Wednesday, 30 July 2014

And justice for all?


Regular readers will be aware that I am a criminal. Some cowboy bailiffs, without lawful authority, clamped my car for council tax that was not owed and added illegal charges. I cut the clamp off with an angle grinder and didn't pay their fees. For my trouble, I now have a record of criminal damage against my name and a fine of £1300.

Phillip Johnston, one of the few adults left at The Telegraph, has noticed that such punishments are part of a much larger trend where the justice system serves not justice, but exists to enforce state policy, needlessly criminalising ordinary people while making a few quid in the process. (read the whole thing).

That in itself is brewing up a toxic resentment, but it runs in tandem with a more obnoxious phenomenon. So-called “petty offenders” which includes shoplifters, vandals and people who assault their spouses regularly escape criminalisation. Even burglary can be dealt with by way of a community order.

I have seen this in action myself. While defending myself against a speeding charge (going at moderate speeds in good conditions), I witnessed a recidivist walk free with only small deductions from benefits to pay a fine, having ruthlessly battered his sister and taken the contents of her purse to go drinking with.

A second offender had walked down the high street, smashing car wing mirrors off and kicking in shop doors. He was given a small fine, again deducted from benefits. As to me, I was hit with the full fine and banned from driving for a whole year, costing me my job, my relationship and consequently everything I owned. It is for this reason I hold the police, the court system - and the politicians who make these laws in bitter contempt.

This is conveyor belt justice, eroding the very concept of criminality, where the system is run for its own convenience, much like the police, and our only role is to pay up and do as we are told. We are sleepwalking into a corporate state where we are mere economic units to be managed like cattle, without a shred of democracy or due process. And that will come with a heavy price. Because I am certainly not alone in waiting to get even.

Gaza: there are always choices


Today we learn from Gaza that a school has been hit by artillery. Or so we are told. A spokeswoman from the Israel Defence Forces said that its initial inquiries showed that “Hamas militants fired mortar shells from the vicinity of the school, and [Israeli] soldiers responded by firing towards the origins of the fire”. An investigation was continuing, she added.

I expect to see more of these incidents before that investigation is concluded. But there is no need. Here we have a manifest refusal to learn from past mistakes and it seems a lack of actual concern. No doubt defenders of Israel will trot out the usual excuses, that Hamas uses human shields etc, but it doesn't hold water for me. If there are children in the way, you don't fire. It's that simple. The excuses are even less convincing when this kind of incident is entirely avoidable.

You couldn't have a more predictable launch site than somewhere designated as a "UN shelter". So if you know the likely launch point, and you know that mortars are short range weapons, then you know the most likely glidepath of the munition ... and then you know where to park one of these...


The machine itself (C-RAM) uses a Gatling gun to paint a block of lead in the path of rockets and mortars which explode on impact with the bullets. It's effective, tried and tested, and it's cheap. So here we have the capability in tandem with intelligence (and common sense) to stop rockets and mortars without handing the enemy the propaganda gold of a truck load of dead infants. What's not to like?

But then that is a downstream argument. We have to ask how it is that such ordinance gets into Gaza in the first place. Palestinians have been building tunnels for well over a decade. An infrastructure of tunnels crisscrossing the border with Egypt built to smuggle over goods as big as cars. Infiltration tunnels into Israel have also existed for some time.

But this has not happened without the knowledge of the IDF. Such things do not happen overnight and they do not happen without leaving a trail of evidence. Satellite geospatial analysis can offer clues when supplemented with real time footage from UAVs, where sophisticated computers can alert operators of changes in the landscape, and radio gradiometers can detect miniscule changes such as a hidden Improvised Explosive Device. This has proven effective in Afghanistan, so why not Gaza? It's not as if the border is a vast expanse. There are means of detection and there are means to collapse the tunnels without the use of artillery. All that's missing is a bit of imagination, innovation and of course, political will.

This is not to say the Israel has not experimented with such technologies, and in fact Israel is a global leader and exporter of it, but they have not been exploited to the fullest because the military paradigm is still stuck in the past. This is pretty typical. When campaigning for MRAP vehicles in Afghanistan, the MOD actively resisted any such progress because it interfered with their spending priorities. This is the same political dynamic that exists in the IDF who campaigned against C-RAM and Iron Dome. The one journalist who could have helped influence this debate was Melanie Phillips who sadly chose to repeat the Israeli defence ministry mantras, thus delaying Iron Dome by a matter of years.

And now, we learn there has been the same bureaucratic resistance to Ground Penetrating Radar technology for tunnel detection. Academics and military analysts alike have been screaming at the Israeli defence ministry for a decade about the potential of GPR and associated technologies and, unsurprisingly, it falls on deaf ears.

Further to this, Israeli tech company, Magna, has an interesting proposal. Magna believes that just like Iron Dome intercepts a rocket, a tunnel 30 meters deep loaded with sensors and radar on the border with the Gaza Strip can provide a decisive solution to attack tunnels designed to enable terrorist squads to penetrate into Israeli and commit massacres. 
The solution proposed by Siboni is based on precisely the same radar system that has already proved itself over several years, and which is well known to the defense establishment. According to Magna, what works well above ground can, with slight software and hardware adjustments, also work well tens of meters underground, and can provide a feasible solution to the growing threat of attack tunnels from Gaza aimed at Israel. "Our answer to the this threat is sensors - the same sensors we deploy on the borders and at secured facilities all over Israel and overseas will do the same job, even underground. The rate of detection, identification, and alerting will be 99.9%, and the system is advanced enough to prevent false alarms to the security forces. We'll demonstrate our solution to the defense establishment soon," Siboni stated.
It sounds entirely feasible to me, but they say it will cost billions. So the question then becomes an economic one. It is here I am reminded of a somewhat nerdy joke from economist Thomas Sowell. "Two economists meet in the street... Hey Mack! How's the wife? says the first. The second replies "Compared to what?". 

Operation Protective Edge is set to cost 8.5 billion, and though I can't find a good figure for Cast Lead I'll bet it was considerably higher. Add to this the costs to the Israeli economy in a domestic sense, and the opportunity costs from damaged international relations and it soon mounts up. In the long run, the application of science and intelligence is going to be far cheaper (and more humane) than big set-piece battles that accomplish precisely nothing, and need to be played out perennially.

We have already discussed on this blog the importance of the propaganda element of modern war, and particularly how collateral damage incidents erode domestic support. But this is not such a powerful argument here, in that this operation has a high approval rating among Israelis. But it does have an economic cost and it does gradually delegitimise such operations. Consequently, what we need to see is a paradigm shift in Israel's military strategy and for them recognise there is no conventional military solution.

Any security policy will have to be a multi-tiered counter-insurgency operation, working with local intelligence assets, geospatial analysis, UAVs, Iron Dome, radar, sniper rotorcraft and satellites. Moreover, C-RAM technology is well over 20 years old, so adapting the principle to the modern integrated CO-IN battlefield means that it could be programmed to work in conjunction with other assets. 

