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How PG&E Ignored California Fire Risks in Favor of Profits

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The opening graphic of this report is stunning, and the report itself shows the Achilles’ heel of capitalism: that the structure of the capitalistic endeavor works to focus a company’s attention and efforts totally on increasing profits, and any measures that take away from profits must be curtailed—including, for example, spending any money at all to make the workplace safer (cf. coal mines). That’s why the government and its agencies must closely monitor and regulate private corporations—for example, by having Congress pass the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and then by having the Executive branch see that companies act in accordance with the Act. And that effort must be stead and vigorous because companies are driven to increase profits and are willing to do anything to achieve that goal, including (as we have repeatedly see, in example after example) things that are immoral, unethical, and illegal. It helps that such crimes rarely lead to any company personnel being imprisoned. The typical punishment is a fine, and surprisingly often the fine is small compared to the profits realized. And the pressure to increase profits is always there. Naturally, then, companies start to view fines as a cost of doing business, and if the net effect is that profits increased, so what?

The tragedy of the wildfires caused by PG&E’s deliberate decisions not to do maintenance is a good example. Maintenance is expensive, and if the company discontinues it, profits will increase.

Ivan Penn, Peter Eavis, and James Glanz report for the NY Times:

Tower 27/222 looms almost 100 feet tall in the Sierra Nevada foothills, a hunk of steel that has endured through 18 United States presidents. The transmission lines that it supports keep electricity flowing to much of California.

On the morning of Nov. 8, a live wire broke free of its grip. A power failure occurred on the line, affecting a single customer. But 15 minutes later, a fire was observed nearby. Within hours, flames engulfed the region, ultimately killing 85 and destroying the town of Paradise.

The equipment belonged to the state’s biggest utility, Pacific Gas and Electric. To the company’s critics, the tower and its vulnerability reflect a broken safety culture.

Five of the 10 most destructive fires in California since 2015 have been linked to PG&E’s electrical network. Regulators have found that in many fires, PG&E violated state law or could have done more to make its equipment safer.

Long before the failure suspected in the Paradise fire, a company email had noted that some of PG&E’s structures in the area, known for fierce winds, were at risk of collapse. It reported corrosion of one tower so severe that it endangered crews trying to repair the tower. The company’s own guidelines put Tower 27/222 a quarter-century beyond its useful life — but the tower remained.

In January, the company sought bankruptcy protection, saying it might face more than $30 billion in wildfire liabilities. Its financial straits could hamper its preparations for the next wildfire season, and those beyond, even as weather patterns increase the fire risk.

“There is a climate change component to this,” said Michael W. Wara, director of the climate and energy policy program at Stanford University and a member of a state commission examining the cost of wildfires. “But there’s also a failure of management and a failure of vision.”

Another major utility in the state, San Diego Gas & Electric, has added hundreds of weather stations, cameras and satellite technology in recent years to reduce fire risk. PG&E is now trying to catch up.

Beyond wildfires, PG&E has a broader history of safety problems. A 2010 explosion of a PG&E gas pipeline killed eight people and destroyed a suburban neighborhood, prompting state and federal officials to investigate PG&E’s safety practices. Regulators ultimately fined the utility $1.6 billion, and a federal jury convicted it of violating a pipeline safety law and obstructing an investigation. The company is still under court-supervised probation.

PG&E executives acknowledge that the company has made mistakes. “We have heard the calls for change and are committed to taking action by focusing our resources on reducing risk and improving safety throughout our system,” John Simon, PG&E’s interim chief executive, said in a recent statement.

But Gov. Gavin Newsom said the company’s record made it hard to take its promises seriously.

“They have simply been caught red-handed over and over again, lying, manipulating or misleading the public,” Mr. Newsom said in an interview. “They cannot be trusted.” . . .

Continue reading. There is much more.

Speaking of companies that absolutely cannot be trusted, I offer Facebook as a prime example. How many times more will Mark Zuckerberg apologize and promise to do better? Answer: As many times as needed. He’s not going to change, and Facebook is not going to change. Government intervention is required.

I do understand that government can also go bad, with regulatory agencies in effect taken over by the industries that they are supposed to regulate—just look at the Trump administration, or how the Obama administration refused to take any serious action to regulate Wall Street. (The Obama administration did create the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau—actually, Elizabeth Warren created it—but now that agency is defunct: Trump allowed the payroll lending industry to destroy it.)

