Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

News & Supplemental  

Googling in the Bathtub with Grover Norquist

Grover Norquist

Dave Emory’s entire life­time of work is avail­able on a flash drive that can be obtained here. (The flash drive includes the anti-fascist books avail­able on this site.)

COMMENT: In the ongoing series about L’Affaire Snowden, we have discussed the fact that the collection of metadata is routine by Internet and cellphone companies, as well as retail outlets that offer discount cards. (The harvesting of metadata is the focal point of what the NSA does and what lies at the center of the “controversy.”)

A recent post by PR Watch notes that Grover Norquist has been among the recipients of Google money.

Having opined that he wanted to “drown” government in the “bathtub,” Norquist is a lynchpin of the “Shutdown GOP” and the founder of the Islamic Free Market Institute. A synthesis of the GOP and the Muslim Brotherhood, the Institute is inextricably linked with the Operation Green Quest investigation into terrorist financing.

Against the background of Google’s financing of Norquist’s crusades and other right-wing causes, one can but wonder what Google may be doing with the vast amounts of metadata they harvest.

“The Googlization of the Far Right: Why is Google Funding Grover Norquist, Heritage Action and ALEC?” by Nick Surgey; prwatch.org; 11/27/2013.

EXCERPT: Google, the tech giant supposedly guided by its “don’t be evil” motto, has been funding a growing list of groups advancing the agenda of the Koch brothers.

Organizations that received “substantial” funding from Google for the first time over the past year include Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, the Federalist Society, the American Conservative Union (best known for its CPAC conference), and the political arm of the Heritage Foundation that led the charge to shut down the government over the Affordable Care Act: Heritage Action . . . .
. . . . More than any other group working to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Heritage Action pushed for a sustained government shutdown in the fall of 2013, taking the country to the brink of a potentially catastrophic debt default.

Laying the ground for that strategy, Heritage Action held a nine-city “Defund Obamacare Town Hall Tour” in August 2013, providing a platform for Texas Senator Ted Cruz to address crowds of cheering tea party supporters.

For Cruz, increasingly spoken of as a 2016 Presidential candidate, the government shutdown helped raise his profile and build his supporter — and donor — base.

Notably, Heritage Action received $500,000 from the Koch-funded and Koch-operative staffed Freedom Partners in 2012. It is not yet known how much Heritage Action received in 2013 from sources other than Google.

Perhaps surprisingly, Google has a history of supporting Cruz. Via its Political Action Committee – Google Inc. Net PAC – the PAC provided the “Ted Cruz for Senate” campaign with a $10,000 contribution in 2012. Additionally, despite being five years out from the freshman Senator’s next election, Google’s PAC has already made a $2,500 contribution to the Cruz reelection campaign for 2018, the largest amount that the PAC has given so far to any Senate candidate running that election year according to disclosures made by Google.

Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), the anti-government group run by Republican operative Grover Norquist, was another new recipient of funding from Google in 2013. ATR is best known for its “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” and for its fundamentalist attacks on any Republican who might dare to vote for any increase in taxes. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, ATR received 85% of its funding in 2012 ($26.4 million) from the ultra-partisan Karl Rove-run Crossroads GPS, another dark money group.

ATR President Grover Norquist infamously said that he wants to shrink government “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” Google’s position on the relative size of government versus bathtubs is not known, but according to a Bloomberg analysis of Google’s U.S. corporate filings, it avoids approximately $2 billion dollars globally in tax payments each year through the use of creative tax shelters. . . .

Discussion

12 comments for “Googling in the Bathtub with Grover Norquist”

  1. Here’s a look at one of the initiatives Google is promoting with their support of the American Legislative Exchange Committee (Alec): Over the next year Alec is planning a campaign for reducing the incentives for homeowners to install solar panels. This is going to include lobbying for a reduction in the amounts paid to homeowners for the electricity fed back into the grid, and it might even include charging solar panel owners for the electricity they pay into the grid. This, claims Alec, will get rid of the ‘freerider’ problem of people giving electricity to the grid without paying for the cost of maintaining that grid. “As it stands now, those direct generation customers are essentially freeriders on the system. They are not paying for the infrastructure they are using. In effect, all the other non direct generation customers are being penalised”. Yes, that’s actually want the Alec representative said about the people installing solar panels and selling that electricity back to the grid. And that’s just one of the many anti-clean energy initiative Alec has in mind.

    If Google’s products relied on electricity, as opposed to the free-market magical fairy dust that currently powers the internet, Google’s executives might actually have a reason to feel like horrible people for supporting a group like this:

    ALEC calls for penalties on ‘freerider’ homeowners in assault on clean energy
    • Documents reveal conservative group’s anti-green agenda
    • Strategy to charge people who install their own solar panels
    • Environmentalists accuse Alec of protecting utility firms’ profits
    • ALEC facing funding crisis after exodus of big donors

    Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington and Ed Pilkington in New York
    theguardian.com, Wednesday 4 December 2013 12.49 EST

    An alliance of corporations and conservative activists is mobilising to penalise homeowners who install their own solar panels – casting them as “freeriders” – in a sweeping new offensive against renewable energy, the Guardian has learned.

    Over the coming year, the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec) will promote legislation with goals ranging from penalising individual homeowners and weakening state clean energy regulations, to blocking the Environmental Protection Agency, which is Barack Obama’s main channel for climate action.

    Details of Alec’s strategy to block clean energy development at every stage – from the individual rooftop to the White House – are revealed as the group gathers for its policy summit in Washington this week.

    About 800 state legislators and business leaders are due to attend the three-day event, which begins on Wednesday with appearances by the Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson and the Republican budget guru and fellow Wisconsinite Paul Ryan.

    Other Alec speakers will be a leading figure behind the recent government shutdown, US senator Ted Cruz of Texas, and the governors of Indiana and Wyoming, Mike Pence and Matt Mead.

    For 2014, Alec plans to promote a suite of model bills and resolutions aimed at blocking Barack Obama from cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and state governments from promoting the expansion of wind and solar power through regulations known as Renewable Portfolio Standards.

    Documents obtained by the Guardian show the core elements of its strategy began to take shape at the previous board meeting in Chicago in August, with meetings of its energy, environment and agriculture subcommittees.

    Further details of Alec’s strategy were provided by John Eick, the legislative analyst for Alec’s energy, environment and agriculture program.

    Eick told the Guardian the group would be looking closely in the coming year at how individual homeowners with solar panels are compensated for feeding surplus electricity back into the grid.

    “This is an issue we are going to be exploring,” Eick said. He said Alec wanted to lower the rate electricity companies pay homeowners for direct power generation – and maybe even charge homeowners for feeding power into the grid.

    “As it stands now, those direct generation customers are essentially freeriders on the system. They are not paying for the infrastructure they are using. In effect, all the other non direct generation customers are being penalised,” he said.

    Eick dismissed the suggestion that individuals who buy and install home-based solar panels had made such investments. “How are they going to get that electricity from their solar panel to somebody else’s house?” he said. “They should be paying to distribute the surplus electricity.”

    In November, Arizona became the first state to charge customers for installing solar panels. The fee, which works out to about $5 a month for the average homeowner, was far lower than that sought by the main electricity company, which was seeking to add up to $100 a month to customers’ bills.

    Gabe Elsner, director of the Energy and Policy Institute, said the attack on small-scale solar was part of the larger Alec project to block clean energy. “They are trying to eliminate pro-solar policies in the states to protect utility industry profits,” he said.

    The group sponsored at least 77 energy bills in 34 states last year. The measures were aimed at opposing renewable energy standards, pushing through the Keystone XL pipeline project, and barring oversight on fracking, according to an analysis by the Centre for Media and Democracy.

    Until now, the biggest target in Alec’s sights were state Renewable Portfolio Standards, which require electricity companies to source a share of their power from wind, solar, biomass, or other clean energy. Such measures are seen as critical to reducing America’s use of coal and oil, and to the fight against climate change. RPS are now in force in 30 states.

