Wednesday, July 30, 2014 

Israel snatches defeat from the jaws of victory.

If we spend our whole lives bending, what do you think we will get?  What are you trying so hard to understand, aren't the structures obvious yet?

In conflict, there comes a point where the only rational choice left, whether as a result of loss of men, materiel or territory is to surrender.  The alternative is complete annihilation.  This is predicated however on the victorious side accepting it.  Arguably, both positions were adopted respectively as the Sri Lankan forces closed in on the Tamil Tigers' last remaining strongholds, with the result being the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of civilians trapped in the crossfire.  Evidence of war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan military following their eventual victory and the Tigers' belated surrender is also abundant.

Relating this to Gaza, Israel has no intention of fully reoccupying the Strip despite calls for just that from the far-right, not least as it would give the militant groups ever greater opportunities of abducting soldiers than "Operation Protective Edge" currently has.  It can't then force a victory that way.  It can try and exhaust the very ability of Hamas and Islamic Jihad etc to resist by keeping the military operation going for so long that their stockpiled caches of rockets and ammunition are completely depleted, but they can't know how long that will take, nor is there a guarantee the political pressure from the international community won't, finally, become too much to ignore.  Similarly, they don't know how many actual fighters Hamas etc have, nor can they trust their actions won't have pushed those with sympathy for the militant groups into joining/rejoining.

Just as there can only be peace through a negotiated settlement, so it appears there can now only be no peace through negotiations.  This is what is meant by the idea of "demilitarising" Gaza, something we've heard a lot of the past few days.  While it's not by any means clear just how "demilitarising" Gaza would be achieved, as the idea of UN monitors disarming Hamas while at the same time trying to provide for the hundreds of thousands reliant on UNRWA's various programmes, the implications are obvious.  Hamas, despite all the obstacles in its path, including the blockade and deteriorating relations with former allies such as Syria and Iran, has succeeded in becoming just that little more like Hezbollah in Lebanon.  During Operation Cast Lead, Hamas or other groups killed 6 Israeli soldiers.  56 have so far been killed in this latest conflict, including 5 inside Israel itself when Hamas used one of its "terror tunnels" to attack a military outpost.

This only underlines how the outside world and almost certainly Israel herself have underestimated HamasWe were told Hamas was weak, how it resorted to war as a sign of its decline, and it's true the unity government deal suggested Hamas knew its position was ebbing.  Only now do we discover that in fact Hamas has spent its time in Gaza preparing for just such a conflict, building the underground infrastructure any resistance group confined to a small area of land would need to store its weaponry.  It's also the case the tunnels provided Gazans with necessities denied by the blockade, as well as the odd luxury (if fried chicken can ever be described as such).  Nor is Hamas given any credit for its changes in strategy.  It still has its repellent, antisemitic charter which calls for Israel's destruction, but it has long since moved away from the suicide attacks that did so much damage to the Palestinian cause.  Had they wanted to they could have sent bombers through the tunnels; instead those who haven't been obliterated the second they stepped into Israel went for military targets.

Hamas then must be disarmed, not because its rockets threaten Israeli civilians in any meaningful sense, but as it now seems more formidable than before.  Israel has spent the last few years safe in the knowledge that Fatah is as corrupt and broken as it has ever been, while Hamas has been isolated and contained in Gaza, a situation especially useful for proving the governing party's military mettle prior to elections.  The reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, itself in response to Israel yet again not living up to promises made in an effort to kick start peace talks, led to Israel taking the opportunity presented by the kidnap/murder of three teenagers to pre-emptively strike against Hamas in the West Bank, which in turn brought us to where we are now.

We shouldn't pretend the political mood is shifting against Israel when it isn't. Philip Hammond is right to say it is undermining its own support, but it seems however much Israeli politicians insult and lecture both Obama and John Kerry neither is prepared to take on the lobby in the country. The real, significant change is at the lower level, where the voices of journalists are being heard before false balance is added later.  When hardened hacks say the situation is as bad as they've experienced, and news anchors make clear their disquiet, it's ever harder for the frankly increasingly laughable IDF propaganda to affect the picture.  The "most moral" army on the planet, which once did worry about so-called collateral damage, now tells desperate lies or not even that when it shells UN schools or kills children playing on the beach.  Shortly, if not now, Israel will no longer be able carry on as it long as.  That, even as the slaughter continues, is the very slightest of silver linings.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014 

David Cameron will find you.

