Watching America’s Collapse

In the 1950s and 1960s the United States was a vibrant society. Upward mobility was strong, and the middle class expanded. During the 1970s the internal contradiction in Keynesian demand management resulted in stagflation. Reagan’s supply-side economic policy cured that. With a sound economy under him, Reagan was able to pressure the Soviet government, which was unable to solve its economic problem, to negotiate the end of the cold war.

This happy development was not welcomed by powerful forces, both in the US and Soviet Union. In the US the powerful military/security complex was unhappy about losing the Soviet Threat, under the auspices of which its budget and power had soared. Right-wing superpatriot conservatives accused Reagan of selling out America by trusting the Soviets. The American rightwing portrayed President Reagan as the grade-two movie actor dupe of “cunning communists.”

In the Soviet government Gorbachev faced a larger problem. With trust established between the two nuclear powers, Gorbachev released the Soviet hold on Eastern Europe. Hardline elements in the Soviet Communist Party saw too much change too rapidly and concluded that Gorbachev had sold out the Soviet Union to Washington. This conclusion resulted in Gorbachev’s arrest, and the consequence of his arrest was the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party.

With communism departed, the Russians forgot all of Marx’s lessons about capitalism and naively concluded that we were all now friends. The Yeltsin government opened to American advice and, by naively accepting American advice, Russia was looted and reduced to penury. Russia under Yeltsin became an American puppet state, and the Russian people paid for it with a great reduction in their living standard.

The collapse of the Soviet Union is usually attributed to Reagan and represented as one of his victories. This is a fabrication. I was in Reagan’s government, both as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury and afterward as a member of a secret Presidential Committee with subpeona power over the CIA. Reagan told us many times that his purpose was not to win the Cold War but to end it.

He told everyone involved that all respect had to be shown to the Soviets as the purpose was to end the threat of nuclear war, not to have an insulting triumphal victory.

Unfortunately, the trust Reagan established with the Russians was betrayed by the corrupt and criminal Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama regimes. Because of these utterly corrupt regimes, today the distrust between the US and Russia is far higher than ever existed during the long decades of the Cold War. What the criminal Clinton, Bush, and Obama regimes did was to resurrect the possibility of nuclear war that Reagan and Gorbachev had terminated.

As I have explained at length and as all available evidence supports, the attack on Trump rests on an orchestration called “Russiagate,” for which no evidence exists. It is an orchestration concocted by John Brennan, James Comey, Clapper, Rod Rosenstein, Mueller, and the Democratic National Committee. The transparent lies on which “Russiagate” is based are repeated continually by the presstitute media in an effort to create in the public mind a case for the removal of Trump from the Oval Office. See for example: The Brennan-Rosenstein-Mueller–Comey-Presstitute Witch Hunt

Also see: Cohen’s plea deal is prosecutor’s attempt to set up Trump

Mueller is part of the plot against Trump as is Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who appointed Mueller special prosecutor. Both are guilty of sedition as they are active participants in an organized coup to overthrow the President of the United States. But Trump is too powerless to have them arrested and put on trial for the conspiracy against democracy that they are conducting. President Trump is making a terminable mistake in trusting to facts and truth, neither of which is respected in the scant remains of Western Civilization.

Once there was hope that information available on the Internet would serve as a countervailing power to the lies told by the Western print, TV, and NPR presstitutes. But this was a vain hope. There are some good and reliable websites, increasingly being closed down by the ruling elite. The ruling elites have most of the money and can finance most of the online voices, all of which are employed for the purpose of contradicting truth.

I received today an email from RootsAction urging me to donate money to speed Trump’s impeachment. The website has even prepared the Articles of Impeachment and proclaims that “Trump’s Fixer Says the President Engaged in a Criminal Conspiracy to Sway the 2016 Election.”

This accusation comes from one of Trump’s former lawyers, Michael Cohen. They are allegations that most defense attorneys understand is Michael Cohen’s effort to gain a light sentence for his income tax evasion by “composing,” to use the term of Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, evidence against the man Mueller really wants—President Trump.

I will be unequivocal. RootsAction, as is the NY Times, Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, NPR and the rest of the media whores, is lying. To pay off two women, who might have been paid by the military/security complex, or Hillary & Bill Clinton, or the Democratic National Committee, to bring such charges or who simply saw an opportunity to collect a bunch of dollars from Donald Trump, is most certainly, most definitely not, as RootsAction claims, “the high crime and misdemeanor of attempting to fraudulently influence the outcome of a US presidential election. This is an impeahable offense warranting removal from office.”

