege of Gaza, nor does Egypt under Sisi have any intention of making life easier for a movement that grew out of the Muslim Brotherhood.  The only way of putting Israel under pressure over the Palestinians is to threaten and if necessary introduce boycotts, just as John Kerry warned Netanyahu were on the horizon if he continued to refuse to countenance even the slightest gestures needed to keep the talks with Fatah on track.  Netanyahu's response was to "wag his finger" at the US secretary of state.  Responsibility, as we've seen, is something only the Palestinians fail to exercise.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014 

All you need is Gove.

Government reshuffles are always over-analysed and often pointless affairs, especially in terms of what it means for the departments ministers are being shuttled between. You can take the view that moving someone from say their position as culture secretary, one of the more undemanding jobs, to being plunged in at education is damn stupid considering the level of expertise we should expect of those given the role, or you could instead reason that as the civil service does the bulk of the work anyway, given the outline by the minister, it doesn't really make much odds.

What certainly is cretinous in this instance is having a major reshuffle this late into a parliament.  While David Cameron has at least refused the Blair tendency to move everyone around every poxy year, the only reason our dear PM is getting rid of so many on the liberal wing of the Tories while at the same time promoting as many loyal women as he can is for party political and presentational reasons respectively.  It's certainly not because Nicky Morgan will be a better education secretary than Michael Gove, although it's difficult to imagine how anyone barring a resurrected King Herod could be any worse, it's down to how Cameron has judged Gove to have become too much of an electoral liability in his current job.  Therefore he's absolutely the right man to be the "face" of the Conservatives in the media (is this right? Ed.).

No, me neither.  Gove's demotion will undoubtedly be presented by his allies in the media as the ultimate example of someone being a victim of their own success.  Sadly, there's also more than an element of truth in it.  Compare Gove's ramming through of the expansion of academies and setting up of free schools to Iain Duncan Smith's catastrophic attempt to introduce universal credit, and judged purely on that basis it's bewildering how the latter is still in his job.  Unlike IDS though, who has merely got into scrapes with George Osborne over whether or not he's a bit thick, Gove managed to piss everyone off at some point.  Not all his own work, with some of it being the responsibility of his just as combative former SpAd Dominic Cummings, most recently seen describing Dave as a "sphinx without a riddle", it's now time to take the battle to the other parties rather than your colleagues.  Hence Gove, although bruised, is apparently content to become chief whip and chief TV/radio mug.  Why those who didn't like him as education secretary will suddenly discover him to be charming and persuasive in his new role isn't clear, but it must all be part of Lynton Crosby's grand plan.

Also integral to Crosby's barnacle-shedding scheme is trying to end the impression Dave has a problem with women.  Rather than, err, change the policies women disproportionately oppose, far better is to promote a few more women to defend them, a ploy guaranteed to work just as well.  Apart from Morgan, also getting an office of state is Liz Truss, taking over as environment secretary from right-winger Owen Paterson, which predictably and despite all the other changes has still elicited moans from the headbangers.  Truss you might recall was the minister pushing for the ratio of young children an adult could look after safely to be increased, only for it to run into opposition from that other coalition, Mumsnet and Nick Clegg.  Esther McVey, once of GMTV, stays in her job but gets to attend cabinet, while Penny Mordaunt is rewarded for appearing on Splash! by becoming the first coastal communities minister.  Any suggestion the introduction of yet another ministerial post is designed to further reduce rebelling is cynicism of the lowest order.  Best to gloss over the rise of Priti Patel, lest I start to feel the urge to repeatedly slam my head against the wall.

Out then went a whole bunch of older white men, much to the discomfort of those older white men in charge of the country's newspapers.  Describing Ken Clarke as middle-aged as the Mail's front page did is also a bit of a stretch, although you have to remember Paul Dacre is determined to see off any attempt to retire him as the paper's editor, and he's 9 years Clarke's junior.  More pertinent is Clarke, Dominic Grieve, Damian Green, David Willetts and Alan Duncan have all gone, all of whom were dovish on Europe or liberal in outlook generally.  Along with Gove, the new foreign secretary Philip Hammond said he would vote to leave an unreformed EU, while the loss of Clarke, Grieve and Green suggests, as anticipated, the Tory manifesto will propose leaving the European Convention on Human Rights altogether.

The Conservatives seem convinced it will be the messengers as much as the message that will make the difference in 10 months' time.  Long-term economic plan; Miliband weird and not prime ministerial; and look at how completely normal and representative your fun, go-getting Tories now are.  It ignores how the Tories failed to win in 2010 on a centre-right but not right-wing manifesto, as the fresh-faced alternative to the disastrous tenure of the son of the Manse.  Regardless of the polls occasionally showing a Tory lead or the difference being within the margin of error, there's still nothing to suggest as yet they can win the election outright.  If this reshuffle was one of the first steps in an effort to alter that, the party seems set again on deluding itself.

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Thursday, July 10, 2014 

Every modern scourge tamed, but only if we pass this emergency legislation.

When all sides of the House agree on a measure, you know there's something else going on behind the scenes.  This is an emergency.  Lives are at risk.  Our prime minister doesn't want to be the one to stand up after an attack and admit more could have been done.  This is not about introducing new powers, it's to ensure the authorities can carry on as before.

It's utter crap, but every single time it works. The government clearly hoped it would have another justification to fall back on, as the Graun reported last week. The Intelligence and Security Committee is due imminently to release their report into what involvement the security services had with the killers of Lee Rigby, expected to predictably say they could have done more if they had the precogs seen in Minority Report. Only the ISC report for whatever reason hasn't materialised, meaning the government had to act today regardless to be able to force it through before parliament goes into its summer recess next week.

The excuse is a ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union back in April struck down the data sharing agreement between governments and providers which allowed metadata to be kept for up to 12 months.  There needed to be far more privacy safeguards in place, said the CJEU.  The wiseacres among you will note April was three months ago; if this was truly urgent, the legislation would have emerged long before now.  Indeed, when Iain Duncan Smith needed to swiftly get an act on statute to deny those on benefits compensation for not being given the information they needed to make an informed choice about the workfare scheme they were sent on, the bill was before parliament in just over a month (and that act, incidentally, has also fell foul of the beak).  The idea the same wouldn't have been the case if this was truly as serious as claimed is ludicrous.