Obviously, the government itself must be watched carefully, and that is the job of the free press and investigative journalism—like this report.

Later in the article:

. . . “Some people believe that you run equipment to failure,” Catherine Sandoval, a former California regulator who has been pushing for improved maintenance of electrical poles and towers. “They believe ‘run to failure’ to save money. This is the danger of run to failure.”

In December 2012, five other aging towers on the same stretch, the Caribou-Palermo line, collapsed in a storm. In July 2013, Brian Cherry, PG&E’s vice president for regulatory affairs at the time, notified state regulators that the company would replace the five fallen towers and one more, but not 27/222.

A 2014 company email that has come to light in the bankruptcy proceedings said that “the likelihood of failed structures happening is high.” But PG&E determined that if the structures failed, the cause would probably be heavy rain, precluding a wildfire risk. PG&E said this week that the structures in question were temporary wooden poles that had since been replaced.

In April 2016, PG&E made another request to regulators: to install fresh wires on the Caribou-Palermo line. But the company said it would not replace any of the line’s remaining nearly century-old towers.

That October, during painting work on a lattice tower on the line, a piece of hardware called a J hook broke when a contract worker grabbed it while repositioning himself. A PG&E report said workers had determined that corrosion — the reason for the painting — was enough of a problem that “crews working on these towers need to use caution.”

The company said that tower had a different design from Tower 27/222’s. But it would not comment on why it didn’t replace 27/222 given its age. It said it considered many factors when making decisions on maintenance and repairs. . .

It makes my blood boil. The executives who made these cost-cutting decisions should face very long prison terms. Here’s why:

. . . The deadly 2010 gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, a San Francisco suburb, was PG&E’s second in a two-year period. The ensuing investigations and litigation produced an alarming picture of the company’s practices and priorities.

In court depositions, employees said supervisors routinely ignored their concerns about the company’s use of faulty analysis and outdated equipment. The state’s Public Utilities Commission, which regulates PG&E, concluded that the company was more concerned with profit than with safety.

The commission’s safety and enforcement division found in 2012 that PG&E’s gas and transmission revenues exceeded what it was authorized to collect by $224 million in the decade leading up to the explosion. But capital spending fell $93 million short of its authorized budget between 1997 and 2000. PG&E also spent millions less on operations and maintenance than it was supposed to.

“There was very much a focus on the bottom line over everything: ‘What are the earnings we can report this quarter?’” said Mike Florio, a utilities commissioner from 2011 through 2016. “And things really got squeezed on the maintenance side.”

Five years after the explosion, a PG&E line started the Butte Fire, which scorched more than 70,000 acres, killing two people and destroying nearly a thousand homes and other buildings.

State investigators said workers should have known that when they had cleared a stand of trees for PG&E, they had exposed a gray pine weak enough to be blown into a power line. On Sept. 9, 2015, strong winds knocked that tree into the line, igniting the fire.

State officials also blamed PG&E equipment for starting 17 of 21 major fires in 2017 that ripped through Northern California, including wine-growing Napa and Sonoma Counties.

2017 report commissioned by state regulators determined that PG&E often made improvements only after a disaster. The report, which was produced by NorthStar Consulting, also found that the transmission and distribution side of the company had less robust safety policies than its gas and power generation divisions. . .

As soon as safety reduces profit, safety is sacrificed. Companies can do good—from later in the article:

. . . State officials say there is a good template elsewhere in California for what PG&E should be aiming for: the practices of San Diego Gas & Electric.

The San Diego utility keeps data on every utility pole and transmission tower in its service territory, which is smaller than PG&E’s but has a higher proportion of overhead lines in areas at high fire risk. It uses nearly 177 stations to monitor temperature, humidity and wind speeds in an area roughly the size of Connecticut and records video from 100 high-definition cameras. It uses satellites to track how green or dry the grass is and employs the state’s largest water-dropping helicopter to douse fires quickly. When data indicates a high wildfire threat, the utility cuts off power to some areas.

San Diego Gas & Electric upgraded its fire-prevention efforts after residents sued it for causing a devastating wildfire in 2007. In recent years, it has been responsible for far fewer fires than PG&E. “We want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to mitigate ignition,” said Scott Drury, the utility’s president. . .

