Category Archives: Media

Comcast, the Koch Brothers, and corporate consolidation

by Nathaniel Smith, Politics: A View from West Chester, 2/16/14

Comcast, the largest US cable company, is in the news these days for planning to merge with the second largest US cable company.

As David Hiltbrand writes in “Many questions raised about cable merger,” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 14, 2014:

So, is the proposed $45.2 million megamerger of Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable a good deal?

Depends on whose cable is being spliced….

Comcast sure is good at splicing. It already absorbed NBCUniversal (itself a merger baby) in 2011. Enough is enough, already too much, according to “Former FCC commissioner calls Comcast-TWC merger a terrible idea” by Chris Welch, The Verge, 2/14/14.

Even if further consolidation, moving in the direction of monopoly, is not in consumers’ interest, one thing you can bet is that the merger would be good for the Koch Brothers and their political allies.

You could say that just on general principles, since the 1% of megacorporations are increasingly intertwined, both economically and politically.

But what made me think about it concretely was “The Koch Brothers Left a Confidential Document at Their Donor Conference: A list of one-on-one meetings between VIP donors and the Kochs and their operatives offers a revealing look into their mighty political machine” by Andy Kroll and Daniel Schulman, Mother Jones, 2/5/14. The list of big “confidential” donors who earned insider meetings with the Kochs and other Americans for Prosperity insiders includes:

Tina and Craig Snider: They are the children of Ed Snider, a founding contributor of the Ayn Rand Institute and chairman of Comcast Spectacor, a sports and entertainment company that owns the Philadelphia Flyers.

It always intrigues me that plutocratic American right-wingers feel such an affection for an anarchistic Russian reason-worshiping Jewish atheist, but there it is, one more subject for future inquiry.

According to Wikipedia, “Comcast Spectacor“:

The company was formed in 1974 by Flyers founder and chairman Ed Snider as Spectacor, the parent company of both the Flyers and the Spectrum. Snider had been instrumental in getting the Spectrum built in 1967, and assumed control of the arena in 1971. He sold a 63% stake in Spectacor to Comcast in 1996, remaining the renamed Comcast Spectacor’s chairman.

Owner(s): Ed Snider (37%) Comcast (63%)
Parent: Comcast
Subsidiaries: Philadelphia Flyers, Global Spectrum, Ovations Food Services, Paciolan, New Era Tickets, Front Row Marketing Services, Wells Fargo Center, Flyers Skate Zone, Paciolan

Comcast Spectacors’ web site is a real lesson in the concentration of economic power in this country:

Comcast Corporation (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) (www.comcast.com) is one of the nation’s leading providers of entertainment, information and communications products and services. Comcast is principally involved in the operation of cable systems through Comcast Cable and in the development, production and distribution of entertainment, news, sports and other content for global audiences through NBCUniversal. Comcast Cable is one of the nation’s largest video, high-speed Internet and phone providers to residential and business customers. Comcast is the majority owner and manager of NBCUniversal, which owns and operates entertainment and news cable networks, the NBC and Telemundo broadcast networks, local television station groups, television production operations, a major motion picture company and theme parks.

On and on the concentration goes, moving our “free economy” toward a handful of companies in every endeavor, all run by and enriching the same sorts of people, for whom even “the 1%” is too broad a label.

The Koch Party’s (the term is the New York Times’s) chief front group, Americans for Prosperity, supports Comcast’s campaign on its web site:

Network or “Net” Neutrality regulations ban Internet Service Providers
(ISPs), such as Comcast and Verizon, from managing their networks by
prioritizing certain web traffic. The main issue lies in whether or not ISPs
should be permitted to exercise data management – when an ISP interferes
with a certain kind of Internet traffic, also known as “traffic shaping.”

That’s a big issue to the right wing: they want the internet service providers to be able to charge customers differential fees for different types of service, and Comcast is in the center of it…

continue reading at Politics: A View from West Chester

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The Wolf of Sesame Street: Revealing the secret corruption inside PBS’s news division

[Update: WNET / PBS has already extricated itself from this specific situation; see “PBS to return John Arnold’s $3.5 million, following Pando exposé” by David Sirota, PandoDaily, 2/14/14. The power of investigative journalism… but this should not be the end of public discussion over attacks on public employees’ pensions. For more background, see Felix Salmon, “How should John Arnold approach pension reform?,” Reuters, 2/16/14.]

By David Sirota, PandoDaily, February 12, 2014

On December 18th, the Public Broadcasting Service’s flagship station WNET issued a press release announcing the launch of a new two-year news series entitled “The Pension Peril.” The series, promoting cuts to public employee pensions, is airing on hundreds of PBS outlets all over the nation. It has been presented as objective news on major PBS programs including the PBS News Hour.