Whoever advises RootsAction is a totally incompetent attorney. Moreover, to show the utter stupidity of RootsAction’s ignorant assertion, a “misdemeanor” cannot be a “high crime.” A “high crime” is a “felony.”

I have posted on my website statements from legal experts that there is nothing unlawful about paying off claimants. Corporations do it continually. It is much cheaper to pay off a false claim than to finance a court case to refute it. There is no reason whatsoever for a political candidate competing for a party’s nomination for the presidency to be distracted by fighting court cases brought to extort money from him.

Moreover, considering the dire straits in which the American population between the two coasts has been left by decades of jobs offshoring, the government’s inability to provide assistance to those millions of Americans whose living standard is dissolving because the military/security complex appropriates $1,000 billion annually from America’s resources, and the Trump public’s awareness that provoking Russia into war is in no one’s interest, RootsAction and the rest of the imbeciles have to be crazy beyond all belief to think that that anyone who voted for Trump cared if he had sexual encounters with two women. Considering the dire straits of Americans, the last thing they would do is to vote against their champion because he had sex with two women, assuming that he did.

Yet, an unsubstantiated claim by a lawyer who did not pay his income tax, a claim made for the purpose of a light sentence in exchange for providing false evidence against the President of the United States, is now, according to RootsAction, the New York Times, Washington Post, NPR, CNN, MSNBC, etc., and so on, grounds for impeaching the President of the United States who hopes to defuse the extremely dangerous tensions between Washington and Russia.

The military/security complex wants to impeach Trump because he wants peace with Russia, thus taking away the essential enemy that justifies their budget and power.

Are Americans too stupid to notice that there is not a shred of evidence of the “Russiagate” accusations? What we have in their place is income tax evasion charges, not against Trump, but against an attorney and a Republian campaign manager. More convincing charges could be brought against Democrats, but have not. The Hillary crowd of criminals has proven immune to prosecution.

No one has to approve of Trump in order to have the intelligence to see that Trump’s intention to normalize relations with Russia is the world’s main hope of continued existence. Once nuclear weapons go off, global warming will take on new meaning.

After three eight-year terms of US presidents, relations between the US and Russia stand at a far more dangerous level than ever existed during the Cold War. I know this for a fact, as I was directly involved in the Cold War.

The security that insouciant Americans find in the belief that only the US is a superpower is ignorant beyond all belief. A new book by Andrei Martyanov published by Clarity Press proves that, at best, the US is a second rate military power that can be utterly destroyed at will by Russia along with the entirety of the stupid NATO countries, every one of which is militarily impotent. In the present correlation of forces, nothing whatsoever can be done to save a square inch of the Western world if Russia ever has enough of the absurd accusations, absurd threats, absurd postering of a totally inferior military power drunk on its own ignorant hubris.

Americans are too insouciant to know it, but they are living day by day only at the mercy of Russia.

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Contributed by Paul Craig Roberts of Institute for Political Economy.

About Dr. Paul Craig Roberts

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal. He was columnist for Business Week, Scripps Howard News Service, and Creators Syndicate. He has had many university appointments. His internet columns have attracted a worldwide following. Visit his web site at the Institute for Political Economy.

This article has been posted with permission from Dr. Paul Craig Roberts.

Copyright Paul Craig Roberts 2015.

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Author: Paul Craig Roberts

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How To Get Rid Of Paranoid Conspiracy Theorists

Are you as sick and tired as I am of all those tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy nutters who express skepticism whenever the kind and beneficent US intelligence agencies bestow us with urgent information about a new country in need of regime change? Do you want to get rid of that kooky fringe 74 percent of Americans who believe in a “Deep State” which controls the elected government?

Well you’re in luck, bucko! I happen to have compiled right here a list of six simple steps that our compassionate government and fearless media can take to rid America of these looney toon paranoid conspiracy theorists once and for all:

1. Stop fucking lying all the time.

Simple, right? Just stop lying and people will stop wondering how the narrative they’re being spoon fed by their politicians and the media differs from reality!

End the practice of defense and intelligence agencies collaborating with think tanks and unelected insiders to manufacture false narratives which are then promulgated by pundits and politicians of both mainstream parties to advance imperialist agendas. What will Alex Jones and Sputnik talk about if the voices of power start telling the truth all of a sudden instead of lying about the justifications for imperialist wars, excluding and censoring skeptics of establishment orthodoxies from the mainstream conversation, and being forthright about the massive and ubiquitous problems in America’s democratic system?

That’ll show those crackpots!