They can, but the systemic pressures to increase profit means that more often they will do anything to grow profit.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2019 at 3:59 pm

Margaret Sullivan: “It’s time — high time — to take Fox News’s destructive role in America seriously”

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Margaret Sullivan has a strong and fully justified column in the Washington Post:

Chris Wallace is an exceptional interviewer, and Shepard Smith and Bret Baier are reality-based news anchors.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about the overall problem of Fox News, which started out with bad intentions in 1996 and has swiftly devolved into what often amounts to a propaganda network for a dishonest president and his allies.

The network, which attracts more viewers than its two major competitors, specializes in fearmongering and unrelenting alarmism. Remember “the caravan”?

At crucial times, it does not observe basic standards of journalistic practice: as with its eventually retracted, false reporting in 2017 on Seth Rich, which fueled conspiracy theories that Hillary Clinton had the former Democratic National Committee staffer killed because he was a source of campaign leaks.

Fox, you might recall, was a welcoming haven for “birtherism” — the racist lies about President Barack Obama’s birthplace. For years, it has constantly, unfairly and inaccurately bashed Hillary Clinton.

And its most high-profile personality, Sean Hannity, is not only a close confidant of President Trump but appeared with him onstage at a campaign rally last year.

Anyone who was paying the slightest bit of attention knew all of this long before Jane Mayer’s 11,000-word investigation in the New Yorker magazine was published a few days ago.

But because Mayer is so highly respected, and the piece so thorough, it made an impact. Within days, DNC Chairman Tom Perez announced that Fox wouldn’t be chosen as one of the hosts of the Democratic primary debates.

This was a mild, reasonable step that recognizes the reality that Fox News shouldn’t be treated as an honest broker of political news. It was not censorship as some bizarrely claimed, merely a decision not to enter into a business relationship.

Some of the reactions, though, missed the point spectacularly.

Here, for example, was NBC political reporter Jonathan Allen on Twitter, careful to say this was only opinion:

“There are plenty of quality journalists at Fox, some of whom have been excellent questioners at past presidential debates. And really, if you can’t answer questions — especially if they’re not the questions you want asked — maybe you don’t have good answers.”

Others took it a step further, saying that Democrats are running scared. And President Trump, predictably, vowed retribution in an overheated tweet.

Given First Amendment protections, Fox News can do pretty much what it wants on the air. It can shrug at Hannity’s excesses. It can allow Tucker Carlson’s misleading rants on immigrants and crime. It can constantly undermine special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Trump.

But for mainstream journalists to suggest that there be no consequences or even recognition is willfully blind — and smacks of an unseemly inside-the-Beltway solidarity.

What Fox News has become is destructive. To state the obvious: Democracy, if it’s going to function, needs to be based on a shared set of facts, and the news media’s role is to seek out and deliver those facts.

Most news organizations take that seriously, though they may flounder badly at times. When they do, they generally try to correct themselves — that’s why you see editor’s notes, lengthy corrections, on-air acknowledgments, suspensions and even firings of errant newspeople.

Not at Fox News.

The rule at Fox is to stonewall outside inquiries and to close ranks around its rainmakers.

And, of course, to double down on its mission, described aptlyby my colleague Greg Sargent: “Fox News is fundamentally in the business of spreading disinformation, as opposed to conservative reportage.” And that disinformation “is plainly about deceiving millions into believing that core functionings of our government — whether law enforcement or congressional oversight — no longer have any legitimacy.”

Sometimes, as with Hannity’s rally appearance or the Rich reporting, there will be a passing acknowledgment that standards haven’t been met.

But we never know what those standards might be. Unlike most news organizations, Fox News doesn’t seem to have a department in charge of ethics and standards, and it certainly doesn’t publish its guidelines as some do.

So, yes, Fox News can continue to function as something close to Trump TV. It can go on spreading disinformation.

But everyone ought to see it for what it is: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 March 2019 at 9:41 am

Canaries : air in coal mine :: independent local daily newspapers : strength of democracy

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It’s not looking good in that regard. And it’s not “an informed citizenry will take action!” It’s much more mundane than that. It’s that when you can actually make money by publishing a local daily newspaper with local political reporting and scandals and the like, that means that there is a demand for that information, and that is what preserves democracy: people who are intensely interested in knowing just what their government is up to. And prepared to vote in the light of that knowledge. Contra the Washington Post, it’s not darkness that kills democracy, it’s lack of interest.

If the public stops paying attention, things go bad fast, as we’ve seen.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 March 2019 at 7:37 pm

8 Must-Read Revelations From The New Yorker’s Exposé on Fox News and Trump

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Adam Raymond writes in New York:

The cozy relationship between Donald Trump and Fox News is not news to anyone who’s paid attention to politics for the past several years. But the depth of the love affair will be.