Instead they've waited for the most opportune time to ram through a bill that barely makes any concessions to the ECJ ruling.  Sure, as part of the apparent deal between the Tories and the Lib Dems/Labour we're now due to get a privacy and civil liberties board as an apparent replacement for the current lone reviewer of terrorism legislation, as well as a review of the RIPA legislation that allows for the very existence of Tempora, but these carry as many potential downsides as they do benefits.  David Anderson has been a vast improvement over Lord Carlile, and frankly I'd rather have one decent reviewer than a board of Carliles.  Much the same goes for the review of RIPA: are we really supposed to expect the same politicians who have insisted time and time again that rather than putting in more safeguards we in fact need even wider surveillance to accept any report calling for the former?  Pull the other one.  The sunset clause will therefore provide just the opening the securocrats have been looking for.

Nor will the legislation just reinstate the existing agreement as the government and opposition are insisting.  As Jack of Kent and others have pointed out, it goes beyond what RIPA currently allows.  It will require overseas companies to comply with warrants, where previously the law was hazy on whether it applied to them, while also redefining exactly what "telecommunications services" are far more widely, again removing any room for doubt.  Rather than risk having these changes scrutinised by committee, the government and opposition have connived in the idea of there being a phony emergency, a move most likely needless in any case considering how the majority of the press and the public accept each new dilution of privacy and civil liberties as needed to save us from paedogeddon/bearded fanatics/any thug with a gun/transforming teddy bears.

See, this is why the idea there was an establishment cover up over child abuse at Elm Guest House or wherever else is so difficult to believe.  The odd person with suitably powerful connections can, on occasion, get away with such things.  Cyril Smith wasn't just the subject of rumours for instance as we've seen; there were specific allegations published about him that simply weren't followed up or were squashed with help.  When we're talking about 20 or so high profile figures, as some are claiming, that's a hell of a lot of back covering, involving hundreds of people or more, none of whom were challenged by their conscience into backing up Geoffrey Dickens or taking their concerns to the press or anyone else.  


Moreover, government is terrible at keeping secrets or pulling a fast one: it couldn't do it on this, it couldn't do it on rendition, where the papers that might have confirmed more flights did land at Diego Garcia were destroyed by "flood", and News International couldn't do it to take a corporate example over phone hacking.  This isn't to say there aren't conspiracies to be uncovered, it's we always ought to wield Occam's razor first.  Or just a razor in general when it comes to the aforementioned legislation.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2014 

These perfect abattoirs.

Only a god can bruise.  Only a god can soothe.  Only a god reserves the right to forgive those who revile him.

How many ways are there to say exactly the same thing differently?  For those whom (rightly) argue that history doesn't repeat, it's difficult to explain why it is Israel and Hamas seem stuck in a perpetual loop of action and reaction, neither side moving forward, neither falling behind, while the poor bastards stuck in the middle have to suffer the consequences over and over again.

If there is a slight difference this time round, it's that Hamas can't really claim it was Israel that started it.  The kidnap and murder of Gilad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel, and Eyal Yifrah may not have been carried out by Hamas members, or with the knowledge of the leadership, but nor have they so much as condemned the heinous crime. Anyone mentioning one of the teenagers was old enough to serve in the IDF, as all Israelis are required to, or that they were settlers (or rather the children of settlers) is making abominable excuses. They had as much right to life as Muhammad Abu Khudair did, the 17-year-old abducted and set alight in an apparent act of vengeance.

As usual, the response of Hamas has played straight into Israel's hands.  If they had wanted they could have presented Israel's actions in the immediate aftermath of the abduction as what they were: cynical long planned manoeuvres designed to undermine the recently announced unity government.  Arresting hundreds of Hamas members wasn't about finding the boys, not least as we now know the Israelis must have realised it was unlikely they were alive, but about getting a reaction.  Naturally, the rockets from Gaza once again began to fly.  Coupled with the understandable anger on the Palestinian street at the murder of Abu Khadir, especially when Israeli politicians used irresponsibly inciteful language, the events of the past few days have been all too familiar.

Not that there is an equivalence between the missiles fired into Israel and those once again devastating the Gaza strip. Even the more advanced Katyushas obtained/manufactured by Hamas and the other militant groups kill only extremely rarely; their main purpose is to cause fear, to let Israelis know there will be no peace without a fair settlement that also includes them.  The Israeli missiles by contrast, provided often by American military aid, only extremely rarely fail to kill. They are also fired without compunction for the innocents caught up with those who might be militant members. The deaths of six others is a price deemed worth it for removing a Hamas terrorist, no matter how low down the pecking order, from this plane of existence.

It's also of course about collective punishment.  It doesn't matter the whole of Gaza may as well be a free fire zone, or there's nowhere the 1.7 million civilians can escape to, the tunnels into Egypt that once provided a lifeline mostly shut down by new president Sisi, the real victims are those in southern Israel.  No nation could put up with such rocket fire, say the Israelis and Americans as one, except say Syria, where the "moderates" (aka Islamists far more radical than Hamas) we support mortar Damascus every day. The Palestinians simply don't have the same right to defend themselves.

This supposedly was a battle neither side wanted, only for them to discover there wasn't a way around it. Bombing Gaza never turns out badly for whichever prime minister orders it. Hamas by contrast seems to believe the only way to get back its previous levels of support is by standing up to the onslaught, apparently unconcerned by how many civilians die in the process, thinking each death will only create more resistance.  Such grim calculus, such cynicism on both sides.

At this point, it's always worth remembering the Quartet's special envoy is a certain Anthony Charles Lynton Blair.

Jesus fucking wept.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2014 

Condemned to repeat.

Yesterday was the 9th anniversary of the 7/7 attacks.  Survivors, relatives of the 52 people murdered by 4 British men once again paid quiet, dignified tribute at the memorial in Hyde Park.  The graffiti sprayed by an idiot truther on the memorial the night before was removed long before they arrived.

Despite making a number of attempts since, 7/7 was al-Qaida central's last "success".  While other western cities have been attacked post-2005, none of those responsible have been definitively linked back to al-Qaida in Pakistan.  Indeed, if we're to believe the documents captured in the raid on Osama bin Laden's hideout in Abbottabad, the hermit leader of the network was having doubts about the wisdom of indiscriminate, high casualty attacks, not surprising considering the damage caused to the image of al-Qaida's brand of jihad by the takfiri sectarianism of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq.


Not for a second though has the level of threat posed by Islamic terrorists diminished, oh no.  Just because they aren't as focused as much now on simultaneous suicide attacks doesn't mean we should relax or suggest things aren't as bad. On the contrary, to do so would be truly irresponsible.  It doesn't seem to matter how increasingly ridiculous the plots we're meant to be afraid of are, or how insane the security measures imposed on air passengers have become, we can't question the people who've seen the intelligence and know best.  They have our best interests at heart.


