Friday, November 16, 2018

Is Trump Smart Enough To Try A Certain Russiagate Ploy?: Why Is Trump Firing Jeff Sessions Really?

Was Russiagate fizzling out as a distraction?  Oops. . .
This will be short and sweet, almost just the tweet that it can perhaps be whittled down to. . .

I am hesitant to ask questions about whether Trump is smart enough to do certain things.  It’s true that Mr. Trump hardly ever shows even the teeniest amount of erudition in his sentence construction and rarely searches for any new or more appropriate adjectives varying from the sideshow barker ones he uses repetitively.  His disregard for facts and disregard for hewing to any consistency makes it seem like he can’t keep track of facts or what he has said before. . .

. . .  Nevertheless, there are different kinds of intelligence.  Trump’s should never be underestimated.  He has a certain innate sort of trickster’s intelligence, an instinct and talent for distraction and deflection.  His trampling of facts as irrelevancies communicates his power plus how secure he feels (and how secure those who would side with him should feel) about his hold on power.  Similarly, the pronounced lack of effort he displays to be articulate declares to whom he is speaking, plus to whom he is not, and to whom he is not to be considered beholden.

So I am willing to give Trump a decent amount of credit when I ask the question whether he is smart enough to intentionally be pulling off a Russiagate ploy with his firing of his Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, who as the worst kind of racist, has served Trump quite faithfully in almost all respects since Trump appointed him at the commencement of his presidential term.  Trump made explicit that he was firing Sessions because Sessions had recused himself on the Mueller investigation.

It is natural and perhaps accurate to suppose two things about the timing of Trump’s firing of Sessions: first, that Trump fired Sessions only after the midterm elections in order that the firing not influence the elections, and second, that, looking at a shifted House of Representatives, with its investigative powers, now ruled a Democratic majority, Trump wants to fling extra hurdles into any possible investigations of his affairs (including things other than Russiagate, like Emoluments Clause violations and previous money laundering in connection with real estate transactions).  That's a tactic that can, no doubt, be assisted if Matthew Whitaker, Trump’s pick to replace Sessions, underfunds Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation.  That’s the Mueller investigation typically referred to as the “Russiagate investigation.”

A third thing that perhaps nobody seems to be supposing, and that Trump is perhaps getting away with, is that Trump, always the masterful Distractor-in-Chief, is pulling off a beautifully executed Russiagate ploy. . .

To wit: As the midterm elections drew to a close Aaron Maté writing in The Nation (retweeted by Glenn Greenwald) pointed out that “Russiagate” was MIA (Missing In Action) as a campaign issue, something confirmed by a Gallup Poll, and also mentioned during the Democracy Now!/The Intercept’s Election Night coverage by Intercept co-founder Jeremy Scahill.  Scahill said, “You know another thing that I think is really fascinating? It’s whatever happened to that whole Russia story?”

With no Democrats running for election picking up on or mentioning Russiagate as having any valid relationship to their chances of getting elected, the issue seemed to be dying out, losing its last bits of steam.  Not only that, but comedian media watchdog Jimmy Dore was predicting that whole Russiagate investigation was about to turn out to be a big “nothing burger,” pointing to a Politco article just days before the election saying that the investigation is probably doomed to disappoint as “government investigation experts are waving a giant yellow caution flag now to warn” that the investigation, aside from ultimately likely making little information public, is probably going to disappoint those expecting any “presidency-wrecking” accounts of “Kremlin meddling.”

As Aaron Maté (and others) have pointed out, the Russiagate scandal has served as a distraction for nearly two years, essentially the entire Trump presidency, sidelining people like MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow (one of Maté’s favorite targets), from talking about truly critical domestic issues important to the public (like the tax cuts for the rich), from postmorteming the real reasons for the Democratic party’s 2016 loss, and letting MSNBC go more than a year without mentioning the war in Yemen despite the U.S. government's playing a leading role in the protracted war (and the colossal inflicted cholera epidemic), supplying the arms and equipment, refueling the bombers mid-air, and targeting the sites.

That redirection away from other issues gave Trump and cohorts a much freer hand in pursuing their fairly destructive agenda for this country.
Trump’s firing of Jeff Sessions resurrects the Russiagate issue.  Will it give Trump yet another two years of free rein to not be held accountable for other things?  The New York Times has, for two-years, been assisting in this blame-and-fear-the-Russians, Trump-related distraction.  That has set the Times up, along side of Trump and Rachel Maddow, as another major distraction machine.   The Times immediately jumped on the Sessions firing with a gigantic headline—  that was the top-of-the-page headline that screamed on the day following the first announcement of the election results, the day when the `sober' respective analysis traditionally begins. 

Much can be made of how Trump firing Sessions echos Watergate and Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre firings, and certainly the Russiagate to Watergate analogies have been unproductively pushed before, but now is a different time. . .  Back then the Republicans themselves were willing to help push Nixon out; what we know about Watergate was worse; and with Reagan and the Iran Contra scandals we have long since pushed the envelope of what abuses of power we tolerate from the chief executives of the United States. . .  Trump can expect there will be no serious negative repercussions for himself as a result of firing Sessions.

It’s true that just because an issue doesn’t get covered in an election, doesn’t mean that it is not important.  During the midterms there was also very little coverage of debate about climate change, but the difference with respect to that issue this time is that, according to polls, voters actually did care about that undiscussed issue, probably often factoring it into their votes even, this election year, as in others (2016), climate change wasn’t actually covered by the media as an election issue. However important the ultimate facts ever prove Russiagate to be, climate change is just one example of a fundamental, existential issue that's more important and is being ignored in the circus of distractions.

As noted, Trump can expect there will be no serious negative repercussions for himself as a result of firing Sessions, but will it generate another year or two of Russiagate distraction that will give him a freehand to continue to do his worst? . .  It may, indeed.

Is Trump smart enough to figure that out?  Probably.

(So maybe this is a tad longer than just a tweet.)

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Feeling Constrained By Your Digital `Liberation’? Speaking Personally, I Am

Here is a personal dispatch from New York City– Weren’t computers and all the delights of digital supposed to liberate and set us free?  I know that was once propounded as the concept, but computers are great. . .  Until they are not.               

Not very long ago I had yet more conversations with Verizon about our Verizon land line, which has been out of service since mid-May.  Verizon gave us a revised estimated restoration of service date extending another six weeks into the future.  That makes it more than an entire half year now in all, with us having to suspect that, as before, the date could be pushed back even further before everything concludes.

Verizon offered to give us a device that would use a cellular signal to supply service to the line.  In that case, they would start charging us again for the full price of a land line, notwithstanding the lower voice quality we would get, and that, on our own, we could install the equivalent connection via cell signal for a fraction of that price. We declined Verizon’s seemingly kind offer.

It is almost as if Verizon is trying to convince us that we don’t want to have a land line. . For one thing land lines are now so much more expensive than digital signal options.

Once upon a time, (and it was up until very recently) it was the land lines that never went out, that worked faithfully and dependably when electricity went out, whenever cell phones didn't, when there were internet or cable outages.  Land line problems, which pretty much never occurred, were always resolved within mere hours if they did occur, as if people's lives depended on it, as they often did. . . Now, it’s as if Verizon wants to convince us that land lines are the least dependable and desirable options.

I don’t know if you have noticed, but if you want to call Verizon about repairing your land line its very hard to find the number to do so: It’s like they hide the number. We also now get a separate bill for the land line from your cell phone.  If you call the easy-to-find number to call about cell phones, they will tell you have the wrong number to call about land lines.  However, on the other hand, if you call about your land line on the correct number using your cell phone (it’s about the only way to call if your land line isn’t working), a robot will ask if you are calling about fixing the cell number you are calling from.

About the only way it doesn’t feel that the phone company is pushing cell phones over land lines is that they haven’t devoted the resources– band-width etc.–  or used the technology (and it is available) to make the voice quality better.  Guess they just don’t want to give up that little bit of profit.

Just the other day, I was reading about good old-fashioned land lines in Tim Shorrock’s book “Spies for Hire,” so I was remembering that at page 199 Mr. Shorrock was saying that in the 1990's the NSA’s historical dominance in surveillance technology was beginning to fade and that it was having difficulty keeping up “with the millions of calls it was monitoring every day.”

He wrote:
And in the course of a few years, the world switched from using telephone lines and calls beamed by radar to using fiber-optic lines, cell phones, and wireless technology. The NSA's eavesdropping skills, in contrast, were in the old telephony infrastructure and electronic signals; the fiber-optic lines increasingly used around the world were almost impossible to monitor from above the ground.

