Saturday, January 23, 2016

Hot News Connection: 62 Billionaires Now Own More Than Half The Planet’s Population And 2015 Far Outpaced 2014 as Planet’s Hottest Ever Year

Headlines and accompanying graphs that document significant progressions of some unwelcome change- Are hey related
This week brings two jaw-dropping headlines accompanied by graphs that document significant progressions of some unwelcome change.  With the news of each, arriving together, one must wonder about the possible relationships between the two. .

The Guardian reports that, according to a new report by Oxfam, our accelerating inequality means that the richest 62 people in the world are now as wealthy as half of world's population.  What's more, 1% of people on the world own more wealth than other 99% of the population combined.  See: Richest 62 people as wealthy as half of world's population, says Oxfam- Charity says only higher wages, crackdown on tax dodging and higher investment in public services can stop divide widening, by Larry Elliott, 18 January 18, 2016.

More than half the world's wealth held by just 1% and just 62 people owning as much as half the world's population?  If you believe that we live in a world where money is power and probably increasingly so, then an exceedingly small set of individuals hold an awful lot of power.  As for how fast this situation is getting worse, the Oxfam report tells us that only five years ago in 2010 this power of holding as much wealth as half the world's population was dispersed among 388 multi-billionaires.

On this side of the Atlantic the New York Times has just reported that 2015 was earth's warmest year by the widest margin on record; outstripping 2014, the previous record setter.  This means we have "two back-to-back record years," the odds against which are 1 out of 1,500 unless. . .  Yes, worsening climate change with the prospect of annually increasing temperatures is undeniably here.  See: 2015 Far Eclipsed 2014 As Wordls Hottest Year, Climate Scientists Say / 2015 Was Hottest Year in Historical Record, Scientists Say, by Justin Gillis January 20, 2016.

Climate change is definitely here.  It is phenomenally destructive to our planet and yet the world is doing very little about it.  Why?

The Oxfam report on the increasing concentration of wealth tells us a little bit about climate change:
. .  while the poorest people live in areas most vulnerable to climate change, the poorest half of the global population are responsible for only around 10 percent of total global emissions. Meanwhile, the average carbon footprint of the richest 1 percent of people globally could be as much as 175 times higher than that of the poorest 10 percent.
Another Oxfam report cited in a footnote to the above amplifies that, "The richest 10% of people produce half of Earth’s climate-harming fossil-fuel emissions,"  See:  World's richest 10% produce half of global carbon emissions, says Oxfam,  the Guardian, December 2, 2015.

Probably more important than the correlation between wealth accompanied by disproportionate consumption, and therefore much larger carbon footprints, is that the poorest in the world are the most vulnerable to the costs of climate change.  That's exceedingly relevant because, if money is power, then those worst affected by climate change are those least powerful to compel civilization to adjust and chart a better course.

It is clear that large carbon footprints and excessive consumption can be laid at the doorstep of the wealthiest, even citing the those amongst the tippy-top 1% with alarmingly cavalier consumption.  A recent hard-to-believe report, "Elite Emissions: How the Homes of the Wealthiest New Yorkers Help Drive Climate Change” by the Climate Works for All coalition concluded that with NYC buildings being responsible for "70% of New York City’s emissions" that generate the "greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming . . a mere two percent of the city’s one million buildings use 45% of all of the city’s energy."  See: New York Post- Rich New Yorkers' homes are ruining our air, by Hana R. Alberts, November 20, 2015.

Using the Forbes’ World’s Billionaires list to investigate The Elite Emissions report was able to present a list of  buildings with their high energy consumption figures.  It includes buildings with the homes of those ranking among the top 62 wealthiest people in the world, among them: The apartment building housing the home of David H. Koch (740 Park Avenue- the building made infamous by a book and an Alex Gibney documentary about it,) Alice Walton (515 Park Avenue in a a $25 million apartment), and Donald Trump (721 5th Avenue- "Trump Tower").  David Koch, along with is equally wealthy brother Charles, are, in whatever order you want, the sixth and seventh wealthiest multi-billionaires in the world.  Alice Walton is the eleventh.  Christy Walton and Jim Walton are higher up the list than Alice, right after the Kochs.  Climate science denying Donald Trump, with only an estimated $4.5 billion to his name, is way down the list of the world's wealthy at #405 with only a fraction of their wealth.

Of much more concern than whatever may be the aggregate personal carbon emissions are of these particular, exceedingly wealthy individuals, is the effect these individuals have on what systemically contributes to and establishes the societal infrastructure for climate change throughout the world.

An article in the New York Times wrote about how the richest multi-billionaires are now so wealthy that they are forming their own political parties: How Billionaire Oligarchs Are Becoming Their Own Political Parties,
by Jim Rutenberg, October 17, 2014.  Certainly, many already perceive the Tea Party, in view of its funding, as being essentially the party of Koch.

Of course, there is very visibly also Trump.  And, now, apparently, goaded or "galled by" the success of the relatively small-change Trump in this election cycle, Michael Bloomberg (multi-billionaire #14 on the Forbes list of the world's wealthiest) has disclosed renewed ambitions to run for Unite States President.  Mr. Bloomberg's credentials are environmentally dubious despite a lot of PR to the contrary.  Endorsed fracking he was  then appointed `Climate Change Envoy’ by the United Nations.  Bloomberg is looking to run as an independent candidate declaring that he would spend "at least $1 billion" of his estimated $35.5 billion fortune to run.  Mr. Bloomberg reportedly doesn't like the Wall Street-critical Sanders and 'laments' what he considers Hillary Clinton’s "lurch to the left" to keep pace with Sanders. See: Bloomberg, Sensing an Opening, Revisits a Potential White House Run, by Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman, January 23, 2016.

Trump, Koch and most particularly Bloomberg present examples of the cycle of how money and power reinforce each other.  Some may regard Bloomberg's $1 billion proposed to be spent on his campaign, or the cash similarly splashed around Trump as expenditures.  Others may view it as an investment that will more that repay itself no matter who is elected.  When Bloomberg declared his interest in politics to launch his career he was not exceptionally wealthy, but when he completed his third term as mayor he was, having for a time become the richest man in the city.  In the process he far outpaced the wealth increase of most others on Forbes list.

From Noticing New York: Two charts overlaid, showing how Bloomberg's increasing annual wealth makes the increasing annual average wealth of the rest of the "Forbes 400" look virtually flat by comparison
The question is what these multi-billionaires do with the huge influence they wield. In theory climate change will adversely affect everybody.  Indeed, we have heard some billionaires tell us they are mobilizing efforts to do what they think should be done to curtail climate change.  See: Bill Gates forms billionaires' super league against climate change- With the COP21 conference starting today in Paris, wealthy investors including Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson and Mark Zuckerberg team up to give governments a helping hand, by Adam Gale Monday, 30 November 2015 and Top 10 Billionaires Saving the Planet, by Sarah Backhouse, August 21, 2015.

