Amid Media Megamergers, a Mosaic of Community Media Thrives

Amid Media Megamergers, a Mosaic of Community Media Thrives
By Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan
Apr 28 2016

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.—The business press is all atwitter with merger news, as federal regulators are set to approve a massive deal between cable giants Charter, Time Warner and Bright House Networks. The $78 billion transaction will create the second-largest cable TV/Internet company, dubbed “New Charter,” next to Comcast, and leave just three major cable providers in the U.S. Meanwhile, the Gannett Company, which owns more than 100 newspapers, including USA Today, is attempting to acquire Tribune Publishing, which owns several major newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune. 

This looming consolidation in the corporate media is happening as we celebrate “Democracy Now!” news hour’s 20th anniversary. We are on a 100-city tour of the United States, going from city to city, hosting fundraisers for community media outlets and broadcasting the news as we travel. Our travels confirm that a thriving, vibrant community media sector exists, serving the public interest, free from the demands to turn a profit at any cost.

On Feb. 19, 1996, “Democracy Now!” began as the only daily election show in public broadcasting. President Bill Clinton was running for re-election against Kansas Sen. Bob Dole and third-party candidate Ross Perot. The plan was for the show to run through Election Day. Our hope was that the issues in the presidential race were important enough and the audience cared enough that they would tune in to daily coverage that brought them voices and ideas not normally heard in the corporate media.

That’s how we started: giving a voice to the grass roots. When the election wrapped up, we thought that “Democracy Now!” would wrap up as well. But there was more demand for the show after the elections than before. Why? There is a hunger for authentic voices—not the same handful of pundits circulating through all the media networks who know so little about so much, explaining the world to us and getting it so wrong. 

The show began on just nine community radio stations in 1996. Today, it’s carried on more than 1,400 outlets, a remarkable constellation of community media organizations: PBS, NPR and Pacifica public radio and television broadcasters, college and community stations, public-access television facilities, low-power FM radio stations, as well as online news organizations and, of course, the many newspapers that carry this column. 

These outlets each serve their community uniquely, providing relevant, locally created and curated content. As we travel, we see the connection that local media institutions help forge, both within a community but also across traditional barriers of race, class and age.

Take, for example, the new low-power FM (LPFM) radio station that is being built in Albuquerque, New Mexico. LPFM is a noncommercial radio service that recently got a boost from the Federal Communications Commission after activists spent years pushing the federal government to allow more stations. This new station in Albuquerque is licensed to a long-standing media nonprofit called Quote…Unquote, which provides training in digital-media creation, to empower people to tell their own stories.

To launch the station, they have partnered with the Robert F. Kennedy High School, a remarkable school in the South Valley, one of the poorest neighborhoods of Albuquerque, with a population of students who are largely undocumented immigrants. “We serve students that traditional schools have given up on,” Robert Baade, RFK’s director, told us. “The radio station will be one more tool for them, to allow them to speak for themselves.”


All of the problems Universal Basic Income can solve that have nothing to do with unemployment

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

All of the problems Universal Basic Income can solve that have nothing to do with unemployment
By Olivia Goldhill
Apr 24 2016

Universal Basic Income isn’t just mankind’s answer to the threat of robots in the workplace. Those who support the transformative economic policy offer widely varying versions of exactly how it would operate, but all involve distributing a standard sum of money to citizens regardless of need. Many argue that this set-up could save the millions who are on track to lose their jobs to machines. But that’s not all.

The idealistic-sounding scheme would also solve many other 21st century problems, according to its supporters, largely because those with basic income would be less dependent on paid work. This, in turn, would give employees higher negotiating power to change the structure of employment.

Dutch reporter Rutger Bregman, whose Netherlands bestseller “Utopia for Realists,” was published in English earlier this week, argues for a form of UBI high enough to eradicate poverty. He believes this would remove our existing need to toil away for the vast majority of our waking hours, hoping to earn enough bonuses or promotions to enjoy a decent standard of living. Instead, we could fulfill the economist John Maynard Keynes’ prediction of a 15-hour working week by the year 2030.