"Wiretapping was physically relatively easy" prior to the 1990s, says Peter Swire, the Ohio State law professor. “If I touch my copper wires to your copper wire, I can listen in. That's the old-fashioned wire-tap.”  But that doesn't work with fiber optics. “If I touch my glass to your piece of glass, it doesn't do anything to conduct.” As fiber optics increasingly became the system of choice for communications, intelligence analysts began to say the NSA was “going deaf.” 
But as we all know now from the Snowden revelations, things pretty much flipped around after that: The NSA got the technology it needs to collect vast quantities of information and data electronically transmitted over the newer infrastructure and have that automatically transcribed, indexed and searchable.  They can even unleash artificial intelligence on it.  “Total Information Awareness,” it’s an intelligence agency catchphrase, it’s the name of a program and it’s even an acronym: “TIA.”  So these days it’s really become the reverse, the NSA, must by contrast to those nostalgic old days, feel relatively deaf with the old copper wire technologies.

When our Verizon land line went out, our intercom for people coming into the building to visit our apartment went out as well.  In all likelihood, that’s because our intercom used the phone line to for us to hear people at our front door and operate the front door lock to let them in.  That’s the way it's been for a number of years, since we went with a new state-of-the-art system in 1996.  When we moved into our building before that, there was a system with push button squawk boxes that had its own designated speaker lines and power source.  We also discovered during a renovation of our 1883 building, once the tallest in Brooklyn, that once upon a time they did it the real old-fashioned way: The walls were filled with courses of hollow tin tubes, one for each apartment in the building, that went all the way up to the top floors.

Our 1996 system was always supposed to work with or without a telephone company involved, but because the technology is now different (and Verizon is reportedly difficult and obstructionist, if not an outright saboteur) we are going to have to get a new system for the building.  The new systems these days all work through our cell phones.  Whoever comes to your front door to visit winds up, by pressing the front door bell, calling you through your cell phone.  Interesting.

Another way I am feeling constrained by technology right now is that I am having problems with Apple.  Yes, I guess that means what I am telling you is that I am having trouble with my cell phone too.  Actually, what I am having problems with is losing my “memos,” the notes, I store on my phone for information and reference. . . .

. . . To be fair, the problem also involves AOL.  (BTW: Let’s mention, for those of you who don’t know, the AOL email service recently merged with the Yahoo email service, so AOL and Yahoo are no longer competitors or alternatives to each other; they are just two different faces for identically operating services– When AOL changed its terms of service recently, Yahoo made exactly the same changes at exactly the same time, with exactly the same message to users asking us if we `consented’ to their new terms.)

What happened with my Apple cell phone is that an update for the operating system came through.  After my phone loaded it, my AOL email no longer worked properly; I was receiving emails, but I could not any longer send emails from AOL, my main email account.  When I tried I got a message about not being ablet to find the server.  (I know other AOL subscribers, so I know I was not the only one who this happened to.)  I intuited that the solution was to simply delete my AOL account from my phone and reinstall it.  (In fact that is what Apple Support told other users to do as well.)  I even did some preliminary research just to reconfirm that, as should have been the case, I would not lose anything this way: Advisory sites told me I wouldn’t lose anything because the information was all securely on a server that would put it right back on my phone.

I deleted and reinstalled my AOL account on my phone.  My AOL email worked perfectly; I received emails and I could send them again.  Then a few days later, I noted that all my memos were gone from my phone.  Why?: Because my memos were stored as AOL memos and my phone was apparently now pointing to a different server for memos than it had before.

What were these “memos” of mine that were missing?  Oh, just a few things I’d been collecting over the decades: Family anecdotes and reminiscences involving ancestors or histories that had been emailed to me; a list of about a hundred classic films I had compiled by genre for my daughters as suggested viewing as they grew up; things to remember like my eye glass prescription or for filling out medical forms, how many micrograms I am (or my mother is) taking for certain prescriptions; a list of all the mayors of NYC, and another of the president’s of the United States; the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution of the United States, Bill of Rights and other amendments; key facts about global warming/climate change I’d collected over time; a time line I’d put together with major events in the formation and geo-history of the earth and the evolution of different species, including mankind on earth; what everyone in my family wants if I am picking up dinner at Chipolte .  . . .  I could go on, but you get the idea: a collection of the things you want to collect and have on hand for easy reference.

In the very distant past, I would have kept a lot of these things in my pocket in a small notebook, perhaps a few inserted pages therein, or in my pocket calendars.  Remember pocket calendars?; Remember when everybody had one? . .

. . . At a later time, I was carrying these notes in my Palm Pilot, the last one of these I owned being a Palm V.  That’s what replaced my calendar too.  The Palm was nice because it not only kept all these notes available to me in my pocket, it also “synced” to make them available on my computers and, vice versa, moved what I wanted from my computer to put in my pocket in the Palm.  My computers were safely under my control.

There were nice things about those days: My Palm also played music and when I wanted it to be able to hold more information or music I could insert tiny memory cards that could be upgraded and were always getting cheaper, going from inexpensive to costing still less, at the same time they were becoming exponentially more capacious.  My iPhone now has tons of memory, but only because I was careful to pay extra for a lot of it upfront: I can now never upgrade.

When I started carrying a phone with me (and the Palm Pilots came in phone versions too in the fashion of what everyone was referring to back then as “convergence”), I never ran out of battery, because I carried two extra batteries in my pocket (they were cheap and small) to swap out whenever needed.  You can’t do that with an iPhone.

When I gave up my Palm Pilot to start using an iPhone as my new phone (and for my calendar and address book), I would have lost my collection of memos, except that, obviously, I was not the only one who didn’t want to lose data like that: There was an iPhone app that would efficiently transfer the notes with all these things I wanted to remember, and it would keep them where I could open and, by hitting the app’s little button, I could search through them.  It was a fine solution for a while. . .

There came a day when my iPhone 4s operating system needed to be `upgraded.’   I didn’t want to upgrade: I had been holding back from doing so and skipped quite a few iterations of 'upgrade'.  But Twitter and some other things on my iPhone that had been working fine, suddenly weren’t working any longer.  At the Apple Genius desk they told me I had to upgrade the operating system to make Twitter work again.  I ‘upgraded’ and doing so caused my handy memo app to stop working.  That’s when I “moved” my memos, this time to the iPhone `notes’ app (in the AOL category) by laboriously copying them there.  To do so, I had to restore my 4s iPhone to its previous state to temporarily get back the previously handy app that wouldn’t work with the upgrade.

In the end, upgrading my 4s iPhone to the new operating system (IOS) to use Twitter was not such a good idea in certain other ways.  It turns out that the new IOS had a buggy relationship with 4s iPhones.  It caused the phone to think the internal antenna was overheating and shut it down, thus turning off the phone’s wifi access to the internet, while it also wrecked the phone’s battery life.  (The same thing had happened to my wife's phone when upgraded.)  On the internet (particularly YouTube videos) I found lots of advice and videos telling me that there was strange fix to the problem: Heating the phone up to a high heat with a hair dryer and then freezing it to reset its calibrations.  At the Apple Genius Bar they told me this was very ill-advised; that it would break the phone and that I needed to buy a new one, advice to which I succumbed.  Nevertheless, trying the hair dryer fix on the device that was then no longer my phone, it did indeed, absolutely fix it (and it has stayed fixed), so the device is now a very nice music player.

Was Apple just trying to sell me, like other 4s owners, a new phone?
Apple Support hasn’t been able to fix my most recent lost memo problem yet.  They tell me they are still trying.  Let me explain that I haven’t exactly lost my memos completely.  My memos are still on my iPad, and because I did not upgrade my iPad to the new operating system like I did my phone they are not lost to me there.  But I can’t upgrade my iPad to the new operating system although my iPad persists in electronic notifications telling me that I should want to.  Apple Support tells me if I upgrade I will lose my memos from that device too.

There is a workaround: I could “move” all the memos still on my iPad from the AOL category (thus the AOL server) to the iCloud memo category (which get saved by Apple on the iCloud server).  Do you remember when Apple was working to convince you to store all your music on their iCloud server?  This is sort of the same thing, except that it means that Apple gets all your memos as well any of your music that you might have entrusted to their cloud.  It wasn’t exactly consoling to learn that, as I was considering this, the iCloud server went down for a while.  People I knew couldn't use their iCloud accounts to send emails. It’s interesting to speculate whether the system was overtaxed with people moving data onto their cloud for the same reason that I was considering doing so just at that moment.

I could also go to look at some of my older notes and memos in the desktop program that went with my old Palm that operates on my faithful old and steady XP operating system computer.  I could do that, but Microsoft has abandoned support for the XP operating system and doesn't want me using it any longer.   Browsers are not working well with it anymore.   The abandonment was a major reason I had to buy and migrate to a new computer.

I must confess that, while it was working on my phone, it was nice to have my memos and notes about things “in the cloud,” since I could make a note or put in an update on my iPad and it would show up on my iPhone or vice versa.  Maybe it’s less private, but having things in the cloud can feel reassuring and easy— until those things disappear.