    In 2012, Alec drafted a model bill pushing for the outright repeal of RPS.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 8, 2013, 5:54 pm
  2. Maybe Dave Eggers book “The Circle” isn’t so far off after all! Now even Scientology is starting to not look so bad next to these corporate cults.

    Posted by Harry Clark | December 9, 2013, 5:47 pm
  3. Larry Page recently gave an interview where he discussed his faith that business is the best way to build his version of a better future. It’s a faith in the power of business to implement the changes he wants to see. It’s also a faith that has driven him to ponder leaving his billions to Elon Musk instead of a philanthropic organization because Musk is determined to start a Mars colony and Page thinks that giving humanity a “backup plan” is a top priority. The idea of billionaires gifting their fortunes to each other out of a fear that the wealth will be wasted on non-corporate philanthropic deeds might seem like a violation of Google’s “don’t be evil” credo, but keep in mind that Larry’s vision for a better tomorrow seems to revolve around jettisoning all our billionaires to Mars. Is that a bad thing?

    Business Insider
    Larry Page: I’d Rather Leave My Billions to Elon Musk Than to Charity
    By Jay Yarow
    Mar. 20, 2014, 8:22 AM

    Google CEO Larry Page has an unusual idea about what should happen to his billions should he die.

    Instead of giving it to a philanthropic organization, he’d rather hand over his cash to Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla, SpaceX, and Solar City.

    In a conversation with Charlie Rose at a TED conference on Wednesday, Page said he wanted his money going to capitalists like Musk — those with big ideas for changing the world — according to a report at Wired.

    He thinks Musk’s vision for going to Mars “to back up humanity” is inspired. He said, “That’s a company, and that’s philanthropical.”

    According to some people on Twitter, Page even went as far as to suggest that everyone give their money to a corporation that was trying to accomplish big stuff.

    We’re not sure if he’s being literal or figurative here. There are surprisingly few write-ups of these comments on the Web.

    It seems as if he’s making a larger point, which is that the right company run by the right person can have a major effect.

    Update: Here, via TED, is the transcript of Page talking to Rose:

    You are one of those people who believe that corporations are agents of change, if they’re run well.

    I’m really dismayed. Most people think corporations are basically evil. They get a bad rap. And that’s somewhat correct, if companies are doing the same incremental things they did 20 years ago. But that’s not really what we need. Especially in tech, we need revolutionary change, not incremental change.

    You once said you might consider giving your money to Elon Musk because you had confidence he will change the future.

    He wants to go to Mars. That’s a worthy goal. We have a lot of employees at Google who’ve become pretty wealthy. You’re working because you want to change the world and make it better; if the company you work for is worthy of your time, why not your money as well? We just don’t think about that. I’d like for us to help out more than we are.

    Well, at least it’s pretty obvious that Larry sees the many very serious threats to our civilization and the real need for a “back up” plan. Hopefully, someday, making serious investments in the kinds of businesses that will prevent the need for that doomsday “back up” plan will also be part of the plan.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 20, 2014, 12:47 pm
  4. Well isn’t this interesting: The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is known for pushing “model legislation” with remarkable success, happens to be a tax-exempt organization. It turns out that ALEC doesn’t do any lobbying at all. Yep, that’s actually what ALEC argues and it works:

    PR Watch
    Paul Weyrich’s Troika Reunited: ALEC Partners with Republican Study Committee at Heritage Foundation
    Posted by Brendan Fischer on September 12, 2012

    Three right-wing organizations founded nearly forty years ago by conservative activist Paul Weyrich are rediscovering their shared origins. The Republican Study Committee, a caucus of 169 right-wing Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, is establishing a partnership with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the controversial “corporate bill mill” for state legislators, and their first meeting is scheduled at the Heritage Foundation headquarters. Each of those three organizations — the RSC, ALEC, and the Heritage Foundation — were founded in 1973 by Weyrich. (Weyrich passed away in 2008.)

    “With the Internal Revenue Service reviewing ALEC’s long history of tax fraud, and with major corporations like General Electric, General Motors and Coca-Cola heading for the exits, it’s mind-boggling to see the Republican Study Committee (RSC) and its 169 members looking to establish even informal ties to ALEC,” Common Cause President Bob Edgar said in a statement.

    Next week’s meeting, which Roll Call reports will include at least six federal and 18 state lawmakers, is perhaps less surprising given the shared history between ALEC and the RSC.
    ALEC, RSC, Heritage Share Origins

    ALEC has come under increasing scrutiny in recent months as the public has become aware of its role in advancing the “Stand Your Ground” law initially cited to protect Trayvon Martin’s killer, as well as voter suppression bills, anti-environmental and union-busting policies, and other controversial legislation. Amidst these controversies, at least thirty-eight corporate members have cut ties to ALEC and seventy state legislators have dropped their ALEC membership.

    Though few Americans were aware of ALEC until recently, it was founded nearly forty years ago.

    Some have traced the organization’s roots to the 1971 “Powell Memo,” a letter from soon-to-be U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell to the director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce mapping out a game plan for corporations to counter what he called a “frontal assault” on the free enterprise system from individuals like Ralph Nader and the environmental movement. “Business must learn the lesson … that political power is necessary,” Powell wrote, and “that such power must be assidously [sic] cultivated; and that when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination.”

    Many have credited the memo as inspiring the founding of right-wing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation in 1973, but few have noted that Weyrich co-founded ALEC and the RSC that same year — just two years after the Powell Memo was issued. Weyrich would go on to found the Free Congress Foundation the following year and in 1977 he co-founded the Moral Majority with Jerry Falwell.

    “Next to Ronald Reagan, no single person has achieved more to advance the cause of American conservatism than Paul Weyrich,” conservative activist Morton Blackwell wrote in 2008.

    When Weyrich died in 2008, then-RSC Chair Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) issued a statement saying, “The Heritage Foundation, which he co-founded, is an intellectual home for all conservatives. And without Paul, the Republican Study Committee, which he worked to create, would not exist today. His ideas and principles will be carried on by not just the Republican Study Committee and the Heritage foundation, but by conservatives across the country that rely on the institutions which Paul worked to establish.”

    Weyrich famously observed that with regard to the conservative movement “our leverage in the elections goes up as the voting populace goes down.” Today, ALEC and the GOP are pursuing his vision with a voter suppression agenda that includes strict voter identification bills introduced in 37 states across the nation since 2011, purportedly to crack down on phantom “voter fraud.”

    Meetings May Raise Legal Issues

    Regardless of what comes from the reunification of RSC, ALEC, and the Heritage Foundation, the meetings may raise other concerns.

    As a charity organized under section 501(c)(3) of the tax code, lobbying is not supposed to be a “substantial part” of ALEC’s overall activities. Common Cause and former IRS official Marcus Owens have filed IRS complaints alleging that ALEC is violating its charitable status by engaging in substantial lobbying through the promotion and development of model legislation. (A third complaint was filed by the Voters Legislative Transparency Project in August). Rather than arguing that lobbying is an insubstantial part of its activities, ALEC has told the IRS for years that it engages in “zero” lobbying. But meeting directly with members of Congress cannot be construed as anything but lobbying, said Joe Birkenstock, a lawyer at the DC firm Caplin & Drysdale who advises clients on Congressional ethics. “To the extent that ALEC officials themselves are at this event, they are having lobbying contacts,” he told Roll Call. “It seems to me that it’s probably a slam-dunk.”

    That tax-exempt non-lobbying sure is effective.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 2, 2014, 10:22 am
  5. Google as a new army. Of balloons. Once the technology is perfected the balloon army can then circle the globe provided free WiFi to rural areas. It’s not as scary a balloon army as it could be, but since the balloons are intended to offer free WiFi, and since this is Google we’re talking about, it’s still a little scary:

    Pando Daily
    Google works with “former military operations people” to develop its WiFi drone army…

    By Yasha Levine
    On June 18, 2014

    A few days ago, Wired’s Steven Levy wrote wrote about the latest developments from Google’s Project Loon — an audacious and frightening attempt to launch a balloon-drone army high up in the atmosphere.