In a her New Yorker article, “The Making of the Fox News White House,” Jane Mayer lays out new evidence of just how close Fox News and the White House have grown over the past two years. As one expert put it, “It’s the closest we’ve come to having state TV.” Also, Mayer appears to have uncovered a little something that may one day come up in impeachment hearings.

Here are Mayer’s eight most eye-popping and ridiculous revelations:

Trump rates the loyalty of Fox News personalities, and Hannity isn’t at the top.

Trump has told confidants that he has ranked the loyalty of many reporters, on a scale of 1 to 10. Bret Baier, Fox News’ chief political anchor, is a 6; Hannity a solid 10. Steve Doocy, the co-host of “Fox & Friends,” is so adoring that Trump gives him a 12.

But Trump still loves Hannity.

Sean Hannity has told colleagues that he speaks to the president virtually every night, after his show ends, at 10 p.m. According to the Washington Post, White House advisers have taken to calling Hannity the Shadow Chief of Staff. A Republican political expert who has a paid contract with Fox News told me that Hannity has essentially become a “West Wing adviser,” attributing this development, in part, to the “utter breakdown of any normal decision-making in the White House.”

Trump seeks, and receives, advice from even the most D-list Fox News personalities.

Pete Hegseth and Lou Dobbs, hosts on Fox Business, have each been patched into Oval Office meetings, by speakerphone, to offer policy advice.

Rupert Murdoch make funs of Trump behind his back, but the president doesn’t care.

According to Michael Wolff’s 2018 book, “Fire and Fury,” Murdoch derided Trump as “a fucking idiot” after a conversation about immigration. The aide says Trump knows that Murdoch has denigrated him behind his back, but “it doesn’t seem to matter” that much. Several sources confirmed to me that Murdoch regales friends with Trump’s latest inanities.

Prior to the first GOP primary debate in 2015, Roger Ailes may have tipped off Trump about Megyn Kelly’s question regarding his history of disparaging women.

A pair of Fox insiders and a source close to Trump believe that Ailes informed the Trump campaign about Kelly’s question. Two of those sources say that they know of the tipoff from a purported eyewitness. In addition, a former Trump campaign aide says that a Fox contact gave him advance notice of a different debate question, which asked the candidates whether they would support the Republican nominee, regardless of who won.

A reporter had the Stormy Daniels story in the fall of 2016, but it never ran.

[Diana] Falzone’s story didn’t run — it kept being passed off from one editor to the next. After getting one noncommittal answer after another from her editors, Falzone at last heard from [Ken] LaCorte, who was then the head of Falzone told colleagues that LaCorte said to her, “Good reporting, kiddo. But Rupert wants Donald Trump to win. So just let it go.” LaCorte denies telling Falzone this, but one of Falzone’s colleagues confirms having heard her account at the time.

Trump allegedly ordered Gary Cohn to pressure the Justice Department into blocking AT&T from purchasing Time Warner.

Cohn, a former president of Goldman Sachs, evidently understood that it would be highly improper for a President to use the Justice Department to undermine two of the most powerful companies in the country as punishment for unfavorable news coverage, and as a reward for a competing news organization that boosted him. According to the source, as Cohn walked out of the meeting he told Kelly, “Don’t you fucking dare call the Justice Department. We are not going to do business that way.”

Former Fox host and current Donald Trump Jr. girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle farmed out her show prep to a viewer in Georgia, who threatened Mayer when she got in touch. . .

Continue reading.

But for the real deal, read the Mayer article in the New Yorker, which begins:

In January, during the longest government shutdown in America’s history, President Donald Trump rode in a motorcade through Hidalgo County, Texas, eventually stopping on a grassy bluff overlooking the Rio Grande. The White House wanted to dramatize what Trump was portraying as a national emergency: the need to build a wall along the Mexican border. The presence of armored vehicles, bales of confiscated marijuana, and federal agents in flak jackets underscored the message.

But the photo op dramatized something else about the Administration. After members of the press pool got out of vans and headed over to where the President was about to speak, they noticed that Sean Hannity, the Fox News host, was already on location. Unlike them, he hadn’t been confined by the Secret Service, and was mingling with Administration officials, at one point hugging Kirstjen Nielsen, the Secretary of Homeland Security. The pool report noted that Hannity was seen “huddling” with the White House communications director, Bill Shine. After the photo op, Hannity had an exclusive on-air interview with Trump. Politico later reported that it was Hannity’s seventh interview with the President, and Fox’s forty-second. Since then, Trump has given Fox two more. He has granted only ten to the three other main television networks combined, and none to CNN, which he denounces as “fake news.”