It has been suggested that the ability to stream all sorts of excellent films from the cloud makes it seem “less important to purchase and own pricey Criterion Blu-rays or to leave the house to see a digital restoration at the American Cinematheque,” when you can conveniently rely on the cloud, but now some cinephiles are declaring that they will “clutch” their “Blu-Rays and DVDs tighter” since Filmstruck, the classic film streaming service from Criterion and Turner Classic movies, announced that it is shutting down after just two years of operation.  It was just announced this October, but the lights go out at the company on November 29th.

That shutdown may very well be attributable to the different decisions and views about profit engendered by AT&T’s monopolistic takeover of Time Warner.  There are fewer and fewer companies owning things and delivering such things as news and content. This shifts the thinking of those decision makers about what we may be delivered as consumers as that number dwindles steadily downward.

Would it be better and more secure to buy your streaming rights from Amazon, and if you buy a film from Amazon, do you really own it forever?  Might you then find yourself rooting for Amazon’s continued existence?

I know that I am complaining about some of the technology that we have, but sometimes it amazes me, and I complain about the technology that we don’t get—  Once upon a time, not that long ago it seems, I carried a small pocket radio with me at all times.  It’s the way I quickly knew that radio stations were down on 9/11, because I tuned in for news on it that morning as I was arriving at work.  Since that time, radio technology has been improved.  Something called HD radio, or “High Definition” radio has been invented and deployed.  It’s radio that provides an ultra-clear listening experience, without the static.  It even allows extra stations and programming to be broadcast with extra spectrum needing to be assigned to it.  You could be listening to it now and you could easily be carrying a tiny inexpensive HD radio in you pocket.  In fact, taking up no space, they can be built into MP3 music players.  That’s what Microsoft did in 2009 when it designed its new Zune music player. 
Palm Pilots and Microsoft's Internet capable 2009 HD radio and MP3 Music player, mysteriously withdrawn from the market- Try finding pocket HD radios now: It's hard!
Then Microsoft mysteriously withdrew its Zune players from the market, abandoning everything to Apple.  Mini-portable pocket HD radios have been designed and built since, proving that they need cost virtually nothing, but try finding one: They are inexplicably almost totally absent from the marketplace now.

I remember periodically going in and asking the salesmen at J&R (remember the J&R, the now vanished cornucopia electronics store?) why they didn’t have other combination music players/HD radios.  I remember the shrug of the salesmen as they responded that people were supposed to be listening to their music and radio stations over the internet now.  But sometimes you are not close to the internet or a cell phone signal that could connect you.  And there is a difference: When you listen to terrestrial broadcast radio no one can monitor you and collect your data.

Is it just that almost everyone automatically carries a phone now so they don’t think about what else could be available?  It would be a cinch for our slim little phones with built in cell antenna and built in wifi antennae to also have HD radio capacity that way the 2009 Zunes (which also accessed the internet) did.  It would be a cinch also for them to load apps that would (like Tivos or DVRs for radio) and record programs time shifting them for later listening.  Maybe that’s solving a problem that podcasting also readily solves, but it would give the user more control and there might not be the same kind of monitoring and data collection.

Getting back to my disappearing memos— People warn that what is in the digital realm can’t be expected to be forgotten, that your college antics in Facebook posts could follow you around for life.  All right, fair enough, but the potential evanescence of the digital can also be frightening.  HBO recently aired a new film version of “Fahrenheit 451,” Ray Bradbury’s very famous novel about a future where the government has banned books and burns them.  I found the remake quite inferior to François Truffaut’s 1966 poetic film with its brooding Bernard Herrmann score.  Nevertheless the film briefly introduced a brilliant notion that it hardly explained and didn’t elaborate upon at all: That the book-loving enemies of the government were subject to being punished by having their identities digitally `erased.’

That seems potentially terrifying.  And maybe it was more and more terrifying because the film didn't make clear what was being erased.  As more and more of our identities and the record of who we are is entrusted to a few big companies that may or may not keep what we give them, it seems there is a huge proportion of who we are documented to be and how we might remember about our selves, friends and families, that might disappear when those companies vanish or if we fail to migrate to their next idea for the digital playgrounds they want us to be playing in.

I am convinced that many families have stopped keeping scrap books, expecting Facebook and/or other web and social media platforms to make it all available for them in perpetuity.  Want an example of the way things can disappear?: An entire major social media connection service set up by Google to compete with Facebook, Google’s Google+, is going to be shut down.  (I don't whether that means that all my Google+ posts will vanish.  Yoko Ono's?)  Fairly widely used, Google+ is pretty closely modeled on Facebook; it's more or less the same thing.  It presently hasn’t gotten to nearly the same scale as Facebook, which is probably why the shutting down of such a similar site doesn’t cause us to image that Facebook, which didn’t exist in 2003, might one day not exist again.
The timing of the shutting down of Google+ as well as the reasons given for it are suspicious, something I’ll have to get into in a later article.  Facebook isn’t down, but just recently in a huge censorship binge (right in time for the midterm elections) Facebook expanding upon previous censorship endeavors is taking down hundreds of pages (apparently coordinating its censorship with Twitter in doing so).  Many trying to do good work (although it may have been considered dangerous or irksome to government officials or the corptocracy) have lost year's worth of work they expected to keep along with connections to online communities they had been building, all of which will have to be subject another later National Notice article.

Mainly, I just wanted to ask in this article: Are you feeling constrained by your digital “liberation”?  Because I am.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Interesting to Think That it All Began With BOOKS? Except That Amazon and World’s Wealthiest Man (As We Know Jeff Bezos Today) Didn’t Exactly Begin That Way. . .

Jeff Bezos speaking at a recent Air Force Association event illustrating New York Times op-ed, and a Citizens Defending Libraries post wondering about how Amazon all began with “books,” but did it really?
I am a co-founder of Citizens Defending Libraries, formed in 2013 to oppose the sale and shrinkage of New York City public libraries for the benefit of real estate developers, to prevent the elimination of books and librarians, and the underfunding of the New York City libraries.  As such, I frequently contribute writing related to those subjects for posts put up on the Citizens Defending Libraries web pages.

When I write what I write for Citizens Defending Libraries I frequently have to decide whether what I am about to write should be posted as a National Notice article instead, because many of the national policy concerns I address writing in National Notice overlap with concerns we take up and raise at Citizens Defending Libraries; concerns like censorship, control and limitation of information as well as surveillance of the dissemination of ideas.  Similarly, Noticing New York, which I also write, addressing real estate and development in New York City and associated politics, may also have similarly shared or overlapping concerns.  That can include why libraries in New York that are so valued by the city’s public and cost so relatively little are being sold and turned into real estate deals, and whether the shift over the internet and digital books for information sometimes given as an excuse for such conduct is a legitimate one when the public still prefers physical books.

There was a particular post I wrote recently put up at Citizens Defending Libraries that I thought would make a very fine and important National Notice article.  It was a post that wondered at the phenomenal growth that has recently made Amazon the second U.S. company (following Apple) and made Jeff Bezos ($167 billion) the world's richest man. . .   It marveled at how the huge company that is now Amazon began with books, and how Amazon, early on, as one of its first exploits and eschewing profit, led a push for digital books while supplanting physical books.  The article went into issues of surveillance (which Amazon is in a primo position to do) and considered the links between Amazon, the internet and the military and surveillance industry, plus how the U.S. intelligence agencies have been involved in funding technology companies.  It considered what is apparently true: That, in many cases, such U.S. government agencies likely had a hand in picking the winner and losers among many of the theoretically “private” companies in the technology races.
That Citizens Defending Libraries post is: Interesting to think that it all began with BOOKS! Amazon, With Bezos Now The World’s Wealthiest Man At Its Helm, Tops $1 Trillion!

Because that post was so perfectly fitting for National Notice and dealt with such important subjects for National Notice readers to know about, I considered a quick republication of it here with perhaps only minor revision.  That was early September (the 10th).  Having waited, the present time actually turns out to be better for me to offer such a National Notice republication, including with it a supplemental introduction with new information.

Monday of this past week, the New York Times ran an op-ed by professor of history Margaret O’Mara, that provides some pertinent updates for my original “Interesting to think that it all began with BOOKS!” post.  Professor O’Mara similarly writes about how inextricably intertwined Silicon Valley is with “the military-industrial complex”: “The Pentagon has been part of the Silicon Valley story all along. . .  The military origins of modern tech gradually faded from view, but the business of war didn’t go away. ”  The title of Professor O’Mara’s op-ed in Monday’s October 29th print edition was “Tech's Military Tradition”; The Times title for its digital October 26th publication of it is currently: “Silicon Valley Can’t Escape the Business of War– Many in the tech industry don’t want to be part of the military-industrial complex. But defense work is already part of Silicon Valley’s DNA.”  (Buried in the Times url link for the article is “Amazon Bezos hg”-- Does "HQ" stand for headquarters?)