Finally then the two other main threats to our security have melded together. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula's master bomb maker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri is feared to have passed his knowledge on to the al-Nusra front in Syria, although it's not clear whether this is in the form of devices or training. Intelligence, we're told, suggests foreign fighters returning from the battlefield may have been persuaded to take the fight to the West rather than Assad, with fiendish undetectable bombs hidden in their luggage.  This weekend the Americans started introducing checks on electronic devices, requiring airline passengers to demonstrate smartphones, tablets, etc could be powered on, with those found to have uncharged gadgets either not allowed to board or forced to leave their possessions behind.  As we simply have to follow our former colonial cousins, the same restrictions have since been put in place here.

If all this sounds eerily familiar, it might be because we've been through this just a few times before.  Al-Asiri is a master bomb maker in the sense that so far, not a single one of his devilish, ingenious devices has had the desired effect of killing infidels.  On the contrary, the only person killed by his forays into experimental chemistry has been his own brother, who died attempting to assassinate Prince Mohammed bin Nayef of Saudi Arabia.  The attempt was notable for how the bomb was supposedly hidden in Abdullah al-Asiri's rectum, although it's never been properly established whether it was implanted, shoved up there or was rather the first use of an "underwear" bomb, a tactic further refined and then used by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, again without the desired effect.  Also intercepted were his printer bombs, while another device was given to the Saudi intelligence services by a double agent.

Since then we've had a scare approximately every six months, and each time nothing has come of it.  3 years ago almost to the day the US warned of implanted bombs, although without being able to pinpoint exactly which part of the body would house the explosives.  At the end of last year Frank Gardner, ever the willing conduit for the spooks' whispers, insisted Al-Asiri was once again refining his methods.  Now apparently we're meant to worry about smartphones, especially iPhones and Samsung Galaxy devices, handily the two most popular models on the market.  To get technical for just a second, I bothered to weigh my Galaxy S3.  The battery weighs 80 grams, while the phone with battery weighs 140.  Abdulmutallab's bomb we're told contained 80 grams of PETN, the explosive Al-Asiri's devices have used.  80 grams is almost certainly not enough to pierce a plane's fuselage, that is if the bomb successfully detonated, unlike Abdulmutallab's.  Unless these bombs are sophisticated to the point of concealing more explosive in weight than the phone would ever normally be able to without raising suspicions, the chances of one blowing a plane out of the sky are fairly low.

It isn't clear why, having upped the amount of PETN in the printer bombs to the point where they certainly would endanger a plane, Al-Asiri or those he's trained would then turn back to lesser quantities and risk the possibility of yet more failures.  Nor does this tale properly add up when it comes to what we know about al-Nusra.  Regardless of the affiliation with al-Qaida, it has shown absolutely no sign of being interested in attacks outside of Syria.  Why would it when it has a life or death struggle on its hands, against both ISIS and Assad?  Charlie Cooper of Quilliam insists we should be worried precisely because of the rivalry between ISIS and al-Qaida, with one group or the other likely to try an attack on the West respectively either to establish itself once and for all as al-Qaida's successor, or to regain the initiative.  This doesn't instantly translate into why al-Nusra would be the group chosen to carry out the legwork, when surely it ought to be al-Qaida central itself handling the fightback.  It seems more than a little convenient it all works back into the other current scare, that of Western citizens who've gone to fight with either al-Nusra or ISIS returning home and continuing the battle here.

Today saw another 2 men convicted of terrorism offences for fighting in Syria, despite there being no evidence whatsoever to suggest they posed a threat to the UK.  It also comes after, of all people, former head of MI6 Richard Dearlove gave a speech arguing the terrorist threat has been exaggerated by both politicians and the media.  As head of MI6 post 9/11 he was up to his neck in both rendition and the dissemination of intelligence on Iraq, likely to be criticised by the Chilcot inquiry.  His message is, despite what others have been insisting, the rise of ISIS (or the Islamic State, as it is now pretentiously insisting it be called in its umpteenth name change) is related to the Arab spring and the on-going proxy war between Sunni Saudi Arabia/Qatar and Shia Iran more than anything else.  Those going to fight in Syria are doing so not as a first step towards targeting the West, but due to a sense of religious duty as much an adherence to takfirist ideology.  This doesn't make them pleasant, liberal people by any stretch of the imagination, but it also hardly means they'll be coming back to bomb tube trains.

In more sensible times, Dearlove would be listened to.  These are not sensible times, as is all too apparent.  Instead it's a time when the security services' demands for more power are never-ending, and organisations such as Quilliam have to justify their existence by forever looking for fresh bogeymen.  Despite dire predictions, the sky did not fall when the threat was considered its most serious.  Nor will it now.  You can but hope that by the 10th anniversary of 7/7, we might just have finally got some perspective.

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Monday, July 07, 2014 

Celebrity betrayal and a revived frenzy.

Last century promised so much.  Now all our heroes are dead or corrupt.

As a sprog, one of my favourite, if not absolute favourite TV programmes was Rolf's Cartoon Time, later Rolf's Cartoon Club after he shifted to ITV.  I even joined the club, as there was one attached to the show (really?), and could well still have somewhere the paraphernalia sent every so many months.  In truth Harris wasn't a great artist, and while I detest the snobbery that greeted his commission to paint the Queen, there were obviously dozens, hundreds, thousands of others far more deserving of being given the publicity of doing so.  Rolf's amateurishness was however part of the point: just as with Neil Buchanan and Tony Hart to name but two other presenters, their enthusiasm was meant to inspire kids to be creative themselves, to nurture the belief they could think out and do something as impressive (at least to a child) as one of Art Attack's on a grand scale collages.

Reading the latest outburst of being wise after the guilty verdict comment, just as there would have been an outburst of why was he even prosecuted comment had he been found innocent, it's hard not to agree with Dominic Lawson in the Sunday Times and be thoroughly dispirited at the uniform reaction.  Rolf Harris didn't betray me, as so many others are convinced he did them just by existing and not admitting he was in private a different, sad and extremely flawed man.  The only people he betrayed are those whom put personal trust in him and those whose innocence he stole.  As an adult he's never meant anything to me; all I have is those childhood memories of a much simpler time.  I bear him no ill, and feel sorry for him, just as I also feel desperately sorry for his victims.  Rather than the sentence being too lenient, I thought it too harsh, lack of guilt or regret notwithstanding.  Some of the reporting on his supposed child porn stash has also been extremely dubious, with it being most likely he sought out images of young looking but over the age of 18 women.