It's Tuesday, it's the dog days of July, so it must be time for a reprise of the who can be the most reprehensible cunt to immigrants act. You might recall last year around this time the Home Office sent round their "go home" vans, a move we're now informed wasn't the brainchild of Lynton Crosby, will wonders never cease. It wasn't a complete success, truth be told, but a majority didn't think it was racist and those that way inclined probably quite liked the message.

Facts you see don't enter this equation.  According to our fabulous prime minister Labour operated a "no questions asked" approach to benefits and this acted as a "magnetic pull" to migrants, or presumably at least those with an iron constitution.  This contradicts just about every piece of evidence we have about why those from the accession 8 countries came here, with the Migration Advisory Committee most recently finding little to support such claims, but no matter.

As well as announcing a further limitation on the time those from EU countries can claim Jobseeker's Allowance, a change it's estimated will affect around a whole 5,000 people, Cameron was also channelling his inner Liam Neeson.  Apparently if you're an illegal immigrant, he will find you and he will kill you.  To make clear just how serious he is, he went along on a raid, and was filmed by the BBC chillaxing in the victim's alleged criminal's kitchen with Theresa May.  It's probably worth noting as this point how Mark Harper, who had to resign as a minister earlier in the year after he was found to be employing an illegal immigrant as a cleaner, got a job back in the reshuffle, while Isabella Acevedo is waiting to be deported, separated from her teenage daughter.  Ah, justice.

It doesn't matter all this is self-defeating in the extreme.  Politicians simply aren't listened to on immigration any longer, and haven't been for quite some time now, the reason being they took their cue from the tabloids, made all these foolish promises about limiting it, and haven't done so because they can't.  Rather than start admitting they can't and return to making the argument immigration is positive overall, while the negatives can be tackled through careful targeting of the areas which have seen the most change, like reckless gamblers they keep doubling down.  Cameron is still, still, insisting his beyond idiotic target of bringing net migration down to the tens of thousands can be achieved, while Labour continues trying to one up the Tories.  Adding illegal immigration to the mix is just asking for it; the days of the Liberal Democrats calling for an amnesty, the only even remotely workable solution, and one which would bring the exchequer hundreds of millions (at least) in extra revenue, are long gone.  Instead they must all be found and sent home.  Just like Lucan, Shergar and Madeleine McCann will be (apologies).

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Thursday, July 24, 2014 

The (Palestinian) right to death.

Shall we cut straight to the chase this time?  As we know, Hamas stores its rockets in schools, hospitals, mosques, ambulances and so on and so forth.  There is a certain amount of truth to these claims: UNRWA has twice in recent days discovered rockets hidden in vacant schools, something it has condemned in the strongest possible terms.  The key word there though is vacant schools; regardless of what Hamas and the other militant groups are, they do not store rockets in places where civilians are sheltering from the violence.

When the IDF then shells an UNRWA school where hundreds of people were taking refuge, it knows precisely what it's doing.  When they say terrorists store weapons in all the places mentioned above they're making clear they reserve the right to attack anywhere; it's a defence in advance.  When those shells kill 15 innocents, all the IDF can do is try and divert some of the blame, even it involves telling easily disprovable lies.  According to the IDF, there was a humanitarian window between 10:00 and 14:00 today when those sheltering in the school could have left to try and find somewhere else to escape the violence.  Instead, Hamas apparently prevented them from leaving.  This is news to UNRWA, who say they tried to coordinate exactly such a window and it was never granted.  In any case, Hamas continued firing from Beit Hanoun.  The IDF was responding to that fire.  By shelling a school they had the exact coordinates of, where they knew there were hundreds of civilians who wanted to leave but couldn't.