Professor Mara has a new book coming out soon: “The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America,” which is about “the origins of Silicon Valley,” and based on her op-ed it sounds like it may cover much of the same subject matter covered by Yasha Levine in his book “Surveillance Valley- The Secret Military History of the Internet” which I cited for my “Interesting to think that it all began with BOOKS!” post.

The points Professor O’Mara made that provide additional interesting background to supplement my account of the Amazon/Bezos “success” story are:
    •    A Jeff Bezos quote (from an October 15th Wired interview): “If big tech companies are going to turn their back on the U.S. Department of Defense, this country is going to be in trouble.”
    •    That Amazon will likely be the winner of a $10 billion Pentagon cloud computing contract.
    •    That a site in Northern Virginia, down the road from the Pentagon, has emerged as a front-runner for Amazon’s second headquarters.
    •    That Jeff Bezos' “beloved grandfather” (and mentor) was Lawrence Preston Gise, one of the first employees of the Pentagon’s advanced research agency, DARPA.
When I wrote my original post, and was looking for explanations, I was aware of information that Jeff Bezos was exceptionally close to his maternal grandfather and of his grandfather’s position with  the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in Albuquerque and Los Alamos (birthplace of the bomb) who supervised the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore laboratories.  I was not aware of his grandfather’s significant DARPA (the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) connection.  (Sometimes it’s remarkable what Wikipedia, as a theoretically reliable source, will leave out.) DARPA, formerly known as ARPA, was responsible for originating the internet, launching the ARPANET in the late 1960s, the original incarnation of, and what became, what we now know as the internet.  According to Yasha Levine’s book (p.8):
In 1972, almost as soon as the ARPANET was rolled out on a national level, the network was used to help the CIA, the NSA, and the US Army spy on tens of thousands of antiwar and civil rights activists.  It was a big scandal at the time, and the ARPANet’s role in it was discussed at length on American television, including NBC Evening News.
So in one sense, yes, it is amazing to think that Amazon and who Jeff Bezos is today all began with books, but that it not exactly how it all began.
Wikipedia: No DARPA information here.

Who Jeff Bezos is, in terms of the family he came from, sets up interesting explorations; interesting not just because of his maternal grandfather, but also because of the father who raised him.  His mother, Jackie Gise, divorced his birth father (now reportedly a bike shop owner) the year after Bezos was born (Jackie had been married and given birth at very young age) and he was adopted by Gise’s new husband, Mike Bezos.  Gise married her second husband Mike Bezos when she was 17 and he was 18.*
(* There seems to be some conflicting information about relevant dates.)
Although Mike Bezos worked as a petroleum engineer for Exxon, what’s more interesting about him is his status as a sort of quasi-orphan by virtue of how he arrived in this country alone in 1962 at the age of 15, something that would very likely contribute to a somewhat unusual mind set.  He arrived from Cuba as part of what has been reported to be a CIA-run program: “Operation Pedro Pan” or “Operation Peter Pan.”  A description of the secretly operated CIA program in Counterpunch says the goal of the program was to “separate elite children from parents (a Cuban brain drain) [ultimately 14,000 Cuban children] and generate political instability,” and according to one of the CIA recruits “to wage psychological war — to destabilize the government.”  Evidence reportedly shows that this was done via the CIA working deceptively with a priest and the regional Catholic hierarchy to forge documents and spread lies to convince wealthy Cuban families that Castro’s government was going to take their children away.

A 2011 NPR retrospective on the program that the Counterpunch article cites only to criticize says that “the Pedro Pan kids have done well” and that they are “firmly opposed to any normalization of relations with the Castro regime, the regime that was responsible for breaking up their families and forcing them from their homeland.”

However, on to a more important influence in Jeff Bezos' life: Lawrence Preston Gise, the maternal grandfather with whom Jeff Bezos spent his childhood and youthful summers, and to whom Bezos attributes huge significance as a mentor.  Lawrence Preston Gise was seriously connected. 

An October 28, 2018 article posted by Benjamin David Steele, Plutocratic Mirage of Self-Made Billionaires (Marmalade), does an excellent job of putting together who Lawrence Preston Gise was with how that factored into who Jeff Bezos became and how that made Amazon.  He offers this telling paragraph to describe Gise (quoting from the book “The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos,” by Christian Davenport):
“Some of the top brass in the Pentagon were charged with single-handedly picking top talent for ARPA, renamed DARPA in 1972 — the “D” for “Defense” (Christian Davenport, The Space Barons), “the research and development arm of the Department of Defense that is credited with designing a communications network that could still function even if a nuclear attack demolished conventional lines of communication, ARPAnet, was the foundation of what would eventually become the Internet” (Expose the Deep State, Jeff Bezos). “Wilfred McNeil, the Pentagon’s comptroller, helped recruit top talent to help run the agency. One of his top choices was Lawrence Preston Gise, a stolid and principled former navy lieutenant commander” (Davenport).
Gise worked on space technology and missile defense systems at DARPA and, at the Atomic Energy Commission's Albuquerque operations, supervised 26,000 employees in the AEC's western region, including the Sandia, Los Alamos, and Lawrence Livermore laboratories.

Like me, Mr. Steele also came across the recent Times op-ed by professor O’Mara and he quotes this part of it to impute familiarity on the part of Jeff Bezos with the kind of research with intended military applications that DARPA gets involved with:
The military origins of modern tech gradually faded from view, but the business of war didn’t go away. The Pentagon remained the only place with the resources and the patience to fund blue-sky research that the market wasn’t quite ready for yet. Mr. Bezos knows this history well. His beloved grandfather Lawrence Preston Gise was one of the first employees of the Pentagon’s advanced research agency, Darpa. In the 1980s and 1990s, money from Darpa helped spur breakthroughs in high-speed networking, voice recognition and internet search. Today, it is funding research in artificial intelligence and machine learning, subterranean exploration and deep-space satellites, high-performance molecules and better GPS.
Steele then argues convincingly to link Gise and his DARPA/military history with Bezos’ success with Amazon:
Gise was a creature of government, specifically of the military-industrial complex. He also oversaw government work done with private contractors. In various capacities, he was involved in numerous projects, some of them covert. For example, he was a key member in secret meetings about the development of the hydrogen bomb. This guy had immense knowledge and experience about both technology and the workings of government. He was far beyond the standard bureaucrat, as his technical skill was not only theoretical but applied, with his career having been focused on space technology and missile defense systems. When he helped raise his grandson, Jeff Bezos received the full attention in being tutored and moulded for a life of privilege and ambition.
Ergo, he says: Bezos “inherited the social connections, the access to private and public funding, and the open doors into government.”  The question is what else came with that inheritance, whether it was all, so to speak, just on the receiving end.

That said, starting here I reprise for National Notice readers my "Interesting to think that it all began with BOOKS!" essay.

And frankly, in light of the above, it is curiouser and curiouser that it all began with books.
Interesting to think that it all began with BOOKS! Amazon, With Bezos Now The World’s Wealthiest Man At Its Helm, Tops $1 Trillion! – Monday, September 10, 2018
Amazon growth charts, one of revenues and one of returns since Amazon went public.  Not the respective flat lines in each and consider what that means.
Interesting to think that it all began with BOOKS!

Amazon is now the second U.S. company (following Apple) to top $1 trillion in value.  That makes Jeff Bezos ($167 billion) world's richest man.

As Yasha Levine covered in his book “Surveillance Valley- The Secret Military History of the Internet” Amazon is an internet company engaged in surveillance as a key part of its profit model and it works with the federal government and the federal government’s military and CIA.  As part of the sales blurb (on Amazon) for Mr. Levine’s book states:
Levine examines the private surveillance business that powers tech-industry giants like Google, Facebook, and Amazon, revealing how these companies spy on their users for profit, all while doing double duty as military and intelligence contractors. Levine shows that the military and Silicon Valley are effectively inseparable: a military-digital complex that permeates everything connected to the internet, even coopting and weaponizing the antigovernment privacy movement that sprang up in the wake of Edward Snowden.*
(* If, at this point, you desperately need something lighthearted to help deal with this watch this three-minute video about it.)

For more on what Citizens Defending Libraries has already covered on this see: Reading on the Internet vs. Reading a Book You Picked Up Browsing In Your Library: Yasha Levine’s “Surveillance Valley- The Secret Military History of the Internet” and for even more that is relevant coming from Mr. Levine’s book; Self Proclaimed As Fighting Surveillance, Library Freedom Project Is Tied to Tor Service With Its Deep Ongoing Connections, Including Financing, To The U.S. Government.

Second biggest U.S. Company as of September 2018?  Amazon grew very fast to do that.

Amazon, which began in a converted garage of Bezos’ rented home, launched on the internet in July of 1995.  That’s just 23 years ago.