    The plan is to create nothing less than a global WiFi network, powered by hundreds of balloons circling the globe at an altitude of 60,000 ft. Google envisions Loon delivering (and surveilling) Internet connectivity to the poor, rural unconnected masses around the world, not to mention filling in Internet/mobile dead spots in Silicon Valley’s own backyard. Who knows, it might even compete with existing cellular phone services one day.

    Writes Levy:

    With the advances made over the last year, Google has a clearer idea of how it might eventually make money with Loon. In addition to connecting the last few billion (and often cash-poor) Internet users, the project might serve already-connected people with fat wallets by partnering with existing providers to deliver a super-roaming experience. “It’s not limited to rural areas,” Teller says. “Even in the middle of Silicon Valley you can lose connections while driving; large buildings and hills can block the signals. Balloons can fill in dead spots.”

    If hundreds of Google spy balloons constantly hovering overhead isn’t scary enough, Levy pointed out that the company is working with “former military operations people” in order to track down and find every downed balloon in order to study their failures and improve the reliability of its so far sub-performing balloon technology.

    I guess it’s not surprising, given Google’s history of close collaboration with the military-industrial complex.

    But I’m curious exactly what kind of “former military operations people” is Google working with? What country? And what military? Or is it private security contractors like Blackwater/Academi? Or maybe the secretive CIA-connected Blackbird Technologies, which specializes in hi-tech tracking and search & rescue missions and has partnered with Google before?

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 18, 2014, 2:17 pm
  6. Look out Grover, you have competition in the ‘no tax’ pledge department and your new competition, Americans for Prosperity, isn’t just asking for a ‘no tax’ pledge. They’re asking for a ‘cut taxes’ pledge, along with a bunch of other stuff that should do wonders for your plans on drowning the government in the bathtub. Sorry Grover, your no tax pledge is losing its crazy edge:

    Campaign Monitor
    Candidates sign AFP pledge to cut taxes, oppose Obamacare

    By KATHLEEN RONAYNE

    Monitor staff
    Wednesday, July 30, 2014

    More than 200 candidates for state office have signed onto an Americans for Prosperity pledge saying they’ll cut taxes, fight to pass a right to work law and oppose Medicaid expansion.

    Americans for Prosperity is a politically active non-profit backed by the Koch Brothers that fights for smaller government and individual freedoms. The state chapter, Americans for Prosperity Foundation – New Hampshire, held an event today to highlight candidates who have signed the pledge, including Republican gubernatorial candidate Andrew Hemingway. His primary opponent Walt Havenstein also plans to sign the pledge, his campaign said, but could not attend today’s event due to a fundraiser in Virginia.

    The pledge was mailed out last Wednesday and candidates can still turn it in. The pledge includes five promises: Cut taxes and oppose tax increases, cut spending and the size of government, pass a right to work law, oppose Obamacare and Medicaid expansion and to uphold the state and federal constitutions. A key purpose of the pledge is creating accountability, state director Greg Moore said.

    Incumbent Republican Sens. David Boutin of Hooksett and Nancy Stiles of Hampton signed a similar pledge last year but later voted for Medicaid expansion and to increase the gas tax. AFP has already sent out direct mail pieces telling voters that both candidates broke the pledge while in office, Moore said.

    “Those of us here today hold principles that do not have a Nov. 4, 2014, expiration date,” said former House Speaker Bill O’Brien, a Mont Vernon Republican who was named AFP New Hampshire’s Conservative of the Year in April.

    The pledge is mainly for state candidates, but it is sent to federal candidates as well. U.S. Senate candidate Bob Smith is the only federal candidate to sign it so far, Moore said.

    In a press release earlier this week, the New Hampshire Democratic Party said that Havenstein’s and Hemingway’s decision to sign the pledge meant they were showing allegiance to “the Tea Party agenda” and loyalty to the Koch Brothers.

    But AFP-NH honorary chairman Tom Thomson said the pledge grew out of the no sales or income tax pledge created years ago his grandfather, former Governor Meldrim Thomson.

    “This pledge originated from Gov. Thomson, and I chose to carry that forward,” he said. “And this pledge was not written by the Koch Brothers. It was written by myself.”

    Ok, this inspired super pledge is only for New Hampshire, so it looks like Grover doesn’t need to worry about a nation-wide competition with the Kochs for loyalty pledges. For now.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 30, 2014, 6:44 pm
  7. Good question:

    Pando Daily
    Um, why did Facebook just donate $10,000 to an anti-gay rights politician?

    By David Holmes
    On August 15, 2014

    As Silicon Valley tech companies continue to aggregate more power and influence than ever before, it’s only natural for them to start sticking their noses in local and national political campaigns.

    We’ve reported extensively on some of the strange bedfellows these partnerships have created, from “trust-us-we’re-not-evil” Google donating money to Koch-backed climate change deniers, to the Electronic Frontier Foundation partnering with rightwing extremists who want to dismantle eighty years of environmental, infrastructural, and social welfare programs, to Mark Zuckerberg’s FWD.us bankrolling two anti-environmentalist ad campaigns.

    Regardless of where you stand on these issues (well, climate change is less an “issue” and more of a reality, but I digress), throwing money at anti-science, anti-sustainability endeavors goes against the core values held by some of Silicon Valley’s most powerful players — the tech heavies whose support FWD.us lost in the aftermath of those ads included Elon Musk, Vinod Khosla, and David Sacks.

    But the latest move from Facebook might be the most alienating high-profile show of political support by a tech company yet. According to documents filed with Utah’s Lieutenant Governor, Facebook has donated $10,000 to the campaign of State Attorney General Sean Reyes, who recently filed an appeal to challenge a ruling that would have made gay marriage legal in Utah.

    In one fell swoop, Facebook has somehow found a way to piss off both the true blue liberals in Silicon Valley and the techno-libertarians, for whom anti-gay marriage legislation is just another example of government overreach. It’d be almost impressive if it weren’t so despicable.

    For evidence of the tech world’s unwillingness to put up with anti-gay bigotry, look no further than what happened to former Mozilla CEO Brandon Eich. Less than two weeks after Eich was hired as CEO, he resigned in the wake of public uproar over a $1000 donation he made in support of California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriages. Granted, Proposition 8, being a California law, hit much closer to home to techies from the Golden State, and Eich, while a longtime Mozilla veteran, was brand new to the position. Nevertheless, it shows what happens when the leader of a supposedly progressive tech firm takes a stand against equal rights.

    So what does Facebook have to say for itself?

    A company spokesperson told the Utah-based LGBTQ magazine QSaltLake,

    Facebook has a strong record on LGBT issues and that will not change, but we make decisions about which candidates to support based on the entire portfolio of issues important to our business, not just one. A contribution to a candidate does not mean that we agree with every policy or position that candidate takes. We made this donation for the same reason we’ve donated to Attorneys General on the opposite side of this issue – because they are committed to fostering innovation and an open Internet.

    I get it — the fight over net neutrality will be instrumental in keeping the Internet as open to as many creators and consumers as possible, which is pretty important. But there are plenty of pro-open-Internet politicians, and not all of them are famous for shitting on the equal rights of American citizens.

    Not only does the donation go against the values of many of its Silicon Valley peers; it also goes against Facebook’s own conscience, which on its Diversity writes writes, “We value the impact that every individual can have. We are dedicated to creating an environment where people can be their authentic selves and share their own diverse backgrounds, experiences, perspectives and ideas.”

    That is, unless those diverse individuals are gay and want to get married?