Something about this story doesn't add up.  To be precise, this is the sort of story a five-year-old would find difficult to believe.  It leads you to one conclusion, and one conclusion only: the IDF doesn't care what it hits in Gaza, and it will always blame Hamas regardless of how bad it looks.  This is the exact sort of behaviour we condemn when it's the Syrian military doing it.  They're the same kind of lies we find outrageous when they're told by the Russians.  Yet still our representatives will keep repeating Israel has the right to defend itself.  The Palestinians, as said before, only have the right to die.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014 

When words are not equal.

And what do you know, about alienation honey? Yeah please, explain how it feels.

There are numerous ways to shut down debate when it comes to Israel/Palestine.  The most obvious, and the most used and abused, is to cry antisemitism, although it must be stressed the line between vehement anti-Zionism and antisemitism is often an extremely fine one.  We saw this not too long ago when the Israeli ambassador to the UK denounced a Gerald Scarfe cartoon in the Sunday Times (having read a copy at the weekend, calling it a comic does a disservice to the Beano) as antisemitic on the grounds he portrayed Binyamin Netanyahu with a big nose, encasing Palestinians in a wall where the bricks were held together with blood.  This apparently invoked the blood libel and the age old antisemitic trope of caricaturing Jews as having big/long facial appendages.  As I noted at the time, it's fine for those who want to cry racism to do so on flimsy evidence, as Twitter would be even more unprofitable than it currently is if people didn't; when actual state actors start doing it to silence criticism, something much more sinister is at work.

Today we have a wonderful new example of the disparity in the nature of the discourse.  As they have in the past, Israeli politicians and those defending Israel's actions in Gaza have asked what other countries would do were they subjected to barrages of rockets on their towns and cities.  No nation could tolerate it, they say.  The IDF went so far as to photoshop an image of the House of Commons under just such an attack, questioning what we'd do then.  This obviously ignores how we dealt with the threat posed by the IRA, or how other countries which have faced down terrorist groups have done so without imposing a permanent siege on a heavily populated but relatively small city, but as the Israeli prime minister said, only Israel understands Israel.

When Lib Dem MP David Ward tweeted, saying "If I were in Gaza, would I fire a rocket? Probably yes" he was conducting a similar thought experiment.  You could say it's a rather redundant one, as transplanting yourself into such a situation without also taking into account how different your life would be makes it likely your entire world view would also be drastically altered, but at the same time it raises the question. What would you do? Would you resist as well, even if not necessarily alongside Hamas?  I find it likely I probably would.

Even to pose the question the other way it seems is to provide Hamas with succour, to suggest there is an equivalence between Hamas rockets and Israel defending itself.  Palestinians, as we really should have learned by now, don't have the same right to target those the UN says may have committed war crimes.  Indeed, according to the berk's berk, Tory chairman Grant Shapps, Ward's tweet may have incited violence, while Labour's Douglas Alexander said his "vile comments are as revealing as they are repellent".  Quickly the party issued a statement clarifying the obvious, that he was pointing out how people can be driven to such desperate measures, but not before the Board of Deputies of British Jews said Nick Clegg should expel Ward from the party.  Just as with everything else, words are simply not equal.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014 

It's so fucking funny.

Supposedly, the older you get, the more right-wing you become.  It's strange then that at least when it comes to foreign policy, the more I age, the more to the left I shift.  Perhaps it's because the propaganda accompanying those shilling for war becomes ever more egregious; maybe it's because those selling leaden death are about as plausible as a pig dressed as a chicken; or it could be that as my anger on much else has dimmed, and boy has it dimmed, if anything it still hasn't peaked when civilians are massacred by the "most moral" army on the planet, supported and backed to the hilt by our own wannabe bombers.

We must start though with the shooting down of flight MH17.  Here is the worst example imaginable of what happens when you give heavy weaponry to amateurs, or as could be the case, when professionals are made to answer to dilettantes.  As soon as the news emerged a civilian plane had came down in the area where the eastern Ukrainian rebels have been pushed back to it was apparent what had happened.  Regardless of how the Donetsk People's Republic fighters got their hands on a Buk, whether supplied directly by Russia or captured from the Ukrainians, they couldn't have kept fighting this long without the tacit, barely disguised support of Putin.  He bears a heavy responsibility for the tragedy, and the fact he either refused or failed to pressure the rebels into allowing immediate access to the crash site so investigators could carry out their work speaks of the inhumanity of the Russian president.

