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Gordon Campbell on Judith Collins’ self correction

Gordon Campbell on Judith Collins’ efforts at self correction

First published on Werewolf

Thousands of prisoners currently in prison may be entitled to an earlier release than expected – and compensation – because Corrections has incorrectly calculated their term of imprisonment. Thousands more who have been released (and who served longer terms than they should have) may also qualify for similar compensation. Unless of course, the government buries its mistakes by changing the law and retro-actively getting itself off the hook.

That looks very much like the road that Corrections Minister Judith Collins is about to take. With a logic that would do Donald Trump proud, Corrections Minister Judith Collins has claimed that she and her department are actually in a “strong position” because they can point to a Court of Appeal ruling in their favour.

In fact, that ruling had already been overturned last week by a unanimous Supreme Court decision. Almost any high school student could tell Collins – a lawyer and former Justice Minister – that the Supreme Court is the highest court of the land, and therefore Collins cannot simply rummage around among the lower court rulings to find one that she likes, and use that as a justification for the correctional mistakes for which she, ultimately, as Minister, is responsible.

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After all, this is supposed to be a conservative government. It is supposed to respect the law when it comes to basic freedoms such as the right not to be subjected to unlawful detention and imprisonment by the state. Instead, Collins appears to want to bend the law into the shape that she prefers, where such unlawful detentions are retrospectively condoned.

In all likelihood, she will play the ‘tough on crime’ card – and argue that hey, who cares about respecting the rights of people who have been convicted of a crime? Do taxpayers want to have to compensate former criminals? Collins may be gambling that she can win that kind of argument in the court of public opinion, and score some useful personal popularity points in the process.

We are all equal before the law except, it seems, the people who administer it. Once again, Collins is looking like a throwback to an earlier National Party style of government. If John Key is the incarnation of the modern public relations soft sell, Collins represents the Party’s Muldoonist past – where brute force (and an instinctive identification with the forces of reaction) set the tone of government. Later today, Collins is taking her proposals to Cabinet about the unlawful imprisonment fiasco. It may be too much to hope that her Cabinet colleagues will defend the principles that have just been unanimously endorsed by the Supreme Court. It seems more likely outcome that they will collude to subvert them.

Out of Aleppo

Our media coverage of the crisis in Aleppo continues to take its cues from the American/British networks on which it depends. The attack on the humanitarian aid convoy – a terrible event which killed 20 – is denounced by the likes of UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson as a ‘war crime’ and has been used to epitomise the situation in the beleaguered city. Somehow, the US led coalition airstrike a day or so before – which killed 60-80 Syrian troops – has fallen out of the chain of causation.

How did we get to this point? Five and a half years ago, the Syrian war began as an attempt to take the Assad regime – an ally of Iran – off the Middle East chequerboard. The aim being, to isolate Teheran and to limit its influence in the region. The US, Saudi Arabia and Israel were united in this goal, and they proceeded to support and to arm several fundamentalist groups to lead the rebellion against Assad’s secular regime. Iran, accurately sensing that it was the real target, then put its forces (and those of its ally, Hizbollah) into the field to shore up Assad. In September 2015, Russia finally intervened to support Iran and Assad.

Meaning: if the US wants to lecture the UN about the need for a political solution, it first has to accept that its original political goals – the weakening of Iran and the toppling of its ally, Assad – have failed, and at a terrible price. The West cannot continue to demand Assad’s removal as the price of peace, declare victory and turn itself to the plight of the refugees. By the same token, Russia and Iran cannot hope to bomb the country into submission, and maintain Assad as the sole head of state in some new, militarily pacified Syria. No refugees will return to a Syria dominated by a vengeful Assad. Yet where are the credible ‘moderates’ who might be hoped to provide some balance in a future coalition government? They don’t exist.

Moreover, if the ‘political solution’ is a Syria divided into cantons ruled by the various factions – well, there are intractable political difficulties there, too. The Turks for instance, will not tolerate a Kurdish province carved out of northern Syria, even if it was Kurdish fighters that liberated that territory from the fundamentalist forces of Islamic State and Jabhat al Nusra. For all the posturing at the UN about the need for political solutions… there is not even yet a hint as to what such a solution might look like.

White Lung, Headed Here

The Canadian punk band White Lung were among the beaten finalists last week in Canada’s Polaris music award – won by the Haitian DJ and producer Kaytranada –but they will be in New Zealand next January, as part of the lineup at the Laneway festival. Here’s a track from the new White Lung album, Paradise. The video features a guest appearance by George Clarke, the vocalist in the great Bay Area metal band, Deafheaven.

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