As Lawson wrote, there really doesn't seem to be any room for grey when it comes to celebrities in this hellish second decade of the 2000s.  They are either at the very peak of their powers or in crisis; they are either globe trotting behemoths or once again piling on the pounds; they are either heroes, or they are villains.  We, or at least most seem to find it intolerable for anything of someone convicted of offences against children to continue to exist, or at least be consumed in public.  It's not just lobbing plaques down the memory hole or the refusal to host sales of artwork, it's the rubbing out of a person's existence in substitute for not being able to do so literally.  Everyone else's brand must be protected.

You can also forget about rehabilitation: look at Chris Langham, acquitted on charges of sexual assault but found guilty of possession of child pornography.  A great comic actor bedevilled by alcoholism and himself abused as a child, he's barely worked since (he appears alongside Leslie Grantham in The Factory, Grantham's conviction for murder not having affected his career as much as his later "sex scandal" did).  A fitting punishment?  Only with death is there the opportunity for release: those stations that had rarely if ever played Michael Jackson's music after his trials suddenly found it was again permissible to fill the airwaves with his oeuvre.  Once gone from our midst we can start to put things in context, despising Wagner's rabid anti-Semitism while adoring his operas, concerned about Lewis Carroll's fascination with young girls while still enthralled by his Alice.

Nor do we learn anything from past events.  Was it only 18 months ago we had the McAlpine fiasco, Philip Schofield brandishing a list of names dug up via Google at David Cameron, demanding they be investigated?  Can it only be last February when Operation Yewtree was being criticised after the initial prosecutions had all failed?  Now with some of the press in full cry we have Theresa May announcing a Hillsborough-type inquiry into the potential covering up of child abuse across almost every sector, whether it be government, churches, or broadcasters.  This has been principally sparked by the sudden rediscovery of how Geoffrey Dickens, a Conservative MP, had presented the then home secretary Leon Brittan with a "dossier" on child abuse by establishment figures, which may or may not be connected with the investigation into the Elm Guest House, a brothel frequented by among others, Cyril Smith.

That 114 papers connected with Dickens' dossier have either gone missing or been destroyed simply has to mean this is a cover-up, or will be seen as such.  So insists Simon Danczuk, billed by some as having "exposed" Cyril Smith, ignoring the Rochdale Alternative Paper and Private Eye, just as they were ignored when they printed the original allegations against Smith.  It couldn't possibly be the whole thing was mostly if not entirely bollocks, Dickens being perhaps the original rent-a-gob MP, mates with Mary Whitehouse, hitting one target and then never able to repeat the trick.  Towards the end of the 80s, along with a distinct minority of social workers, Dickens was convinced children were being ritually and Satanically abused, that great witch-hunt where witches really were sought and none discovered, families broken apart in an attempt to prove one of the great recent myths and panics.

If there is a case for an over-arching inquiry, it's to put all the allegations that have surfaced or resurfaced since Jimmy Savile's abuse came to light to both the test and to get them out in the open.  One aspect barely covered has been what the security services were up to or knew about the likes of Savile, apparently unconcerned as they were at his forming relationships with the royals and Margaret Thatcher.  Were they too taken in, or not bothered by his predilections?  Did they perhaps have some sort of involvement with Cyril Smith, as has been hinted at, hence why he wasn't brought down after RAP and Private Eye first printed the claims about him?  While suggestions of a massive cover-up aren't completely unbelievable, especially when you consider what the likes of say Tom Driberg got away with through having friends in high places, it does stretch credulity to the limit.  It seems all too similar to the wild conspiracy theories that have floated around the internet for years; moreover, if the likes of Private Eye had thought there was something to Dickens' dossier, they certainly would have ran with it.  Before Newsnight took Steve Messham at his word over Lord McAlpine, the magazine was also burned by his understandable failures of memory.

Such an inquiry must not though be a place for allegations to be looked at but not seriously investigated, then reported as being proof of the depravity of those accused.  As Anna Raccoon has been painstakingly pointing out (I must stress I wonder about her motives and think the number of allegations against Savile means he definitely was an abuser, albeit not on the scale as has been suggested) by actually reading the NHS report into Savile's access to the estate, not a lot of them stand up to scrutiny.  Faded memories are one thing, giving credence to dubious in the extreme claims something else entirely.  The appointment of the head of the NSPCC to lead a separate inquiry into last year's government search for files, an organisation that has made some of the most hyperbolic claims about Savile, therefore raises concerns.  It all smacks of the government acting because there have been days of tabloid front pages rather than because it truly believes there's something in the claims.  Also helpful is the main inquiry's report will be published in the next parliament rather than this one.

There's another subtext here.  Focusing on the establishment, the politicians, the BBC, it all shifts the glare away from the rest of the media.  The conviction of Harris at almost the exact same time as that of Andy Coulson and the rest of the phone hacking gang helped superbly in distracting attention from the former tabloid editor, while few have wondered just why it is our supposedly free press never managed to catch any of these abusers, focusing instead on the small timers.  The silence on Max Clifford was understandable, as they were so hand in glove with one another; on Harris it's more difficult to think why it is nothing was found out before now.  Harris wasn't influential, and didn't court those in high places to the extent of a Savile.  He also admitted to suffering from depression, failing to be there for his daughter, to having a darker side.  Nothing came of it.   


Watching the "debate" on Newsnight just now, I felt like throwing myself out the window, the sound and fury adding to the impression pitchforks are being sharpened over something that failed to get attention three decades ago for the reason there wasn't anything there to begin with.

And what did become of us? A borrowed intellect and a stolen pose.

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Thursday, July 03, 2014 

A price to be paid.

I wanted to rub the human face in its own vomit, and force it to look in the mirror.

There can be no forgiveness for child murderersMay God avenge their bloodThey sanctify cruelty, and we mercy and compassion.

Rhetoric bound to incite, designed to incite, is nothing new in the Middle East.  Calls for revenge are commonplace, with both sides in Israel/Palestine issuing them.  Rarely though has an Israeli prime minister been so forthright, so irresponsible in their choice of words as Benjamin Netanyahu has since the discovery of the bodies of the three missing Israeli teenagers, presumed murdered by Palestinian terrorists.  "They were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by animals," his initial statement read.  "We'll expand the battle as much as needed.  No matter where they hide, we’ll reach them until the last one and we’ll take our revenge," he added in his eulogy at the boys' funeral.

Hours later, after protests in Jerusalem which saw hundreds chanting "death to Arabs", 17-year-old Muhammad Abu Khudair was abducted, his body later found dumped, apparently set alight.  Before then, as Human Rights Watch reports, two Palestinians had already been deliberately run over by Israeli settlers, one an 9-year-old girl.  Despite Ynetnews reporting on mobs in Jerusalem attacking Arabs, most attention has instead focused on Palestinians in the occupied east of the city clashing with police, amid a strengthening of the IDF presence on the edge of Gaza.