Big set-piece military incursions simply do not work. All they do is pile up the propaganda against you and create more new recruits to the enemy. So the key is to keep it mundane, low key, cheap, and out of the headlines by using a strategy of containment. An intelligence lead approach. Israel does have these assets but they are employed as supplementary assets rather than central to a containment policy.

Critics point to the costs and the shortfalls of such emerging technologies, and given how high profile programmes like F35 play out in the media as grotesque white elephants, plagued by delays and cost overruns, they are right to be sceptical. But what we are looking at is not necessarily new technology, but a new way of thinking as to how established counter-insurgency technology is deployed. It requires not a change of political stance, but a change of military doctrine.

Of course I do understand that all this technical theorising is very easy for a Westerner sat behind a computer, far from any danger with no dog in the fight. I also realise that we are talking about how to humanely contain violence spilling out of an open prison run by an Islamist Mafia. I'm not so arrogant so to suggest I know the answers, but in the mean time, I know that when a politician tells me there is no other choice but to lob artillery at children, I know they are speaking from ignorance. There are always choices.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Why pick on Israel? Self-propelled artillery, that's why


Many are asking why such special attention is given to the conflict in Gaza when the daily massacres in Syria are only mentioned as a token gesture. Israel gets the brunt of global revulsion when ISIS are apparently beheading people and posting pictures online.

Where Syria is concerned, apathy reigns. Collectively we expect basketcase Arab dictatorships to be bloody murderers, and while we might wish for a humanitarian intervention, we have to ask who we are helping if we do? Very often, what follows is far worse, and the modern paradigm of Western military intervention is that our forces will magnify trouble by their very presence. So we turn a blind eye. There is little to be done, except to face the cold reality that we had more than a small hand in bringing this to bare. But that won't stop us from pontificating on what Israel should do.

Some have suggested that anti-zionism and anti-semitism are the reasons for the fierce anti-Israel sentiment. For many, that is probably true. But I'm no Jew hater. I can't say I know enough about Jews to hate them. I think they have stupid beards and equally stupid hats, but I can say that of most other faiths too. I'm not even opposed to zionism as a concept. But I do think that fighting a counter-insurgency war with F15s and heavy artillery is as barbaric as it is stupid, and a first world democracy that we call an ally should not be doing this.

It will fail in achieving any of the military objectives in any meaningful sense, and among the bereaved and the displaced there will be fresh recruits for Hamas. Israel knows this. So there is a different agenda at play here. Israel knows, like Hamas, that there will always be a large global audience of individuals willing to repeat their mantras and excuses. Each side will talk past each other, convincing nobody, each blind to the death and destruction while it continues to serve their own nefarious and narcissistic ends. Due care is not required.

Because it has become such a divisive issue, all we can do make the token appeals to Israel for restraint, but never go as far as actually condemning it. But it's not working is it? High tech, intelligence-lead counter insurgency warfare has gone out of the window and now Israel is lashing out, not giving a tinkers damn what we think. And why should they?

This is a natural consequence of criticising Israel whatever it does. Why go to the expense of being a moral army if people are still going to say you are engaged in "genocide" along with other such hypocritical, deranged hyperbole? Why should Israel care about all this lofty moralising and pontificating when mass slaughters happen every day in Syria (sometimes involving chemical weapons) and nobody bats an eyelid.

For Israel it now comes down to economics. Hamas can bleed Israel dry of funds if it can make Israel spend a million dollars to counter a hundred dollar rocket. All wars comprise of a propaganda war, an economic war and a shooting war. If you can't win the propaganda war either way and you are spending money only to lose that aspect of the war, then you concentrate your assets on the aspects you can win. Artillery is a lot cheaper than a precision low yield guided missile.

With the domestic approval rating for this incursion in around eighty per cent, and there is little domestic outcry, why on earth would they give collateral damage a second thought? Doing the right thing has thus far not paid dividends. Moreover, the low key operations don't make the headlines, and that's not good because Israel is playing to its own international crowds as much as Hamas are.

As Brendan O'Neill observes "The logic of the internationalisation of the Middle East crisis is that both sides become the willing servants of western opportunists and voyeurs. Do not look at the TV news and ask why all this senseless killing is taking place: they are killing for you."

Indeed they are. They have a found a willing audience and Palestine has become the new South Africa for the self-righteous. It is a conflict sustained by our undivided attention. This needs to stop. There was a time when I might had made excuses for Israel, but in amongst the grief tourism photographs passing themselves off as journalism, there are pictures of real black smoke clouds, real piles of rubble, real dead babies and real human suffering. Israel could avoid this if it chose to. But it has chosen not to.

Israel has made it quite clear that it no longer cares for the humanitarian view, and has crossed a line. But ultimately, if you want someone to blame, there's a mirror nearby. Go take a look. Both Israel and Hamas play their games directed at media, but who are the willing consumers?

Friday, 25 July 2014

The recession is over, apparently

I see dead people: they don't know they're dead
It's a "Big day for Britain" says The Telegraph as the economy bounces back to pre-recession levels. Such self-congratulatory preening will doubtlessly be greeted with incredulity by anyone living outside the Westminster bubble. It's a matter of semantics, you see.

To economists and politicians the word "recession" means that GDP is in decline. To just about everyone else it means a decade of wage freezes, long term unemployment, debt problems, job insecurity, belt-tightening and a fear for the future. While policy wonks and Tory politicians are slapping themselves on the back for a job well done, the rest of us look onward with dismay. The numbers on screen look a little different to reality.

This is where less honest writers would dive in to describe a scene of Dickensian decay as children starve in the streets and families are forced to eat their firstborn. For sure there are now food banks and marginal cuts to marginal government services, but as far as recessions go, this has been a pretty weird one. We have not seen mass strikes of any significance and certainly we haven't seen the kind of civil unrest that comes with times of hardship.

For many, what was billed as the worst recession in living memory turned out to be the dog that didn't bark. For sure, if you're a Northerner you have job insecurity, debt problems and wage freezes, but that is pretty much the natural state of existence, - and for Scotland, the economy for most Scots was in the toilet even at the height of the boom. This is not to say life has not been tough for a great many more since 2008, but in terms of material wealth, most people in the country can count themselves as wealthy by contrast with the majority of the planet.

If you were looking for the typical imagery you would associate with a recession of this magnitude such as bankers leaping off tall buildings, food rationing and wheelbarrows full of cash to buy a loaf of bread, you will find no such thing. But there is an underlying, more subtle decay in all this.

We don't see queues around the block for food handouts, but instead we do see queues around the block of people waiting to be seen by a magistrate, as thousands of people are summonsed for council tax arrears and business is booming for bailiffs. Our courts are no longer places of justice. They are merely state revenue collection branches.

Moreover the fundamentals of the economy as as rotten as they were in 2007 and little, if anything has been done to address them. If you can see past the creative accounting by shifting pension liabilities around and double-counting of savings, the deficit is still wildly out of control, and the national debt stands at around one and a half trillion. More employment red tape and more taxes prohibit any kind of meaningful employment growth, and what red tape doesn't deter, energy costs will.