The story is that Bezos, not particularly a book lover for any reason, coming out of an unusually successful Wall Street hedge fund, D. E. Shaw & Co., was not so to speak “following his bliss” when he decided to start his internet sales company with books.  He was instead selecting books from amongst “a list of 20 products” he was considering theoretically as the result of what where essentially mathematical computations:
Bezos eventually decided that his venture would sell books over the Web, due to the large worldwide market for literature, the low price that could be offered for books, and the tremendous selection of titles that were available in print.
The Unites States, in 2013, according to a Bloomberg Industries analysis was contracting out “about 70 percent” of its “intelligence budget.”  That figure is probably, for the most part not calculated to take into consideration that most of the surveillance being done is by companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook, as talked about by Levine in his book.

What is clear, as written about by Mr. Levine in his book and by Tim Shorrock, author of “Spies for Hire- The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing,” is how intertwined the intelligence community is with private sector companies with an interdependence that has a lot of implications for who succeeds or fails in the private market place.  If we are talking about small start up companies trying to establish themselves, both these authors write about how the efforts of those companies may be aided and quietly, nay secretly, assisted by the government.  Both authors write about how “In-Q-Tel” was founded in 1999 (an interesting date in terms of ramping up electronic surveillance) as the CIA’s venture capitalist company operating in Silicon Valley “to invest in start-up that aligned with the agency’s intelligence needs.”  (Yasha Levine p. 174)  And “through its In-Q-Tel venture capital fund, the CIA invested in all sorts of companies that mined the Internet for open-source intelligence” that’s “information that it could grab from the public web: Videos, personal blogs, photos, and posts on platforms like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram amd Google+.” (Yasha Levine p. 188 -189)

In-Q-Tel “works with the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology” to find companies with products with intelligence application and then “buys equity positions in these firms— many of which are managed by former intelligence officials.”  (Shorrock p.16) Along with technology incubation funding from the CIA and other agencies “high-tech companies would be offered a huge natural market—the Intelligence Community and the federal government, plus assistance in testing and perfecting their products for use by the private sector.”  (Shorrock p.144) The interrelationships between the Intelligence Community and the tech community are very widespread, Stephanie O’Sullivan, the CIA’s director for science and technology said in 2006: “There is no technology out there that is not relevant to our mission.”  (Shorrock p.145)

Citing In-Q-Tel as just one example of “private-partnerships” with the technology industry that serve as a “convenient cover for the perpetuation of corporate interests” Tim Shorrock in his book (p. 365) describes In-Q-Tel’s “partnerships” as “masking the fact that the CIA’s investments amounted to a hefty government subsidy that allowed companies to do things like hire lobbyiests to expand their market share.”  And the companies with those expanded market shares are likely to get a pass for when the private surveillance they engage in may flout  laws—   Citing the defense cavalierly offered by the the Chamber of Commerce for AT&T’s secret spying on U.S. citizens, Shorrock writes that “the ultimate result of the privatization of intelligence activities” is that the Chamber’s an amicus defense brief ventures to describe as a “friendly `partnership’” a “secret alliance between business and government that may be one of the most egregious examples of a corporation skirting U.S. privacy and foreign intelligence laws” (p. 366)

In-Q-Tel, designed with a focus on incubating start-ups, is one end, the small company end, of the spectrum of the government as a presence injecting itself into the picking of winners and losers in the market place.  And In-Q-Tel is only one of those government market influences out there; for example, there is also a cousin company of British Intelligence heritage, defense and intelligence research company, QinetiQ Group a privatizing ownership share of which was transferred to the Carlyle Group.  Shorrock writes of George Tenet, former head of the CIA (under whom In-Q-Tel was launched) being on the QinetiQ  board.  The U-less Qs in the names of both these companies are intended to merrily invoke the Q of the James Bond films who equipped 007 with all his disguised tech gadgets.  QinetiQ’s model and influence on the market is different from In-Q-Tel's, buying up other tech companies for Intelligence Community purposes after becoming a privatized part of the Carlyle Group.  (One thing they like is robots.)

The other end of the spectrum of how the government is a presence injecting itself into the picking of winners and losers in the market place is the big company end.  And obviously, Amazon is now a really big company.  (For instance, circa 2014 Amazon was reportedly providing the CIA with cloud computing services pursuant to a $600 million contract.)

When the companies that the United States relies on to do its intelligence work are really huge, when those companies have most of the available experts with security clearances working for them (at higher salaries than individuals working for the government), when those companies have most of the collected data and most of the systems that are up and running that the government has grown dependent on them for, plus when those companies have huge government derived income streams that they can recycle into lobbying for the big shares of secret government budgets that they are allowed to know and can talk about, but that the public isn't allowed to find out about, there is a question of who is running the show.  This question about contracting out is one that Tim Shorrock delves into and contemplates at length in his book mulling it over from many different perspectives.  Finally, while government officials may or may not lose the upper hand, government officials can nevertheless direct huge influence about who amongst these big companies will be the winners or losers in the market.

The implications of huge private corporations having so much power in the Intelligence Community are more pronounced given that, when individuals work for such private corporations, unlike the individuals who work directly for government, loyalties run in the direction of making profit.  By corporate law definition, that means profit first, not patriotism.  Furthermore, loyalties can be bought or sold.  And private corporations pursuing private profit are becoming increasingly multi-national in character and thus untethered from the patriotisms of any particular nations, including ours, that may hire them.  Hiring out to other private firms or interests (not nations) as they are allowed to do, they may be acting with no national patriotism at all.

Bezos started with books, but in time expanded Amazon’s offerings beyond books, including, initially, to some of the other products he was supposed to have been considering early on, music, by selling CDs and videos.  . . .  Nowadays if you want to see a video, a movie, particularly anything you might consider vintage or historic, say you want to see something with a political message, like Seven Days In May (about a military coup against the U.S. President in the Kennedy era) it’s likely you may find that your best chance, your path of least resistance to easily view the film easily will be to pay for it to stream through Amazon.  This is a far cry from the days when pretty much everyone’s  Friday night film viewing came from their local, often independently owned, video store.  In 1988, the year after the home video market surpassed box office revenues, with the number of stores leveling off, (the Blockbuster chain was simultaneously buying another chain to expand) there were 25,000 video stores nationally (about 45,000 other outlets renting tapes); in 1997 there were 23,036.

Video stores are vanishing practically to the point of non-existence, including in New York City. . .  Amazon, with probably lower overhead and fewer employees involved, will charge you about as much, maybe more, than your local video store once charged.  Did you once have a relationship with your local video store operator who knew your tastes, what to recommend intimately?  Think of what Amazon knows about you, learning more each time you rent a film like Seven Days In May.”  Once Amazon just knew the books you read, but now as you might browse to look to possibly buy almost everything in your life through Amazon, Amazon now knows so much more.

In 1988, months after starting it's expansion into music, Amazon announced its expansion beyond books.  At the same time it bought a service that would keep track of your friends and their birthdays, so, for example, Amazon could suggest when it was time to order them presents.

In November 2007 Amazon introduced its, three year in development, Kindle (continually connecting you to the Internet) to sell ebooks, staring with 90,000 books (more than four times as many as Sony offered at the time and 90 percent of the current best sellers) and vowing that its “goal” was “to have every printed book on earth available for instant download.”  Of course, whatever their benefits, the ways in which e-books in contradistinction to physical books, are problematic are manifold, especially in terms of issues of surveillance.

By the beginning of 2010, hardly two years later, with the “nascent” ebook market still “only a few years old,” Amazon was clearly dominating it with an estimated “80 percent of e-book purchases” and by the end of 2010 a “full 50% share.”   The difference in those two percentages offered (books vs. market share) may reflect the low price that Amazon was charging for every book.

Offering best sellers for $9.99, Amazon left no room for any profit margin as it sought to claim virtually the entire market.  In 2013, author (and lawyer) Scott Turow said that Amazon was using “unfair tactics” trying to “monopolize” the e-book market.  He said:
If you price e-books well below the cost, which is what they did for years, it both destroys physical book stores and drives the reading public into the e-book, which of course Amazon dominates.
As the point is made in Scott Turow's quote above, Amazon's disruption of the market not only drove e-book competitors out of the e-book market, but also drove brick and mortar book stores and stores selling physical books into bankruptcy as well.  Furthermore, publishers haven't liked Amazon very well either because they too have found themselves impoverished by Amazon's model.  Their impoverishment can limit support given to authors.

Should we all just relax and surrender to the fact that Amazon dominates the market while pushing digital books?  Citizens Defending Libraries reported last year how New York City library officials were partnering to further promote digital books in a program that featured prizes from Amazon.  See: NYC Library Officials Partner To Promote Digital Books With Prizes From Amazon.

A New York Times Sunday Review Op-ed this week by sociologist and author Eric Klinenberg reminded us that this summer Forbes Magazine ran published an article arguing that Amazon should replace libraries with its own retail outlets, and claimed that most Americans would prefer a free-market option. But, the public response "was so overwhelmingly negative that Forbes deleted the article from its website." 