However, neither the WNET press release nor the broadcasted segments explicitly disclosed who is financing the series. Pando has exclusively confirmed that “The Pension Peril” is secretly funded by former Enron trader John Arnold, a billionaire political powerbroker who is actively trying to shape the very pension policy that the series claims to be dispassionately covering.

The Wolf of Sesame Street

In recent years, Arnold has been using massive contributions to politicians, Super PACs, ballot initiative efforts, think tanks and local front groups to finance a nationwide political campaign aimed at slashing public employees’ retirement benefits. His foundation which backs his efforts employs top Republican political operatives, including the former chief of staff to GOP House Majority Leader Dick Armey (TX). According to its own promotional materials, the Arnold Foundation is pushing lawmakers in states across the country “to stop promising a (retirement) benefit” to public employees.

Despite Arnold’s pension-slashing activism and his foundation’s ties to partisan politics, Leila Walsh, a spokesperson for the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF), told Pando that PBS officials were not hesitant to work with them, even though PBS’s own very clear rules prohibit such blatant conflicts. (note: the term “PBS officials” refers interchangeably to both PBS officials and officials from PBS flagship affiliate WNET who were acting on behalf of the entire PBS system).

To the contrary, the Arnold Foundation spokesperson tells Pando that it was PBS officials who first initiated contact with Arnold in the Spring of 2013. She says those officials actively solicited Arnold to finance the broadcaster’s proposal for a new pension-focused series. According to the spokesperson, they solicited Arnold’s support based specifically on their knowledge of his push to slash pension benefits for public employees….

continue reading and follow links at PandoDaily

n.b. The Laura and John Arnold Foundation disagrees. Read their text carefully in the light of David Sirota’s rebuttal in “Why won’t PBS release details of its $3.5m deal with a billionaire? Here’s a possible answer” at PandoDaily, 2/14/14,” and “In new letter, PBS promises to continue taking anti-pension billionaire’s money and echoing his message,” 2/14/14]

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What does the Tea Party actually do?

tea-party-what-i-do

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by | January 25, 2014 · 9:07 am

Freedom of the press in the Age of NSA

excerpt from Peter Maass, “How Laura Poitras Helped Snowden Spill His Secrets,” The New York Times, August 13, 2013:

…in 2007 — months after she was first detained — investigators from the Department of Justice’s Joint Terrorism Task Force interviewed them, inquiring about Poitras’s activities in Baghdad that day. Poitras was never contacted by those or any other investigators, however. “Iraq forces and the U.S. military raided a mosque during Friday prayers and killed several people,” Poitras said. “Violence broke out the next day. I am a documentary filmmaker and was filming in the neighborhood. Any suggestion I knew about an attack is false. The U.S. government should investigate who ordered the raid, not journalists covering the war.”

In June 2006, her tickets on domestic flights were marked “SSSS” — Secondary Security Screening Selection — which means the bearer faces extra scrutiny beyond the usual measures. She was detained for the first time at Newark International Airport before boarding a flight to Israel, where she was showing her film. On her return flight, she was held for two hours before being allowed to re-enter the country. The next month, she traveled to Bosnia to show the film at a festival there. When she flew out of Sarajevo and landed in Vienna, she was paged on the airport loudspeaker and told to go to a security desk; from there she was led to a van and driven to another part of the airport, then taken into a room where luggage was examined.

“They took my bags and checked them,” Poitras said. “They asked me what I was doing, and I said I was showing a movie in Sarajevo about the Iraq war. And then I sort of befriended the security guy. I asked what was going on. He said: ‘You’re flagged. You have a threat score that is off the Richter scale. You are at 400 out of 400.’ I said, ‘Is this a scoring system that works throughout all of Europe, or is this an American scoring system?’ He said. ‘No, this is your government that has this and has told us to stop you.’ ”

After 9/11, the U.S. government began compiling a terrorist watch list that was at one point estimated to contain nearly a million names. There are at least two subsidiary lists that relate to air travel. The no-fly list contains the names of tens of thousands of people who are not allowed to fly into or out of the country. The selectee list, which is larger than the no-fly list, subjects people to extra airport inspections and questioning. These lists have been criticized by civil rights groups for being too broad and arbitrary and for violating the rights of Americans who are on them.