We are told there are record numbers of new businesses starting up, but this is essentially individuals registering as a limited company, taking contract work now that permanent jobs as we know them have been abolished. The banks have been brought back from the brink of a fiscal apocalypse but our society is much more transient, less financially secure and many of working age wonder if they will ever manage to retire at all.

There was a time when a life of savings would provide an adequate private pension. But not any more. Pensions are a black hole into which you pay lot's of money with the same uncertainty you would feel if you were throwing money at a blackjack table. The only people who can now be certain of a decent retirement are our public sector CEOcracy. There is a justifiable feeling that we are being robbed blind.

It's inescapable. More of our services which are notionally covered by the taxes we pay now carry charges, and we know the direction of travel for that trend. I wouldn't mind if it came with a proportionate tax cut so that we might procure these services for ourselves, but here we have the worst of all worlds: big government, big taxes, but "privatised" services we have already paid for. I've never believed in the Leftist concept of equality, but I do believe in the concept of fairness, and if you or I tried what our parasitic corporates and governments tried on, we would find ourselves in jail.

We are on a slow march toward a more hostile, less free, expensive society where those who have license from government to prey on the citizen can do so unhindered. Because we are a docile population brought up to belief that government is inherently a good thing, and that paying our taxes is a civic duty of a sort, we have become pushovers for authorities. They can now treat us any way they choose. Some people are brave enough to show a bit of backbone and complain, but the state can pick us off one by one and throw the book at us.

One of the most telling runes to read is the gradual retreat of police into central police fortresses. The service is becoming impersonal and remote. Police are now policy enforcers rather than public servants. The service has departed entirely from the Peelian Principles and they are gearing for a defensive role; not to defend the people from the state, but to defend the state from the people.

While the GDP numbers look good on screen, I get the feeling we are a zombie country. The essence of what makes Britain free is gradually being replaced with something much uglier and sinister, where the state fears us and seeks to monitor everything that we do.

Rather than allow us shape our own destiny, it borrows in our name to "create jobs" but with no idea how we are ever going to pay for them - and government is digging a fresh grave for us all. While the clapping seals of Westminster pop their corks at today's news, I am far less optimistic. I am reminded of the film The Sixth Sense and that most poignant exchange...

Cole Sear: I see dead people.

Malcolm Crowe: In your dreams?

[Cole shakes his head no]

Malcolm Crowe: While you're awake?

[Cole nods]

Malcolm Crowe: Dead people like, in graves? In coffins?

Cole Sear: Walking around like regular people. They don't see each other. They only see what they want to see. They don't know they're dead.

They have us over a barrel


Speaking as a complete bastard, I certainly know one when I see one. Today, Kwikfit Insurance presents as one of the worst offenders outside of local government. It seems they, like the rest of the industry, have concocted a fun little game called "we will auto renew without telling you". Apparently this has been going on for some time. If you renew your car insurance elsewhere, Kwikfit will charge you £200 to cancel the policy you didn't want, didn't know you had - and didn't ask for.

The excuse being that I didn't check a tick box on the form over a year ago, so it's all right for them to do it. They are not interested in satisfying the customer. They gotcha! They just want to hold you as a customer against your will, and threaten to pass the bill through to debt collectors if you don't pay it. Today, Kwikfit get the full one-finger salute for the worst, most obnoxious customer services I have ever experienced in my life.

Thankfully, a very nice lady from Zenith Insurance rang them on my behalf and sorted it out, but what should have been a very straightforward transaction was time-consuming, blood-boiling and left a very sour taste in my mouth. And why do they do this? Simple. Because they can.

As with the bailiff industry, there are toothless "regulators", watchdogs and ombudsmen "services", all of which require you to jump through several hoops to get boilerplate answers, but very little in the way of justice (and zero chance of stopping it happening to other people). Of course you do have one option, which is not to pay, but then it stays on your credit rating for six years. This is how Welcome Finance prevented me from getting a mortgage by charging me £2500 for a car they had taken back under the terms of the agreement some months before.

Eventually they took me to small claims court. I defended myself and won, but a lot of damage was done in terms of missed opportunities. Similarly, I recall being stung by Vodafone for £700 for an internet dongle which, unbeknown to me, did not switch off when a laptop lid was closed and consequently was churning data all night. That went on my credit rating too.

Now you can argue that a contract is a contract, and one must always read the small print, and in most circumstances I would probably agree, but we have somehow drifted into a cartel culture, where corporates can treat you like shit and get away with it. They can cope with a certain churn rate because they know full well that everyone in the market will treat you equally badly - and you have no real choice in it.

In all such circumstances, the odds are against the customer, from mobile phones, to car insurance and the likes; they have all the protections of the state, whereas we have none. You can waste your time and life energy on "independent regulators", but they're basically counting on you becoming disillusioned and going away. It's what I call "The Fuck Off Loop".

Even as someone who believes in limited government, I do think our regulators need to have teeth and the strength to intervene. We are being ripped off by these cartels, there is no market competition - and if safeguarding fair trade is not a function of government, then what is?

It is precisely this kind of grubby, cynical operation that makes life that little bit more unpleasant for all of us and takes the food out of our mouths. They do it to us because even our elected representatives can only mouth platitudes in response to this cancer. A cancer that tarnishes the name of capitalism and free markets.

Since we lack the democratic mechanisms to hold these people to account, I fear the frustration will eventually boil over, and somebody somewhere will see to it that somebody in their ranks pays a high price. On that day, I might permit myself a little cheer!

Council tax: creating poverty in ways only government can


Council Tax is coming into sharp focus as the effects of council tax benefit reform begin to bite. Council tax is unpopular because it's money we have, and it's money we miss when we are forced to pay it. That makes us acutely aware that government hits us in the wallet. Because that money is missed, people recognise the connection between what they pay and what the councils do, and what they waste.

It is a tax that makes people angry. And that is why it is a good tax. All tax should make people angry. Everyone should be acutely aware of just how much they are paying for what little they receive. This is why I would prefer to see income tax collected locally in the same way as council tax. It is because income tax it is invisibly deducted from our wages that we psychologically don't miss the money. You don't miss what you never had and you don't see the opportunity cost by paying it PAYE.

What the country needs now more than ever is more angry people who are paying attention to our rulers and what they spend our money on - and we especially need more people waking up to the fact that everything government spends is money taken by force.

Just recently, councils have been surreptitiously adding fees and charges to services that were once covered by council tax. This is to avoid holding a referendum on council tax increases over 2%. They do this because they know that if they asked for our consent, they know they wouldn't get it. It is for this reason that if a referendum is ever held on council tax, there will never ever be an option on the ballot paper to reduce council tax by two per cent or more. They would rather keep the larceny under the radar to stop the public waking up to the fact they are being fleeced at every turn by their own governments.

Additionally, for too long we have had a welfare class who pay little, if any tax, thus are barely aware of the relationship between what they receive and where that money comes from. As much as this leads to irresponsible and feckless lifestyles and results in poor choices which are free of personal consequences, it also promotes political disengagement. If you are not paying anything yourself, then who cares how taxpayers money is spent? It creates a whole class of welfare serfs, looked after by state employees who will never vote for cuts to government.