    Note that internet safety and how to improve it is one of the very first issues Reyes focused on after taking office. Perhaps that also had something to do with the surprising donation. Or maybe Facebook just likes Reyes’s overall political outlook. Who knows.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 16, 2014, 12:57 pm
  8. eBay shrugged, and just kept shrugging:

    Pando Daily
    What possible reason can eBay have for standing by ultraconservative climate change deniers at ALEC?

    By David Holmes
    On October 7, 2014

    The tech world’s strange love affair with ultraconservative ALEC is unraveling.

    Over the past two months, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yelp, and Yahoo have distanced themselves from the American Executive Legislation Council (ALEC), a Koch Brothers-backed think tank that’s pushed just about every controversial right-wing legislative initiative you can think of. Teaching climate change denial in schools? Check. Advocating for Voter ID laws that disenfranchise minorities? Uh huh. A national “Stand Your Ground” law? Why not?

    The breaking point for ALEC’s souring relationship with so many high-profile tech firms appears to be the group’s denial of strong, widely-agreed-upon evidence that climate change is real and humans are making it worse. (ALEC recently denied its, uh, denial, but ALEC’s own model legislation directly contradicts its claims of innocence). But despite the risks of aligning your organization with anti-sustainability interests, there’s one high-profile tech firm that still hasn’t denounced the organization: eBay, along with its billionaire founder and chairman Pierre Omidyar.

    Today, over eighty non-profits including the Sierra Club and Greenpeace signed a letter urging eBay to end its affiliation with ALEC. eBay, like Google and Microsoft in the past, is a member of ALEC’s Communications and Technology Task Force, an affiliation that costs the company $5,000 a year in membership fees and thus represents a direct form of financial support for the controversial organization.

    eBay spokeswoman Abby Smith has finally responded to the letter, saying that ALEC promotes issues that are “material to the success of eBay Inc and our customers” and that “our team of internal stakeholders meets regularly to assess the best approach for resolving these issues.”

    But would leaving ALEC really have a negative impact on eBay’s business?

    Possibly. Yelp, for example, had a clear and legitimate legal interest in aligning itself with ALEC. The organization crafted model legislation to fight SLAPP lawsuits, which could be used against Yelp’s users who post bad reviews. Indeed, eBay is currently relying on an anti-SLAPP argument in a lawsuit that a patent troll filed against it. But user-generated content, which is usually what anti-SLAPP legislation protects, is not as fundamental to its business as it is to Yelp. And again, even Yelp has cut ties with ALEC.

    Another of the Task Force’s stated areas of focus is “promoting new forms of e-commerce,” which is certainly in eBay’s wheelhouse. But Amazon, the largest ecommerce site in the US, felt no need to stay aligned with ALEC past 2012. Then there’s ALEC’s and eBay’s shared support of net neutrality. That’s the same justification Facebook made when it donated $10,000 to an anti-gay politician: We both support a free and open Internet! But net neutrality has attracted support among a very broad set of organizations, and not all of them were just abandoned by half a dozen of eBay’s peers.

    What about eBay’s chairman Omidyar? Surely, this “civic-minded billionaire,” who through his Omidyar Network has given hundreds of millions of dollars to philanthropic causes, wouldn’t dream of aligning himself with an organization like ALEC — an organization for whom social and environmental justice plays a distant second fiddle to the Koch Brothers’ funhouse mirror version of free market capitalism. Or would he? As Mark Ames and Yasha Levine have reported, Omidyar’s politics are difficult, though not impossible, to suss out:

    Omidyar Network’s philanthropy reveals Omidyar as a free-market zealot with an almost mystical faith in the power of “markets” to transform the world, end poverty, and improve lives—one micro-individual at a time.


    And yet, the Omidyar Network is also one of the leading backers of the upcoming film “Merchants of Doubt,” which seeks to expose the “silver-tongued pundits-for-hire” spreading denial campaigns on serious public health threats like tobacco, toxic chemicals, and yes, climate change. Considering that climate change denial has become the predominant force drawing tech companies away from ALEC, eBay’s continued membership constitutes a pretty significant contradiction for Omidyar. And let’s not forget that for many of the third world communities the Omidyar Network wants to help, devastation from climate change isn’t just a well-supported forecast — it’s already a reality.

    Maybe eBay is too focused on its forthcoming PayPal spin off to pay attention to the outcry over ALEC. Maybe eBay has already decided to let its ALEC membership lapse and it simply hasn’t approved the move with its shareholders. In any case, companies like Facebook learned the hard way what happens when you align yourself with anti-sustainability interests that run counter to the fundamental principles of your community or industry. And with the tide in the tech community clearly shifting away from ALEC and other climate change deniers, eBay needs to take control of this narrative before it spins out of control, and people start accusing the company of clubbing baby seals and creating the hole in the ozone layer.

    It might seem unlikely that eBay’s continued alliance with ALEC will prompt people to start accusing the company of clubbing baby seals, but that’s mostly due to the fact that there isn’t a big market for baby seal meat. That said, ALEC’s backers aren’t exactly friends of baby seals.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 7, 2014, 6:02 pm
  9. Here’s an article that should thrill those concerned about Google and Amazon not knowing enough of their personal information: Google and Amazon are battling for the future of personal genome storage:

    MIT Technology Review
    Google Wants to Store Your Genome

    For $25 a year, Google will keep a copy of any genome in the cloud.

    By Antonio Regalado on November 6, 2014

    Google is approaching hospitals and universities with a new pitch. Have genomes? Store them with us.

    The search giant’s first product for the DNA age is Google Genomics, a cloud computing service that it launched last March but went mostly unnoticed amid a barrage of high profile R&D announcements from Google, like one late last month about a far-fetched plan to battle cancer with nanoparticles (see “Can Google Use Nanoparticles to Search for Cancer?”).

    Google Genomics could prove more significant than any of these moonshots. Connecting and comparing genomes by the thousands, and soon by the millions, is what’s going to propel medical discoveries for the next decade. The question of who will store the data is already a point of growing competition between Amazon, Google, IBM, and Microsoft.

    Google began work on Google Genomics 18 months ago, meeting with scientists and building an interface, or API, that lets them move DNA data into its server farms and do experiments there using the same database technology that indexes the Web and tracks billions of Internet users.

    “We saw biologists moving from studying one genome at a time to studying millions,” says David Glazer, the software engineer who led the effort and was previously head of platform engineering for Google+, the social network. “The opportunity is how to apply breakthroughs in data technology to help with this transition.”

    Some scientists scoff that genome data remains too complex for Google to help with. But others see a big shift coming. When Atul Butte, a bioinformatics expert at Stanford heard Google present its plans this year, he remarked that he now understood “how travel agents felt when they saw Expedia.”

    The explosion of data is happening as labs adopt new, even faster equipment for decoding DNA. For instance, the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said that during the month of October it decoded the equivalent of one human genome every 32 minutes. That translated to about 200 terabytes of raw data.

    This flow of data is smaller than what is routinely handled by large Internet companies (over two months, Broad will produce the equivalent of what gets uploaded to YouTube in one day) but it exceeds anything biologists have dealt with. That’s now prompting a wide effort to store and access data at central locations, often commercial ones. The National Cancer Institute said last month that it would pay $19 million to move copies of the 2.6 petabyte Cancer Genome Atlas into the cloud. Copies of the data, from several thousand cancer patients, will reside both at Google Genomics and in Amazon’s data centers.

    The idea is to create “cancer genome clouds” where scientists can share information and quickly run virtual experiments as easily as a Web search, says Sheila Reynolds, a research scientist at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle. “Not everyone has the ability to download a petabyte of data, or has the computing power to work on it,” she says.

    Also speeding the move of DNA data to the cloud has been a yearlong price war between Google and Amazon. Google says it now charges about $25 a year to store a genome, and more to do computations on it. Scientific raw data representing a single person’s genome is about 100 gigabytes in size, although a polished version of a person’s genetic code is far smaller, less than a gigabyte. That would cost only $0.25 cents a year.