Amazon has grown fast because its model is to grow fast.  Although its valuation, its gross revenues and its market share keep growing dramatically, Amazon's net revenues have been nearly flat.  Everything goes into expansion.  There have been times in the past when that strategy was problematic and close to edge, a risk to have no profit going out to shareholders, but whatever threats that lack of net return seemed to pose to company or to Jeff Bezos as its leader financing always came to the rescue, and they both survived. . . . and continued to take over market after market.

Amazon should be a walking poster-child advertisement for antitrust litigation and legislation.  Instead, Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, the newspaper for the national capital where such issues should be discussed and where the careers and day to day lives of the all the legislators and government officials responsible for the enforcement such antitrust measures are reported on.

The Washington Post has always had a special role in influencing the nation.  We are pretty sure it was Peter Dale Scott, credited with coining the term the "deep state," who in one of his interviews said that the Washington Post along with the New York Times and the LA Times was a preferred outlet by the CIA when it wanted to get its stories out to the public (often without telltale fingerprints).  Whether that's exactly the case, the Washington Post has certainly played an important role historically for the CIA in this regard.

If it all started with BOOKS, why Amazon?  Why not Barnes and Noble?  Why isn't Barnes and Noble now the second biggest company in the United States?

An interesting comparative analysis points out that as of Spring 2017 Amazon increases would have returned 48,197% since their May 15, 1997 (before their 1988 announced expansion beyond books) debut as a public company.  Barnes & Noble would have only returned 26%. Borders went bankrupt! Some other comparatives: Walmart-  +96%; Best Buy: +38% ;  Macys:+19%: Target: +4%: Staples: -50%. 

And Amazon has become the second trillion dollar company in the U.S. even as sales of the digital books it is pushing are dropping for years in succession.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

On The Media Interview With Dean Starkman: The Difference Between "Access Reporting" and "Accountability Reporting" Explains How Very Important Things DON'T Get Reported- Plus Consider The Censorship Crisis

This article, which is about how very important things don’t get reported, will start with one jewel of an issue, the way mainstream media myopically curtails important information because of its reliance on “access journalism.” It will end by opening up another big, partly related, issue important in the overall context of what determines what information won’t flow out to the public: It’s the currently unfolding censorship crisis. . .   That's a crisis which can affect mainstream media, but is especially likely to affect alternative media and other forms of communication.

So to start where we will start. . .

It's a nifty, succinct, little interview . . .

WNYC's weekly On The Media program covered, in an ominously titled show called "Doomed to Repeat," the ten year anniversary of the financial crisis, together with the one year anniversary of Hurricane Maria hitting Puerto Rico. (Of course others, like FAIR's Counterspin were also doing their ten-year anniversary take on the financial crisis- Interesting to listen to both together for comparison.) Included in the On The Media show was  a segment presenting an interview with Dean Starkman: Why the Business Press Didn't Warn Us [i.e., about the financial crisis].

Starkman is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism, and he says that the very nature of business journalism explains a lot about why what is most important in society doesn't get reported. He attributes it to the difference between two kinds of journalism, what he terms “access reporting” and “accountability reporting.” Critically different between the two are the sources of the news and information being provided.

Here is a portion of the interview where Starkman elaborates (emphasis supplied):
DEAN STARKMAN: ... Access reporting is about trying to get access to powerful people to find out what they are thinking and intending, and there's a lot of value to that. Its sources, almost by definition, are elites. All of these qualities conspire to give you a [LAUGHS], a very particular and fairly narrow picture of the subject that you happen to be looking at. Accountability reporting is a different approach. Accountability reporting would have dissident sources, like plaintiffs, lawyers and whistle blowers and community groups and, in the case of financial crisis, attorneys general and state bank regulators and all the people who had their fingers on the problem. As opposed to appealing to investor interest, they would be looking for the public interest. And it's not a question of good guys and bad guys.

Over the course of my career, some of my most fun moments as a business reporter were merger and acquisition scoops. They were the ultimate access story and they're really hard to get and they're super satisfying. The trouble is that all too often the access tendency tends to overwhelm the accountability practice because, you know, let's face it, accountability reporting makes few friends. It's risky, it's stressful, it's expensive and, at the end of the day when the story's published, somebody's in trouble.
Although it undoubtedly overlaps, “access journalism,” is probably not exactly what is sometimes derisively referred to as “press release journalism.”  “Press release journalism” implies that the news reporter on the receiving end is essentially just publishing a press release he or she has received; they are just doing some cut and paste, something less than even just a typist.  On the flip side, “press release journalism” is also sometimes used as a complimentary description of the skills of the person on the other end who is sending out a press release and can write it with sufficient skill so that the press will publish it more or less intact, as an actual news story.  Also, if written cleverly, more people are likely to read it.

Since press releases generally go out with broad availability to a very wide spectrum of recipients, “access journalism” imports something more special, a less passive gathering of news: a journalist who by coddling his news providers with a sufficient degree of flattery, is given information from the important, famous, or powerful.  It’s the solicitation of information from politicians, government officials, business leaders, or celebrities, which those information providers don’t ordinarily chose to furnish as readily to others.  The information is bargained for with the payoff being that the provider of it gets good PR.  Arguably, there are skills involved: Good writing is valuable, and a knowledgeable journalist (knowing, among other things, what topics to bury or be careful about) may go further in this field, but essentially, “access journalism” is another extension of PR.  And, to follow through on Starkman’s dichotomy, it means not holding accountable the subjects of what is being reported.
What do you suppose we are getting more of these days?  Starkman told On The Media:
The rise of PR has been so dramatic and the fall in journalism equally so that it's not a fair fight. If you're looking for where is the actual next crisis, I've seen work that says you should look at the energy sector. I would look at assaults on the Consumer Financial Protection Board.
In his On The Media interview Starkman offers another valuable concept that portends a lot; that there is synergy and a dynamic interrelationship between “accountability journalism” and government officials if those officials stand ready, willing and able to do the job of holding the powerful in check to protect the public:   
     . .  I liken investigative reporting without effective regulation as having all the impact of the sound of one hand clapping. It's not just that journalists use material gathered by regulators but it flows the other way as well where regulators and prosecutors and bank examiners and legislators gather ideas or begin their probes based on newspaper accounts.* Effective journalism and uncompromised regulation go hand in hand and if you lose one then the other is weakened. But that's really just another way of saying that journalism and democracy are really inextricably interrelated. Without a democracy, journalism is going to falter and without journalism so is democracy.
(* For instance, New York State and City tax authorities may now pursue civil penalties for tax evasion based in the New York Times recent investigative mega-story about how Fed Trump transferred his wealth to Donald and his other children.)
Indeed, it surely makes life more interesting when government officials actually do act to protect the public in response to press reports about how the powerful need to be reined in.  Journalism is also better able to command attention from all sides when it is about dynamics that are in play, rather than just reading as sad postmortems about how the public was taken advantage of one more time.

Starkman has been putting forth his ideas about the distinction he makes between “access journalism” and “accountability journalism” going back for a few years now.  One of his consistent observations is that in “business news, access reporting focuses on investor interests; accountability, on the public interest.”  Notwithstanding the likelihood of that divergence, if government officials are ready and responsive to the public interest, it would seem to narrow that gap.

If you are an addict to the 24/7 news cycle there’s a quote from Starkman appearing in Washington Monthly that might give you pause to rethink and wonder whether you should pull back.  Less news could be better quality news given the fact that the 24/7 news outlets have, in turn, their own addiction, a “voracious and unending” appetite for news that is best filled by access journalism:
I argue that within the journalism “field” a primal conflict has been between access and accountability  . . . . But this is hardly a fair fight. Nearly all advantages in journalism rest with access. The stories are generally shorter and quicker to do. Further, the interests of access reporting and its subjects run in harmony. Powerful leaders are, after all, the sources for much of access reporting's product. The harmonious relationship can lead to a synergy between reporter and source. Aided by access reporting, the source provides additional scoops. As one effective story follows another, access reporting is able to serve a news organization's production needs, which tend to be voracious and unending  . . . . Accountability reporting requires time, spaces, expense, risk, and stress. It makes few friends.
That’s a good argument for turning away from 24/7 news outlets as your typical diet. Perhaps it makes sense to turn to longer form reporting (articles and documentaries) and books, looking, in particular, for the classics.  This is not to say that there isn’t, of course, a whole class of books and longer form articles, and documentaries that similarly spew out a faster rate and are simply their own versions of another form of access journalism.  As for the 24/7 cycle, Starkman has dubbed “access reporting” the “CNBC-ization” of business journalism.   In evaluating the “balance” of the copious flow of “access journalism” information in the 24/7 new outlets, it is probably also worth remembering how money also has a superior ability to repackage the same propaganda regurgitated it out of multiple and different well-financed mouths to provide it with a semblance of freshness (as well as the imprimatur of “common wisdom”).
“Access journalism” can, of course, be a legitimate source of valuable information.  That happens when it contains admissions against interest by the powerful providing access.  Sometimes, having their own needs to share information amongst themselves, they think (like Mitt Romney making his 47% campaign remarks) they are speaking to only to those who think the way they do.  That often makes the Wall Street Journal (set up behind a pay wall not everyone can afford to scale) so valuable.  Or one thing I like to watch for when researching is how official stories about things often change over time to keep up as what is thought to be the most currently serviceable narrative.  There seem to be assumptions the public has no memory.
Mr. Schwarzman interviewed on the Charlie Rose Show.
A case in point that provides several examples of such admissions against interests when a powerful man feels too comfortable, is one of Charlie Rose’s typically sycophantic interviews of a powerful man, his interview with billionaire Blackstone Group CEO Stephen A. Schwarzman where Schwarzman, among other things, bemoaned the fact that he can’t profit from more family homes going into mortgage default while describing probably too much about his library plans as well.  See- On Charlie Rose NYPL Trustee Stephen Schwarzman Confirms Suspicions: His $100 Million To The Library Was Linked To NYPL’s Real Estate Plans.  (It’s astounding that a man who thinks the poor need to pay more taxes so that the wealth can pay less is in one of the most powerful people in charge making decisions about New York City’s major libraries.)