That doesn't necessarily mean that one should agree with the solutions the multi-billionaires promote, or trust their motivations.  One reason to be skeptical about the solutions that get fielded when multi-billionaires mobilize is if you believe that, as we grapple with climate change, there won't be one "silver bullet" top-down solution.  Instead there will be a "mosaic of solutions" generated myriad fashion mostly from the bottom up. What's more Jane Jacobs ("The Economy of Cities") suggested that one upside to large populations is the multiplication of individuals and groups who can innovate to advance society and improve what we do.  If that's a theory you subscribe to, then leaving the half the world's population high and dry of a share of resources with which to participate negates that advantage.

Whatever good some billionaires like Tom Steyer may do with respect to climate battles like Mr. Steyer's opposing the Keystone XL oil pipeline there is all the weight of what is being done to counteract their better efforts.  Steyers is way down the Forbes list of the wealthy (#1190) and not even a multi-billionaire, with only an estimated $1.61 billion to his name.

We find this assessment of the fight between our financial giants at Bill Moyers' Moyers and Company site:
Fred Wertheimer, a long-time advocate of campaign finance reform, tells the Times that a political world where billionaires set the agenda is not a democracy. "This is about as far away as we can get from `representative government,'" he said. And when it comes to politically active billionaires, it would seem that there are more who profit from inaction on climate change than who want to see that action happen - not a good sign for those who agree with Steyer's politics.
See: Bill Moyers- The Billionaires on Both Sides of Climate Change, by John Light, February 19, 2014.

The Koch brothers are the prime example of such "politically active [multi-]billionaires."   With their combined wealth that exceeds that of any individual on the plant they are politically active, spending to fuel climate science denial and inaction about how we are raising the temperature of the earth and they are also fighting public health care (probably it's actually the same thing).

It is not just the first 62 multi-billionaires who are as wealthy as half the world.  What is remarkable is how many more multi-billionaires are up there on the Forbes list in the top sliver of the 1% fraction that holds more than half world's wealth.  You would probably not have to go far down the list before you had collected yet another small set of outrageously wealthy individuals who also collectively own and control more wealth than the poorest half of the world's population. The frightening thing is that many of those multi-billionaires also are either joining the Kochs in stymieing effective measures to address climate change, or they are doing little to prevent it.

For example at #100 on the list we find Stephen A. Schwarzman, head of the Blackstone Group, with an estimated personal wealth of $9.8 billion who lives in the same hugely energy inefficient building as David Koch.  (Great as Schwarzman's wealth is, it is just 8.76% of the combined wealth of the two Koch brothers, and far less than the $121.7 million which is the estimated combined fortune the three Waltons command.) Along with promoting fracking and a list of other objectionable activities, Mr. Schwarzman has been involved in selling off New York City Libraries.  The Oxfam report on escalating income inequality calls for a "three pronged approach" to counter that trend, one prong of which is "higher investment in public services."  Certainly the disinvestment of selling libraries (with Mayor Michael Bloomberg's approval) is the opposite of of such investment and what is otherwise called for if we are to start restoring equality.  The other two prongs called for by the report: are "a crackdown on tax dodging" and "higher investment in public services; and higher wages for the low paid.". .

. . .  As for tax dodging, Mr. Schwarzman has been famously aggressive in promoting what are viewed as dodgy tax loopholes. Mr. Schwarzman may be low on the Forbes list in terms of his wealth, but Forbes has compensatingly ranked him higher on another of its lists:  On the Forbes list of those with power in the world Forbes ranks Schwarzman as number 62.

It seems that Mr. Schwarzman has predilections to tilt the playing field on at least two fronts: Against those who could be trying to catch up and close the gap with him, and secondly, in favor of the tax system advantages that will continue to move him even further ahead.

Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary under Clinton, has a new book out, "Saving Capitalism For the Many, Not the Few," that addresses the escalating income inequality we see in the United States.  Median national household income is declining (after adjusting for inflation, an American family earns less in 2013 than it did in 1989) while productivity gains from economic growth collect at the top.  Mr. Reich tells us to remember these recent changes are not because of economics per se, but because of the way that the rules of the market are being written by those with wealth and power, people like Mr. Schwarzman.  . .

. . . Studying the law of property and property ownership in law school and urban planning school I was taught that the rules of property ownership are formulated based, in part, on concepts of what will ultimately benefit society, husband its resources and forestall waste.  The current decimation of our environment while wealth concentrates in the hands of a very few who mostly encourage this devastation or who sit idly by should be viewed as evidence that the rules we have now are not working and need to be rewritten.

Monday, May 11, 2015

De Blasio’s “Progressive Contract With America”: BIG PROBLEM- It looks Like A Plan to “Progressively Contract America” When He’s Selling NYC Libraries, Including The Tillary Clinton Library Next To Hillary’s Office!

During his campaign for mayor, de Blasio on NYC libraries: "once again we see, lurking right behind the curtain, real estate developers who are very anxious to get their hands on these valuable properties." He'd joined with Citizens Defending Libraries of which I am a co-founder.
Bill de Blasio, Mayor of New York, has a problem as he ventures out onto the national stage tomorrow . .

. .  Tuesday at 3:00 PM he intends to make political waves in Washington D.C. with a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol to announce his “Progressive Contract With America.”  But he’s faced with some really bad optics.  After all the fanfare and folderol that goes to pump up attention for his plan people may instead, very shortly, be talking about de Blasio’s “Plan to Progressively Contract America.” 

Why?  Because right now in his own city de Blasio is deliberately choosing to underfund and sell off New York City Libraries. . .  even against the advice of the New York Times editorial board.

What makes it even worse and what has it colliding directly with de Blasio’s desire to get widespread attention on in the national media as he interjects himself conspicuously into the 2016 presidential campaign debate is the fact that a key library he is setting up to sell off to a developer of luxury condominiums is none other than the Tillary Clinton Library, the second most important library in de Blasio’s home borough of Brooklyn. .   and it’s right next to Hillary Clinton’s new national campaign office!

Hillary Clinton's new national campaign headquarters, at the juncture of Tillary and Clinton, is beside and actually joined legally with the library there.  For more read: Thursday, May 7, 2015, Hillary Clinton's New National Campaign Office Next to the Tillary Clinton Brooklyn Heights Library: Why Everyone's Talking About Income Inequality From An Economy That Supports the 1%.
Ostensibly, de Blasio’s new “contract” with America is an exercise in pulling, or nudging,’ America and the presidential debate to the left.  De Blasio’s contract goes out, garners attention, could even be looked at somewhat as a trial balloon, and then Hillary Clinton, for whom de Blasio once worked as a campaign manager, can react and make a show of confirming that she has shifted sufficiently to the left to appease those who wish they were voting for Elizabeth Warren or maybe Bernie Sanders.  De Blasio has right now not yet endorsed Hillary’s run for president, speaking instead about how he wants, for instance, issues of income inequality and an economy that preferentially benefits the wealthy paid more attention to first.. . .