Others are less convinced that there would be such a sharp drop in working hours, but nevertheless believe that UBI would reduce the working week. Currently, most people can’t afford to leave a job without worrying about being destitute, points out Jason Murphy, assistant professor of philosophy at Elms College in Massachusetts, who serves on the US Basic Income Guarantee Network Committee. “Having UBI means more negotiating power all around,” he says in an interview.

As well as increasing leisure time, working less could be a massive step towards reducing the pace of climate change. Bregman points to studies suggesting that working less would half the amount of CO2 (pdf) emitted this century. After all, countries with shorter working weeks have smaller environmental footprints (pdf).

“It’s pretty obvious why,” says Bregman in an interview. “We’re using most of our wealth and increased productivity in the form of more consumption.” We work more to spend more—on travel, cars, trips to the mall, exotic food, and many other products that harm the environment.

Murphy adds that more employees will have the negotiating power to insist on a job closer to their home. “A lot of carbon generation comes from commuting to work,”he says.

There has also been a growing focus on how basic income could be implemented to address gender inequality. Murphy believes that introducing a dependable source of income via UBI “gets to the very heart of women’s economic vulnerability.” He points to a rape shelter in Vancouver that has voiced support for UBI, in part because it would give women the economic freedom to escape abusive relationships.


For one group of women, the gender wage gap keeps getting worse

For one group of women, the gender wage gap keeps getting worse
By Danielle Paquette
Apr 28 2016

Pay disparities between men and women start earlier in their careers than frequently assumed and have significantly widened for young workers in the past year, according to a report from the Economic Policy Institute.

Paychecks for young female college graduates are about 79 percent as large as those of their  male peers, the think tank found — a serious drop from 84 percent last year.

The sudden change follows a more gradual shift. In 2000, women ages 21 to 24 with college degrees earned 92 percent of their male counterparts’ wages on average, which was unchanged from 1990.

Regardless of their education, young women typically earn less money than young men in the United States. Female high-school graduates, ages 21 to 24, now earn an average of 92 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts.

Allow EPI to chart it out:

Some have argued that the wage gap, at any stage of a woman’s life, starts with her choices. Women are more likely than men to scale back at work when they start a family, for instance. (Employers are also more likely to reward fathers and penalize mothers.) But EPI’s data shows that the gender wage gap cracks open right after college graduation, well before decisions like maternity leave can affect women’s earnings.

The gender wage gap in the broader labor force has steadily declined since the 1980s.

While designating the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum as a national monument on Equal Pay Day in Washington, D.C., President Obama said he hopes there is a day when American children are “astonished” that there was a time “when women earned less than men for doing the same work.” (Reuters)

“It is noteworthy that stark wage disparities between men and women occur even at this early part of their careers,” the researchers wrote, “when they have fairly comparable labor market experience.”

[At this rate, American women won’t see equal pay until 2058] 

Young men with a college degree make an average hourly wage of $20.94 right after graduation, according to the EPI figures, compared with the average hourly wage of $16.58 for women. That’s a $9,000 annual difference.

Teresa Kroeger, who co-authored the paper, said rising wages for men at the top of the income distribution appear to be exacerbating the chasm. “We suspect this is following the overall trend of the economy,” she said.

Men tend to dominate the workforce in the highest-paid career fields, Kroeger said — technology and finance, for example. These fields have enjoyed more wage growth over the past year as pay in others has stagnated. That may explain part of the recently ballooning gap. 


The future of TV is arriving faster than anyone predicted

The future of TV is arriving faster than anyone predicted
By Larry Downes
Apr 25 2016

With more streaming TV options like the Apple TV arriving, it may be time to cancel your cable service. But which streaming services offer which channels, and how do you know if you’ll save money in the long run? (Jhaan Elker/The Washington Post)

Late last week, Comcast announced a new program that allows makers of smart TVs and other Internet-based video services to have full access to your cable programming without the need for a set-top box.  Instead, the content will flow directly to the third-party device as an app, including all the channels and program guide.

The Xfinity TV Partner Program will initially be offered on new smart TVs from Samsung, as well as Roku streaming boxes. But the program, built on open Internet-based standards including HTML5, is now open to other device manufacturers to adopt.

As video services move from hardware to software, the future of the traditional set-top box looks increasingly grim. With this announcement, Comcast customers may soon eliminate the need for an extra device, potentially saving hundreds of dollars in fees.

