BREAKING: NRA President Wayne LaPierre’s Murderous Proposal

[With apologies to Sam Stein]

Hello. Thankyou all for coming here today.

First can I start by saying that we at the National Rifle Association decided to keep our silence for the last few days in the belief that recent events in Conneticut did not deserve to become a political football.

But I can assure you all that we are just as shocked and appalled as anyone by this week’s crazed attack on innocent semi-automatic rifle owners everywhere.

Let me be clear: we at the Association entirely agree that these random shootings must be stopped. But we must fight fire with fire. Just ask any of our nation’s courageous firefighters.

In the wake of these headlines we have to ask: how would things have gone at, say, Fort Hood, if there had been armed guards on patrol?

Or earlier this year in New York, when nine innocent pedestrians were senselessly gunned down by police officers bravely attempting to arrest an armed man who shot nearly two people? How would things have gone, if a coordinated tactical response had resulted in more armed officers shooting the stray bullets out of the way?

This has to be the start of a national conversation.

No questions.

Excuse me. Excuse me. I’ve just been given to understand that during our press conference an armed man in Pennsylvania gunned down several people, including three state troopers.

We can only urge lawmakers again: we need armed guards in every squad car.

The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun are an unquantifiable number of good guys who can effortlessly overcome the human instinct not to kill others and have easy access to military-grade lethal weapons. Thankyou.

A Marriage Of Convenience: Compassionate Conservatives, LGBT people & the cuts

Queer Resistance

[First published in The Morning Star, 15/12/2012. However being cisgendered and straight I’d ultimately prefer you go follow Queer Resistance or the excellent Zoe Stavvers instead.]

God bless Maria Miller, David Cameron must have been thinking this week. It should have been a lazy winding-down for the winter recess, but this month has already seen Lord Justice Leveson back the Tories into a corner on even the most basic measures of press regulation. Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn statement on the economy looked more like a nuclear winter. And tax-dodger Starbucks’ breathtaking bid to pay its way to an Indulgence couldn’t have been more ill-timed, coming just days after Gideon Quixote slashed corporation tax again to just 21 percent.

But just when his front bench were looking the very model of cronyism and incompetence, in sweeps culture secretary Maria Miller bearing aloft her same-sex marriage bill and the ragged banner of Compassionate Conservatism. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t be fooled — Starbucks’ tax pledge loses a battle to win the war

[First published in The Morning Star, 08/12/2012]

Britain’s business editors were gobsmacked this week as coffee chain Starbucks, the very avatar of global capital, pledged to voluntarily increase its corporation tax payments.

“Starbucks will not claim tax deductions for royalties and standard intercompany charges,” managing director Kris Engskov said in an open letter.

“Furthermore, Starbucks will commit to paying a significant amount of tax during 2013 and 2014 regardless of whether the company is profitable during these years.”

But if Engskov was expecting an avalanche of excitable soundbites about “responsible capitalism”, he was sorely mistaken. Even Parliament’s most reliable neoliberals have held their tongues: possibly because the company also chose this week to slash paid lunch breaks and sick leave for its barely minimum-wage, non-unionised baristas, but more likely thanks to chief financial officer Troy Alstead’s contemptuous performance before MPs on the public accounts committee. Read the rest of this entry »

Hager on Leveson

Just a very quick note about something I missed last month: the Pantograph Punch’s interview with my hero Nicky Hager, the greatest, wisest and most selfless investigative journalist I know. Hager wasn’t speaking explicitly about the Leveson inquiry – his comments follow a Bruce Jesson memorial lecture he gave in October – but he is, as interviewer Matt Harnett says, “a prophet of radical transparency”.

So what would Hager make of Leveson’s “independent self-regulation”, a model whose oxymoronic name alone should ring warning bells? Well, the most significant omission is that Leveson never even questions the capitalist production model, where information – any information, however it’s obtained – is merely the means to acquire profit rather than a public service in itself. Hager on the other hand is happy to challenge this.