Pay more attention to income and wealth inequality while selling off libraries to convert them into luxury condominiums?  That’s a stretch!

Mayor de Blasio official has a reason he is not properly funding libraries, a reason that, as the New York Times puts it, under de Blasio's tenure New York’s library expenditures lag:
embarrassingly behind Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio and San Diego. And the city's suburbs. And Albany.
Mayor de Blasio’s reason for not funding the city libraries is pessimism.

Although New York City is flush with cash this budget year with plenty of money to spare, and even though libraries cost the most infinitesimal fraction of the city’s budget and are very, very heavily used, an incredible bargain given their benefit, Mr. de Blasio has decided to leave in place drastic cuts his predecessor Mayor Michael Bloomberg made.  The reason that he gives is that we have to underfund and sell libraries, shedding the public’s wealth and investment in them, to save for a rainy day.

Doesn’t Mr. de Blasio realize that when libraries are so badly underfunded they have to be sold it is a rainy day?  Of course he does.

Usually pessimism, even when it's sensible, justified pessimism, is political poison.  In this case, there aren’t any good reasons for Mr. de Blasio’s bizarre thoughts about fearing the future.  The amount that can be set aside by starving and selling libraries won’t add up to much at all on a rainy day while the public benefit of libraries will mean a lot if those rainy days ever come.

The reason de Blasio would be so suicidal?  The method to de Blasio’s madness is that New York has a strong real estate industry that pretty much runs the city as well as the state’s capitol, Albany. . .  And this ties in with who Hillary Clinton’s new landlord is at her national campaign office next to the Tillary Clinton Library: It’s Forest City Ratner, a de Blasio ally and backer, a specialist in government subsidy collection that is likely to benefit mightily if de Blasio ever lands the featured role in implementing a nationwide urban policy that some people are talking about.. . .

. . . It’s the real estate industry in New York, and nobody else, that wants New York’s libraries recycled into luxury towers.

Mr. de Blasio said it best during his “Tale of Two Cities” campaign for mayor talking about what were then Bloomberg’s proposed library sales and the “public land and public facilities and public land under threat”:
and once again we see, lurking right behind the curtain, real estate developers who are very anxious to get their hands on these valuable properties.
So tomorrow, as Mr. de Blasio stands up in Washington to speak about “income inequality” as the “crisis of our times,” the need for more fairness and to an address an economy that’s skewed to support “the 1%,” the question will be: Why is he underfunding and selling libraries? 

Libraries are Democracy.  They are the great equalizer providing opportunity in the most essential way.

Provide “a universal pre-kindergarten program”?  That’s one of de Blasio’s new program `planks.’  But then take away the libraries those universal pre-k children might go on to use as the next step in their advancement?  Take the libraries away from their older brothers and sisters and everyone else in the community?

As we said at the outset, Mr. de Blasio does indeed have a huge problem.
An important PS: There’s another reason de Balsio’s library sales are likely to get a lot of focus just as he’s promoting his “Progressive Contract”: There’s a new book by Scott Sherman coming out about the push to sell New York’s libraries, “Patience and Fortitude- Power, Real Estate, and the Fight to Save a Public Library.”

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Computer Hacker Takes Twisted Advantage of `Get The Rich Out Quick’ Scheme To Fleece Select Gaggle of the World’s Biggest Big-Wigs

"Rescue" helicopters winding up at an island at the bottom of the world?  Priceless. . because there are some things that maybe money just can't buy!
Here’s an astounding story that’s being downplayed and with good reason, given who is embarrassed and what nobody was ever supposed to know about the plans these potentates of power had for themselves . . . plans to that were to launch when/if civilization as we know it was coming to an end.  A computer hacker who had a good dollop of inside knowledge manipulated, leaving only the lightest of fingerprints, to turn a stand-by rescue plan for the world’s wealthiest and most privileged mucky-mucks into their private privilege to be roundly and soundly fleeced.  Over $53.5 billion has disappeared, transferred. . .  Where? . . .  For a while the fleeced tycoons, the hoity–toityest of the ultra-ultra had also themselves disappeared, but now, pretending they never left, they have been creeping back from an unplanned visit to an island at the bottom of the earth, a visit that only slightly resembled the trip they really planned.

What the hacker knew about and took advantage of was a company catering to a need the very wealthiest have evaluated and made contingency plans for that’s far beyond the ken or wherewithal of the rest of us: What happens when the world is coming to an end and society crumbles, civilization as we know it unraveling?  Maybe it’s the particular country or countries that normally serve as your home base where things have headed for terminal kerflooey, or maybe the troubles and political unrest are more infectiously pandemic?  What do you do?  You flee!  But first you need to be notified of the troubles, and you want to be notified before anyone else: No sense being caught up in a traffic jam.  In fact, you don’t want to worry about the kind of traffic that may jam at all, so you are prepared to take to the skies, lifted up the first leg of your journey commencing with a helicopter pickup.

That’s where the premier planning and services of Rapture U.S. come in, an American company that assures its super-elite clientele that it has an inside track on a need-to-know basis from the NSA on everything the privileged will need to know first in order to spirit themselves away to be essentially invulnerable as they decamp to the safety of private sanctuaries in the face of any pending collapse of world or political order.  The services of Rapture U.S. are two-fold: privately providing the informational cue that it is time to leave, and providing the aeronautic wherewithal to lift the financially eminent out of whatever location they are in to locations far away from conflict on privately-owned islands.
The benefits of private islands for the wealthy being written about in the New York Times in February.
Every detail of the escapes was represented to be thoughtfully attended to in advance.  For instance, there was no need to be concerned about emigration and customs matters due to arrangements Rapture, with its connections, put in place in advance.  The islands to which the monarchical magnates will retreat?: The islands together with all the secure structures erected upon them to pamper their arrivals all rise many meters above the significant escalations of sea-level rise predicted to come with severe climate change and a melting of the polar ice caps. Climate change is more than a planned-for possibility to be contingently dealt with through Rapture’s promised assurances, the inevitability of its arrival is described in Rapture’s promotional literature as a driving reason to sign up for its services.  This literature, available on an invitation-only basis, was sent to reporters after the hacking, apparently by the hacker himself.  It reads, in part:
In the relatively near future, climate change is predicted to bring about world-wide shortages of everything from food to inhabitable regions of the earth.  We can confidently predict that front-running the materialization of the very worst of these problems will be war, conflict, extreme political instability and the downfall of governments where the wealthy and their previously recognized privileges will undoubtedly be targeted for elimination. We know even now from our sources at the surveiling NSA that there is much chatter in numerous quarters too organic and diffusely disseminated to expect with a sufficient degree of certainty that biases in this direction will always be successfully squelched year after year into the future.