Many in the industry have long predicted eventual death for the box, driven in part by a rapid migration by pay TV providers (including fiber and satellite-based companies) to Internet standards for both video content and services, and by the enthusiastic response of consumers to a growing number of Internet-based alternatives. These include Roku, as well as Amazon, Apple, Google, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, SlingTV, Sony, HBO and many others.

Consumers, especially younger ones, are interested in defining their own video experience, mixing traditional and self-produced content and enjoying it not just on televisions but on every connected device, including tablets, smartphones and other mobile gadgets.

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, it was clear that list would soon grow to include other nontraditional viewing platforms such as cars, refrigerators and game consoles.

Comcast’s announcement suggests that future may already be here.

The rapid evolution of video stands in sharp relief to an increasingly embattled FCC proposal from earlier this year, which would force pay TV providers to develop a new, “open” set-top box within a year, and deploy replacement devices to millions of their subscribers within two years.

The FCC claims its new technical standards are required to encourage more competitors to produce the boxes, which in turn could reduce fees paid by consumers.  TiVo’s new Bolt DVR, for example, starts at $300 plus a $14.99 monthly fee.

But critics from across the political spectrum are wondering why the agency seems determined to unlock a box when standalone devices of any kind are becoming rapidly obsolete. The FCC’s latest proposal, as Comcast’s announcement underscores, puts the agency once again in the wrong place at the wrong time.  

In a report I filed with the agency, I noted that the new regulations would instead unintentionally extend life-support for standalone boxes for years to come, with no benefit to consumers or anyone else.  Instead, I argued, we should simply let them die of natural causes.


Robert Reich: Wealth inequality is even more devastating than income inequality

[Note:  This item comes from friend Mike Cheponis.  DLH]

Robert Reich: Wealth inequality is even more devastating than income inequality 
Two thirds of Americans now live paycheck to paycheck. This isn’t sustainable, warns the former secretary of labor
Apr 28 2016

Wealth inequality is even more of a problem than income inequality. That’s because you have to have enough savings from income to begin to accumulate wealth – buying a house or investing in stocks and bonds, or saving up to send a child to college.

But many Americans have almost no savings, so they have barely any wealth. Two-thirds live paycheck to paycheck.

Once you have wealth, it generates its own income as the value of that wealth increases over time, generating dividends and interest, and then even more when those assets are sold.

This is why wealth inequality is compounding faster than income inequality. The richest top 1% own 40% of the nation’s wealth. The bottom 80% own just 7%.

Wealth is also transferred from generation to generation, not only in direct transfers, but also in access to the best schools and universities. Young people who get college degrees are overwhelmingly from wealthier families.

Which is why kids from low-income families, without such wealth, start out at a huge disadvantage. This is especially true for children of color from low-income families. Such families typically rent rather than own a house, and don’t earn enough to have any savings.

Throughout much of America’s history, the federal government has given families tax breaks in order to help them save and build assets – such as paying no tax on income that’s put away for retirement, and being able to deduct interest on home mortgages.

But these tax breaks mainly help those with high income and lots of wealth in the first place, who can afford to put away lots for retirement or get a large mortgage on a huge home. They don’t much help those with low incomes and minimal savings.


This Is Your Brain on Podcasts

[Note:  This item comes from friend Judi Clark.  DLH]

This Is Your Brain on Podcasts
Apr 28 2016

Listening to music may make the daily commute tolerable, but streaming a story through the headphones can make it disappear. You were home; now you’re at your desk: What happened?

Storytelling happened, and now scientists have mapped the experience of listening to podcasts, specifically “The Moth Radio Hour,” using a scanner to track brain activity. In a paper published Wednesday by the journal Nature, a research team from the University of California, Berkeley, laid out a detailed map of the brain as it absorbed and responded to a story. Widely dispersed sensory, emotional and memory networks were humming, across both hemispheres of the brain; no story was “contained” in any one part of the brain, as some textbooks have suggested.

The team, led by Alexander Huth, a postdoctoral researcher in neuroscience, and Jack Gallant, a professor of psychology, had seven volunteers listen to episodes of “The Moth” — first-person stories of love, loss, betrayal, flight from an abusive husband, and more — while recording brain activity with an M.R.I. machine.