The revelation the Israeli authorities knew almost from the outset it was extremely unlikely Gilad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel, and Eyal Yifrah had survived for long after they were kidnapped does not come as a surprise.  The phone call one of the boys managed to make to the emergency services included audible gunshots; these were removed from the released version.  The car used in the abduction was recovered, without the fact blood had been found inside being made public.  Indeed, it seems as though they also knew who was responsible almost from the outset, with the two men since named as believed to be the kidnappers disappearing within 24 hours of the boys going missing.  Despite this, something that looks exactly like a campaign designed to undermine Hamas in the West Bank was undertaken, with the arrest of at least 400 men and an influx of 2,000 IDF soldiers.  7 Palestinians were also killed in the period following the abduction, four of them teenagers.

Nor does it seem despite the repeated claims of Netanyahu and others that Hamas had any real involvement in the murder of the three hitch-hiking teens.  Why would they having just succeeded in reaching an agreement with Fatah to share power?  Instead, it seems a rogue element recently distanced itself further from Hamas was behind the kidnapping, probably designed to undermine precisely the agreed accord between the previously warring factions.  With the Netanyahu coalition denouncing Mahmoud Abbas for trying to achieve Palestinian unity, announcing the construction of a further 1,500 homes in illegal settlements as a riposte, any excuse to disrupt Hamas further would have been seized upon.  It just so happens they had an extremely good one.

Whether the Israeli public will react with disgust to learning the truth was kept from them for so long remains to be seen.  The response to the discovery of the bodies was always going to result in an outpouring of grief and anger, yet even by the standards of the conflict it's been a shock to the system.  Smiling teenage girls posting photos of themselves holding racist slogans; soldiers showing off their weapons, one image with "revenge" spelled out in bullets; 35,000 likes for a Facebook page demanding retribution, described as "passionate" in the New York Times.  If there's a single encouraging sign to take from all of this, and it's an extremely slight one, the swift denunciation of the murder of Muhammad Abu Khudair by the US suggests they viewed the language used by Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett among others as beyond the pale, bound to exacerbate tensions rather than attempt to calm the situation.  That the Israeli prime minister has since toned down his rhetoric, albeit far too late, could be a sign of pressure being applied.  Even so, one again fears for the trapped, beleaguered people of Gaza.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2014 

When presenting failure as success works.

You furnish decay with innocent hands.  You furnish decay with polymer down.

Politics is a strange, constantly changing, always the same business.  There are times when you can present failure as success and get away with it, and there are times when you can claim failure when you've succeeded and get pilloried for it.  You can travel across Europe, get the signature of a world leader that condemns an entire country and be feted for ensuring peace (at least for a few months), or you can go to Brussels, be completely humiliated, shown up as having precisely no influence over anything, and yet be cheered to the rafters by your backbenchers and most of the media as though you didn't just stop someone unsuitable from becoming EU commission president, but put a lance through their bowel in the bargain.

This is the really odd thing about David Cameron: for all the insults liberally thrown at Ed Miliband, about being weak, a loser, a nerd, weird, by rights the two former jibes should have stuck to our glorious prime minister.  Ever since he went to the Eurozone summit back at the tail end of 2011 and wielded the veto, achieving precisely zilch other than further isolating Britain in Europe, his policy on the EU has been one flub after another, yielding to his backbenchers in a way that would have seen his predecessors condemned as vacillating pygmies.

Pressured by growing discontent at his leadership, he promised an in/out referendum in 2017 following a successful re-negotiation of our role in the EU, believing giving a set in stone pledge would buy off his more intransigent critics.  Instead, as was wholly predictable, they've kept on pushing, trying repeatedly to hold the next government to account by forcing the referendum on to the statute book despite it being utterly futile.  Nor did it have the other desired effect of showing UKIP voters the only way to be sure of a vote is to support the Tories; again, if anything, it's just pushed those already disposed to wanting out to plump for Farage.  Cameron insists he wants us to stay in, after all.  Why would they be bought off with half measures?  To complete the trifecta, it hasn't trapped Labour either, Miliband refusing to promise a referendum when there are far more pressing issues to be dealt with, and when staying in is so obviously in our interests.

If another aim was to make it clear to the rest of Europe we could leave, causing concern leading to  continental leaders becoming more amenable to to Tory demands, that's gone for the birds as well.  And no wonder, as the only way most Eurosceptics know how to communicate is through abuse.  Whatever Jean-Claude Juncker is, he's not the most dangerous man in Europe, that old formulation given life yet again by the Sun.  When the Germans, otherwise sympathetic to Cameron and desperate to ensure we don't leave do a volte face and support Juncker, it's not just down to Angela Merkel coming under domestic pressure, it's also in part due to our counter-productive attempts at lobbying, or more accurately described, that odd mixture of threatening and pleading.

We are then according even to Cameron one step closer to the exit.  Juncker's presidency of the Commission will make the re-negotiation more difficult.  Understandably, the likes of Bill Cash and Edward Leigh lap it up, unconcerned at how the exit happens so long as it does.  Nor does the obvious weakness of a British prime minister concern those it would normally excise deeply.  It also doesn't bother them how the increasing likelihood of leaving the EU could affect the Scottish independence referendum, when the SNP have been campaigning on the basis of being a welcoming country, wanting to be an active member of the EU, calling for more immigration rather than less.  The dismay of the vast majority of the business community is something else that can be shrugged off, especially when Labour is seen with such suspicion.

On almost any other issue Cameron would have been filleted had he talked so big and ended up achieving so little.  When the level of debate about the EU is so wonderfully summed up by the classlessness of UKIP MEPs turning their backs in parliament though, the kind of political gesture that would make fifth-formers look like idiots, it just doesn't get through the dissonance.  A man who supposedly wants us to remain in a reformed Europe gave into the demands of his want out MPs at the first sign of trouble, and on every occasion since has multiplied the magnitude of his original error.  If the Tories win in 2015, a huge if, he faces the nightmarish prospect of having to bargain and cajole those he and other members of the cabinet have insulted, knowing it could end up in a choice between putting either the interests of the country or himself as Tory party leader first.  Going by his past decisions, it's not difficult to ascertain which option he'd go for.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014 

William's last words.

Who threw the first stone, if the stone is you?

First, thank you for all your kind words, thoughts and sentiments (including away from here).  They mean more than you can possibly know.  Perhaps in a couple of days I'll respond to them in more detail.  Forgive me for not doing that at the moment.