Through Rapture’s notification, even before the exact nature of the underlying base intelligence is declassified or otherwise revealed, you will be alerted and steered to an appropriate course of action prior to cataclysm-triggering events.   At Rapture’s cue and with Rapture’s help you will have initiated self-preserving sanctuarial action before world leaders have been informed of any set of unfolding imperatives, before they or others may be undertaking any alteration to the status quo potentially disruptive to your essential future options.
In essence, Rapture, with all the systems, procedures and all the pending protocols it put in place loaded the gun, and all the hacker had to do, breaking into its systems, was to pull the trigger and launch the sanctuarial rescue events sequences into operation with only slight modifications.   The helicopters rendezvoused with their pick-ups at designated locations, transported them to private airports with waiting planes and the planes ascended just as planned. This also triggered the "Part II payments" owed to Rapture by these sovereign czars of capital in the event of the rescue program’s activation.  That’s the money that, diverted from Rapture’s own bank account, seems to have gone missing.
Tasmania the island state south of the Australian continent, a day's boat trip from Melborne
Since the “rescues” were always supposed to be conducted with the utmost secrecy and based on information traded out to a few corporate partners including Rapture by the NSA without a compromising disclosure of the parameters of the intelligence gathered, it was days before the traveling barons of the one-percent’s-one-percent or those piloting them fully realized what had happened.  The first clue was that they were not transported to the expected private islands, but, after a longer trip than expected, to the island state of Tasmania part of and south of Australia, in one of the most remote parts of the world.  Transferring from a larger airport on the island's North West Coast with a flight to another nearby private airport, the arriving dignitaries were greeted with what was described as an “orientation” briefing, a lecture about how, after the Europeans arrived eliminating its native Aboriginal inhabitants, Tasmania had been one of Britain’s most notorious penal colonies, known at that time as Van Diemen's Land.  The “orientation” was given by a local historian and tour guide who said he had been hired via email with no knowledge about or reference to Rapture or its operations at all.
The hacking might never have happened at all.  The hacker, considering himself provoked, informed reporters in a transmittal that he conceived it out of a desire for vengeance.  Hitherto the hacker had been working as a reconnaissance photographer in New York City photographing and logging private airplane tail numbers for a financial information company that compiled and translated the data into financial investment advice utilizing the fact that the wealthy and corporate elite are increasingly using corporate and privately owned jets to facilitate private, face-to-face meetings with key deal makers and investors.  Data-collecting via the photography the company ascertained and used the flight plans of companies with corporate jets flying from “money centers” or other key corporate locations to predict such things as pending mergers and acquisitions or stock and bond maneuvers.   (See: Corporate Jets and Private Meetings with Investors.)
From this planespotting website.
In another corporate guise, Rapture U.S., via its sister corporation, Private Skies, Inc., made coordinated and more conventional use of the aviation assets Rapture might one day use.  Rapture and Private Skies, Inc. considered the data collection about its flight paths an infringement. Accordingly, it was a simple matter for them to exercise their influence and connections to have the NYC Department of Transportation eliminate the sidewalk space along the curb of the private airport road where photographers congregated to photograph the planes, thus eliminating the source of the photographers' livelihood.  The hacker, who had been free-lancing to sell his photographs under the assumed name of Justin Chase, apparently had limited other options for work for some reason relating to his use of the assumed name.  That’s when his research and hacking into the systems of  Private Skies, Inc. led the hacker to learn about Rapture U.S. and its operations, in connection with which he extracted his vengeance and, it may be presumed, vanquished any need for future employment.

The story of the get the rich out quick rescue scheme is being denied across the board by various official spokespersons for the world’s wealthy, but the hacker who sent reporters documenting details promised to send more confirming evidence of the Rapture U.S. scheme and the hack that overrode it, together with information that will disclose his actual identity.  The day that information is promised to be provided is today, April 1st.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Snowden Revelations Considered: Is Your Library, Once Intended To Be A Protected Haven of Privacy, Spying on You?

Edward Snowden in "Citizenfour"
I was watching the Academy Award-winning documentary “Citizenfour”about Edward Snowden. . . .

. . . I realize as I write that sentence there must, of course, be a lot of people be authoring essentially the same sentence, or its equivalent on computers these days, in emails or in phone texts or via other electronic devices. .

Having watched the film, I realize that the writing of such a sentence will, one must assume, attract attention, in all probability sooner, rather than later, something to take into account even though I eventually do plan to publish the sentence, at which time that publication, and any reaction to it, must be presumed to attract some greater level of additional attention.

This is my first National Notice article about libraries.  I’ve written a great deal about what is happening to libraries in the city of New York where library real estate is being stalked by acquisitive developers, but I am writing here about this issue in National Notice because what I am about to address here it is an issue of national importance.

During the McCarthy era agents of the FBI showed up at the New York Public Library and said that wanted to know what books people were reading.  The librarians were said to be aghast and briefly at a loss about what to do because they recognized the invasion of privacy that this represented.  The solution to their plight, however, was apparently very simple: They took the FBI agents into a room where they showed the agents stacks of call slips for the books.  The agents had no idea what to do with such an overwhelming amount of data, exited and never returned.  This story was told to me by a long-term librarian.

During the McCarthy era there was also concern about what books were available in the libraries, how readily available certain books were and concern about the political leanings of librarians working in the libraries.

Times change and societies transform, often abruptly.  Who would have thought that there would have been a time in the United States when freedom of thought was so perilously threatened? The Nazi era in Germany and the countries Germany occupied also provide examples of how completely countries could change faster than residents could recognize the dire threat they faced in time to flee and save their lives.

Much of the vastly expanded surveillance in the United States documented by Snowden came about abruptly after 9/11.  There had been pendulum swings in both directions before.  The paranoid abuses of government and Nixon’s enemies list during the Watergate era led to new check and balance protections that were gutted after 9/11.

And libraries?  That’s what this article is about: Changes occurring at libraries mean that what you read there probably won’t be private anymore.

Author David Baldacci recently commented to the New York Times:   
Libraries are the mainstays of democracy. The first thing dictators do when taking over a country is close all the libraries, because libraries are full of ideas.
Indeed, the elimination of books is closely associated with dictatorships and totalitarianism and totalitarian governments are likely interested in controlling thought will be interested choosing what is available to the public to read.  Most recently, ISIS reportedly ransacked Mosul's central library, destroying and burning 100,000 books and manuscripts, many of them reportedly rare and ancient, that did not conform to their notion of what should serve their conception of Islam.

But the surveillance state is interested in something else: The surveillance state wants to know what you think and for that reason the surveillance state believes that libraries should tell the government what you read.

Librarians in Connecticut were the first to successfully challenge the PATRIOT Act when the FBI, along with an accompanying perpetual gag order to keep its actions secret, demanded broadly that the Connecticut librarians turn over to the bureau library records concerning what their patrons were reading and their computer use.