    Cloud storage is giving a boost to startups like Tute Genomics, DNANexus, Seven Bridges, and NextCode Health. These companies build “browsers” that hospitals and scientists can use to explore genetic data. “Google or Amazon is a back end. They are saying, ‘Hey, you can build a genomics company in our cloud,’” says Deniz Kural, CEO of Seven Bridges, which stores genome data on behalf of 1,600 researchers in Amazon’s cloud.

    The bigger point, he says, is that medicine will soon rely on a kind of global Internet-of-DNA which doctors will be able to search. “Our bird’s eye view is that if I were to get lung cancer in the future, doctors are going to sequence my genome and my tumor’s genome, and then query them against a database of 50 million other genomes,” he says. “The result will be ‘Hey, here’s the drug that will work best for you.’ ”

    At Google, Glazer says he began working on Google Genomics as it became clear that biology was going to move from “artisanal to factory-scale data production.” He started by teaching himself genetics, taking an online class, Introduction to Biology, taught by Broad’s chief, Eric Lander. He also got his genome sequenced and put it on Google’s cloud.

    Glazer wouldn’t say how large Google Genomics is or how many customers it has now, but at least 3,500 genomes from public projects are already stored on Google’s servers. He also says there’s no link, as of yet, between Google’s cloud and its more speculative efforts in health care, like the company Google started this year, called Calico, to investigate how to extend human lifespans. “What connects them is just a growing realization that technology can advance the state of the art in life sciences,” says Glazer.

    Keep in mind that, while potentially scary, the kind of super databases Google and Amazon are envisioning could be of incredible value to researchers and could accelerate the rate of new discoveries.

    Also keep in mind that the attractiveness of such private services for researchers wouldn’t be nearly as attractive if the US government wasn’t perpetually cutting public research funds.

    And, of course, don’t forget that, while potentially valuable, the kind of super databases Google and Amazon are envisioning could also be incredibly scary. Yikes.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 9, 2015, 9:00 am
  10. Remember kids: don’t piss off the Siris of the future. Your own future might depend on it:

    The New York Times
    Bits
    Parents Challenge President to Dig Deeper on Ed Tech

    By Natasha Singer
    January 12, 2015 5:08 pm

    Education technology companies that have pledged not to exploit student data they collect for marketing purposes welcomed President Obama’s endorsement on Monday of the industry’s effort to limit its use of classroom data.

    But the president’s comments did nothing to alleviate the unease of some parents concerned about potential civil rights issues raised by the the increasing use of ed tech in schools, including the possibility that some programs and products might automatically channel or categorize students in ways that could ultimately be discriminatory or detrimental to their education.

    In a speech on Monday afternoon at the Federal Trade Commission, the president announced new student digital privacy legislation legislation. The proposed bill would be modeled on a student data privacy law passed by California last summer. The California statute prohibits companies that work with schools from using the information they collect about kindergartners through 12th graders for marketing or advertising purposes.

    It is unclear whether the proposed legislation would make it through Congress. So in addition to pushing for a new law, Mr. Obama has urged ed tech companies to sign on to a voluntary industry pledge on student privacy in which the signers agree not to sell personal details they have collected about students; not to profile students for noneducational purposes; and not to use students’ details collected through educational services to tailor ads to them.

    “We’re very excited that President Obama is endorsing the pledge and calling for other companies to sign it,” said Jules Polonetsky, the executive director of the Future of Privacy Forum, an industry-financed research group in Washington that helped draft the industry pledge. Mr. Polonetsky’s group has received financing from dozens of companies including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft.

    Introduced last October, the pledge has now been adopted by 75 companies including original signers like Microsoft and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the educational publisher.

    Apple signed last weekend on the eve of the president’s speech.

    Although Google has its own privacy policy, the company, whose Google Apps for Education software is used in schools nationwide, has not joined the industry initiative.

    Mr. Obama’s focus on student digital privacy comes at a time when schools across the country are increasingly adopting data-driven learning products — from homework portals to math apps — that can quantify and analyze everything from the time it takes students to complete an assignment to the number of times they incorrectly answer long division problems to the length of comments they post in online classroom discussion forums. The idea behind these ed tech products is to use data analysis to tailor lessons to the needs of each child.

    But some parents, educators, technologists and education privacy law scholars say there is little evidence to back up the marketing hype over personalized learning technology. While welcoming efforts to curb the use of educational data for advertising purposes, they contend that neither the industry pledge nor the California law that President Obama invoked as a model for federal student digital privacy legislation places any meaningful requirements on companies regarding the accuracy, efficacy or fairness of their novel digital learning products.

    “We may be serving some kids well, but we may be disserving other kids in a significant way,” said Joel Reidenberg, a professor at Fordham University School of Law in Manhattan who is an expert in education privacy law.

    “Although Google has its own privacy policy, the company, whose Google Apps for Education software is used in schools nationwide, has not joined the industry initiative.”

    Also, kids: Don’t piss off Google.

    And try to make the most of your education.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 14, 2015, 8:36 pm
  11. Here’s a reminder that a growing robot army isn’t necessarily the scariest item on Google’s wish list:

    Pando Daily
    Google is helping to fund the group that’s trying to kill Obamacare in the Supreme Court

    By Mark Ames
    On March 18, 2015

    The Obama administration said on Monday that 16.4 million uninsured people had gained health coverage since major provisions of the Affordable Care Act began to take effect in 2010, driving the largest reduction in the number of uninsured in about 40 years

    — NY Times

    According to the latest government figures, 16.4 million previously uninsured Americans now benefit from healthcare coverage thanks to Obamacare, including large gains for blacks and Latinos. Conservative critics have yet to come up with a coherent response beyond “so what!” — however you look at it, that’s a lot of Americans who won’t be left bleeding in the dirt if they get sick.

    Still, as we know, Obamacare is still under attack — just one pending Supreme Court ruling away from being almost completely dismantled, a decision that could put millions back in the ranks of the uninsured. What’s less well known is that the think tank pushing for the death of Obamacare is partly funded by… Google.

    Earlier this month, the New York Times reported on this “obscure think tank” — the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) — and its central role in trying to kill Obamacare:

    In the orbit of Washington think tanks, the Competitive Enterprise Institute is an obscure name with a modest budget that belies its political connections to conservative titans like the Koch brothers.

    But the institute, a libertarian research group, enjoyed a coming-out of sorts on Wednesday, as the lawsuit that it organized and bankrolled — challenging the Affordable Care Act — was heard by the Supreme Court. The case has the potential to end federal insurance subsidies for some 7.5 million people in 34 states.

    But, while the Times did mention that the CEI is largely bankrolled by the Koch brothers, it didn’t dig into some of the group’s smaller funders. Funders including Silicon Valley giants like Google and Facebook. Could there be a clearer antithesis to the valley mantra of “Don’t Be Evil” than an organization which exists to deny 7.5m people access to basic health insurance?

    The CEI and Google have been linked in the media before. In mid-2013, the Washington Postreported on the CEI’s annual fundraising dinner for which “the biggest single donor is Google, which gave $50,000, and Facebook kicked in $25,000.” At the time, the CEI was largely known as one of the most aggressive and cynical of the DC climate change-denier front groups: “a factory for global warming skepticism” as the WaPo described it. As such, the news that Google, and Facebook, were supporters was greeted with something between shock, puzzlement, and dread.

    It was still hard for a lot of people in 2013 to square a company like Google — with its progressive Bay Area image, its close relationship with the Obama White House and funder of his and other Democrats’ campaigns — with something as reactionary and anti-science as climate change denial. Why on earth were the stars of Silicon Valley’s Internet industry positioning themselves alongside fellow sponsors Charles and David Koch, coal giant Murray Energy, Monsanto, tobacco behemoth Altria, and others?