There is a strategic nudge value in cutting council tax support. While life on benefits certainly isn't easy, for many it beats the alternatives. Some can, and do, live quite comfortably on benefits. If the extra squeeze on budgets such as council tax benefit reform and the bedroom tax put the squeeze on just enough to get people out of the house and into work, then in the long run, that is the kinder and fairer thing to do. And if it gets people more politically engaged, then all the better.

But there will always be households who really can't pay, and really shouldn't pay. But that is of no consequence to most councils. In 2013 the government cut the grant by £300m – and told councils they would have to find the difference from saving or by reducing the benefit to poor residents. They chose the latter. As a result, we learn from the Independent that nearly 16,000 people in London alone have been referred to the bailiffs for non-payment. Councils are now engaged in mass harassment of the people they are supposed to serve.

What makes council tax especially evil is the way in which it is collected. It assumes everyone is paid monthly, it assumes that a missed payment is refusal to pay and councils are trigger happy with court action, adding hundreds of pounds in extra costs, far exceeding the value of the "debt". They are ever keen to unleash their privateer bailiffs, who resort to whichever tactics they so choose with the full cooperation of councils and the police, who themselves willfully and knowingly turn a blind eye to the crimes of bailiffs.

This epidemic now extends to such a degree that this now the number one cause of debt problems reported to Citizens Advice - and considerably worse than those problems created by pay-day loan companies, which it seems are hated more by our paternal political class than the people who actually use them. I guess when it comes to bullying and grand larceny, the government hates the competition.

Our councils are now wholly parasitic, they are accountable to no-one, and there is no limit their greed. Notionally, a great many of the services they provide are designed to help those in poverty but they have no shame in driving those very same people into deeper poverty.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Dead baby porn

Generic dead baby.

An excellent article in Spiked today describes how the proliferation of "dead baby porn" is wholly counter productive. It benefits those who would use the moral capital to promote their "humanitarian" political agendas, but it plays into the hands of Hamas who are keen to exploit it too.
Inevitably, this shift from a view of Palestinians as the potential equals of all other self-determining peoples to a view of Palestinians as perennial victims has changed the way in which Palestinians are depicted. Where once the 20-year-old man hurling a stone at an Israeli tank might have been the archetypal image of a Palestinian, now the dead child or wailing woman is held up as the epitome of the Palestinian experience. This has a great impact on how Palestinian politics itself is conducted. It implicitly invites the leaders of the Palestinian people to nurture this new victim status, to conspire in the depiction of Palestinians as pathetic, with an eye for getting international institutions to take action against Israel and offer greater material and economic support to the Palestinian territories.
There's very little I could add to this, or pick fault with, except to say this is nothing at all new. The fact that Gazans are still considered refugees to be tended by the ministrations of UNWRA shows that the UN has always sought to define Palestinians as victims - and Palestinians have been all too happy to nurture it. We're seeing the same old dynamics on steroids. Hamas certainly isn't the first to exploit it, and all that has changed is the pace and volume of dead baby porn, facilitated by the internet.

What feels different this time around is that those participating in this morbid exchange are not remotely concerned if the images they use are current, or indeed authentic. They are all of a particular style and composition, and without tools like tineye.com you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between a shot from 2002 and yesterday. Most don't even bother to check.

From each passing conflict or spat in the Middle East emerges a new batch of moral Top Trumps cards to be played over Twitter, in a ghoulish game where the more graphic the image, the more righteous your cause. It no longer matters if the imagery is even from the same conflict. It's all good propaganda among the moral crusaders.

As O'Neill observes, it triggers a race to the bottom the likes of Hamas are well aware of. We create the demand, and they are happy to supply. But it speaks more about the moral corruption of Western media and NGO humanitarianism.

The entire humanitarian NGO industry has always depended on the victims paraded on our screens - and nothing makes a photography career quite like a poignant shot of a starving African baby, sat alone and crawling with flies. You would be hard pressed to find an 80's video montage not containing such imagery.

Poignant image, but without value.
Disaster and war photography is less about recording history than it is grief tourism, collecting souvenir snaps along the way, that lazy picture editors simply cannot resist - and will pay good money for. Reporting from war zones is now an effort to make you feel a particular way rather than to inform the viewer of unfolding events.

From this voyeuristic tendency has grown a multi-billion, multi-national humanitarian NGO industry with tentacles in all levels of government. To this day we are still treated to Red Nose Day telethons and pop concerts - and few politicians dare not wear the wristbands.

With such political leverage, they influence foreign policy, foreign aid priorities, military spending, and have become pillars of global government. It's actually a pretty good deal all round, unless you're a soon-to-be-dead Gazan baby. The only people who suffer are Gazans, but who really cares about them? Not the UN and certainly not Hamas.

But there are reasons to be optimistic. Since 2006, in the wake of the numerous fakes and fabrications that came from the Lebanon campaign, many are desensitised to it, and with bloggers applying forensic scrutiny to every single image, the mainstream media cannot get away with it as they once did. Standards have improved somewhat, and picture editors are much more cautious in their choice of front page pictures. We're getting wise to them, and we're getting wise to Hamas.

Further to this, with a daily barrage of mass slaughters from Syria and elsewhere in the Arab world, the outrage reserved just for Israel seems a little credulous. Moreover, as the debate has been reduced to memes and tweets, the debate has become more polarised. The protests against Israel have crossed the line into naked anti-semitism and advocates of the Palestinian cause are ever more aggressive and bilious. Like the Ukippers and Cyber-nats, the more insistent they become, the more people will tune out - and that's exactly what needs to happen for this conflict to end. This will continue only for as long as this conflict has the complete and undivided attention of the world.

That said, Israel needs to wake up. Israel's failure to grasp the significance of the propaganda aspect of this conflict is what ultimately sustains it. To many the righteousness of the cause rises with the body count, and yet Israel obligingly supplies their enemies with precisely the material they need. Every volley of 155mm artillery adds further currency, every massive black smoke cloud is gold dust, and every collapsed apartment block is a new photography set. No pun intended, but it's not rocket science.

By the end of this campaign over a thousand will lie dead. That number will be the monument to this military effort, not the military outcome. The rockets may fall silent for a time while Hamas digs out their tunnels, but sooner or later the cameras will roll again and yet more hard drives will be filled with more dead baby porn. What has been achieved?

The technology now exists to fight a war of containment that need not spill out onto the front pages. Israel knows this because much of the technology is Israeli. So we have to ask, is this just political and military incompetence, or is Israel getting something it needs out of this too? So long as Hamas and the "international community" are given what they need to thrive, we will continue sustain a conflict that should now be long forgotten. So why keep repeating the same mistakes?

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Reality check for David Ward MP


Stealing words from Dan Gordon over at Theo Spark, contrary to the perception of some, that the core reason behind this conflict is Israel’s occupation of lands conquered in the defensive war of 1967, Hamas could not, and does not, give a tinker’s damn about “ Occupied territory” . This is so because Hamas regards ANY territory on which there is a sovereign Jewish state as “occupied territory”. Moreover, Hamas believes that any such Jewish state has no right to exist.