2. Try some actual fucking government transparency.

That’s right! Add government transparency into the mix and what will hostile non-state intelligence operatives like Julian Assange have to publish? I say we drive the WikiLeaks fake news complex right out of business by eliminating the immense veil of secrecy which shrouds so many levels of US government. That way when those annoying conspiracy kooks try to say we’re not being given the full story about the behavior of America and its allies, our leaders can just tell them “Uh, yes we are actually” and show unredacted documentation of all their behaviors.

How do you like that, Russian WikiLeaks? We are the WikiLeaks now!

3. Stop fucking killing people.

Of course, it’s hard to be transparent when you’re conducting countless military operations all over the planet at any given moment, so we’ll probably have to stop that too. We don’t want to give away the secret plans and locations of America’s brave servicemen and women, after all. Dedicate the US military to defending America’s own shores and close down the hundreds of US military bases which dot the world like freckles on a Scotsman, and the next time those paranoid conspiracy freaks start questioning what they’re being told they can just be shown the truth.

Not as much fun as drone bombing children, I’ll admit, but if we want to get serious about this conspiracy theory epidemic we’ve got to start somewhere.

4. Stop promoting fucking conspiracy theories.

I don’t like to be a Debbie downer, but when we’ve got news stories coming out every few days promoting theories about the US president conspiring with the Russian government, it gets a little difficult to tell people not to indulge in conspiracy theories. Unproven claims about powerful people conspiring together is the exact thing that a conspiracy theory is, and while I understand that these are authorized conspiracy theories, we can’t rely on these crazy loons to understand the distinction.

Better to lead by example and avoid trafficking in conspiracy theories altogether, in my opinion.

5. Stop being such fucking assholes.

If US intelligence agencies weren’t torturing people, they wouldn’t have to lie about torturing. If US intelligence agencies weren’t surveilling US citizens, they wouldn’t have to lie about their surveillance programs. If US intelligence agencies weren’t constantly committing horrific atrocities to protect the interests of the powerful from the powerless, everyone would trust them and you’d stop seeing all these ridiculous conspiracy theories about what those agencies have been up to.

Call me crazy, but I’ve got this wild notion that maybe if highly secretive defense and intelligence agencies weren’t inflicting unspeakable acts of depravity and degradation upon humanity all the time from behind the veil of government opacity, humanity would be less paranoid about them.

6. Maybe try some fucking democracy for once.

People are beginning to notice that no matter who they vote for they get the same exploitative neoliberal policies at home and the same murderous neoconservative policies abroad, which doesn’t do much to dispel those wacky notions about a permanent unelected government pulling the strings while the official elected government puts on a pretend democracy show every few years. It would probably be a good idea to do something about how America has the worst electoral system in the western world, how ordinary Americans have virtually no influence over US policy or behavior compared to wealthy Americans, and the way the rigidly-enforced two-party system necessarily creates an extortion scheme where both parties serve the same plutocratic interests but bully Americans into supporting one or the other under the threat of losing civil liberties.

And again, I hate to be a wet blanket, but those defense and intelligence agencies technically are unelected and technically do wield an immense amount of power, and technically do have an immense amount of influence over Washington, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, the mainstream media, big oil, plutocratic interests, US allies, world trade, and countless major world events. By restoring power to the people instead of leaving it all in the hands of an elite class of secretive agencies and their plutocratic allies, people might feel like they have a bit more control over what’s going on in their country and won’t have to make up nonsensical stories about a “deep state”.

If we could pull these steps off, what will these conspiracy-mongering grifters have to sell to the naive populace? If everyone trusts their government and feels confident in the democratic process, who will believe stories about powerful unelected forces ruling over them?

You certainly wouldn’t have 74 percent of them subscribing to this absurd “deep state” conspiracy theory, that’s for sure.

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Author: The Daily Sheeple

“Democratic Institutions?” – 10 Lessons From History That Will Destroy Your Trust in the CIA

This article was originally published by offGuardian.

***

In the hysterical wake of the Trump-Putin Summit in Helsinki, President Donald Trump was roundly criticised in the media for taking the side of a “hostile state” over his own intelligence agencies. The Guardian referred to Mueller as a “heroic marine” who Trump disbelieved in favour of a “Russian dictator”.

In the past, when Trump has criticised the FBI, CIA or NSA he has been accused of “undermining faith in our institutions”. He’s been blamed for a collapse of trust in the government. But was this trust ever earned?

At every corner, we are urged to simply believe what we are told. Whether it is about believing Porton Down and MI6 about “novichok”, or believing the White Helmets about Sarin, or believing the FBI about “collusion”, we are presented with no facts, just assertions from authority. Those who question those assertions are deemed “bots” at best or “traitors” at worst.