In Vienna, Poitras was eventually cleared to board her connecting flight to New York, but when she landed at J.F.K., she was met at the gate by two armed law-enforcement agents and taken to a room for questioning. It is a routine that has happened so many times since then — on more than 40 occasions — that she has lost precise count. Initially, she said, the authorities were interested in the paper she carried, copying her receipts and, once, her notebook. After she stopped carrying her notes, they focused on her electronics instead, telling her that if she didn’t answer their questions, they would confiscate her gear and get their answers that way. On one occasion, Poitras says, they did seize her computers and cellphones and kept them for weeks. She was also told that her refusal to answer questions was itself a suspicious act. Because the interrogations took place at international boarding crossings, where the government contends that ordinary constitutional rights do not apply, she was not permitted to have a lawyer present.

“It’s a total violation,” Poitras said. “That’s how it feels. They are interested in information that pertains to the work I am doing that’s clearly private and privileged. It’s an intimidating situation when people with guns meet you when you get off an airplane.”

Though she has written to members of Congress and has submitted Freedom of Information Act requests, Poitras has never received any explanation for why she was put on a watch list. “It’s infuriating that I have to speculate why,” she said. “When did that universe begin, that people are put on a list and are never told and are stopped for six years? I have no idea why they did it. It’s the complete suspension of due process.” She added: “I’ve been told nothing, I’ve been asked nothing, and I’ve done nothing. It’s like Kafka. Nobody ever tells you what the accusation is.”

After being detained repeatedly, Poitras began taking steps to protect her data, asking a traveling companion to carry her laptop, leaving her notebooks overseas with friends or in safe deposit boxes. She would wipe her computers and cellphones clean so that there would be nothing for the authorities to see. Or she encrypted her data, so that law enforcement could not read any files they might get hold of. These security preparations could take a day or more before her travels.

It wasn’t just border searches that she had to worry about. Poitras said she felt that if the government was suspicious enough to interrogate her at airports, it was also most likely surveilling her e-mail, phone calls and Web browsing. “I assume that there are National Security Letters on my e-mails,” she told me, referring to one of the secretive surveillance tools used by the Department of Justice. A National Security Letter requires its recipients — in most cases, Internet service providers and phone companies — to provide customer data without notifying the customers or any other parties. Poitras suspected (but could not confirm, because her phone company and I.S.P. would be prohibited from telling her) that the F.B.I. had issued National Security Letters for her electronic communications.

Once she began working on her surveillance film in 2011, she raised her digital security to an even higher level. She cut down her use of a cellphone, which betrays not only who you are calling and when, but your location at any given point in time. She was careful about e-mailing sensitive documents or having sensitive conversations on the phone. She began using software that masked the Web sites she visited. After she was contacted by Snowden in 2013, she tightened her security yet another notch. In addition to encrypting any sensitive e-mails, she began using different computers for editing film, for communicating and for reading sensitive documents (the one for sensitive documents is air-gapped, meaning it has never been connected to the Internet).

These precautions might seem paranoid — Poitras describes them as “pretty extreme” — but the people she has interviewed for her film were targets of the sort of surveillance and seizure that she fears. William Binney, a former top N.S.A. official who publicly accused the agency of illegal surveillance, was at home one morning in 2007 when F.B.I. agents burst in and aimed their weapons at his wife, his son and himself. Binney was, at the moment the agent entered his bathroom and pointed a gun at his head, naked in the shower. His computers, disks and personal records were confiscated and have not yet been returned. Binney has not been charged with any crime.

Jacob Appelbaum, a privacy activist who was a volunteer with WikiLeaks, has also been filmed by Poitras. The government issued a secret order to Twitter for access to Appelbaum’s account data, which became public when Twitter fought the order. Though the company was forced to hand over the data, it was allowed to tell Appelbaum. Google and a small I.S.P. that Appelbaum used were also served with secret orders and fought to alert him. Like Binney, Appelbaum has not been charged with any crime.

Poitras endured the airport searches for years with little public complaint, lest her protests generate more suspicion and hostility from the government, but last year she reached a breaking point. While being interrogated at Newark after a flight from Britain, she was told she could not take notes. On the advice of lawyers, Poitras always recorded the names of border agents and the questions they asked and the material they copied or seized. But at Newark, an agent threatened to handcuff her if she continued writing. She was told that she was being barred from writing anything down because she might use her pen as a weapon.

“Then I asked for crayons,” Poitras recalled, “and he said no to crayons.”

She was taken into another room and interrogated by three agents — one was behind her, another asked the questions, the third was a supervisor. “It went on for maybe an hour and a half,” she said. “I was taking notes of their questions, or trying to, and they yelled at me. I said, ‘Show me the law where it says I can’t take notes.’ We were in a sense debating what they were trying to forbid me from doing. They said, ‘We are the ones asking the questions.’ It was a pretty aggressive, antagonistic encounter.” …

read the full article at The New York Times

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