Secrecy was the name of the game.  According to a report of the trial in Mother Jones:
Among the evidence the government had tried to keep secret were quotes from previous Supreme Court cases; copies of New York Times articles; and the text of the Connecticut law that guarantees the confidentiality of library records.
Previously, librarians of the American Librarian Association had, relatively soon after the passage of the PATRIOT Act, fired a shot across the National Security Agency’s (NSA’s) bow, with passage of a January 29, 2003 resolution by the ALA Council, criticizing aspects of the PATRIOT Act and urging librarians to be protective of the patrons' privacy.  Librarians were recommended to adopt:
patron privacy and record retention policies that affirm that the collection of personally identifiable information should only be a matter of routine or policy when necessary for the fulfillment of the mission of the library"
Among other strong measures it was urged:
librarians everywhere to defend and support user privacy and free and open access to knowledge and information
The resolution cited among its premises that:
 . . . Libraries are a critical force for promoting the free flow and unimpeded distribution of knowledge and information . . .  that suppression of ideas undermines a democratic society, . . Privacy is essential to the exercise of free speech, free thought, and free association; and, in a library, the subject of users' interests should not be examined or scrutinized by others. .  Certain provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act . .  threaten civil rights and liberties guaranteed under the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights
And very important to the discussion here it cited:
the likelihood that the activities of library users, including their use of computers to browse the Web or access e-mail, may be under government surveillance without their knowledge.
End of story?  Did the NSA, just pack up its bags and leave, tail between its legs?  Back in the days of the swaggering Bush administration?

What do you think the NSA would do, especially after familiarizing yourself with Snowden’s disclosures concerning the NSA’s secret back doors into all things electronic?

One might suspect that the NSA’s opponents might become even much more of a target.  That was probably likely, but remember that what the NSA does, it does not do out in the open.

Now consider this: Changes are being implemented at libraries, and the changes are particularly apparent in New York City, that would make the heroism of these librarians wanting to protect their patrons’ privacy virtually meaningless except for its symbolism. .  As a practical matter the NSA is probably going to know what you read, just as it always wanted to.

The changes being implemented are twofold:
    1.    An elimination or significant curtailment of the availability of physical books at the libraries that is being pushed even though the public still craves its physical books.

    2.    To the extent that physical books can still be read at the library they must increasingly be requested by computer, often online, and this is more and more often being necessitated by keeping books off-site of the library premises.
Given its multitudinous back doors to technology the NSA will certainly be able to find out what you are reading from the library.  It’s not just libraries: If you buy your books online from Amazon or Barnes and Noble the NSA is probably going to know that too.

When it comes to ebooks it is quite astounding what someone else at a remote location can easily know about your reading.  The publishers of ebooks are not only able to know when you began reading your ebook and whether you ever finished it, they can also determine how long you lingered on each page, what you may have skipped over or chosen to read first. In other words, “just what kind of reader you are.”  See BuzzFeedNews: Publishers Know You Didn't Finish "The Goldfinch" - Here's What That Means For The Future Of Books- The publishing industry's uneasy embrace of Netflix-style analytics, by Joseph Bernstein, January. 21, 2015.

As The Guardian in “Big e-reader is watching you” (by Alison Flood, July 4, 2012) puts things
. . . Would Orwell have been amused or disturbed by the development that Big Brother now knows exactly how long it takes readers to finish his novel, which parts they might have highlighted, and what they went on to pick up next?

Because your ebook, as a recent article in the Wall Street Journal put it, is now reading you right back.

        * * * *

Back to Orwell. Nineteen Eighty-Four, says Amazon, is the 608th most-highlighted book it sells. "'Who controls the past,' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past'" has been marked by 349 Kindle users, while "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - for ever" has been highlighted by 195. What would George have said?
There is nothing an e-reader publisher is able to know that the NSA isn’t able to find out too.

Also, with digital reading, if the publisher decides retroactively that it doesn’t want you to be reading what it gave you to read, it can make it disappear.  Amazon did exactly that in 2009 when it eliminated George Orwell's "1984" from its patrons' Kindles.  Wrote the New York Times:   
In George Orwell's "1984," government censors erase all traces of news articles embarrassing to Big Brother by sending them down an incineration chute called the "memory hole."

On Friday, it was "1984" and another Orwell book, "Animal Farm," that were dropped down the memory hole - by
(See: New York Times: Amazon Erases Orwell Books From Kindle, by Brad Stone, July 17, 2009.)

Amazon removed the books and others such as digital editions of the Harry Potter books and the novels of Ayn Rand as the most convenient to itself way of dealing with some licensing disputes.  The precedent, however, is truly frightening.  What’s worse is that there is no reason to believe that disappearance or deletions would always occur only in discrete book-size chunks.  It might be just a paragraph or particular phrasing that disappears or is altered, just as it was the job of the Ministry of Information to do in "1984."

The possibilities play out interestingly in a situation like the following.  In 2010, Anthony Shaffer, a former military intelligence officer who was a military spy in Afghanistan and elsewhere, released a book, “Operation Dark Heart,” after getting CIA clearance of its content.  The book was already out and public when the CIA decided to rescind various aspects of its previously granted clearance.  Unsold versions of the book (10,000 copies) were destroyed at government expense.  This led to comically absurd outcomes.  With two versions of the book ultimately in release (review copies were out), exactly what the CIA had wanted redacted was highlighted by the contrast (including, for some reason, a reference to the actor Ned Beatty).  Also, the CIA would not release to Shaffer, a copy of the book that he, himself had authored and submitted to the CIA for review because it was classified.

Of course, we all know how this very same situation turns out in the digital, ebook world: The CIA instructs the publisher to make deletions whenever it decides on retroactive reclassification of previously cleared and public materials, and the readers, if they notice at all, get a feeling of vague disquiet that what they went back to read again is not what they read originally.  If they linger over the particular passage trying to figure out their unease, somebody in a remote location can be taking note of it.

The idea of fluidly changing books is a reality.  The industry is already releasing ebooks that are being re-edited based on reader feedback.  It is a very small shift from this to books that perpetually and fluidly change for other less laudable reasons.

In the end, there is nothing to prevent ebooks from becoming the equivalent of an ever-changing web page.  The old axiom that you can never step into the same river twice would similarly apply.  Ever-changing web pages* may be beneficial in the context of Wikipedia, but where does this lead when it come to books?
(* When it comes to changing web pages there is actually some monitoring that currently occurs.  Would that happen in the case of an e-publisher’s books?)
Government could be the culprit that ultimately makes our ready access to reliable information extremely tenuous, but the undermining of the availability can also come from the private sector.

Citizens Defending Libraries (of which I am a co-founder) has testified at New York City Council hearings about the relationship of the privatizing sell-offs of library real estate to the threat of another form of privatization (excerpts below):
 . .  we must be wary that there are many who see the digitized future in terms of an increasingly privatized future where corporations pushing for various plans expect to make a lot of money by controlling digitized information, in many cases, by charging the public for what's already owned by the public in public collections that are being put out of reach.