In On The Media’s interview with Mr. Starkman, host Bob Garfield described the access journalism and accountability journalism as not only “two competing” journalistic approaches, but as two “sometimes converging journalistic approaches.”   When do they converge?  This was not spelled out.  Would it be when dueling elites at war with each other provide access at the same time?

But let’s ask the question the question again in this context: When the two approaches converge,  which approach is likely to gain the upper hand?  Which will carry the day?
Here is an example of what happened on one occasion when the two approaches “converged.”  The story has to do with my role as a co-founder of Citizens Defending Libraries.  In early 2013 we were working hard to get the word out about the sale and shrinkages of New York City libraries for real estate deals that benefitted developers, but were against the public interest.  My wife, Carolyn, (another of the co-founders of Citizens Defending Libraries) and I happened to be at the threatened Brooklyn Heights Library (then the central destination Business, Career and Education, Federal Depository Library in Downtown Brooklyn) when we encountered a New York Times reporter seeking us out for comment on the proposed sale and shrinkage of the library.  (We had already been written about in the New York Daily News.)

We were in this instance, to use Mr. Starkman’s description, in that category of “dissident sources” (that “accountability journalism” uses) who “had their fingers on the problem,” like the  “plaintiffs, lawyers and whistle blowers and community groups” he mentioned.  In fact, to be more precise, we were a “community group,” we were informed enough about the facts to be trying to `blow the whistle’ about what was going on; we also became the first named of the “plaintiffs” in two of the lawsuits against the Central Library Plan, while endeavoring to bring more lawsuits, and, for good measure, I might say that I am a lawyer.

Therefore, by Starkman’s criteria, Mr. Berger, the Times reporter who sought us out could have been off to the races with a good accountability journalism story.  We sat down with Mr. Berger in a luncheonette and told him some things he was very surprised to hear: The Brooklyn Heights Library was not the only New York City Library being targeted for a real estate sale; that not only were there others, but that it was part of an overall strategy; that the strategy of selling libraries should be viewed as connected to other similarly timed efforts also underway involving the sale of New York City schools (hospitals and post offices were up for sale at that time too).

At first Mr. Berger didn’t believe us, but we not only convinced him, his eyes widening during the discussion, we gave him sources of information for backup and essentially helped him scope out a very different article, a much more sweeping one, than when he initially just wanted to ask us about the proposed sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library and get a few quotes on only that.

My wife eagerly expected to see Berger’s article appear in the paper almost immediately.  I correctly predicted it would take him considerable time to digest what we have given him and that the story would go to a multiple by-line.  A journalist friend of ours whom we dined with that evening cynically predicted with reasonable accuracy what a disaster the story would be when it ultimately ran.

The Times ran the story almost a month later.  It ran as a big story on the front page.  The timing of the story’s publication gave some indication that there had been some coordination of the story's release with the opposing forces working to sell off libraries.  Although we had scoped the article and given Mr. Berger most of his leads that he followed up on in the article, we were not mentioned in the article at all.  Although we had been painstaking in explaining why these sales were not good for the public, how the assets were being plundered and sold for less than their value to the public, this concept was not expressed in the article.  Instead, the article was about why it was good to be selling libraries and schools for these real estate deals.  In other words, the Times reporters had gotten access to those in power selling the libraries and schools and the article was recapitulation of the PR formulated for public consumption.

More details are here: Saving Schools and Libraries by Giving Up the Land They Sit On? - Letter To The New York Times Editor (From Citizens Defending Libraries).

So, in this case, that was the result of one of the `convergence’ of the “two competing” journalistic approaches that Bob Garfield described as sometimes happening: Access journalism quashed accountability journalism.  Running into Mr. Berger later at another of our events opposing library sales, Mr. Berger was apologetic about the fact that his article didn’t mention us.  Even a mention of us that had been critical and disagreeing would have helped our petition and help people find out what Citizens Defending Libraries was working hard to let people know (in other words that familiar “there is no such thing as bad news coverage” concept. . . if they actually cover you).  Further, the Times chose that this very important article would be one of its articles that would not be open for public comment.  And Citizens Defending Libraries was unable to get the Times to publish its letter to the editor (carefully crafted to fall with the 150 Times word limit).

Mr. Berger said that he had included Citizens Defending Libraries in his article, but his editors had removed the references to us.  Mr. Berger was hoping we’d keep supplying him with information— Did we have any bargaining power?

Mr. Starkman’s distinction between access journalism and accountability journalism does not, so far as we have read, extend into another area, the final hurdle, after a story to report information has been written and is ready to be read, there is no assurance that the story will get another kid of access; the kind of access to get that article’s information, thoughts, arguments and point of view published and read by an audience in the public square of ideas.  The question of these additional hurdles slipstreams and goes hand in glove with Starkman’s critique of access journalism.

Noam Chomsky and Edward R. Herman long ago wrote about their postulation and analysis of a number of “filters” that block the flow of information that threatens those in power, including ownership of the media and the need to attract advertising (like the dependence of the Times on real estate industry advertising.)    In fact, Chomsky and Herman also identified long ago, as another of these filters, the media’s need for a symbiotic relationship with its sources of information, often the powerful.

The New York Times is a legacy media outlet, where the establishment of a significant capital infrastructure makes a filter like ownership exceedingly important.  There was once thought, however, that the disruptive influence of the internet would redistribute access to publication and make it more democratic.  Indeed, there have been huge shifts that could lead in exactly this direction: an estimated 70 percent of Americans are now getting their news from just two sources, Facebook and Google, a number that is likely rising.  Further, almost all information Americans are sharing now involves some sort of electronic, digital intermediation.  From Facebook, to Google to email, the internet is the new town square.

But now, when it comes to access to publication, we are confronted with a new crisis of censorship that is impeding access to that virtual town square.  It’s a scandal, but authors now have to be worried whether Facebook and other gatekeepers to the digital, virtual town square will punish them in very significant ways for expressing thoughts that ought to be well within the parameters of protected free speech.

For instance, (and perhaps readers themselves ought think twice before they share this story): Ian Millhiser, the justice editor for ThinkProgress, a not so far left internet outlet, wrote an article observing that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had said that he would apply the Glucksberg rule in determining whether or not the rights afforded under Roe v. Wade should be upheld, and Millhiser noted that, in 2017, Kavanaugh had previously said that Roe v. Wade was not consistent with the Glucksberg rule.  Consequently, Millhiser rather sensibly, and probably quite accurately concluded that Kavanaugh had therefore essentially said at his hearing that he would overturn Roe v. Wade.  Millhiser’s article conveyed a sense of amazement that this was going unreported.

Millhiser’s article and important analysis was identified as “fake news” by Facebook with the help of a conservative and not impartial rival publication (The Weekly Standard) and Facebook thereupon punished ThinkProgress by throttling by 80% the sharing of all their content.  But Facebook’s unfair censorship leveled other draconian media punishment:                               
The second thing is that a push notification is sent to everyone who shared it, informing them that it is, quote, “false news.”

And then the third thing that happens is everyone who shared it, even the people who shared it before The Weekly Standard weighs in, gets punished. All of their content gets downgraded and is less likely to show up in people’s newsfeeds from that point forward.
Jimmy Dore observed the irony of the fact that immediately before this censorship and punishment by Facebook, ThinkProgress was “cheerleading” much of the censorship that Facebook was doing.  Meanwhile, (also available in Dore’s commentary) ThinkProgress has since pointed out that some of this Facebook censorship involves Facebook hiring the very conservative Senator John Kyl of Arizona “to lead `an audit’ of alleged `liberal bias at the expense of conservative voices’” and that among Kyl’s other duties was that the Trump White House tapped Kyle to act as Kavanaugh’s “Sherpa” to get Kavanaugh successfully through the confirmation process.