    Certainly Google seems to have learned that mixing with climate change deniers isn’t a great strategy. Last year, the company quit the Kochs’ state lobbying group ALEC because of its position opposing climate change science. As Eric Schmidt explained in an interview with NPR’s Diane Rehm:

    “Everyone understands climate change is occurring and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place. And so we should not be aligned with such people — they’re just, they’re just literally lying.”

    But as CEI has moved from climate change denial to healthcare denial, Google appears to have stayed along for the ride. The $50,000 Google grant to the CEI is the only payment that has been publicly itemized. But, according to the search engine giant’s public policy “transparency reports” pages, Google has been funding the Competitive Enterprise Institute for at least the past five years.

    Google is also tied into the CEI through its “Google Policy Fellows” program, which has been placing Google-funded “fellows” at the Competitive Enterprise Institute since at least 2008. According to the company’s description, Google Fellowships underwrite summer programs for law students, college undergrads and grad students to,

    “work at public interest organizations at the forefront of debates on broadband and access policy, content regulation, copyright and trademark reform, consumer privacy, open government, and more.”

    The “and more” is one of the big open questions when it comes to Google’s interest in showering a vile outfit like the Competitive Enterprise Institute with so much largesse. After all, it’s hard to imagine an organization that stands so opposed to Google’s stated principles.

    Few well-funded DC think-tanks are as shamelessly and aggressively anti-science as the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Going back to the early 1990s, the CEI collaborated with Big Tobacco companies to issue a handbook called “Bad Science” listing PR strategies companies can use to combat real scientific research harmful to companies that deal in toxic businesses — starting with Big Tobacco’s attempts to discredit scientific research proving that second-hand smoke causes cancer and a host of other diseases affecting babies and children.

    Beyond its long deep ties to the tobacco and fossil fuels industries, the CEI has been attacking scientists and environmentalists on behalf of the chemicals and pesticides industry. In the mid-1990s, the CEI hired Michelle Malkin to smear the late Rachel Carson, whose 1962 book “Silent Spring” sparked the environmental movement. More recently, the CEI nominated Rush Limbaugh for the Nobel Peace Prize for helping push the CEI’s “Rachel Was Wrong” campaign. In case you haven’t noticed, the CEI and its petrochemicals/Monsanto funders aren’t very fond of Rachel Carson’s legacy.

    As for the CEI’s two decades of work to discredit climate change science as“a theory, not a fact,” with crude PR efforts, one of its many absurd lowlights was a 2006 television ad campaign it funded, featuring the slogan “C02: They call it pollution, we call it Life!”

    The CEI’s longtime chairman Michael Greve (recently listed as CEI “board director”) has been the main driver behind the King v Burwell lawsuit strategy. Throughout the years that Google has been investing money and resources into the CEI, Greve has served as either the group’s chairman or board director — including in 2010, when Greve presided over a right-wing legal strategy session on how to murder Obamacare:

    “This bastard [Obamacare] has to be killed as a matter of political hygiene. . . . I don’t care how this is done, whether it’s dismembered, whether we drive a stake through its heart, whether we tar and feather it and drive it out of town, whether we strangle it.”

    There are a lot of obvious things wrong with Greve’s violent, crypto-fascist rhetoric (not least because the German-born Greve speaks in a vaguely Strangelovean accent). For one thing, if Greve and the CEI win this case before the Supreme Court, experts say it will mean eight million mostly lower-income people losing health insurance, estimated to an estimated 9,800 premature deaths annually. Also, this is the same Michael Greve who in the 1990s, while leading the fight to destory affirmative action programs, said:

    ‘The only legalized discrimination in this country is against whites and males.”

    And this leads to the other problem of Google investing in a group chaired by Michael Greve. In the late 1980s, Greve co-founded a far-right race-baiting group called the Center for Individual Rights, which did more than any organization todismantle affirmative action programs during his tenure there. Greve’s group successfully knocked down affirmative action at the University of Texas, and led the legal defense upholding California’s Prop 209, which ended affirmative action in California state institutions.

    Greve’s group also got the Supreme Court to rule in favor of the Boy Scouts anti-gay discrimination policy, and he succeeded in dismantling portions of the Violence Against Women Act, defending a university football player accused of rape and sued under the VAWA.

    Among Greve’s funders back when he ran the group was the neo-Nazi “Pioneer Fund” which bankrolls racial eugenics quacks who argue that blacks and Latinos are genetically inferior — quacks like U Delaware’s Linda Gottfredson and CUNY’s Michael Levin, both defended by Greve’s organization, all of them bankrolled by the Pioneer Fund.

    In a recent blog post, the German-born Greve made a crude Holocaust analogy comparing a health industry group’s legal support for Obamacare to Nazi Germany cattle wagons and death camps used to murder millions of Jews and others.

    Today, Greve is a professor at George Mason University Law School — which Google also funds.

    Given the fact that Michael Greve was chairman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute throughout nearly all of Google’s funding period, and a board director since at least 2008, when Google began funding CEI Google Fellows — and given Google’s (and Silicon Valley’s) notorious diversity problems — it boggles the mind why Google felt so little compunction getting into bed with such a reactionary group as the CEI. Even if they might claim their funding is for other political purposes — like supporting CEI technology flak Ryan Radia, who blogs at the Big Tech PR site “Technology Liberation Front” which bills itself as

    “the tech policy blog dedicated to keeping politicians’ hands off the ‘net and everything else related to technology.”

    One possible explanation is that Google doesn’t realize who it’s in bed with. That a company that boasts of having access to all the world’s data hasn’t read the CEI’s small print and so doesn’t realize it’s helping to kill Obamacare. The problem with that narrative is that Google also funds the CATO Institute, the other major organization leading the strategic war on Obamacare (and against climate change science). CATO’s lead jihadist against Obamacare is Michael Cannon, a former Senate staffer to disgraced Republican homophobe Larry Craig. Within days after Obama’s 2008 election victory, Cannon laid out CATO’s strategy in a blog post, “Blocking Obama’s Health Plan Is Key to the GOP’s Survival”. This was two months before Obama even took office, mind you—the Right has a crocodile’s motor-function grasp of politics, even in its lowest moments. And ever since, CATO’s Cannon has been organizing the various legal and political challenges to kill Obamacare, including playing a central role in the current case before the Supreme Court.

    Google began funding CATO “Google Fellows” in 2008, the same year that CATO’s Michael Cannon launched the group’s war against Obamacare. In 2010, Google deepened its ties, becoming an official corporate sponsor of the CATO Institute every year since. That same year, Cannon — the director of CATO’s “Health Policy Studies” — tweeted out a “joke” following reports that undocumented Latino migrant workers were being exploited in New Orleans in the BP oil spill clean-up effort:

    “I hear they’re very absorbent.”

    [see image]

    The medium is the message in every joke — and in this case, when you have a right-wing Washington lobbyist on the payroll of oil billionaires the Koch brothers, making jokes about “very absorbent” undocumented Latino immigrants at an oil spill . . . it’s not a joke, more like reading a transcript of the Koch brothers’ Marie Antoinette view of the rest of humanity, parotted by one of their worshipful court servants. As Cannon himself has admitted:

    “for folks at Cato . . . we wouldn’t have our jobs without Charles and David Koch. They are billionaires who have funded the libertarian movement. Not just the Cato Institute, but other groups that have — where I’ve worked and others at Cato have worked. We owe a lot to them.”

    How right he is. Not only was CATO founded by the Kochs (under its original name “The Charles Koch Foundation”), but in a little known episode in libertarian history, the Kochs also are responsible for bringing the Competitive Enterprise Institute into existence. The short version: In 1984, Charles Koch disbanded his flagship Washington DC lobby group, the Council for a Competitive Economy (CCE), and created two new front groups out of its assets: Citizens for a Sound Economy, with Ron Paul as the Koch group’s first chairman (since splintered into FreedomWorks and Americans For Prosperity); and the smaller Competitive Enterprise Institute, led by Fred Smith, who had been serving as director of government affairs for the Kochs’ defunct Council for a Competitive Economy. (This is all confirmed by the former president of the CCE, Richard Wilcke.)