Hannity was treated in Texas like a member of the Administration because he virtually is one. The same can be said of Fox’s chairman, Rupert Murdoch. Fox has long been a bane of liberals, but in the past two years many people who watch the network closely, including some Fox alumni, say that it has evolved into something that hasn’t existed before in the United States. Nicole Hemmer, an assistant professor of Presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and the author of “Messengers of the Right,” a history of the conservative media’s impact on American politics, says of Fox, “It’s the closest we’ve come to having state TV.”

Hemmer argues that Fox—which, as the most watched cable news network, generates about $2.7 billion a year for its parent company, 21st Century Fox—acts as a force multiplier for Trump, solidifying his hold over the Republican Party and intensifying his support. “Fox is not just taking the temperature of the base—it’s raising the temperature,” she says. “It’s a radicalization model.” For both Trump and Fox, “fear is a business strategy—it keeps people watching.” As the President has been beset by scandals, congressional hearings, and even talk of impeachment, Fox has been both his shield and his sword. The White House and Fox interact so seamlessly that it can be hard to determine, during a particular news cycle, which one is following the other’s lead. All day long, Trump retweets claims made on the network; his press secretary, Sarah Sanders, has largely stopped holding press conferences, but she has made some thirty appearances on such shows as “Fox & Friends” and “Hannity.” Trump, Hemmer says, has “almost become a programmer.”

Fox’s defenders view such criticism as unfounded and politically biased. Ken LaCorte, who was in senior management at Fox News for nearly twenty years, until 2016, and recently started his own news service, told me, “The people at Fox said the same thing about the press and Obama.” Fox’s public-relations department offers numerous examples of its reporters and talk-show hosts challenging the Administration. Chris Wallace, a tough-minded and ecumenical interviewer, recently grilled Stephen Miller, a senior Trump adviser, on the need for a border wall, given that virtually all drugs seized at the border are discovered at checkpoints. Trump is not the first President to have a favorite media organization; James Madison and Andrew Jackson were each boosted by partisan newspapers. But many people who have watched and worked with Fox over the years, including some leading conservatives, regard Fox’s deepening Trump orthodoxy with alarm. Bill Kristol, who was a paid contributor to Fox News until 2012 and is a prominent Never Trumper, said of the network, “It’s changed a lot. Before, it was conservative, but it wasn’t crazy. Now it’s just propaganda.” Joe Peyronnin, a professor of journalism at N.Y.U., was an early president of Fox News, in the mid-nineties. “I’ve never seen anything like it before,” he says of Fox. “It’s as if the President had his own press organization. It’s not healthy.”

Nothing has formalized the partnership between Fox and Trump more than the appointment, in July, 2018, of Bill Shine, the former co-president of Fox News, as director of communications and deputy chief of staff at the White House. Kristol says of Shine, “When I first met him, he was producing Hannity’s show at Fox, and the two were incredibly close.” Both come from white working-class families on Long Island, and they are godfathers to each other’s children, who refer to them as “Uncle Bill” and “Uncle Sean.” Another former colleague says, “They spend their vacations together.” A third recalls, “I was rarely in Shine’s office when Sean didn’t call. And I was in Shine’s office a lot. They talked all the time—many times a day.”

Shine led Fox News’ programming division for a dozen years, overseeing the morning and evening opinion shows, which collectively get the biggest ratings and define the network’s conservative brand. Straight news was not within his purview. In July, 2016, Roger Ailes, the co-founder and C.E.O. of Fox, was fired in the face of numerous allegations of chronic sexual harassment, and Shine became co-president. But within a year he, too, had been forced out, amid a second wave of sexual-harassment allegations, some of them against Fox’s biggest star at the time, Bill O’Reilly. Shine wasn’t personally accused of sexual harassment, but several lawsuits named him as complicit in a workplace culture of coverups, payoffs, and victim intimidation.

Shine, who has denied any wrongdoing, has kept a low profile at the White House, and rejects interview requests, including one from this magazine. But Kristol contends that Shine’s White House appointment is a scandal. “It’s been wildly under-covered,” he said. “It’s astounding that Shine—the guy who covered up Ailes’s horrible behavior—is the deputy chief of staff!” . . .