Jimmy Dore coverage of the irony of ThinkProgress's censorship and Senator John (Kavanaugh Sherpa) Kyl's involvement in Facebook's censorship
Facebook is also working with the militaristic and corporatist Atlantic Council (it includes members such as Henry Kissinger, former CIA chief Michael Hayden, etc. ) on what content to squelch.

The power of such censorship by private companies on the internet can be seen from the organized, coordinated and sudden crackdown and “deplatforming” of Alex Jones.  Not only did Facebook, Apple, YouTube, Spotify, Pinterest, Stitcher Radio, Periscope, and LinkedIn act either in unison or more or less coordinated fashion to shut down Jones’ outlets and access to his followers, MailChimp took away his mailing list and PayPal shut down the transmission of funds to him.

There is fairly widespread and almost automatic feeling that much of Alex Jones content is objectionable. . .   so much so, that a more nuanced discussion about some of Jones content is not going to happen.  It is also quite possible that Alex Jones, who has been characterized as something of a performance artist in purveying his content, is not 100% on the level.  Arguably, even if he didn’t intend to make himself a target for censorship, his bent in serving up such an intriguingly peculiar stew of content could have been exactly as it turned out, to help make alternatives to mainstream media ridiculous and more likely to be generally dismissed out of hand.

It is nevertheless a problem that Jones is being censored in this way, and while Alex Jones may be the focal point that provides most of mainstream’s optics for this censorship launch (pleasing to many), it’s not just Alex Jones that’s being censored.  It is also ThinkProgress.  And it is others.  There is too much talk in powerful circles about mobilizing the United States to invade Venezuela. . . Simultaneously, web outlets that provide the other side of the story are being censored: Sites that say why we should not invade Venezuela, that describe the United States as acting like an empire and that say why United States treatment of Venezuela ought to be subject to some scathing criticism.

When I say the things I am saying here I have to think twice, because I have to wonder whether when I write certain things whether it will cause this National Notice site to slide down in its Google ranking if Google spikes the site with its algorithms.  Are the National Notice and Citizens Defending Libraries sites Googling lower already because of the ideas that have been expressed there?  I don’t know.  From my observations, quite possibly.

As Matt Taibbi, Abby Martin, and others are pointing out, based on the practice of what is already being shut down and the language offered with respect to the criteria being used, it is enough to be deemed that a site is “sowing division” for it to be censored.  Or sites may be censored for “glorifying violence,” (really, in this culture?  Where we are "guided by the beauty of our weapons"?) “sowing division,” “hateful conduct,” or “fomenting radical discontent” (the last of which may even mean encouraging third party candidates).  Clearly, the message is that people are supposed to travel a safe, middle, somehow consensus-defined road with respect to the views and information they communicate.  What is not clear is how narrow that road is now expected to be, may become in the future, or the arbitrariness with which its edges get defined. . .

. . .  Matt Taibbi points out how self-censoring journalists are likely to become as they fear punishment for transgressing unknown lines as application of the guidance of the previously clear legal lines (and remedies) of Times v Sullivan are superseded by something vaguer and stricter.

It may be that “Dark Money” can blanket the broadcast airwaves with commercials intended to influence political campaigns that emanate from anonymously funded fake public interest groups, but if Facebook deems pages organizing attendance at demonstrations to oppose Neo-Nazi groups to be “inauthentic” they will shut them down.  And to thoroughly confuse and muddy the debate, in rather suspicious ways, it seems that Facebook is at the same time discriminatorily shutting down black activist sites and communication while it remains inert as streams of false information postings contribute majorly to political turmoil and upheaval in certain countries overseas, including the inflammation of ethnic cleansing and genocide in Myanmar (Burma).

Here in the United States, you can even now be censored for not regulating your tone.  Journalist Glen Greenwald who has been alert to the unfolding censorship crisis pointed out that Georgetown Professor C. Christine Fair was just censored by Twitter for adopting a “kill all the lawyers” tone (to use Shakespeare’s terminology) when, in connection with Lindsey Graham’s tirade at the Kavanaugh hearing (itself an ostentatious example of questionable tone control), she railed against the “chorus of entitled white men justifying a serial rapist’s arrogated entitlement” suggesting what metaphorically ought to be those men’s just deserts.

When it comes to Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, we are dealing with huge monopolies that, dominate the market, and, as noted, have also essentially become, in so many, many respects our town square, digitally supplanting much of what existed and was relied on before.  It truly seems that these changes require that these companies be considered common carriers (like trains, buses or the phone company)*, and they should not be allowed to discriminate, as they do now, by corporate caprice with no regulation or due process protection.  They are, after all, the modern day version of the phone company. . . (when, in fact, is the last time you didn’t first go to Facebook before trying the “phone book” when you wanted to track down somebody you needed to contact?).
(* It should be noted that the Communications Decency Act, passed in 1996, has already provided that these companies are not responsible from a liability standpoint for content posted by those using their services, so these companies cannot claim that the content published either is somehow their own or subjects them to liability.)
Right now, we have the worst of all worlds.  If the internet, which was begun and developed by the federal government, were still in government hands, then the free speech protections of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights would protect against discrimination and the shutting down of free speech.  But the internet was quietly privatized with no fanfare or discussion of the implications at the time and these are private companies.  They are private companies irrespective of contexts in which their power probably exceeds that of the government.

Because these companies might be regulated, but would prefer not to be, and because they have all sorts of interactions with the government, including huge contracts, they want to please the government, it being important for them to please the most powerful most.  Thus, their actions become extensions of the wishes of those most powerful in government.  At the same time, the free speech protections of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights don’t get applied.  Further, these companies become such extensions of the powerful in government without the government ever having to take any formal action or observe any sort of due procedure to adopt a law or openly reflect the reaching a public consensus about what they are doing.

The powerful in government looking to shape Google's and Twitter's bias: Recent articles in the New York Times about Republicans pressuring Google to be more on their side. (1,2,3,4)
But, if there were regulations, the regulations we don’t have, those regulations would have to require the application of neutral standards . . . or they would violate the free speech protections required by the Constitution.

Right now, as I said above, we have the worst of all worlds. . . but that might be the way certain people would like it.

The subject of internet censorship crisis that is unfolding right now is too immense to fully consider before we wrap up this piece which began with the more simple discussion of “access journalism,” but here are links for some additional worthwhile discussion, review and consideration of the issue:
    •     Rolling Stone: Beware the Slippery Slope of Facebook Censorship- The social network is too big and broken to properly function, and these “fixes” will only create more problems, by By Matt Taibbi, August 2, 2018
    •    Rolling Stone:  Censorship Does Not End Well- How America learned to stop worrying and put Mark Zuckerberg in charge of everything, by By Matt Taibbi, August 13, 2018

    •    Project Censored: Abby Martin, Mike Prysner, and Kevin Gosztola, September 4, 2018
(Includes: “discussion regarding efforts to censor voices critical of the US empire from journalists to veterans and whistleblowers. They’re rejoined by Abby Martin of The Empire Files about online censorship and recent attacks of her work on TeleSUR”)   
    •    Project Censored: The Censorship of Youtube and Facebook with David Pakman and Andrew Austin, August 22, 2018

    •    Jimmy Dore Radio Shows: August 16, 2018 (at 32 minutes in) and September 13, 2018 (at 36:50 in)
Censorship and the suppression of free speech is something that, as a matter of principle, should worry us all, but, as a practical matter, the question of censorship is likely to seem less threatening to the mainstream media outlets that mainly make “access journalism” their daily bread and butter.  That’s because those outlets have that symbiotic relationship that aligns their interests with those in power.  That's something those outlets may well suppose will protect them and allow them to continue on their present course.  Moreover, mainstream media, including all those outlets responsible for the 24/7 news cycle, is almost entirely owned by six conglomerate companies.  Thus, as gargantuas in their own right, they have they own heft to help them stand up to the huge companies that are now the communication pipes of the internet.

Nor can we finish without recognizing how the interests of mainstream media can be antagonistic to those most likely to be subjected to censorship.  Because the internet presents the potential for disrupting mainstream media’s monopolistic business model, censorship of alternative media and the attractions of its alternative narratives works to buttress the sovereign status of mainstream media.  This push back against the Internet's potential for disruption (and democratization of information flow) is quite similar to why the media outlets of the six conglomerates, sometimes with interlaced ownerships, are more prone to favor (or just not report about the significance of) the abolition of net neutrality, the rule that, if in place and enforced, ensures free and open access to all publishers on the internet.

A last reminder, before leaving off: We have written here about how the mainstream media can be far from reliable and how and why, specifically, the public may be denied important information concerning what it ought to know about, like, for instance, as noted at the beginning of this piece, the likelihood that a major financial crisis was looming before 2008.  Perhaps then the biggest irony is that one of the most frequently advanced memes offered as justification for the newly unfolding wave of censorship, often by the mainstream media, is that it is the alternative media that is unreliable.