Indeed, Hamas believes it is duty bound, by both religious and political ideology, to destroy such a state, on its road to establishing the kind of Caliphate which ISIS is in the process of making a reality. According to both of their ideologies and religious beliefs, everything from the Persian Gulf to Spain, is, by virtue of once having been ruled by Muslims, “occupied territory”, which they mean to liberate, by any means possible.

To Hamas, it would not matter if Israel were Christian, Buddhist, Scientologist or Mormon. It is the same mentality that today sees the destruction by ISIS of an 1800 year old church in Mosul.

Hamas are not the plucky underdog freedom fighters that the Left so loves. They are dangerous, corrupt, Islamic fanatics who, like suicide bombers, do not care who they kill or how. They are the enemy of every liberal and progressive value you can name.

Ultimately the victims in all this are Gazans who are held prisoner, not by Israel, but by Hamas. Bring me an argument that Israel is using heavy handed and tactically unwise methods in fighting them, and I am open to a discussion. But there is no middle ground on Hamas. Either you oppose religious fanatics who will slaughter anyone who is different to them (and anyone who gets in their way) - or you don't. If not, you are not fit to stand as a Member of Parliament.

A curious case of Lib Dem derangement

 

As a Bradfordian, I am proud to say that the majority of people in Bradford East did not vote for David Ward, he who mused on Twitter today: "The big question is - if I lived in Gaza would I fire a rocket? - probably yes."

This has caused a Twitter mob outrage. But actually, I can see why. Here we have a member of the House of Commons expressing sympathy with a terrorist organisation, saying that he would fire a rocket indiscriminately into Israel with the intent of killing civilians.

That's odd, because if I lived in Gaza, I would be looking to build an underground resistance to oust Hamas, and I would be feeding intelligence to Israeli forces on the location of weapons caches and rocket stores.

Is that because I have any particular sympathy for Israel? Not really. It's because Gaza is ultimately the architect of its own destiny, which starts with its own leadership. In this instance, Hamas, who routinely brutalise Palestinians and deliberately put children in harms way.

I suppose it comes down to whether you believe in peace and human dignity or not. Here is yet another Lib Dem who clearly doesn't.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Let's please not have more social housing


Whenever one sets about formulating ideas to counter a crisis, it is often useful to ask if there is actually a crisis, or whether it is a contrivance of NGOs and media, operating from within the London bubble. In this instance, as I attempt to weed out the untruths about housing, you could be forgiven for thinking that there might not actually be a housing crisis.

What we have is an affordability crisis. Specifically, a London affordability crisis. As a Yorkshireman, living in Bristol, I am hard pressed to care. One is reminded of a certain Ella Fitzgerald song.

As I remarked earlier today living affordably in London is not a human right. London is what it is. It's a very special and exciting place with huge attractions, and people who want to live there do so by working hard and making sacrifices. If you want to live there, it's not going to be cheap and you accept that fact as precursor.

Some of us are not so imbued with blowing black grime into our handkerchiefs, having to spend a significant portion of the day underground, for the sake of access to London's crappy museums, boring galleries and lame theatres. We don't really have all that much sympathy for those who are either. We also do not feel particularly inclined to subsidise their lifestyle choices - and living in London certainly is a lifestyle choice.

Looking around the country, there are plenty of "affordable" houses. Affordable in the context of a young couple that works hard, plans, sacrifices and saves - and after three years, they will have a deposit - and will be able to find something on the bottom rung for three times their salaries. Even during the mortgage drought this was the case. Just not in London.

For those of us who have zero intention of ever performing an act of DIY, even so much as putting up a shelf, there is still a healthy letting market. Most people can find what they need for a price they can afford. Again, just not in London.

It has never been the case that having your own home was an easy stretch, not unless you were prepared to wait and be filed in one of the concrete filing cabinets of the 1960's, or one of those ghastly pebble-dashed huts designed to bribe the plebs with. What people actually mean when they say they want affordable housing is that they want housing without having to make any sacrifices, and preferably somebody else should pay for a large portion of it.

Of course, if local authorities then provide subsidised housing, there is going to be quite a large demand for it. We are told there is a crisis on the basis of long waiting lists for massively subsidised housing. By this measure, if I am selling Ford Mondeos for £100 and a million people register to get one, if I only have a handful of them, does this mean we have a car crisis? No. And nor do we have a housing crisis. Few on these council waiting lists are actually homeless as you or I would define homeless in the real sense of the word. What we have is a crisis caused by social housing.

Social housing housing will never keep up with demand. Subsidised, cheap housing will always create more demand. Therefore allocation has to be rationed. There is no fair way of allocating social housing, especially when housing is awarded on the basis of acute need. It's a perverse incentive if ever I heard one. People will delay taking actions that will improve their lives in order to maintain their position on the waiting list.

Then once people are in social housing the tendency is to stay within the social housing sector, meaning that their movement is restricted by what the council can supply. That then means we get long term self-imposed poverty and people end up stuck somewhere where there are no jobs, often hanging on to properties bigger than they need, while young families languish in smaller council accommodation - again unwilling to step into the private sector market. There is only really a housing crisis if you believe it is the job of the state to find you a house, and pay for most of it, if not all of it.

Then there's the housing benefit distortion. Rents are underpinned by a floor price, set by what the state will pay in housing benefit. As well as being a cash cow for welfare-farm landlords, we get to a situation where capable people deliberately stay below a certain income threshold to continue to qualify for state assistance. Meanwhile working people live in equally expensive, smaller homes with only marginally more disposable income for their efforts. That isn't fair, and it's immoral.

As a country, we need to move beyond the notion that it is the job of the state to provide us with a home. Because the state has assumed this role, Brits are now born with the expectation that it is somebody else's responsibility to put and keep a roof over their heads. That makes us all clients of the state from birth. That places a ceiling on our ability to exceed our own expectations and all that will breed is yet more poverty.

The real job of the state is to create the conditions for enterprise to thrive, facilitating better homes, but letting the market do its thing. Any time the state has attempted to be the monopoly provider in social matters, it has manifestly failed. I remember well the welfare slums of my hometown. These were unpleasant slums in the 80's as I remember them, but as they have gradually moved out of state ownership, they have manifestly improved.

What government can do is get out of the way. It can slash housing benefit to put some competition back into the market, it can hold firm on the so-called "bedroom tax", it can devolve more powers to local authorities to release land, and it can use tax incentives to stimulate more home building if needed. With the right reforms, a bit of innovation and a bit of honesty, we might discover that this so called housing crisis is not as acute as we might think, if indeed it exists at all. It wouldn't be the first time a crisis had been fabricated by opportunistic politicians.

Propaganda FAIL


Some genius in the Israeli PR machine asks "What would you do?" in reference to rockets being fired at the House of Commons. In this instance, an animated GIF speaks a thousand words.