    * * *

Digital activist Aaron Swartz warned about this disturbing trend:
The world's entire scientific ... heritage ... is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations....The Open Access Movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it.
In the future we may expect that after the libraries have contracted out to privatize content we will be charged exorbitantly high fees for what was once publicly owned.  The further irony in all of this is that much of the transcription and other work to create digitally available content may have been crowd sourced so that the public will be charged for what it once freely owned and for the result of its own freely contributed work product and intensive labor creating privatized content.
Whether our slipping hold on the knowledge we are entitled to will come from the private sector or from government does not have to be an either/or proposition.  Tim Wu, the Columbia Law School professor who is credited with coining the term “internet neutrality,” has written in his book, “The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires,” about how the government often colludes with private corporations.  It’s particularly likely when those corporations are monopolies, the very companies the government is supposed to be regulating.

A section of Wu’s book describes how at the same time that AT&T was assisting President Bush to violate federal law pursuant to a secret executive order by assisting the National Security Administration in the warrantless monitoring of telephone and Internet communications on a vast scale, the phone company's pending plans to reintegrate its monopoly were under review by the Bush administration. Congress then, in July of 2008, passed a law granting AT&T and Verizon full retroactive immunity for any violation of the laws against spying on Americans so the full extent of exactly happened has not been investigated and may never get adequate attention.

To put if frankly, it looks like there was a quid pro quo, a trade of rights, in this case, rights to competitive advantage, in exchange for aiding the surveillance state.

There are societal safeguards whenever monopolies are avoided to maintain a pluralistic society.  Surveillance assistance was routinely provided with no objection raised to its illegality by any of the big telecom companies or other large companies, that provided by far the largest bulk of such surveillance.  The first challenge to such surveillance came instead from Nick Merrill, a CEO who ran a small Web-hosting company in New York named Calyx.

Had a few more mergers wiped out the smaller companies, we might never have heard that challenge.

Now let's leave the subject of electronic books to discuss what is happening with respect to physical books.

What is becoming knowable about the individual physical books that library patrons are reading is not quite as granular, but a great deal more is now knowable than ever before.  Books are being checked out electronically.  If you renew your book, you will renew it electronically.  When you want your books you may even specify electronically what library you consider it most convenient at which to pick up that book.  There will be an electronic, again web-based, record of exactly how long you kept your book.  Everything you do electronically can be tracked.

You might go to the library to select and read your book privately, personally removing a copy from the shelves, but more and more under new management practices the number of books kept on the shelves of New York City’s public libraries is dwindling.  Fewer physical books overall and the escalating practice of keeping books off-site of the library premises diminish the chances that you can simply go to any library, or even a central library and expect to find the book on its shelves.   If the book you want is the least bit esoteric or unusual its likely not to be on the shelf. . . in the Brooklyn Public Library you should not expect to find the books of Jane Jacobs without a a preparatory hunt, some not at all.

One thing you can do to adjust for this is to check library records before setting out for a particular library, but if you do, you will probably do so electronically on the internet.  At the library, you might want to figure out what particular section of book could be in. . .  You might succumb and ask your phone (referred to these days as 'personal tracking devices'*) as the quickest possible shortcut.
(* These days they also include built-in fingerprint submission features.)
The NYPL's 42nd Street Central Reference Library- Famously guarded by the lions, Patience and Fortitude, and behind the statues of Truth and Beauty- Behind those symbols physical books are disappearing from the shelves.
At the NYPL’s 42nd Street Central Reference Library, (recently renamed after Stephen A Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group, among other things, the world’s largest real estate investment firm, who, without seeming to be that particularly an impressive fellow, just set a record collecting “the highest annual payout ever notched by a founder of a publicly traded private-equity firm) any of its millions of reference books will now probably be requested electronically, because those books must be if they are off-site as the majority now are.  Those are the books that used to be requested by the physical paper call slip system that once baffled the FBI.

Those research library books will probably be requested electronically whether they are amongst the minority of books still kept at the research library, or amongst the millions more that have been exiled to sites like Princeton, New Jersey.   Only if you are already at the library and want to request a book that is actually there will you have the chance to circumvent a computer request with a paper call slip.
Reverend Billy in Princeton New Jersey where the NYPL sent its books.  From his video.
In August of 2014 the Reverend Billy led a small band of fellow activists out to discover and visit the ReCAP facility site in New Jersey where the NYPL’s books are now entombed.  His plan was to lead a ceremonial “Stonehenge Circle” protest about the books’ removal.  The protest was interrupted, its completion effectively prohibited, because it turned out that ReCAP shares an area of Princeton University with the nearby Forrestal Campus, a complex which has stringent federal security requirements as a laboratory devoted to nuclear fusion and plasma physics research.

Maybe it is unlikely that these books could become inaccessible to the public as the result of an accident or political change expanding federal controls over the area, but what is more frightening is considering the fate of the books that some library administration officials are now intent on bringing about by conscious design.  That can be seen in this report on the ReCAP website: ReCAP-Discovery to Delivery Project- April 1, 2012 through July 31, 2013, Final Report to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, October 2013.

When I first heard that million’s of the NYPL’s research books were being moved to, of all places, far away Princeton, New Jersey, I had an initial reaction of, Oh My God, is there some sort of plan where, in the end, the university is going to wind up owning all these books, a reaction I tamped down as paranoia on my part. . . Little did I think I’d eventually learn that this suspicion was not nearly so far off the mark as I’d thought.
From the report, speaking as of 2012, before the NYPL's transfer of even more of its research books
This “Final Report to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation” speaks of the NYPL, Columbia University, and Princeton University as being partner institutions with ReCAP.  It envisions that to `manage’ the books `efficiently’ the collection, effectively its ownership, would be “shared.”  The sharing would extend to eliminating many books that were independently owned and identifiable as such in what is euphemistically phrased as a “deduplication” of stock, “deduping” for short.  At the same time, books, now many of them made so much rarer through “deduping,” would be put at risk by allowing them to be borrowed and circulated to “authorized borrowers of any ReCAP partner.”  That would typically be anyone from the universities, students or professors, as NYPL research collection books never circulated to NYPL patrons.  They were considered too valuable.
Also from the report envisioning "deduping"of the shared books
At the same time, the report also speaks of discouraging the reading of the physical books by encouraging that “digital surrogates” of the books be electronically searched before any actual retrievals of books for use.  That’s the  “discovery” of the report’s title.  It would be done (are you listening, NSA?) through a “cloud-based middleware system.”  That system is spoken of as providing “visibility” in “real time status.”  That’s visibility to the users of the library. .  Theoretically.  The report envisions expansion of this “cloud-based middleware system” system to all the libraries’ books.
From the report- "Search and Discover" has been slightly increased in size by National Notice to help emphasize its importance in the structure
This scheme of locating the entire “shared” collection books in New Jersey makes the books sound rather like the family portrait owned on a “shared” basis by a group of siblings except that it is one sibling who keeps it hanging in her own home.  It’s hard to ignore the fact that “shared” books kept on the Princeton campus are most accessible there, especially when the NYPL concedes that transporting books to people who want them in New York is interfered with by things like the Super Bowl.