Second, back in the bad old days/best of days (as they honestly were, without wanting to echo Dickens) one of my favourite lines was that irony was smothering everything.  It is therefore wonderfully ironic that the exact same political backdrop we had then is still with us now.  See, just as I haven't moved forward, nor has politics.  How bitterly, hilariously fitting.  Or it could just be me.

As he almost always does, Flying Rodent has beaten me to it.  We tend to think of the Iraq war and the Gulf war as two separate conflicts when they were not.  The bombing didn't stop in 1991 and then start again in 2003.  It never stopped.  "Targets" were constantly being hit.  Sanctions that destroyed the actual economy and quality of life for the ordinary Iraqi while the Ba'athist elite continued to prosper were put in place and continuously ramped up.  Yet, for some inexplicable reason, once we had finally "finished the job" we found a society that didn't welcome the final act of "shock and awe" as the more fervent supporters of the war insisted they would.  Instead a decent number almost instantly began resisting.  Added to these were, as the War Nerd explains, jihadists just waiting for a new sanctuary after failing to gain a foothold elsewhere.  The two groups merged, and to make a much more nuanced and long story far too short and simple, we eventually ended up with ISIS.

So here we are.  Again.  11 years on, and the prime minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (as he must now be known, considering how keen he is on muscular promotion of our values) is standing up in the Commons and saying if we do nothing then we will have carnage on our streets.  You know, I'm tired.  Really fucking tired.  I'm especially tired of politicians telling me that only if we keep on killing people abroad will it mean safety back home.  I don't care whether those people end up getting killed with missiles fired by British jets promoting our muscular values, or by American drones with "long term, hard-headed, patient and intelligent" intentions, at this point incinerating yet more Iraqis is about as likely to have the same effect on our security as sending a dog to the moon would.

Not much more really needs saying about the mess we've got ourselves in, supporting "moderate" Sunnis against Assad in Syria (there are no secularists in Syria says the War Nerd, they're all Islamists of one shade or another) as we now try and suck up to the Iranians to help save Maliki from much the same Sunnis, finally tired of the Shia dominance of the post-war years. But, but say the Blairs and the Bloodworths, had Saddam stayed in power he would most likely have faced the same protests as elsewhere in the Arab world, and if we'd acted against Assad earlier ISIS would have never gained such a foothold. Except ISIS would almost certainly have never established itself in Iraq to start with if it hadn't been for the war, and all out military intervention in Syria has never been on the table, only "punishment" strikes for the gas attacks. And why, principally, was that? It wouldn't have been down to how Iraq and Libya were such fabulous successes, right?

I'm also really tired of the left's failure to stand up for free speech. You expect the establishment to preach the virtues of tolerance and freedom of thought at the same time as the CPS prosecutes the likes of Jake Newsome for posting an offensive but what certainly should not be a criminal message on Facebook about the murder of Ann Maguire.  What you don't expect is for some to defend the outrageous six-week prison sentence he received.  Then again, when some, and I stress some of the left seem to think the real political issue of the day is their right not to be trolled and made fun of on Twitter, perhaps it's not that surprising.  I should be Jack's total lack of surprise.

Most of all, I'd love to fall asleep, and wake up happy.  And wake up happy.

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Thursday, June 12, 2014 

Departing from the core of the rule of law? The ends always justify the means.

One and a half cheers for Lord Justice Gross, Mr Justice Simon and Mr Justice Burnett (PDF), who today partially ruled against the government's attempts to hold the entirety of a terrorism trial behind closed doors, aka "in camera".  Their decision makes plain the unease they feel at the application by the Crown Prosecution Service, and the initial ruling by Mr Justice Nicol, who had accepted it in full.  Indeed, they express their "grave concern" at the effect of holding such a trial in camera and keeping the defendants' identities secret, finding it difficult to "conceive of a situation where both departures from open justice will be justified".  Accordingly, the men formerly known only as AB and CD have both been named.

You can understand the judges' concerns when a quick Google turns up nothing of any substance on either Erol Incedal, formerly AB, or Mounir Rarmoul-Bouhadjar, CD.  The latter seems to have a LinkedIn profile, while Incedal doesn't have so much as that.  As well as revealing their identities of the defendants, the judges also ordered that most of the opening of the trial be held in public, including a portion of the judge's introductory remarks and a portion of the prosecution's opening statement.  Additionally, a number of "accredited journalists" will be allowed to sit in on the majority of the closed proceedings, although they will only be allowed to report something of what they witness once the trial has concluded and a further review has taken place.

If all this is meant to seem as though an attempt at compromise has been made, that's precisely what the government hopes it will be seen as.  Mr Justice Nicol rejected the idea of "accredited journalists" initially on the grounds of practicality, as the idea was proposed in the certificates signed by the secretaries of state.  It seems to be the only part of the ruling he got right: as the Graun puts it, this is an absurdity, a "kind of time-lapse justice without guarantees".  It in effect makes the (un)lucky chosen hacks complicit in the secrecy, unable to know if their account of the trial will appear or not.

We must of course recognise that four judges have now seen the evidence from the CPS and concluded that on balance it is better for justice to be attempted, even in secret, than see the prosecution not proceeded with.  The latest three say the case is "exceptional".  Perhaps it is.  There are circumstances when such secrecy certainly could be justified; the problem is we cannot make a judgement on whether in this instance it is justified when we will still know so little of the case against the men.  The only recent precedent was the case of Wang Yam, whose defence to the charge of murder was held in camera after he claimed to have some connection with the security services.  Clearly, he did have some link with them, but it didn't prevent his conviction, nor can we know what his defence was.  Yam is currently appealing to the ECHR on those very grounds.

If this departure from open justice, the "core of the rule of law" as Lord Bingham had it, seems odd in the same week as David Cameron was defining it as a fundamental British value, then it shouldn't.  The government and the security services have always made things up as they go along, will always make things up as they go along.  We can't know why they are so insistent this case has to remain secret, although we can certainly guess that it has to be either supremely embarrassing or has only reached court due to profound security service involvement.  The problem is once ministers and the agencies get into the habit of favouring secrecy over openness the ever more likely they are to resort to it again.  Justice must be seen to be done, but it must also be seen to be fair.  In this instance the case for secrecy has simply not been made, and once again the state seems to be demanding of others what it won't accept of itself.

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A (slightly) shorter John McTernan.

Aren't the Kurds fantastic?  Shame about the Sunni and Shiites, eh?

You see, the real reason why Iraq is currently descending into the abyss is because we left too early.  We were selfish.  We should have stayed for as long as was needed, as long as it took Saddam to destroy the place.  He did it all, you see.