Nice "work" if you can get it


Since we have been on the subjects of parasitic public sector CEO's and housing, here's a double whammy! Very often the vast majority of a housing association budgets will come from the public purse in one form or another, but they still get to notionally call themselves private sector "enterprises". And you know what that means. An unaccountable gravy train.

We are used to council CEO's bagging over £150k to perform the duties of a town clerk, but in the housing sector the piggies have their noses even deeper in the tough. As social tenants fall deeper into arrears, and when cuts are wiping out Bomford Group in Staffordshire, I am unsurprised to learn that one chief executive, Stephen Porter of Great Places Housing Group took home a staggering £436,000 before quitting in April last year, including a huge £276,000 pay-off when he left. We also learn that Ian Munro, chief executive at New Charter Housing in Tameside, pocketed £200,918 in 2012 - a raise of 13 per cent.

It wouldn't matter so much were these people at least competent, but here we have Munro declaring "we won't build smaller homes just to clean up the mess of the bedroom tax". Munro being a man of such astonishing talent tells us that "after 40 years in the business I know this housing stuff is complicated and combining it with reform of the complexities of the welfare system makes it doubly difficult. But building a few tiny homes won't solve it any time soon."

Well actually, it's not all that complicated. Demographic trends point to rising single occupancy homes and smaller homes are in demand with or without the "Bedroom Tax". Moreover, there is a lot that can be done to convert larger homes into two flats, which are more economical to run, easier to heat and easier to clean. In some parts of the country there is a surplus of three bedroom semis, particularly in Wales, which due to the dreaded bedroom tax cannot be let, but would make ideal candidates for conversion. They work quite well. I know because I live in one.

So here we have a notionally private "enterprise" chief executive sucking up public money while telling us he sees no obligation to supply an increasing demand. He wouldn't get this far in retail.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

No, we can't just "build more houses"


One of the things that irks me so very much is the simpleton mantra that we should drive a horse and cart through planning laws and simply "build more houses" in the South East. There seems to be a meeting of minds among Marxists and libertarians alike in that we can rip up the rule book and let the chips fall where they may. Somehow, some as yet unspecified way, we can wave a magic wand, build more houses and there are no absolutely no consequences to this, and suddenly everyone has nice big affordable homes near to London that don't necessitate expensive infrastructure. Have these people listened to themselves?

First off, it overlooks the fact that with every new house comes two more cars and London's roads cannot cope as they are. The health fascists and fantasists think we can solve this by nudging us all to use bicycles. Well I don't know about you but I don't think I would be fit for a days work having cycled 20 miles in the rain and up several hills, and more to the point, I don't want to. I want to sit in my nice, comfy, warm saloon car, rocking out to music and stuffing my face with a warm pasty and lukewarm latte from the service station. That's just how I roll. That's because I'm a selfish bastard. But that's ok because everyone else is too. I'm not getting on a bicycle this side of hell freezing over.

Some would have it that we shouldn't build new railways and instead focus on driverless cars. There is a school of thought that says congestion would be massively improved if all cars drove themselves as the computers manage the space between each other, but here's another news flash. I don't want my car driving for me. Driving it is the main reason I want one. So we could widen the M25 for sure, but that eventually chokes up at the tunnels and bridges, so we are then looking at new tunnels and new bridges and new junctions. And that doesn't come for free.

Further to this, London will then need several more reservoirs, more sewers, more runways, more power generation, more waste disposal and public sanitation facilities, new railway platforms, more multi-story car parks, and a whole host of other facilities I haven't even considered, and some I don't even know about. That is not to say that we can't do this, but this is not going to happen cheaply and consequently is not going to happen fast. It has to be planned so it can be managed intelligently.

While we certainly can build on floodplains, developments in themselves can cause flooding and so new developments require hydrology surveys and yes, they do need environmental impact assessments. While I'm not taken in by man made global warming theory, air pollution is a very real concern, and while it is a great deal better than it was in the past, that did not happen by accident.

In a modern, first world city, everything needs planning and everything needs a degree of regulation, from the width of a tree, to the height of bus, to the camber of roads and the diameter of manholes. These things seem obscure but they facilitate better travel, cheaper maintenance and more sanitary conditions.

Our building regulations are the reason that entire blocks of flats do not fall over on their faces as happens in China, and our environmental regulations are the reason factories are not pumping out toxic cocktails into agricultural irrigation channels - as happens in China too. Moreover, the "beds in sheds" phenomenon is precisely what happens when you don't have planning regulations properly enforced. We have hazardous, unsanitary developments, built in a hurry and often used to house illegal immigrants at inflated prices.

Cramming people into rationed space certainly does have an impact on quality of life, and the lack of green and open spaces is detrimental to well being. Many argue that it is London's planning restrictions that necessarily cause the crowded conditions, and I don't disagree, but even if we build in the greenbelt, that is still going to require expensive infrastructure, and that does not take any pressure off central London. There will always be a strong demand to be near the centre. If capacity is added, it will soon be swallowed up and then we are back where we started.

So the question is whether we can indefinitely expand and develop the South East. If you let your imagination run wild then there's no doubt that we can perform some great miracles as energy generation becomes smaller and more effective. We can do a great deal to reduce the need to travel with broadband and encourage more home working. We can even build nuclear desalination and power plants that give us plentiful energy and clean water. We can make it so that few of us ever have to travel to work.

But this isn't going to make cars or railways obsolete. We are curious creatures and social animals who like to get out and about, explore, go places and meet people. We do not want to be cooped up at home all week prodding at touchscreens to earn our wages. Nor can nurses and doctors treat patients by remote control. We proved conclusively in the socialist era that high rise living in identikit apartments is no way for humans to live, and America's unbroken urban sprawl ain't no picnic either. Like it or not, we do need effective, fast, clean railways and we do need our roads.

Further to this, there's the conservation aspect to consider. Yes, these NIMBYs are horrid aren't they? They rather object to their councils building cheaply constructed social housing in areas they saved all their lives to live in. What is the point of paying over half a million quid for a house in the Surrey suburbs if your neighborhood is then going to be choked with ten-year-old Vauxhall Vectras and the local wildlife is exterminated? These communities also have rights. But it's not about snobbery. The quintessential English home counties village is something worth preserving from a heritage and tourism perspective - as well as the fact they are important wildlife belts. Green spaces matter.

I also don't want to see housing developments in our countryside either. These precious landscapes are national treasures and we don't want them plastered with Costa's coffee shops, as has happened to Cheddar Gorge (which now has a small retail park). Some things have to be sacred lest we destroy the natural assets that make living on this godforsaken rainy island halfway tolerable.

So what to do about growing pressures on London? The answer is... absolutely nothing. The choke is its own deterrent and scarcity drives up prices which are again a deterrent. I absolutely dispute the notion that any new developments in London are going to be "affordable". What people mean when they say affordable is "subsidised". Where exactly is the sense in subsidizing people to live in a place when that measure creates infrastructure costs that cannot be met by taxing the people moving there?