There’s much more. Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 March 2019 at 4:34 pm

Report: Leak of Bezos Texts by Mistress’s Brother Was Politically Motivated

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Chas Danner reports in New York:

The source who provided the National Enquirer with personal text messages Amazon founder Jeff Bezos had exchanged with his mistress, news anchor Lauren Sanchez, was Sanchez’s brother, Michael, the Daily Beast reported on Sunday night. Sanchez — a Trump supporter who is friendly with Trumpworld “dirty trickster” Roger Stone and another Russia investigation target, former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page — has denied that he had anything to do with the scandal, but “multiple sources” within American Media Inc., the Enquirer’s embattled parent company, have told the Beast that he was indeed the one who provided the messages which formed the basis for the Enquirer’s January exposé.

The apparent confirmation came less than three days after Bezos, who also owns the Washington Postpublicly accused AMI of trying to blackmail him in a Medium post. On Thursday night, the Amazon founder shared emailsfrom AMI officials in which they threatened to publish several racy photographs Bezos and Ms. Sanchez had texted each other if he did not call off his investigation into why AMI had targeted him and how it had obtained his text messages.

It is not clear how Mr. Sanchez obtained the texts or why he would have been willing to violate his sister’s privacy in such a way, but the Beast reports that the act appears to have been politically motivated:

Documents reviewed by the Daily Beast show that Michael Sanchez believed the Enquirer pursued its story about Bezos with “President Trump’s knowledge and appreciation” — a chase encouraged, in Sanchez’s estimation, by Republican operatives “who THINK Jeff gets up every morning and has a [Washington Post] meeting to plot its next diabolical attack on President Trump.”

Bezos has been a frequent target for President Trump, who regularly blames the billionaire for the Post’s critical coverage of him and his administration. Trump has had a decades-long friendship and alliance with AMI CEO David Pecker, who has admitted to using the Enquirer to buy and bury damaging stories about Trump.

The president gleefully celebrated Bezos’s embarrassment after the Enquirerstory was published last month.

Working with former Trump fixer Michael Cohen during the 2016 presidential campaign, Pecker and AMI helped to “catch and kill” Playboymodel Karen McDougal’s allegation that she had had an affair with Trump, and helped set up Cohen’s pay-off of porn star Stephanie Clifford, who had made a similar allegation. Last year, Pecker, Howard, and AMI were granted immunity from federal prosecutors in exchange for admitting that they had worked in concert with the Trump campaign, and testifying about the deals, which violated campaign finance laws.

Security consultant Gavin de Becker, who led the Bezos–funded investigation into the source of the texts, told the Beast that his team had finished their investigation and forwarded their conclusions to law enforcement officials, but he did not reveal what those conclusions had been. The Beast had previously reported that de Becker had interviewed Mr. Sanchez, and that the Bezos team considered him to be the most likely culprit.

On Thursday, Bezos shared emails from AMI’s chief content officer, Dylan Howard, and a company attorney, in which they described the images of Bezos and Ms. Sanchez that they had — including “d*ck pics” — and indicated that the Enquirer would publish the intimate images if Bezos did not call off de Becker’s investigation as well as the one being conducted by the PostIt’s hardly a secret that AMI and the Enquirer employ such tactics, but it’s far from clear why anyone thought they would have leverage over the richest man in the world.

According to the emails, the company was specifically focused on silencing suggestions that exposing Bezos’s affair “was instigated, dictated or influenced in any manner by external forces, political or otherwise.” Bezos said that his investigators were examining the possibility that Saudi Arabia has been involved in the Enquirer exposé, and that this inquiry appeared to have hit a “particularly sensitive nerve” at AMI.

David Pecker has reportedly sought to do business in Saudi Arabia in recent years, and has leveraged his relationship with the president to raise his profile with Trump’s wealthy allies in the Middle East. AMI even published a glossy magazine celebrating Saudi Arabia and its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, ahead of the prince’s visit to the U.S. last year.

The Saudi regime, meanwhile, is not only a major ally of President Trump’s, but has also been defending itself against the Post’s aggressive reporting about the brash and brutal assassination of Saudi dissident and Postcolumnist Jamal Khashoggi, allegedly at the personal direction of the crown prince. The effort to push back against the Post reportedly included an online campaign targeting Bezos and Amazon by Saudi Arabia’s notorious troll army last November. The regime has denied having had any involvement in the Enquirer story, however, which is probably true if Michael Sanchez was the one who gave AMI the Bezos texts.