The NYPL is contributing far more of the books to the “shared” collection than the two universities.  Princeton is contributing the fewest.  According to the report the NYPL had the most books there already, 3.5 million in November of 2012, and noted that “a significant number of additional materials” would come “as part of the NYPL’s Central Library Plan.”  In 2013 the NYPL emptied the research stacks under the Rose Reading Room with more transportations.  Those stacks were historically understood to house another 3 million books, but NYPL president Anthony Marx recently asserted that the NYPL (presumably before any deduping) had determined that 3 million number to be somewhat overstated.

“Deduping” mankind’s knowledge into one central repository where it is intended to be shared may sound efficient, even altruistic, but it reflects a hubristic indifference to how knowledge survives the ages.  Among other things it forgets that one of the benefits of a pluralistic society is the check and balance safeguards that inherently result.  The conservative pro-tar-sands Harper government in Canada is apparently antagonistic to having evidentiary records in its libraries that document and further the understanding of climate science and climate change.  Accordingly it’s engaged in a wholesale destruction of the contents of its national libraries, including:
An irreplaceable, 50-volume collection of logs from HMS Challenger's 19th century expedition went to the landfill, taking with them the crucial observations of marine life, fish stocks and fisheries of the age.
In that particular case, however little the consolation, a copy of the logs was later found overseas.  That is all we have that mitigates such tragedies when the occur.

The Great Library of Alexandria famously failed.  The myth is that it met is demise in a single catastrophic fire.  Actual fires may have seeded the myth, but the more encompassing explanation is that the library slowly degraded and fell apart in serial destructions over a prolonged period, lack of funding being one of its problems.
Image from Wikipedia: The Library of Alexandria- by O. Von Corven - Tolzmann, Don Heinrich, Alfred Hessel and Reuben Peiss. The Memory of Mankind.
The Alexandrian library was intended to be a central repository of all of mankind’s knowledge, something it  probably largely achieved.  It built up its stock of books in a commandeering fashion.  Whenever a ship came into the port of Alexandria all of its books had to be presented to the library for copying by the library’s scribes.  But when the copies were made, books were returned to the ships.  Reputedly some copies were so good that the ships may not have known whether they got back an original or a copy.

Although ultimately the Great Library of Alexandria wasted and then vanished, the copying that created duplicates meant that, at least as much of mankind’s knowledge survived as if the library had never been created, had never commandeered the knowledge into its collection. . . .

. . . It is the job of lawyers to envision the worst when drafting agreements (I am a lawyer), and the lawyers who drafted the book-sharing partnership agreement to which the NYPL was to become a party envisions that it is ultimately possible the consortium will unwind.  At that time there will be a legal hell of ensuing complications and extra expenses.  Even without a total unwinding, minor reversals or retrenchment of some of the decisions carried out could encounter bureaucratic obstacles such as if the NYPL wanted to, for the sake of increased convenience, return books contributed to the shared collection to stacks on its own premises because certain books (referred to sometimes in the report as the “artifactual” original physical copies) were in frequent demand for retrieval.
The collapse of the NYPL's Central Library Plan was big news
In May of 2014 the NYPL’s Central Library Plan dramatically unraveled. In part because it was going to cost an astronomical amount for what was essentially a drastic shrinkage of library space and services, more than one half billion dollars.  That half billion was at least $200 million dollars more than the NYPL had previously publicized.   As envisioned in the report, in 2013, before the plan fell apart, a significantly important part of the NYPL’s collection, an additional three million or so of what were probably the library’s most accessed books, had been transported off premises out of the stacks under the Rose Reading Room. . . .

. . .  Notwithstanding the rather abject and embarrassing failure of the Central Library Plan the NYPL announced that it did not intend to return these books to the stacks from which they had been taken.  The NYPL maintained that the 110+ year-old stacks that had always been the collection’s home were no longer suitable for their original purpose despite appropriate upgrades over the years.  The cost of any further upgrade of the stacks to make them suitable for return to service was dismissed by the NYPL, ostensibly as prohibitive.  While that was the reason given, there are many who think the NYPL simply wanted to continue to keep the books off premieres, and one must wonder to what extent the grip of these “sharing” arrangements presented a force that countervailed against the collection’s return.

Legalities pull both ways, creating a sort of tug-of-war.  The report, speaking before this additional major shift of the NYPL’s collection materials, noted that, “The controversy over NYPL's Central Library Plan may affect planned transfers to ReCAP.”  That escalating controversy ultimately became, among other things, three lawsuits that delayed and helped derail the plan, two of which I was involved in as a co-founder Citizens Defending Libraries, one of the plaintiff parties.  Similarly the report noted, “a strict NYPL deaccession policy may complicate deduping.”   Expressed more forthrightly, that second statement translates to an admission that getting rid of books that a library owns is likely to legally violate the duty of care impressed when possession of those books was entrusted to the library. . .entrusted to the library and its Board of Trustees.

Although there are also the issues we have just just reviewed above of whether knowledge will be preserved and readily accessible with the NYPL sending its books off-site to ReCAP, the overarching concern of this article is the issue of privacy of reading and thought when library collections become accessible only through computers.  That concern increases exponentially when books are kept off-site.

The intermediation of computers to access books at the library is intruding into the libraries in another way.  In the old days you could, and were likely to, speak to a reference librarian when you hunted for books that would serve your research and mental explorations.  You were likely to speak to that reference librarian in person and that reference librarian was likely to have beliefs, per the 2003 ALA resolution quoted from near the beginning of this article, that your privacy using the library should be defended.  Now there is a move afoot amongst library administration officials to substitute off-site computer-based services for these formerly in-person services.  These electronically managed services may be supported by running requests through analytical algorithms, possibly supplied by the likes of Amazon and may even, in the future, simply be handled largely by computer robots. . .

. . . Robots?  (And Senator Joe McCarthy and his minions once worried about the political leanings of librarians?)

In New York City, the best analysis and explanation for why libraries, more used and in demand and than ever, have been targeted for sale and shrinkage with the concomitant elimination of the books and the librarians used to occupy their space is that this serves the interests of developers looking to grab their real estate.  It should be understood that plans respecting those library real estate ambitions began to emerge around 2005.  Groundwork relating thereto may date back a tad earlier, perhaps a year or two.  Although there is a decided convergence of interest between those who would like to grab library real estate and those who want the use of libraries to be less private, that does not mean that there has been any effort by those with these interests to work together or cross-support each other.

In considering aligned interests one should also think about the increasingly monopolistic corporations providing content electronically with whom the NSA regularly gets entwined.