Using novel computational methods, the group broke down the stories into units of meaning: social elements, for example, like friends and parties, as well as locations and emotions . They found that these concepts fell into 12 categories that tended to cause activation in the same parts of people’s brains at the same points throughout the stories.

They then retested that model by seeing how it predicted M.R.I. activity while the volunteers listened to another Moth story. Would related words like mother and father, or times, dates and numbers trigger the same parts of people’s brains? The answer was yes.

“Consider the case of just the word ‘dog,’” Dr. Gallant said. “Hearing that is going to make you think about how a dog looks, how it smells, how the fur feels, the dog you had as a kid, a dog that bit you on your paper route. It’s going to activate the entire network for ‘dog.’”


Open Letter to Congress on Encryption Backdoors

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

Open Letter to Congress on Encryption Backdoors
By Jonathan Zdziarski
Apr 20 2016

Open Letter to Congress on Encryption Backdoors

To the Honorable Congress of the United States of America,

I am a proud American who has had the pleasure of working with the law enforcement community for the past eight years. As an independent researcher, I have assisted on numerous local, state, and federal cases and trained many of our federal and military agencies in digital forensics (including breaking numerous encryption implementations). Early on, there was a time when my skill set was exclusively unique, and I provided assistance at no charge to many agencies flying agents out to my small town for help, or meeting with detectives while on vacation. I have developed an enormous respect for the people keeping our country safe, and continue to help anyone who asks in any way that I can.

With that said, I have seen a dramatic shift in the core competency of law enforcement over the past several years. While there are many incredibly bright detectives and agents working to protect us, I have also seen an uncomfortable number who have regressed to a state of “push button forensics”, often referred to in law enforcement circles as “push and drool forensics”; that is, rather than using the skills they were trained with to investigate and solve cases, many have developed an unhealthy dependence on forensics tools, which have the ability to produce the “smoking gun” for them, literally with the touch of a button. As a result, I have seen many open-and-shut cases that have had only the most abbreviated of investigations, where much of the evidence was largely ignored for the sake of these “smoking guns” – including much of the evidence on the mobile device, which often times conflicted with the core evidence used.

On the surface, and as Hollywood would have you believe, a “smoking gun” sounds like a good thing, however the standard of evidence has suffered greatly because of the notion that a single piece of evidence is sufficient to close a case. Evidence in a digital world is often without context, and I have watched numerous cases press on with an alleged “smoking gun” that was out of context, unsubstantiated, and ultimately based on false assumptions about how data and metadata evolves on devices. As one example, consider incriminating images found on an iPhone, in the camera roll. There are, unbeknownst to many investigators, a number of ways these images could wind up on the camera roll without having been taken with the device’s camera (for example, it could be AirDropped to the device, without the recipient being completely aware of all the content being pushed to the device, along with other methods). Cases investigated by less-than-seasoned law enforcement personnel are often pushed through quickly, based on minimal evidence such as this, and without fully investigating all of the data on the device. Often, the evidence on a personal device presents only enough of an illusion that the examiner paints their own story without adequately completing their investigation. As a result, you end up with a very abbreviated forensic examination and a number of criminal charges that are borderline fabricated, based on neglect by the examiner. Certainly, not all investigators conduct their job like this, however the forensics tools that have been made available make it all too easy for an investigator’s skill set to slowly devolve to this point. I have seen an alarming increase in the number of investigations that have succumbed to this “easy way out” over the past few years.

Also consider that a number of these so-called forensics tools are quite frankly poorly written, and not written by forensics experts, but by software engineers with no background in criminal justice. Many tools often create ambiguous information that is misinterpreted by investigators, or sometimes even misrepresent data because the developers made numerous assumptions about the evidence that a trained forensics expert would not make. This taints the entire investigation. As one example, I refer you to US v. Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, which I assisted with: This case was about to press forward to convict a man based on evidence that I later found to be misrepresented by three different forensics tools, and once I brought my findings to the attention of the prosecutor, the much more serious charges were found to be based on inaccurate evidence (note: I was working for the prosecutor’s office at the time). Nevertheless, the FBI and the military were both ready to put a man behind bars for decades based solely on the information these “push button forensics” tools provided.