    So few names, repeated over and over. And one name at the top, the Koch brothers, bringing with them 50 years and three generations of right-wing political investments, backed by the brothers’ estimated $100 billion-plus personal worth. This sort of power, political network, experience, and influence is not something that even cash-rich Google can buy overnight.

    Even if we still give Google and Facebook the benefit of the doubt, and allow that their investments in the CATO Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute weren’t directly motivated by killing Obamacare and throwing millions of struggling Americans back into the ranks of the uninsured and prematurely dying — nevertheless, they are accessories, and very consciously so. Big Tech’s larger political goals are in alignment with the old extraction industry’s: Undermining the countervailing power of government and public politics to weaken its ability to impede their growing dominance over their portions of the economy, and to tax their obscene stores of cash.

    Google – like Facebook, like Koch Industries — wants a government that’s strong enough to enforce its dominant private power over the economy and citizens and protect its wealth, but too broken and too alienated from the public to adequately represent the public interest against their domineering monopolistic power. That’s pretty much what’s going on here in this rather frightening merger we’re seeing between extraction industry interests and Big Tech interests.

    Politically, the problem with health care is that, even in spite of all of Obamacare’s many serious flaws and corporate giveaways, the more it works in the eyes of more and more Americans, the greater the danger to the Googles, Facebooks and Kochs that the public will believe again that government can do good, that public interest politics can change things for the better. Because if Obamacare becomes widely popular, and that positive idea of politics and government becomes a basic assumption again as it once was, then who’s to say what else the public will demand of Silicon Valley richest and most powerful companies?

    That’s right, Google is financing the same folks that brought us the “CO2 is life!” ad from 2006 and are now working to eliminate healthcare for millions.

    The robot army doesn’t seem so deadly now, does it? At least, relatively speaking.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 19, 2015, 7:29 pm
  12. While folks like Michael Greve, former longtime chairman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and a leader of the group pushing the King vs Burwell lawsuit (with the CEI’s help and funding), may have failed in their attempts to deprive healthcare to millions of low-income Americans after the Supreme Court’s ruling this week, it’s worth noting that Greve’s CEI is going to have plenty of resources to continue in its quest to comfort the comfortable and crap on the poor, thanks, in part, to companies like Google:

    Pando Daily
    Google is helping to fund the group that’s trying to kill Obamacare in the Supreme Court

    By Mark Ames

    March 18, 2015

    The Obama administration said on Monday that 16.4 million uninsured people had gained health coverage since major provisions of the Affordable Care Act began to take effect in 2010, driving the largest reduction in the number of uninsured in about 40 years

    NY Times

    According to the latest government figures, 16.4 million previously uninsured Americans now benefit from healthcare coverage thanks to Obamacare, including large gains for blacks and Latinos. Conservative critics have yet to come up with a coherent response beyond "so what!" — however you look at it, that’s a lot of Americans who won’t be left bleeding in the dirt if they get sick.

    Still, as we know, Obamacare is still under attack — just one pending Supreme Court ruling away from being almost completely dismantled, a decision that could put millions back in the ranks of the uninsured. What’s less well known is that the think tank pushing for the death of Obamacare is partly funded by… Google.

    Earlier this month, the New York Times reported on this “obscure think tank” — the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) — and its central role in trying to kill Obamacare:

    In the orbit of Washington think tanks, the Competitive Enterprise Institute is an obscure name with a modest budget that belies its political connections to conservative titans like the Koch brothers.

    But the institute, a libertarian research group, enjoyed a coming-out of sorts on Wednesday, as the lawsuit that it organized and bankrolled — challenging the Affordable Care Act — was heard by the Supreme Court. The case has the potential to end federal insurance subsidies for some 7.5 million people in 34 states.

    But, while the Times did mention that the CEI is largely bankrolled by the Koch brothers, it didn’t dig into some of the group’s smaller funders. Funders including Silicon Valley giants like Google and Facebook. Could there be a clearer antithesis to the valley mantra of “Don’t Be Evil” than an organization which exists to deny 7.5m people access to basic health insurance?

    The CEI and Google have been linked in the media before. In mid-2013, the Washington Post reported on the CEI’s annual fundraising dinner for which “the biggest single donor is Google, which gave $50,000, and Facebook kicked in $25,000.” At the time, the CEI was largely known as one of the most aggressive and cynical of the DC climate change-denier front groups: “a factory for global warming skepticism” as the WaPo described it. As such, the news that Google, and Facebook, were supporters was greeted with something between shock, puzzlement, and dread.

    Certainly Google seems to have learned that mixing with climate change deniers isn’t a great strategy. Last year, the company quit the Kochs’ state lobbying group ALEC because of its position opposing climate change science. As Eric Schmidt explained in an interview with NPR’s Diane Rehm:

    “Everyone understands climate change is occurring and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place. And so we should not be aligned with such people — they’re just, they’re just literally lying.”

    But as CEI has moved from climate change denial to healthcare denial, Google appears to have stayed along for the ride. The $50,000 Google grant to the CEI is the only payment that has been publicly itemized. But, according to the search engine giant’s public policy “transparency reports” pages, Google has been funding the Competitive Enterprise Institute for at least the past five years..

    Google is also tied into the CEI through its “Google Policy Fellows” program, which has been placing Google-funded “fellows” at the Competitive Enterprise Institute since at least 2008. According to the company’s description, Google Fellowships underwrite summer programs for law students, college undergrads and grad students to,

    “work at public interest organizations at the forefront of debates on broadband and access policy, content regulation, copyright and trademark reform, consumer privacy, open government, and more.”

    The “and more” is one of the big open questions when it comes to Google’s interest in showering a vile outfit like the Competitive Enterprise Institute with so much largesse. After all, it’s hard to imagine an organization that stands so opposed to Google’s stated principles.

    Few well-funded DC think-tanks are as shamelessly and aggressively anti-science as the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Going back to the early 1990s, the CEI collaborated with Big Tobacco companies to issue a handbook called “Bad Science” listing PR strategies companies can use to combat real scientific research harmful to companies that deal in toxic businesses — starting with Big Tobacco’s attempts to discredit scientific research proving that second-hand smoke causes cancer and a host of other diseases affecting babies and children.

    Among the suggested “MESSAGES” in the Big Tobacco/CEI book “Bad Science”:

    -Too often science is manipulated to fulfill a political agenda.

    -No agency is more guilty of adjusting science to support preconceived public policy prescriptions than the Environmental Protection Agency.

    -Proposals that seek to improve indoor air quality by singling out tobacco smoke only enable bad science to become a poor excuse for enacting new laws and jeopardizing individual liberties. As the authors of “Merchants of Doubt” (now a documentary film playing in theaters) describe it:

    “Bad Science was a compendium of attacks on science, published in places like the Washington Times, and written by staff of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The articles weren’t written by scientists and they didn’t appear in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Rather, they appeared in media venues whose readers would be sympathetic to the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s laissez-faire ideology.”

    Beyond its long deep ties to the tobacco and fossil fuels industries, the CEI has been attacking scientists and environmentalists on behalf of the chemicals and pesticides industry. In the mid-1990s, the CEI hired Michelle Malkin to smear the late Rachel Carson, whose 1962 book “Silent Spring” sparked the environmental movement. More recently, the CEI nominated Rush Limbaugh for the Nobel Peace Prize for helping push the CEI’s “Rachel Was Wrong” campaign. In case you haven’t noticed, the CEI and its petrochemicals/Monsanto funders aren’t very fond of Rachel Carson’s legacy.

    As for the CEI’s two decades of work to discredit climate change science as“a theory, not a fact,” with crude PR efforts, one of its many absurd lowlights was a 2006 television ad campaign it funded, featuring the slogan “C02: They call it pollution, we call it Life!”