On Sunday morning, David Pecker’s attorney, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 February 2019 at 2:47 pm

Bob Costas, unplugged: From NBC and broadcast icon to dropped from the Super Bowl

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Well worth reading.- And I was just thinking that if you describe the situation in general terms, it reads exactly like some dystopian science-fiction novel: giant corporations controlling the populace to milk money from it, and having to get ever more gladiators and take the bouts to new levels of speed and violence. And hide the damage it does, until the hero (generally, it unfortunately seems, wearing spandex) exposes the villainous companies for what they are, and the contempt they have for their players and for the public, and how they will do absolutely anything to keep the money rolling in, who cares how many players die?

Mark Fainaru-Wada writes for ESPN.

IN DECEMBER 2015, the movie “Concussion” was set for a Christmas Day release in nearly 3,000 theaters across America. The film told the story of the NFL’s attempts to discredit research tying brain damage to football, and Bob Costas wanted to address it on national television.

Over the previous decade, Costas had become the face of football on NBC, hosting one of TV’s most-watched programs, “Sunday Night Football.” As part of every broadcast, Costas would take two minutes at halftime to speak directly to the program’s 18 million viewers about the NFL issues of the day. Mostly, his commentaries were celebrations of the sport — Brady vs. Manning, a tribute to Lambeau Field — but, occasionally, he addressed subjects like gun control or the controversial name of the Washington, D.C., football team.

With his 28 Emmys and eight National Sportscaster of the Year awards, Costas had become the most-respected broadcaster of his generation — a kind of Walter Cronkite for sports. He believed it was his responsibility to address uncomfortable truths, or “elephants in the room,” as he often called them.

The release of “Concussion” seemed a natural topic given the nationwide awakening about head trauma in contact sports, especially the NFL. Costas believed it was important to have viewers confront football’s existential crisis and consider their own moral dilemma as fans complicit to the sport’s carnage.

Yet he recognized such a speech posed a challenge for his bosses and NBC. The network was paying the NFL billions to air games on Sunday nights. Even more, Costas knew NBC executives were hoping to expand the network’s NFL package to Thursdays.

Costas sent the essay to his bosses for approval, something he typically did not do — and waited.

What would ensue that week — and in the years that followed — reveals for the first time how a broadcasting icon went from fronting America’s most popular sport to being excised from last year’s Super Bowl and, ultimately, ending his nearly 40-year career with NBC.

Outside the Lines spoke with the 66-year-old Costas dozens of times over the course of the past year. Those conversations provide not only the never-before-told backstory of how he became an NFL outsider, but also deep insight into his personality: the intelligence and self-assurance that have driven his career; the years-long struggle as he reconciled the celebration of a sport that enriched him financially and helped make him a broadcasting icon, but also weighed so heavily on his conscience; and the insecurity and intense worry — near agony — about the possibility of betraying his colleagues and friends by sharing his story. All of it points to the all-encompassing influence of the NFL — even over the most distinguished broadcaster of his era.

In the end, Costas wished he had never spoken to Outside the Lines about any of it: “The upside is not equal to the fear I have.”

BY DECEMBER 2015, nobody at NBC should have been surprised that Bob Costas would want to speak his mind about football. After joining the network at age 27 in 1979, he had become one of NBC’s signature go-to voices.

With NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol as his champion, Costas established himself as somebody who could do just about anything: play-by-play, commentary, hosting, interviewing.

He was everywhere — . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 February 2019 at 2:05 pm

Black Twitter and the Future of Digital Disobedience

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David Thigpen has an interesting article at the Institute for the Future blog:

In an interview not long ago, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone was asked if he had ever heard of “Black Twitter.” Stone admitted he had not, but wondered if it was connected to Black Lives Matter.

Stone is not alone. But even if you’ve never heard of Black Twitter, chances are you’ve heard of one or more of the issues it has pushed into mainstream attention.

From serious political issues like #Blacklivesmatter (fighting unjust police violence against blacks) to #Oscarssowhite (exposing Hollywood’s discriminatory hiring practices) to the funny and trivial #Epicbraidslevel (ridiculing Marie Claire magazine’s suggestion that TV celebrity Kendall Jenner popularized braided hair), Black Twitter has emerged as a voice for African-American concerns, challenging and sometimes upending dominant narratives in politics, media, and culture. Black Twitter’s success also signals something important about the ways cultural and activist driven movements will use ambient communications technologies in the next decade.

