Gordon Campbell on the shonky Police statistics, and the Israeli air strikes on Gaza

When people systematically alter how being statistics are recorded in order to gain personal and organisational advantage, that’s usually when the Police get called in. Yet in the case of the burglary statistics in Counties-Manakau, it was the Police doing the fudging and – at the time – it was then-Police Minister Judith Collins claiming the credit, and flourishing the stats as a sign of just how effective the Key government was at fighting crime.

The 2011 Crime Statistics released this week indicate reported crime is down 15 percent in the Counties-Manukau South District, which includes Papakura and Pukekohe, during the fiscal year ended 30 June 2011.

Theft, fraud and harassment offences were all down and the number of burglaries in our area has dropped 36.7 percent. This is excellent news for our patch and highlights what can be achieved with continued support for our officers. I’m always pleased to hear such positive feedback from residents when I’m back in the electorate about the great work our local Police are doing to prevent crime…. the fight against crime can be won with a well-resourced, well-trained and dedicated Police service, legislation that sends a strong message to criminals, combined with the support of the community.

Well, as we now know, that 36.7 per cent drop in burglaries was a statistical mirage, and Collins knew that was the case before she began publicly bragging about the bogus outcomes. On RNZ this morning, the Police position is that this incident was an isolated “misunderstanding”, the problem was picked up, the officers concerned were sanctioned, and the numbers involved were only a small part of the overall crime picture. Those arguments would be more reassuring (a) if the Police “ misunderstanding” had not always been in one direction ie, crimes were systematically downgraded, not upgraded and (b) if the Police had come clean and publicized the Counties-Manakau situation and their response to it. They didn’t, though. Labour’s Jacinda Ardern revealed it. And – outrageously in the light of Judith Collins’ prior actions – Ardern has been slagged for making political capital out of the revelations.

The public now has only the Police’s assurance that bogus, Police-concocted good news in the fight against crime is not a more widespread problem. So long as politicians keep on beating the law and order drum, its healthy for public to stay skeptical about any claims that these measures are working.

The slaughter in Gaza – where air strikes are being unleashed on densely populated areas and large numbers of civilian casualties are inevitable – is clearly a war crime. Bombing civilian centres amounts to collective punishment of the entire population for the sins of Hamas, a response forbidden by Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited. Pillage is prohibited. Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.

Yes, Israel has dropped leaflets warning the people penned up in Gaza to ‘evacuate’ shortly before the bombing commences. In the circumstances, this is more like a psychological weapon to induce panic, than a genuine exercise of clemency. After all, where are the people penned up in Gaza supposed to safely relocate? The border with Egypt is closed to them, and they can’t head off into the Sinai, either. Exit by boat or plane is not allowed.

The rockets being fired by Hamas are also a war crime, in that they’re fired indiscriminately at civilian populations. Yet the imbalance between the rockets being fired by Hamas and the response by Israel are starkly reflected in the casualty figures, which show that Israel’s response is utterly out of proportion to the threat it faces. Reportedly – at the most generous estimate – just under 70 Israelis have been killed by rocket fire from Palestinian territory in the last 14 years. Almost three times that many Palestinians have killed in Gaza by Israeli air strikes in the past week alone – and according to the UN, civilians account for 77 per cent of these casualties. Reportedly, one third of the casualties have been children. By contrast, there have been no Israeli deaths reported since the Israeli air strikes began a week ago.

The strategic purpose of this latest offensive has had to do with a change in the nature of the rockets being fired by Hamas. In the past, the “Qassem” rockets” available to Hamas were small, fairly innocuous weapons, with a range of only about 10 kilometres. The Israeli fear is that Hamas has – or may have – access to large numbers of more powerful rockets able to reach large Israeli cities.

According to the Stratfor think tank, which is well connected to Israeli sources, the Israeli air bombardment is a prelude (or an alternative) to a ground offensive aimed at finding and dismantling those larger rockets. At present, Israeli defence forces reportedly do not know for sure whether Hamas – in the event of a ground invasion – might fire all of its arsenal, all at once into Israel. Here’s Stratfor’s conclusion:

At this moment, we know for certain that Israel is bombing the Gaza strip and has amassed a force sufficient to initiate ground operations but has not done so. Hamas has not fired a saturation attack, assuming it could, but has forced Israel to assume that such an attack is possible, and that its Iron Dome defensive system would be overwhelmed by the numbers. The next move is Israel’s. We can assume there are those in the Israeli command authority arguing that the Gaza strip rockets will be fired at some point, and must be eliminated now, and others arguing that without better intelligence the likelihood of casualties and of triggering a saturation launch is too high.

Thus, the air strikes have continued. A ceasfire is newo being mooted.

Journalism Under Fire, Again
The human rights situation in Burma is getting better, right? Not really. A group of journalists have been sentenced to 10 years of hard labour for simply doing their job. They had reported that the regime was making chemical weapons, apparently in collusion with China.

A provincial court in Myanmar on Thursday sentenced the head of a weekly newspaper and four of its journalists to 10 years in prison and hard labor for publishing a report that said a vast and secretive government factory was designed to produce chemical weapons.

Burmese journalists said the jail terms were a major blow to recently won news media freedoms in the country after five decades of censorship and persecution. The five people sentenced Thursday in Pakokku Township Court included four reporters and the chief executive of the Unity journal, which closed in June partly because of the expense related to the case…

Nor has this been an isolated incident of media suppression and intimidation:

The case comes amid concerns among journalists here that the government, which is led by former military officers, is reverting to tactics of intimidation toward the news media. The Special Branch of the police force, a unit feared during military rule, has visited the newsrooms of a number of publications in recent weeks and asked to see financial records. A journalist for the Democratic Voice of Burma, a Burmese online news site, was jailed earlier this year for trespassing and disturbing the work of a civil servant.

“Clearly, real press freedom remains a distant dream for Burma, where the government still gets to decide what is fit to print, and who has the right to inform (or misinform) the public,” said a commentary in the Irrawaddy, a news website, after Thursday’s sentences were announced.

Everything’s… Awesome
Don’t know if the government has chosen this bit of Tegan and Sara consumerist satire from The Lego Movie as its election campaign song yet, but it really should. Satire, schmatire – this is annoyingly catchy!

Have you heard the news, everyone’s talking
Life is good ’cause everything’s awesome
Lost my job, it’s a new opportunity
More free time for my awesome community

Everything is better when we stick together
Side by side, you and I, gonna win forever, let’s party forever
We’re the same, I’m like you, you’re like me, we’re all working in harmony

Blue skies, bouncy springs
We just named two awesome things
A Nobel prize, a piece of string

You know what’s awesome? EVERYTHING!