    The CEI’s longtime chairman Michael Greve (recently listed as CEI “board director”) has been the main driver behind the King v Burwell lawsuit strategy. Throughout the years that Google has been investing money and resources into the CEI, Greve has served as either the group’s chairman or board director — including in 2010, when Greve presided over a right-wing legal strategy session on how to murder Obamacare:

    “This bastard [Obamacare] has to be killed as a matter of political hygiene. . . . I don’t care how this is done, whether it’s dismembered, whether we drive a stake through its heart, whether we tar and feather it and drive it out of town, whether we strangle it.”

    There are a lot of obvious things wrong with Greve’s violent, crypto-fascist rhetoric (not least because the German-born Greve speaks in a vaguely Strangelovean accent). For one thing, if Greve and the CEI win this case before the Supreme Court, experts say it will mean eight million mostly lower-income people losing health insurance, leading to an estimated 9,800 premature deaths annually. Also, this is the same Michael Greve who in the 1990s, while leading the fight to destory affirmative action programs, said:

    ‘The only legalized discrimination in this country is against whites and males.”

    And this leads to the other problem of Google investing in a group chaired by Michael Greve. In the late 1980s, Greve co-founded a far-right race-baiting group called the Center for Individual Rights, which did more than any organization to dismantle affirmative action programs during his tenure there. Greve’s group successfully knocked down affirmative action at the University of Texas, and led the legal defense upholding California’s Prop 209, which ended affirmative action in California state institutions.

    Greve’s group also got the Supreme Court to rule in favor of the Boy Scouts anti-gay discrimination policy, and he succeeded in dismantling portions of the Violence Against Women Act, defending a university football player accused of rape and sued under the VAWA.

    Among Greve’s funders back when he ran the group was the neo-Nazi “Pioneer Fund” which bankrolls racial eugenics quacks who argue that blacks and Latinos are genetically inferior — quacks like U Delaware’s Linda Gottfredson and CUNY’s Michael Levin, both defended by Greve’s organization, all of them bankrolled by the Pioneer Fund.

    In a recent blog post, the German-born Greve made a crude Holocaust analogy comparing a health industry group’s legal support for Obamacare to Nazi Germany cattle wagons and death camps used to murder millions of Jews and others.

    Today, Greve is a professor at George Mason University Law School — which Google also funds.

    Given the fact that Michael Greve was chairman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute throughout nearly all of Google’s funding period, and a board director since at least 2008, when Google began funding CEI Google Fellows — and given Google’s (and Silicon Valley’s) notorious diversity problems — it boggles the mind why Google felt so little compunction getting into bed with such a reactionary group as the CEI. Even if they might claim their funding is for other political purposes — like supporting CEI technology flak Ryan Radia, who blogs at the Big Tech PR site “Technology Liberation Front” which bills itself as

    “the tech policy blog dedicated to keeping politicians’ hands off the ‘net and everything else related to technology.”

    One possible explanation is that Google doesn’t realize who it’s in bed with. That a company that boasts of having access to all the world’s data hasn’t read the CEI’s small print and so doesn’t realize it’s helping to kill Obamacare. The problem with that narrative is that Google also funds the CATO Institute, the other major organization leading the strategic war on Obamacare (and against climate change science). CATO’s lead jihadist against Obamacare is Michael Cannon, a former Senate staffer to disgraced Republican homophobe Larry Craig. Within days after Obama’s 2008 election victory, Cannon laid out CATO’s strategy in a blog post, “Blocking Obama’s Health Plan Is Key to the GOP’s Survival”. This was two months before Obama even took office, mind you—the Right has a crocodile’s motor-function grasp of politics, even in its lowest moments. And ever since, CATO’s Cannon has been organizing the various legal and political challenges to kill Obamacare, including playing a central role in the current case before the Supreme Court.

    Google began funding CATO “Google Fellows” in 2008, the same year that CATO’s Michael Cannon launched the group’s war against Obamacare. In 2010, Google deepened its ties, becoming an official corporate sponsor of the CATO Institute every year since. That same year, Cannon — the director of CATO’s “Health Policy Studies” — tweeted out a “joke” following reports that undocumented Latino migrant workers were being exploited in New Orleans in the BP oil spill clean-up effort:

    “I hear they’re very absorbent.”


    The medium is the message in every joke — and in this case, when you have a right-wing Washington lobbyist on the payroll of oil billionaires the Koch brothers, making jokes about “very absorbent” undocumented Latino immigrants at an oil spill . . . it’s not a joke, more like reading a transcript of the Koch brothers’ Marie Antoinette view of the rest of humanity, parotted by one of their worshipful court servants. As Cannon himself has admitted:

    “for folks at Cato . . . we wouldn’t have our jobs without Charles and David Koch. They are billionaires who have funded the libertarian movement. Not just the Cato Institute, but other groups that have — where I’ve worked and others at Cato have worked. We owe a lot to them.”

    How right he is. Not only was CATO founded by the Kochs (under its original name “The Charles Koch Foundation”), but in a little known episode in libertarian history, the Kochs also are responsible for bringing the Competitive Enterprise Institute into existence. The short version: In 1984, Charles Koch disbanded his flagship Washington DC lobby group, the Council for a Competitive Economy (CCE), and created two new front groups out of its assets: Citizens for a Sound Economy, with Ron Paul as the Koch group’s first chairman (since splintered into FreedomWorks and Americans For Prosperity); and the smaller Competitive Enterprise Institute, led by Fred Smith, who had been serving as director of government affairs for the Kochs’ defunct Council for a Competitive Economy. (This is all confirmed by the former president of the CCE, Richard Wilcke.)

    So few names, repeated over and over. And one name at the top, the Koch brothers, bringing with them 50 years and three generations of right-wing political investments, backed by the brothers’ estimated $100 billion-plus personal worth. This sort of power, political network, experience, and influence is not something that even cash-rich Google can buy overnight.

    Even if we still give Google and Facebook the benefit of the doubt, and allow that their investments in the CATO Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute weren’t directly motivated by killing Obamacare and throwing millions of struggling Americans back into the ranks of the uninsured and prematurely dying — nevertheless, they are accessories, and very consciously so. Big Tech’s larger political goals are in alignment with the old extraction industry’s: Undermining the countervailing power of government and public politics to weaken its ability to impede their growing dominance over their portions of the economy, and to tax their obscene stores of cash.

    Google – like Facebook, like Koch Industries — wants a government that’s strong enough to enforce its dominant private power over the economy and citizens and protect its wealth, but too broken and too alienated from the public to adequately represent the public interest against their domineering monopolistic power. That’s pretty much what’s going on here in this rather frightening merger we’re seeing between extraction industry interests and Big Tech interests.

    Politically, the problem with health care is that, even in spite of all of Obamacare’s many serious flaws and corporate giveaways, the more it works in the eyes of more and more Americans, the greater the danger to the Googles, Facebooks and Kochs that the public will believe again that government can do good, that public interest politics can change things for the better. Because if Obamacare becomes widely popular, and that positive idea of politics and government becomes a basic assumption again as it once was, then who’s to say what else the public will demand of Silicon Valley’s richest and most powerful companies?

    Yes, the same group that brought us the “They call CO2 pollution. We call it life!” ad campaign is the same group that was trying to effectively kill the poor for political purposes. And Google funds it.

    “Even if we still give Google and Facebook the benefit of the doubt, and allow that their investments in the CATO Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute weren’t directly motivated by killing Obamacare and throwing millions of struggling Americans back into the ranks of the uninsured and prematurely dying — nevertheless, they are accessories, and very consciously so. Big Tech’s larger political goals are in alignment with the old extraction industry’s: Undermining the countervailing power of government and public politics to weaken its ability to impede their growing dominance over their portions of the economy, and to tax their obscene stores of cash.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 27, 2015, 1:23 pm

Post a comment