It’s easy to look at the quality of some mainstream media and think, ‘well, good riddance.’ But I think that would be a terrible mistake. First of all, there is nothing on the internet that has shown a sign of replacing the basic, daily provision of news, as opposed to the provision of comment, which blogs and things do. The other thing is the internet is an extremely siloed place. We’d be a completely different society if the left-​​leaning people went to one site, and the right-​​leaning people went to another, and people who were interested in sport went to a place that didn’t have any politics at all, and so on, and people weren’t seeing the same stuff. That, to me, is quite separate from what we might say about the quality of mass media. There’s a huge value in people seeing the same stuff – people knowing what is happening with that building down the road? And how did the Prime Minister defend themselves when someone said such-​​and-​​such, and all that daily business that binds us together in being a society. The internet shows no signs of replacing that – in fact, the opposite. That’s why I’m a strong advocate for publicly-​​funded but independent news media, of a mass-​​media type. It’s the most hopeful economic model for the future of media.

Do you think the kind of system we’ve got in New Zealand, where we’ve got state-​​owned enterprises —

I think that’s an abomination. In a way it’s almost the worst model you could have. What we need is a really strong statutory independence. People who think that a public media will inevitably bend to the government are not remembering that we also have, for example, the courts, and we have institutions of government, like the ombudsmen and auditor general, who can be a huge pain to the government, but still have their independence. Something like that is needed.

I get the impression you’re saying that the fourth estate should be similar to the judiciary in a modern democracy — sacrosanct, on some other level.

We know that, but we leave it in the hands of private organizations. The way that this has become acute is with the increasing public use of the internet; the competition for the news media is not between the New Zealand Herald and TV3, it’s between the New Zealand Herald and Facebook, and TradeMe, and YouTube, which can take advertising which once was monopolised by the media. Two things happen: one is that the advertising isn’t there, and the other is that you get people who measure the clicks on stories in their news organizations and get into a competitive entertainment mode, rather than a news media mode.

Read the full interview here.

The Leveson Report: One More Round At The Last Chance Saloon?

[First published in The Morning Star, 30/11/2012. See here for my previous posts on Leveson and the massive blind spot of employment law.]

More than twenty years ago, Home Office minister David Mellor told an interviewer he believed the popular press was “drinking in the Last Chance Saloon” in terms of self-regulation. So was yesterday’s Leveson report the last call we expected?

In Lord Justice Leveson’s own words:

“…what is proposed here is independent regulation of the press organised by the press, with a statutory verification process to ensure that the required levels of independence and effectiveness are met by the system in order for publishers to take advantage of the benefits arising as a result of membership.”

But what does that really mean? It’s a massive four-volume report, but here are a few things I’ve distilled so far. Read the rest of this entry »

Big Tobacco’s Little Favours

Cigarettes by curran.kelleher.

[First published in The Morning Star, 26/11/2012]

It’s a hard time to be a tobacco lobbyist in Britain.

Tobacco displays have been banned from supermarkets in England and Wales, with corner shops set to follow suit in 2015.

Imperial Tobacco’s lawyers are currently sweating away in London’s Supreme Court arguing that Scotland’s own plans for a display ban are outside its “legislative competence” – tobacco companies are pro-union, it seems.

And it’s only a matter of weeks now before both governments issue their responses to public consultation on forcing cigarettes and the like into plain packaging.

With all that on the horizon an honest spin doctor needs all the friends he can get. And thanks to some judicious donations, sponsorship deals and outright headhunting, you’re likely to see a whole host of them making the headlines in the coming months. So consider this a spotters’ guide to some of Big Tobacco’s little favours. Read the rest of this entry »

Crosby/Textor: David Cameron’s dark masters of dogwhistle politics

[First published in The Morning Star, 24/11/2012]

Britain teeters on the brink of a “triple-dip recession,” or what non-economists might simply call a depression.

The government’s reneging on council funding has slashed budgets in the most deprived areas by more than 14 per cent, with the promise of more cuts to come.

The cannibalisation of the NHS continues, an unregulated energy and housing market risks people dying in the cold in droves and the Tories’ latest sop to the reactionary law-and-order demographic – the police and crime commissioners – is seemingly the only thing less popular than their own coalition partners.

A lot could happen in the next two years, but none of it looks good.

Which is presumably why David Cameron’s office last week quietly hired Lynton Crosby of the notorious Australian firm Crosby Textor to coddle him all the way to 2015’s general election.

But Crosby Textor are more than campaign strategists. They are sorcerers, summoning humanity’s worst instincts seemingly out of thin air. Read the rest of this entry »