It's that simple. If people really want to live in that mess, and evidently rather a lot of people do, then they must make compromises. Living affordably in London is not a human right. London is what it is. It's a very special and exciting place with huge attractions, and people who want to live there do so by working hard and making sacrifices. It is a competition, a rat race, it's not for the weak of spirit, and if you want to go there, well, it's not going to be cheap. You accept that fact as precursor. If London businesses need labour they will have to pay London wages. If they don't want to pay London wages, let them leave London.

Meanwhile, unbeknown to our political class, there is rumored to be life North of Watford where houses are bigger, cheaper, nicer, with all the space you could possibly want for development without further expansion. All this can be unlocked by opening up the domestic air travel market and giving the regions tax autonomy which makes it attractive for business - thus slowing the growth of London to a pace where development can keep pace with the natural growth it will inevitably experience, whether we build more homes or not.

Nobody is "forced" to use artillery


Former US President Bill Clinton laid the blame for Palestinian civilian casualties squarely on the heads of Hamas leaders, saying their policy was designed to kill Palestinians. Interviewed on India’s NDTV, Clinton was blunt in his assessment:
"Hamas was perfectly well aware of what would happen if they started raining rockets into Israel. They fired one thousand and they have a strategy designed to force Israel to kill their own civilians so that the rest of the world will condemn them."
Clinton is right that this is precisely what Hamas is looking to achieve, but Israel is not forced to kill civilians with artillery. The BBC reports that Gaza has come under the most intense shelling since the launch of Israel's offensive, with at least 60 people reported killed in one district. This, we are told by the IDF, is to destroy a Hamas tunnel network.

But given shelling plays right into the hands of Hamas, giving them propaganda gold such as this, it is difficult to see the strategic value in it, or indeed whether it will actually collapse the tunnels. Moreover, it is within Israel's power to collapse these tunnels without shelling anybody. Below this post is a photograph of a Giant Viper system. 

The Giant Viper is a trailer-mounted mine clearance system, designed to be deployed in areas containing land mines. It was developed for the British Army in the 1950s. The Giant Viper uses rockets to launch a 250-metre-long hose, packed with plastic explosive, across a minefield. Once fallen the hose is detonated, clearing a six-metre-wide path through minefields.

I can't imagine why such a hose system could not be threaded through the tunnels, much like endoscopic surgery, or indeed the pipe clearance system my local water company uses. This would contain the explosion underground, and collapse the tunnels without feeding the media new photographs of dead babies, which have become pornography for the self-righteous Left.

Given that Israel is a world leader in robotics and UAV technology, I see no reason why such a system would be difficult to develop, or indeed expensive. It would consist of a number of quite old technologies, many of which are commercially available for civilian operations.

Put simply, Israel is not forced to shell Gaza with 155mm rounds. When it comes to casualty reduction, where there's a will there's a way. But it's starting to look to me like there is no such will.



Be careful what you wish for


Read this by Mick Kent, CEO at Bromford Housing...
"The rationing of social housing, more and more in scarce supply, and its allocation according to greatest need and vulnerability, has led to a 'race to the bottom' and a focus on what customers CAN'T do rather than what they CAN do. This in turn has led to a dependency culture and caused deep and untold damage to society. I offer these views as a CEO who spends major amounts of time listening to front line colleagues and meeting customers face to face, on home visits, sign ups, interviews and on the 'shop floor'. And I say this with great sadness, as someone who has devoted his working life to social housing, but in the last 20 years we have been party to creating a dependency culture where qualities like enterprise, self-reliance, perseverance, skill and above all service to others, have been steadily devalued. Of course many of our customers through their own admirable efforts have still achieved great things. However I question whether collectively we have failed our fundamental mission and purpose, which is way beyond bricks and mortar - to inspire people to be the very, very best they can be."
I couldn't agree more. I suppose such a dependency culture begins with handing a free house to anyone who knows how to game the system. But it seems Staffordshire County Council have been playing close attention, as we now learn from the Express & Star that "More than 80 people have been told their jobs are at risk under ‘shocking’ county council cuts which have wiped 70 per cent from a housing group’s budget." That would be... Bromford Group.

John Wade, Bromford’s director of support, called the decision ‘extremely disappointing’.

I am sorry to hear that. Very sorry indeed.

CEOcracy: a textbook example


So very often we are told that our council tax bills could fall by up to £100 if only everyone paid their council tax on time. Readers of this blog will know this to be a fat lie, but it doesn't stop our Uncle Tom local media pushing that agenda. The message being that tax avoidance is very very naughty. Unless of course you are Cornwall Council.
The former chief executive of Cornwall Council has been named as an investor in one of Britain’s biggest tax avoidance schemes. Kevin Lavery, who was seen as a champion of outsourcing services to the private sector, is reported to have put £1.2 million into the Liberty scheme, according to the Times newspaper. Before leaving Cornwall Council last year to take up a job leading Wellington City Council in New Zealand, Mr Lavery was earning pay and benefits amounting to £245,000.
Mr Lavery joined Cornwall Council in 2008 and was the steady hand which guided the authority in its formative years at a unitary authority following its creation and the abolition of five former district councils.
Just yesterday I remarked that "Our councils have been merged into regional corporate entities and town clerks have become overpaid executives. It's true you would have trouble finding a competent one willing to work for less than an eye-watering salary if they could get that money in the private sector, but that's a big if. Up and down the country we have chief executives who have never spent a day out of local authority employment, and will spend their whole careers rotating through various posts to secure the next pension and pay bump." 

You won't be surprised to learn that Mr Lavery was drafted as the chief executive of Wellington City Council on NZ$400,000 (£203,350)-a-year. Remarking on the differences, says Lavery: "We had 22,000 staff and 123 councillors. This seems small by comparison, with 14 councillors and a mayor. "There are only 1400 staff and I reckon I've managed to meet more than half of them."It's a much easier situation in which to get to know people."When you have 123 people at a council meeting, it's more like a parliament."

So it seems tax avoidance is only forbidden for us plebs, and we are to be lumbered with corporate government even though it's not to Mr Lavery's taste. But for him such concerns are now a distant memory in a far away land. We council tax payers have served our purpose and for Mr Lavery, it's "So long, and thanks for all the fish".

Saturday, 19 July 2014

To more earthly matters...


So there's been a shoot-down of a passenger airliner, Libya is going down the pan and (yawn) the Middle East is up in arms about something or other, as it so very often is. But since everyone else is rinsing that for all it's worth, I have to engage in more mundane matters. In this instance, Bradford Council.

This week saw the resignation of £178k a year Council Chief Exeutive, Tony Reeves. Following this, there is to be a review as to whether the council needs an executive at all. Conservative leader Councillor Glen Miller said: "We do not believe there's a need for a chief executive when we have an overall-controlled council and policy is made by politicians."

Yes. He really said that. However, as Bradford Councillor, Simon Cooke, notes:
"80-90% of the spending and activity undertaken by your council (or councils if you live in the shires) is simply given - determined by regulation, set out in statute or otherwise required by central government. And three-quarters of what your council spends comes in the form of central government grant - with all the strings and restrictions that come with this."