We have a responsibility to go back there right now and start killing more Iraqis.  Let's face it, if there's one thing we've been world class at over the past decade, it's killing Iraqis.  To be fair, we can't take all the credit.  Most of the actual smiting has been by the Iraqis themselves, we just lit the torch paper by having not a solitary fucking clue of what to do after we completely and utterly destroyed the Ba'athist state for the sheer sake of it.

As for all you cynics and stoppers, muttering under your breath about how al-Qaida didn't exist in Iraq prior to our kicking the door in, you're bloodless, amoral cowards.  You might as well say "Saddam may have been a fascist who inflicted genocide on the Kurds at the same time as we supported his war against Iran and sold him weapons", oh, sorry, got a bit confused there.  Wasn't the war about WMD? I've forgotten.

The truth is if we don't act now, we will have to act later.  We have to go back to Iraq to rescue a democracy that isn't working because the politicians won't share power.  Isn't that right, Tony?

P.S. As a very special treat, here's a shorter Owen Jones:

I have encountered no sense of vindication, no "I told you so", among veterans of the anti-war protest of 15 February 2003 in response to the events in Iraq.  That's why I'm writing this.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014 

The taking of Mosul isn't our fault. Well, OK, partly it is.

The panic (by politicians and the media, not by the people of Mosul themselves, who know all too well what ISIS is capable of) at the seizing of Mosul by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or al-Sham, or the Levant, or whatever you want to call them) is a little curious. After all, for a good couple of years between around 06 and 08 the then mere Islamic State of Iraq had the run of if not control of the so-called Sunni Triangle, with Mosul for a long time forming one of their strongholds.  Then though it was the Americans they were principally fighting and winning against. It was only once the Americans joined forces with the Awakening groups, formed after local tribal leaders grew tired of the brutality and fanaticism of ISI that the group was beaten back, and while never defeated, certainly brought to the brink.

Whether or not those who've taken Mosul and also now Tikrit are ISIS fighters in the true sense or a conglomeration of former jihadis including ISIS as some are suggesting, it does nonetheless signal the group's arguable usurping of al-Qaida as the world's pre-eminent jihadist organisation. This is all the more remarkable considering how earlier in the year Ayman al-Zawihiri removed ISIS's  affiliate/franchise status, following its refusal to patch up its differences with the al-Nusra front in Syria, itself originally an offshoot of... ISI.  Its success in Iraq and Syria also comes in spite of criticism from some of the most influential and respected jihadi thinkers, including Abu Qatada and Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, both of whom urged support for al-Nusra.

How far this is a victory for ISIS as opposed to a humiliation for Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki is as yet too early to tell.  ISIS without doubt has some battle-hardened, well-trained and deadly fighters, as is proved by their tightly edited and designed to terrify propaganda videos.  As for how many of their fighters in total have that level of experience and skill is anyone's guess, although it certainly doesn't come close to the 5,000 or so they are estimated to have in Iraq.  Something they do have both in Iraq and Syria is a constant stream of volunteers willing to become suicide bombers, regardless it seems also of whether the target, as in Syria, is their fellow jihadis.  The Iraqi forces, part out of fear, part out of lack of training and part out of lack of loyalty to a Shia-dominated government that has never tried to properly reconcile with the Sunni north since the civil war seem to have mostly melted away, leaving only a police force that soon also abandoned its posts.  Paul Mutter suggests the majority of the functioning Iraqi army is currently trying and failing to dislodge ISIS and other Sunni militias from around Fallujah, making it even less likely Mosul will be able to be retaken soon.

Indeed, as Maliki is apparently encouraging the arming of people's militias, he also seems to doubt whether it can be achieved.  The real key will be ISIS's strategy from here on out.  Where once the group was set on fomenting civil war, relying on holding just a few safe zones and then often under the hospitality of tribal groups rather than through strength, it now de facto controls swathes of both Iraq and Syria, with an even wider operational presence.  In the short-term the aim may well be to recapture some of the territory lost in Syria, with the materiel captured from the Iraqi security forces put into use against the rival rebel groupings there.  Also a major factor will be how the group intends to govern those who haven't fled their advance: promises given that they will not be looking to impose the kind of justice seen in Raqqa are wholly unlikely to convince given the group's propensity for killing first and asking questions later.

Where this leaves foreign policy in the region, or at least should is equally uncertain.  As Juan Cole writes, ISIS could not have survived without the wealthy benefactors in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Gulf who have no qualms about the funding of murderous fanatics if it means the weakening of Iran's allies.  Correspondingly, both the United States and our good selves are now in the position of propping up and supplying a Shia-dominated government in Iraq in its fight against ISIS, while at the same time supplying "moderate" Sunni rebels in their fight against both Assad and ISIS.  We welcome the farcical election of Abdel Fatah al-Sisi in Egypt (in the words of Patrick Cockburn, he couldn't even rig the vote properly), while denouncing the farcical re-election of Assad in Syria.  We try not to mention Libya at all, while politicians who have spent the past decade telling us we've been fighting in Afghanistan to prevent terrorism here can be safe in the knowledge a group too extreme for al-Qaida now controls much of northern Iraq and a good chunk of Syria, both of which are hell of a lot closer to Europe than Afghanistan is.  And of course, we can also be happy about how ISIS didn't exist prior to the Iraq war. 

Other than that, things seem to be going pretty well.  Sleep tight.

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Thursday, June 05, 2014 

The biggest scam of the modern era.

Anti-terrorism is the biggest scam of the modern era.  Never previously has such a relatively insignificant threat necessitated the spending of mountains of cash, the dilution of liberties and the casting of suspicion on an entire community.  Just as Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex, we now have a security-industrial complex, and unlike the military, it doesn't need an opposing state actor to justify its continual expansion, not to mention the siphoning of cash into its orifices.  Once the danger was from al-Qaida central, based in Pakistan, even as ministers maintained we were preventing terrorism on the streets of Britain by fighting it in Afghanistan; now we're told to beware of terrorists returning from Syria, who are just dying to try out what they learned battling Assad (and each other) back here.

People like Mashudur Choudhury, the desperately unlucky and desperately pathetic wannabe jihadist from Portsmouth.  He went out to Syria, quickly realised he couldn't hack it in an actual war and returned home.  Nonetheless, according to the authorities his mere travelling to Syria meant he was intervening in another country's affairs for an ideological cause, and so the jury had little option but to convict him.  Leave aside how we know for a fact that British and American special forces have been training "moderate" rebels, i.e., those who only want an Islamic state in Syria rather than want it to be the first country in a region wide caliphate, and who nonetheless often fight alongside each other, or indeed how the most extreme group, ISIS, didn't exist prior to our intervention in Iraq, and just be glad that such a dangerous individual is going to prison for a long time.