The sale and shrinkage of New York City libraries was initiated and handled largely by the NYPL's Chief Operating Officer, David Offensend, who came from Evercore, a spin-off from Schwarzman's Blackstone Group, until he was replaced by Iris Weinshall, Senator Charles Schumer's wife.*  More or less contemporaneously with Offensend's efforts at the NYPL, Offensend's wife, Janet Offensend was involved in implementing similar plans at the Brooklyn Public Library.
(*  Weinshall came to the NYPL from CUNY, the City University of New York, where she had handled some somewhat similar and related matters.  The NYPL's Science, Industry and Business Library was designed to function on an integrated basis with CUNY's in the same building on 34th Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues.)
If one were to guess when the NSA might have wanted to mobilize to decrease the privacy of library use one might have guessed that it would have viewed the January 2003 American Library Association resolution calling for a defense of libraries as havens of privacy as a call to, instead, target these declared sanctuaries.  2006 was the year that the U.S. government backed off in its litigation with the Connecticut librarians, finally settling and allowing the librarians to speak about the FBI’s previous pursuit of library usage records under the PATRIOT Act.

There are those who feel secure, because they see no evidence to the contrary, that surveillance is benign so long as it is only used to prevent clearly illegal, bad acts such as terrorist attacks.  “Citizenfour,” the Snowden documentary, however, presents challenge to the notion that the NSA always acts in in such a restrained and circumscribe fashion.  There a number of references to private companies collaborating with the NSA.  For advantage? To avoid disadvantage? Or just because they feel legally compelled?
From "Citzenfour": Glenn Greenwald speaking to the Senate in Brazil
In one scene of the documentary, Glenn Greenwald, one of the journalists who broke the Snowden story, subsequently addresses a Brazilian Senate hearing on NSA spying held in Brasília, Brazil. Speaking in Portugese, he says (the film’s translation below):
First of all, Americans’ justification for everything since the September 11 attacks is terrorism.  Everything is in the name of the national security, to protect our population. In reality, it's the opposite.  A lot of the documents have nothing to do with terrorism or national security, but with competition between countries, and with companies' industrial, financial, or economic issues.

    * * * *

The US government has the ability to get not only metadata, but the actual content of your email, or what you say on the phone, the words you type into Google searches, the websites you visit, the documents your send to colleagues.

This system can track nearly everything that every individual is doing on line.  So if you are a journalist investigating the American government, if you work for a company with American competitors, or if you work in human rights involving the American government or any other field, they can easily intercept your communication.
From "Citzenfour": Appelbaum before the European Parliament
A little later in the film, Jacob Appelbaum, an encryption and security software developer, and journalist testifies at a September 2013 European Parliament hearing investigating NSA searches of of EU citizens and companies, telling the assembly:
There is this myth of the passive surveillance machine, but actually what is surveillance except control? This notion that the NSA are passive this is nonsense.  What we see is that they actively attack European citizens, American citizens and, in fact, anyone that they can if they perceive an advantage.
Do we need to worry that the NSA puts its finger on the scale to control outcomes?  If so, in which situations and how would we know?
Oscar night: Oscar to Laura Poitras, standing with Glenn Greenwald on the left for "Citizenfour" and Oscar to Graham Moore for "The Imitation Game" on right.
Another film that took home an Oscar the same night as “Citzenfour,” also about espionage, could provide some insight into the way NSA may be behaving.   That was “The Imitation Game,” that took home the Oscar for best adaptive screenplay.
From left to right:  Alan Turig, Benedict Cumberbatch playing Alan Turig and Julian Assange, and Julian Assange appearing in "Citizenfour."
Spoiler Alert!: Several significant reveals in that film’s plot are key in giving that film a provocative depth and they apply to the questions we probably, if past is prologue, need to take into account when guessing what the NSA might being doing.  “The Imitation Game” is based on actual historical events concerning the breaking of Enigma, the Nazis’ encoded communications during World War II.  It is a mostly, if not perfectly, accurate.  (Humankind does exhibit a partiality for simplifying historical narratives.  How that makes our race vulnerable to unfortunate manipulations will have to be saved for discussion another time.)

The first plot reveal of “The Imitation Game,” not much of a reveal at all if you know the tales of the time, is how the Nazi code was broken.

After that, you learn in the film’s ensuing reveals:   
    1.    After the Nazi codes were broken, the intelligence community (MI-6, the British Secret Intelligence Service) modulated their interventions into the war, intervening only selectively, sometimes intentionally not using available intelligence and allowing battles and military assets to be lost so that the Nazis wouldn’t perceive by any change in the pattern of outcomes, and would remain unable to detect the surveillance or any tell-tale interventions based thereon.

    2.    A main theme of the film was highlighted by the Oscar acceptance speech of screenwriter Graham Moore, who spoke of wanting to commit suicide as a 16-year-old: Those who are different, and out of the conventional mainstream who may seem weird or like misfits, even societal pariahs, often have very important gifts to offer.  The unfortunate reveal is that even after such individuals may have proved in exemplary fashion how valuable the gifts they offer are, society’s prejudices and demands for conformity may ultimately destroy them nonetheless.  The code-breaking protagonist of the film, Alan Turing, one of the fathers of the modern computer, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, is portrayed as socially awkward, somewhat along the Asperger’s spectrum, but more importantly, as a misfit, he is in the end tragically persecuted for his homosexuality. The British intelligence agency he helped stands by, not coming to his aid.  Worse, even before that persecution, the intelligence agency manipulatively blackmailed Turig.  (Interestingly, Benedict Cumberbatch played Julian Assange in 2013's “The Fifth Estate.”- Assange makes an appearance in “Citzenfour” working to assist Snowden get to a country of political asylum.)

    3.    The last reveal is that the intelligence community, able to operate in secret, is unaccountable.  Those running the intelligence community decide that they know better than Churchill how to manage the sharing of information with the Soviets (allies during the war).  Therefore they cut the British Prime Minster out of the picture in order to share more information.
Since World War II the Unite States and British intelligence agencies have been largely cooperative and coordinated.  These days that means the NSA and GCHQ.

Here would be as good a place as any to sum up with some questions.  When you use your library these days, is your library use private, as was once intended?  Or is your library yet one more place that you are being watched?  It probably is.  Also pertinent to ask: When you go to the library are the changes you may encounter changes that are being made because they are good for you, or because those changes are good for those wanting to watch you?  In New York that means, for instance, you’ll probably ask about all those books that are getting increasingly hard to find.  Asking these questions should get you around to asking another set: Is what is good for the NSA always good for the rest of us?. . .

. . .  If it isn’t, what do we need to know about how and why it isn’t?

If you think these are questions well worth asking you might want to email or phone your friends that: “There is an interesting article in National Notice asking interesting questions about the NSA and privacy in our libraries,” but, given the Snowden revelations, you’ll have to assume communicating such a sentence will attract attention.