Gordon Campbell on the Judith Collins charm offensiveAugust 30th, 2016
Suddenly, Judith Collins is everyone’s new best friend. It isn’t an election year, but the Corrections/Police Minister is treating 2016 as an opportunity for a political makeover. The former stern-faced law and order toughie (and dodgy Oravida scandal survivor) has been cuddling up to the public all year. Getting pinged by traffic cops for driving a wee bit over the speed limit ? Hey, JC sympathises. Its not something she believes in, really. Don’t like having former sex offenders back in the community ? She’s on your side, she understands. She wouldn’t either. Feel that the Police don’t attend burglaries often enough, or assiduously enough? She’s the peoples’ champ on that one, too.
In a major policy change, police will now aim to attend nearly all of New Zealand’s 35,000 home burglaries a year. Burglaries increased by about 11 percent in the year to February and police are solving fewer than one in 10 cases. Minister of Police Judith Collins said she hoped the new focus on burglaries would help turn this around.
“I would expect that there will be an increase in resolution rates, we’ve certainly seen that where police have been targetting burglaries around the country, particularly in Auckland, that there was an immediate up-pick in the resolution rate. And that sends a very strong message to burglars that they will be found,” she said.
It sends an even stronger message to the public that Collins is onside, even if there aren’t enough Police to do the job, or much chance of solving the crimes in question. All of this may be good ‘politics’ in the sense of boosting the ambitions Collins has to lead the National Party once John Key retires. It is less likely that these initiatives are good policy for anyone else.
Police Association president Greg O’Connor said this approach had been tried before and there simply were not enough officers to cope.”It’s a good idea, however the reason we stopped doing it is that we didn’t have enough people to do it, and now there’s no more people and yet we’re going to have to do it again, so something else is going to suffer. And it will probably be organised crime policing and drug policing – which is the cause of most of the burglaries anyway.”
Usually, populism gets associated with Winston Peters and his regular tweakings of community prejudice about race and immigration. Collins is engaged in something similar. It’s the way its done. Routinely, Ministers cherry pick those issues with p.r. potential, and learn to avoid the deeply polarising issues. With the‘ decision’ on Easter trading, central government even made a virtue out of handing this divisive issue over to local government – which will now catch the flak from the workers and families affected, and will be held responsible for any of the regional variations that were supposedly the problem with the Easter trading laws in the first place. Tourists may end up be as bemused as ever.
Syria, Change Partners
Ever since the civil war in Syria began five years ago, it has been waged by proxies : the Kurds, a motley array of Syrian rebels, al Qaeda, Islamic State etc etc. With one glaring exception, every major power behind the scenes has known what their goal is, and who their proxy pals on the battlefield are. Turkey, Iran and Russia are all very clear about their intentions, and who they support/oppose. The wavering, unreliable exception is the United States. Its goal appears to be a stalemate, and so it zigzags back and forth between arming and helping whatever side will ensure that no-one else will win the war.
Thus we have the bizarre situation in northern Syria where – in the very same week! – US air support has helped the Kurds to drive Islamic State out of the towns bordering Turkey, and then helped the Turks in their counter attack in the same towns against the Kurds, who had just been bled on the Americans’ behalf. Here’s a concise summary of the situation:
It almost seems like someone took the US strategy, and turned it upside down. Five days ago, US jets were scrambled to protect Kurdish forces in their self-declared Northern Syria Federation from Assad’s air force in the eastern city of Hasakah. Today, in the aftermath of a limited Turkish intervention on Syrian soil, the US is demanding the Kurds leave the northern city of Manbij, which the Kurds fought and died to capture during the past two months – backed by US warplanes.
That these two events happened less than a week from another is astonishing, even in such an unpredictable and volatile environment as the Syrian civil war. That the US is letting down its only remaining ally in Syria, at a time when other powers, namely Russia and Iran, have acted aggressively to protect theirs, is damaging to the overall US position in the region.
The US betrayal of the Kurds in Syria is especially risky. Across the other border – inside Iraq – there is a battle looming for the control of Mosul, one that will drive the final nail in the coffin of the Islamic State caliphate. Already, the Kurdish region within Iraq is barely coping with the refugees that have fled there. If and when Mosul falls, more than a million new refugees are likely to be created, and Iraqi Kurdistan is where most of them will be headed. That would be bad enough even if the Kurds were united. Yet within Iraq, the Kurds are not only politically divided among themselves, they’re also somewhat estranged from the Syrian Kurds. That aside, these latest signs of American unreliability towards the Kurds can only compound the sensitivities of the Mosul campaign – where local Sunni, Shia and Turkmen all harbour concerns about the Kurds’ eventual territorial ambitions, even though (or because) the Kurdish peshmerga have been the most effective fighting force against Islamic State, to date.
Basically, driving Islamic State out of the towns and cities of northern Syria/Iraq looks like being the easy part. As things stand, Russia and Iran know who they want to prevail – Assad – and they act accordingly either directly or through proxies liker Hizbollah. Turkey too, is clear that it regards Assad as its short term foe, and the Kurds as its longer term concern. In stark contrast, the US is all over the place. It cannot hope to continue to use the Kurds against Assad and Islamic State, and then sell them out to the Turks, and to its unstable allies in Baghdad.
The US photographer Walker Evans is best known for his famous Depression-era photographs of poverty in Appalachia, and for the way he influenced those who came in his wake – Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander and less obviously, William Eggleston. Currently the Adam art gallery at Victoria University has a fascinating exhibition of Evans’ lesser celebrated, later work for the likes of Fortune magazine. The photographic images are reason enough for a visit – but the exhibition also showcases Evans laconic, humane and perceptive writing as well.
The exhibition is at the Adam gallery until September 19. Anyone who wants to re-visit these Walker Evans magazine photos/stories can find them (and more) online. His 1947 piece about life in a one newspaper Midwestern town is great, but so is the brilliantly illustrated, beautifully written photojournalism piece about old, 19th century US industrial buildings, and I liked his drily amusing piece about Communist Party picnics, as they were back in 1934.
The whole collection of Evans’ magazine work can be accessed here.
On Boxing Day, 1937, Evans also wrote down a list of the things he held in contempt, as a kind of journalistic exercise. Here’s most of it:
men who try to fascinate women with their minds;
gourmets, liberals, cultivated women;
successful writers who use the left to buttress their standing;
the sex life of America;
limited editions, “atmosphere,” Bennington College, politics;
men of my generation who became photographers during the Depression;
journalism, new dealers, readers of the New Yorker;
the corner of Madison Avenue and 56th street;
Richard Wagner, radio announcers;
hobbies and hobbyists;
the soul of Josef von Sternberg;
the gay seventies, eighties, nineties, or hundreds;
art in America, the artist of America, the art lovers of America, the art patrons of America, the art museums of America, the art directors of America, the wives and mistresses and paramours of the artists of America, the etchings and the christmas cards and the woodcuts and the paintings and the letters and the memoirs and the talk and the beards or the cleanshaven faces of the artists of America;
college bred intellectual communists with private incomes;
safe experimentation in living or in expression;
merrie England; critics; passing away, passing on, going on, leaving us; instead of dying;
school spirit, Christmas spirit, gallant spirit, and whatever is meant by The American Spirit…
As I say, September 19th is the last chance to make eye contact with the more obscure work of one of America’s greatest photographers.
Given Judith Collins’ strenuous recent efforts to become more endearing… this is an obvious new theme song for her.