It bears repeating time and again there has not been a major, realistic jihadist plot broken up in this country this decade.  Where once al-Qaida wannabes thought big, if there's any consensus it's now on doing something, anythingThe murder of Lee Rigby was just that, a murder.  Yet we are repeatedly told the threat is as severe as ever, with it being only the Snowden revelations stopping the intelligence agencies and government from bringing forward a communications bill designed to put in statute the access to information they have already through programmes such as Tempora.

All the attempts to put the security services under some sort of real, independent supervision have been repeatedly rejected.  Indeed, when asked to rule on the lawfulness of the spurious detention of David Miranda, the public's last line of defence against the over mighty state sided entirely with the government, the judiciary agreeing journalists can never know what will or will not damage national security.

In such a climate it should come as no surprise whatsoever that the state is taking one of the most drastic steps since TWAT began.  The Crown Prosecution Service wants the entire trial of two men known only as AB and CD to be held in secret.  Why?  We don't know, and can't know.  All we're allowed to know so far is both are charged with terrorism offences and they were arrested in a high profile operation last year.  Nor would we know even this had various media groups not challenged the initial ruling of Mr Justice Nicol that the trial could go ahead behind closed doors.  About the only other piece of information we've been given is the CPS believes the case may have to be dropped if it cannot be heard in secret.

Which part of the case against the two men could possibly be so sensitive it could damage national security as a whole?  One has to suspect the reason the case must be held in secret is, as it usually is, because of the embarrassment it would otherwise cause the security services or the government, suggesting the men either had some sort of involvement with the former or they have an association with a foreign ally.  As intercept evidence is still not able to be used in court that doesn't come into consideration, and it's also dubious whether the entire case would have to be heard in secret if just one or two witnesses will only give evidence if the press are excluded and reporting restricted.

Already we've seen trials heard only by a judge and not a jury.  Last year's Justice and Security Bill established "closed material procedures" after MI5 was exposed as complicit in the torture of Binyam Mohamed, in a move designed to prevent similar revelations coming to light.  The government wants the power to strip naturalised Britons of their citizenship should they dare go and fight abroad as Choudhury wanted to.  Now, having apparently learned nothing from the Diplock system in Northern Ireland, the state wants a whole trial to take place in secret.  Chris Grayling says we should trust the judiciary.  The judiciary is as fallible and open to pressure as the rest of us, has made mistakes in the past and will do so again.

In case it needs reminding, one of the government's own definitions of extremism is "vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including ... the rule of law."  As the barrister for the media Anthony Hudson argued, "the orders made involve such a significant departure from the principle of open justice that they are inconsistent with the rule of law and democratic accountability."  In order to fight the extremists we must it seems act against our own fundamental values.  Such is the triumph of the securocrats and the anti-terrorists.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2014 

It's not a peak, it's a plateau.

Well, here we are once again.  Another state opening of parliamentAnother Queen's speechAnother brick in the wall.  Somehow, quite possibly as a result of a voodoo curse, the coalition has stuck together four whole years.  If any Lib Dem MPs would like there to be a conscious uncoupling, ala Gywnnie n' Chris, then clearly Clegg and Danny Alexander aren't listening.  They must know the longer they remain bound together the less chance there is of their old supporters returning, and yet they seem determined to see it out to the bitter end.

Speaking of which, we can't have a Queen's speech post without remarking on the lunacy of the ceremony itself.  You can't help but wonder how much longer poor old Brenda is going to put up with having to don full regalia for the benefit of a bunch of sycophants and royalist nutbars, not least when she has to read out such a wretched shopping list of bills and platitudes.  She's now 88, is she really going to be expected to keep doing this into her 90s? If we can't just dispense with the entire parade of stupidity, is there any real reason as opposed to a nonsensical traditional one why Charles can't take over? And what happened to the idea of the Lord Chancellor performing the head of state's role?

As for the speech itself, when one of the pages collapses out of stultifying boredom, you know it's pretty bad. At best there are three notable, important pieces of legislation: the pension reforms we've known about since the budget, the tax relief on childcare, and the fracking act. The rest are typical of legislation left over at the end of a parliament, only the coalition has been running on empty for the best part of two years. Liz was duly left with even more flannel to spout than is usual, informing the world of how her government intends to prevent further violence in Syria, not something immediately compatible with supporting the people attacking polling stations, and will also continue "its programme of political reform".  Sorry, which one is that again?

The day after somewhat defending politicians, it can only be described as immensely depressing to realise today effectively marks the beginning of the general election campaign.  Not one, not two but three Tory MPs stood up to demand to know whether Labour intends to put a penny on national insurance to fund the NHS, further dispiriting evidence of where the Lynton Crosby-helmed Conservative campaign is going to focus its attacks.  Had he wanted to be truly honest, Ed Miliband could have responded by pointing out whoever wins the next election is almost certain to raise taxes, such remains the size of the deficit thanks to three years of the economy flatlining, with it being almost impossible to keep the roughly 80/20% ratio of cuts to tax rises.  The correlation between the pensions reform, all but encouraging early cashing out, as it provides the Treasury with a healthy percentage at the same time and the continuing state of the public finances is obvious and direct.  In the long run it might turn into a loss for the exchequer, but by then Osborne and friends hope to be long gone.

Much of the rest was similarly short-term.  The infrastructure bill looks set to reform the trespass laws to make it impossible for landowners to object to drilling under their property, something that strikes as just a little ironic considering the coalition's insistence on toughening the law against squatting only a couple of years ago.  An issue no one saw as being a major problem had to be tackled in order to defend property rights, while here we are now doing precisely the opposite to start the dash for gas.  There's also yet another crime bill, as no parliamentary session is complete without one, despite last year's currently being stalled in part down to the row over sentences for those caught with a knife for the second time.

If we had a media that was more interested in the substance as opposed to the procedure and knockabout, they might have dedicated slightly more time to Miliband's response.  In a similar style to how Cameron took on Gordon Brown at the height of the expenses scandal, he set out how many believe "this House cannot achieve anything at all", condemning the paucity of help on offer to those for whom work doesn't pay, and how following the Mark Carney's declaration that inequality was one of the biggest challenges facing the country, politicians should be judged on how they respond.  It was a strong performance, one Miliband desperately needs to put in more often, and suggests behind the scenes the party has finally realised how to develop the cost of living from being merely a slogan into a defining argument against the lethargy of the coalition. 

The election obviously isn't going to be fought over the final year's tepid legislation, but Labour must hold it against the coalition.  Wasted years, a masochistic fetish for austerity then swapped with a lust for reflating old bubbles in the search for growth of any kind, and a determination to play one part of society off against another.  We can and have to do better than this.

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