This said, there is little many in the west like more than the certainty of past battles.  To hear some commentators and politicians over the last few days you could be forgiven for imagining the Russians themselves had carried out the most heinous, despicable atrocity of recent times.  The strike on MH17 apparently occurred in a vacuum, few of the reports setting out how the Ukrainians had carried out air strikes in the area before last Thursday, at least one missile destroying a house and killing those inside.  Nor have there been such shootings down in the past, it would seem, neither the Korean flight brought down by the Soviets in 1983 or indeed the USS Vincennes incident of 1988 being recalled.

Those quite rightly demanding justice and the handing over of those responsible might well reflect on the punishment given to the US navy crew whom unintentionally killed 290 civilians on Iran Air Flight 655: they received their medals, while the captain got the Legion of Merit.  Few have considered the irony either of the media traipsing all over what would normally be a crime scene, access carefully controlled so as not to lose evidence or contaminate the area.  Indeed, if the scene had been quickly handed over to investigators, it's possible the bodies of the victims could have stayed where they landed just as long if not longer than they did; that was certainly the case with Lockerbie.

Watching last Friday's session at the United Nations Security Council was an instruction in how diplomacy does and doesn't work.  The anger of US ambassador Samantha Power was palpable, her words at times mawkish.  "We now all know the letter I stands for infant," she said.  It doesn't of course when it comes to Gaza, where instead it must stand for irrelevant.  If the same politicians who have barely been able to contain their contempt and rage at Russia over MH17 directed even a tenth of that feeling at Israel, the pressure would have almost certainly already told on Netanyahu.

Israel instead is held to different standards, always has been, always will be.  "No one understands Israel but Israel," as the Israeli prime minister apparently told John Kerry.  It's the story taken up by apologists, as well as those who don't bother to sugar the pill.  When we highlight the disparity in the number of casualties between the two sides, the context is we want more Israelis to be killed to even things up.  It's also extremely distasteful to share pictures of dead children, because doing so "devalues the currency of shared humanity", while if we do it for the Palestinians, we should also do it for the children of every other conflict or disaster.  God forbid that we see the victims of a war where one side has rudimentary rockets and rifles and the other has tanks and the finest weaponry the west can supply.

If it wasn't apparently designed to infuriate, the IDF Twitter account could be taken for satire.  We're told the ground invasion is to destroy the tunnels Hamas hides its missiles in, but they conceal them in every civilian building too.  Israel is threatened by Hamas fighters using the tunnels to attack settlements just outside the Strip, despite them being obliterated the moment they step out of them, yet when Hamas kills Israeli soldiers inside Gaza they're still terrorists, rather than resisting an invading force.  The media can't repeat enough the great lengths the IDF goes to avoid civilian casualties, despite multiple incidents every day that suggest at best either lack of care or at worst a complete indifference, yet similar statements from Hamas never make the cut.  When civilians don't leave despite being warned to flee, they're either human shields or Hamas wouldn't let them go.  That nowhere in Gaza is safe doesn't matter.  Hamas is responsible.

We've heard it all before, and no doubt we'll hear it again.  One thing we do seem to have been spared this time is the Palestinians don't feel pain such is their martyrdom ideation line, perhaps because the grieving for those killed has been there for all to see.  So too we've seen more reports from the "Sderot cinema" or other vantage points where an extreme, tiny minority of Israelis go to watch the carnage being wreaked on Gaza, cheering it on, just as vengeful and filled with hate as we're so often informed Palestinian children are brought up to be.  Whether they really approve of the horrific consequences on the ground, when 19 children were killed in a single strike, apparently just as guilty as the solitary target, we can't know.  They surely however demand justice just as much as the infants on board the MH17 did.

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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 reveal 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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