"Ministers and bureacrats down in London will always want to make sure that, wherever possible, the agenda of the national government is met by the local council. As a result we have had restrictions of borrowing, limits to tax-raising powers such as rate capping, the use of regulation or ring-fencing to direct spending and, if all else fails, simply removing any power for councillors to control or change what the council does. We even got an instruction this year to hold a 'named vote' on setting the council tax!"
One might argue that a council needs a chief executive more than it needs placeholder councillors, who are totally redundant to local government. Councils are consultative bodies rather than an executive - and largely ignored.

Liberal Democrat leader, Councillor Jeanette Sunderland, apparently "reacted with alarm" at the thought of the chief executive not being replaced. She said: "This is an organisation with a multi-billion-pound turnover. At a time when we need strong leadership, with high rates of unemployment and some real challenges to face, it would be foolish to think that politicians could run the district."

She kinda has a point. While there are a few good eggs like Councillor Simon Cooke, a great many councillors lack the ability for joined up writing, let alone managing a budget of any kind. The position does seem to attract drongos. But there is a good reason for this. The position has little prestige because it holds little power. For that reason, it's not attractive to ambitious political types, and anyone who's serious about politics drifts toward London. Since councillors have no actual power, who would bother? The smart ones go where the money is.

And one certainly would expect and demand an executive with some kind of commercial experience to manage an entity with a multi-billion turnover. But therein lies the problem. Bradford Council should not have anything even approaching a multi-billion turnover that necessitates a chief executive.

Bradford council district encompasses places like Keighley and Ilkley, Shipley and Bingley. These are towns in their own right with growing populations. Yet here we have an authority district with a populations larger than a hundred countries in the UN. This isn't right. It's not local and it's not democratic.

Our councils have been merged into regional corporate entities and town clerks have become overpaid executives. It's true you would have trouble finding a competent one willing to work for less than an eye-watering salary if they could get that money in the private sector, but that's a big if. 

Up and down the country we have chief executives who have never spent a day out of local authority employment, and will spend their whole careers rotating through various posts to secure the next pension and pay bump. We have a burgeoning CEOcracy milking us dry. If they all vanished overnight I expect we would be hard pressed to notice the loss of their special talents.

Personally, I will be glad to see the back of every one of these parasites, but even if we get rid of all of them we won't see the difference in our wallets, or an improvement in services - not until we have broken up these mega-authorities and taken back the power from Whitehall. That's why we need The Harrogate Agenda.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Reality check for Brendan O'Neill

Qana: a staged photo, but who provided the stage props?

Can everyone please stop posting photos of dead Palestinian children all over the internet? asks Brendan O'Neill in The Telegraph. That would be nice wouldn't it? But it isn't going to happen. This is the age asymmetric warfare, where the propaganda war is every bit as important as the shooting war. Hezbollah knows this and so does Hamas.

He will remember in 2006 the botched ground invasion of Southern Lebanon in 2006, where Israeli forces were bogged down for days, to the point where the small (but mounting) numbers of IDF casualties very quickly turned domestic public opinion against further military action.

He will also remember the Qana scandal as "humanitarian worker", Salam Dahler, was caught red handed posing the bodies of dead children in a grotesque photo-shoot for our media vultures. He will also recall the Guardian, the Independent and the Telegraph using those same pictures on their front pages.

This is the event that turned the tide of international diplomacy against Israel in 2006. Hezbollah had no chance of winning the battle, but won the war hands down by using Israel's ignorance of the media against it. The obvious lesson being that if you create the bodies, one way or another, they will find a home on the internet, and our "professional" media will show little, if any, discretion in which ones they use.

In Basra, Iraq, we saw Iraqis retreat into ethnic tribal groups largely as a matter of safety because occupying forces, namely the British, could not provide it. This is a lot to do with the fact British forces were penned up in barracks because every time they went out in a Snatch Land Rover, the front page the next day would feature two flag draped coffins, souring the public mood at home. It is through the force of media that the insurgency gained supremacy, not through force of arms.

These are own goals the West has manifestly failed to learn from. The very picture the Telegraph uses to illustrate Brendan's words is the result of a 155mm self-propelled gun. Did no-one in the IDF chain of command think this might not be a good idea?

It doesn't matter that a great many of the deaths in operation Cast Lead were males of combat age. For obvious reasons you can't get a good reading on the actual ratio of civilian casualties, but the reality is; all most people see is a large death toll with very few on the Israeli side. It's daft, but that's how people are. The higher the Gazan death toll, the happier Hamas is, as it plays the victim card to survive.

So Israel has to acknowledge that it has to fight and win a propaganda war, thus the lower the body count the better. To that end, containment is the more sensible approach. Whatever the moral case, filling up the internet with pictures of dead kids and big explosions does not work in Israel's favour. Wars are now fought through the media and that is a fact we cannot ignore.

Israel has to play it smart. Iron Dome has proven semi-effective as a means of containment, but it isn't the whole of the solution. The IDF has misrepresented how effective Iron Dome has been because the procurement was every bit as much a political procurement as Eurofighter and F35. Politics got in the way of what was needed and there was no telling them they were wasting their money. They were as deaf to good advice as our own MoD.

But that is not to say containment technology does not exist. Iron Dome is a good primary defence system, but it has to be used as part of a layered defence network which can be augmented with high mobility Goalkeeper/C-RAM units.


This is 20 year old technology at least which could be upgraded to help triangulate the launch point of incoming rockets. That data can then feed to UAVs which can then task an Autonomous Rotorcraft Sniper System (sniper helicopter drone). Further to this, you can have something like a CN-235 gunship orbiting with very small yield shaped charge warheads, ready to zap the nasties as they crawl out of their holes. Such an approach runs on the ethos of "if you try, you'll die".

At the moment we are seeing "precision guided" artillery, which sure hits the spot, but with warheads that have shrapnel radius's not suitable for urban counter insurgency war. These are dead baby makers. Something like a GBU-44/B Viper-E with a smaller warhead is more appropriate, but even then is still going to produce media friendly black smoke clouds that fill a front page. But there are solutions out there.

Much of it is proven technology, but what is lacking is the joined up thinking to put it all together. This is the smarter option because low grade containment isn't really newsworthy and saves Israel having to engage in unpopular incursions that don't really achieve anything and cost an awful lot.

The challenge for Israel is to combat the David versus Goliath narrative. These blundering set-piece military incursions do nothing toward that end and it is wholly counter-productive. What could be managed as a low-key policing operation perennially sprawls into media circus wars where Israel seems to willfully ignore the lessons of before. Were I cynical I might wonder if Israel were staging a media narrative of its own, directed at the US. If that is the case then damn them to hell.

I don't disagree with Brendan that the left-wing tendency for pious narcissism is what drives the outrage, and dead baby pictures are the pornography that feeds it - but asking nicely if people would kindly stop being dickheads is a bit much to ask. Thus Israel has to recognise the reality in which it must operate.

There isn't a conventional military solution here. It has been tried many times and it has failed many times. The technology exists to do better, and much of it Israeli technology, so isn't it about time they put away their tanks and self-propelled guns and started thinking about an intelligent way out of this mess - and one more befitting this century?