As even Biz Stone now knows, Black Twitter is not a separate entity from Twitter at all but rather an informal platform within the platform—a space hacked out by young African-American tweeters weighing in on everything from celebrity culture to politics. Crackling with wit and often outrage, it is a place for participants to engage, have fun, collaborate, bond over slang and in-jokes, and express empathy in ways that push back on racism, privilege, or insensitivity. For example, in the new popular meme #IDontworkhere, tweeters recount incidents in restaurants or hotels when they are mistaken by white people for waiters or salespersons. Black Twitter hashtags trend so regularly now that in the summer of 2016 the Los Angeles Times newspaper hired its first ever Black Twitter reporter.

The CNN of the Ghetto

To understand how activist and cultural movements will work in the future, it’s helpful to know how they developed and how they work now. Forty years ago in New York City, low-income black and Latino teenagers who felt they were without a voice in popular culture took an existing piece of equipment—the record turntable—and repurposed it, turning it into a new kind of instrument. This led to the birth of hip hop music. Hip hop started off as fun and engaging, but quickly became a vessel for much more, carrying messages of empathy, persuasion, politics, and all sorts of activism, including raising awareness about police brutality.

The artist Chuck D of the rap group Public Enemy described this connection best when he referred to hip hop music as “the CNN of the ghetto,” transmitting bulletins about the struggles of daily life on urban America’s mean streets. While hip hop once paralleled CNN, in a future connected by ambient communications, activists will use Black Twitter, and platforms like it, to send bulletins through a wider variety of channels—including phones, wristwatches, eyeglasses, virtual reality, and multisensory devices—to witness what’s happening on the ground. Through the use of this new palette of ambient communications technologies, Black Lives Matter and movements like it will be able to encourage greater collaboration and exercise more control and persuasion over their messages, engaging followers more deeply.

The Underground Railroad of Activism

Another important facet of how activists will work was touched on by a blogger writing under the digital pen name Feminista Jones, who asked, “Is Twitter the underground railroad of activism?” Jones saw a connection between the use of Black Twitter today as a kind of modern guidepost with the underground railroad of the 19th century. In the American South before the Civil War, underground railroad “stations” were safe houses providing shelter to runaway slaves risking their lives to escape to freedom. The “railroads” they followed were actually not railroads at all but footpaths between safe houses.

Whether woven into a woolen quilt or carried digitally, coded symbols and slang allow a community to hide in plain sight, using existing channels and platforms to share challenging or subversive messages, often right under the noses of the powers-that-be. Black Twitter users and activists on other platforms will use a constantly changing vocabulary as reference points to help their followers interpret events, reject false information, and guide them not just through physical space but also through virtual landscapes of ideas.

The increasingly rich flow of information we will see in the next decade will likely help activists and community builders expand their followings by capturing and sharing their most compelling experiences.

Streams of Trust and Empathy

Whether it’s taking to the streets for civil disobedience, singing along to a protest song at a concert, or simply sharing inspiring narratives, ambient communications will allow these experiences to carry greater immediacy and persuasive power than ever before. Even routines of daily life may take on new significance. Activist Shaun Tai, executive director of Oakland Digital—a digital training center in Oakland, California—shares his daily life through Snapchat. He captures photos, conversations, text, video and audio clips, and uploads it all to Google Drive each day. “These streams of regular information—when shared—can build up trust and empathy, even among people who never meet face to face,” says An Xiao Mina, a technologist and writer at the San Francisco-based Meedan organization. “We are already seeing immense benefits of communities of color being able to challenge a dominant narrative quickly.”

Unlike today, these new connections will no longer be built on a YouTube or Facebook style format where personal celebrities engage and motivate audiences. Although there will always be a place for charismatic individuals in activist movements, command of a richer and more ubiquitous range of media experiences will spread influence among wider numbers of activists.

Hacking and Repurposing Existing Digital Spaces

With media extending more deeply than ever into the real world, and Internet connectedness moving beyond the screen, activists will also have opportunities to occupy or digitally mark physical space for each other. As MIT researcher and Internet activist Ethan Zuckerman observed, games like “Pokémon Go” “are already showing some amounts of activism around the edges.” Zuckerman describes  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

10 February 2019 at 6:48 am

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