Well here, fellow traitors, are the Top Ten reasons to question anything and everything the CIA – or any intelligence agency – has ever told you.

10. OPERATION PAPERCLIP – we’ll start with an oldie but a goody. In 1945, as the allies were advancing on Berlin from both sides, American Army Intelligence (this was before the CIA were founded) were “capturing” (read: recruiting) over 1600 Nazi scientists and engineers. Most famous of them was Werhner von Braun…sorry, SS Sturmbannführer von Braun.

Whilst Allied soldiers died in the name of defeating fascism, the CIA’s predecessors were actively recruiting Nazis to come and build bombs for them.

9. OPERATION NORTHWOODS – The original, and important, precedent for accusations that the CIA et al. might engage in false-flag attacks. Operation Northwoods was a joint CIA/Pentagon proposal designed around the idea of escalating a war with Cuba by stoking public anger:

The proposals called for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or other U.S. government operatives to commit acts of terrorism against American civilians and military targets, blaming it on the Cuban government, and using it to justify a war against Cuba.

The idea was vetoed by President Kennedy. Fifty years later, the CIA and Pentagon still very much exist, but there’s no longer a Kennedy there to veto their more psychopathic ideas. Funny how that worked out.

8. ALLENDE COUP – In 1970 Salvador Allende was elected to the Chilean Presidency. A Physician and dedicated socialist, Allende was the first socialist president elected in South America. The Nixon-lead government of the United States immediately implemented “economic warfare” (as they do, to this day, against Cuba, Venezuela and others). The economic warfare did not work, and in 1973 Allende’s socialist party increased their parliamentary majority.

In response, the US “assisted” (read: instructed) the Chilean military in carrying out a coup. Allende allegedly shot himself, and Augusto Pinochet was placed in power as the first dictator in Chile’s history. Pinochet was a fascist who executed Chilean “subversives” by the thousand…and was the darling of Western leaders.

7. MOSADDEGH COUP – I could just copy-and-paste the above paragraph and the change the names for this entry. In 1953, the Prime Minister of Iran – Mohammad Mosaddegh, a democratic socialist – wanted to audit the income of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company with an eye to limiting foreign control of Iran’s oil. Within a few months, a joint US/UK operation – Operation Ajax – had removed Mosaddegh’s elected government and turned over full control of the state to the Shah. He was a brutal absolute monarch, but the question of Western control of Iran’s enormous oil reserves wasn’t raised again under his leadership.

6. OPERATION MOCKINGBIRD – A CIA operation that you could deduce existed, even if were not proven….and it is proven. Mockingbird was the CIA project to coerce, train, control or plant CIA-friendly journalists in major news networks all across the country and in every medium. It’s existence is no longer disputed, thanks to FOIA releases of internal memos.

Mockingbird was allegedly shut down in 1976 – just after its existence was leaked – then CIA director George HW Bush claiming:

…effective immediately, CIA will not enter into any paid or contractual relationship with any full-time or part-time news correspondent accredited by any U.S. news service, newspaper, periodical, radio or television network or station.”

If you’re willing to stake anything on the word of a Bush, well, good luck with that. It’s a decision that flies in the face of historical evidence.

Remember this one when you hear about the need to trust the CIA from some pundit on CNN or MSNBC.

5. MASS SURVEILLANCE – It’s not really talked about much these days – what with the vast majority of the media and huge sections of the supposedly “anti-establishment” progressive left marching in-step with the Deep State – but the NSA spied on the whole world. The whole world. We know this to be true because an employee of the Deep State – Edward Snowden – leaked the information.

When challenged on this issue, representatives of the NSA and CIA lied. They lied to the public, and they lied to congress. When they were proven to have lied, they carefully qualified their lies.

A qualified lie is still a lie.

There is no indication they have stopped this illegal surveillance, but they may have passed laws to make it legal.

4. NAYIRAH – A classic of “atrocity propaganda”, Nayirah should be required reading material for anybody looking top hop on a pro-war bandwagon. Nayirah – who originally gave only her first name – was a fifteen year old girl who testified in front of the United States Congress. She claimed to be a volunteer from at a Kuwaiti hospital, and to be an eye-witness to Iraqi soldiers throwing Kuwaiti babies out of incubators and leaving them to die:

I volunteered at the al-Addan hospital with twelve other women who wanted to help as well. I was the youngest volunteer. The other women were from twenty to thirty years old. While I was there I saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators and left the children to die on the cold floor. It was horrifying.

It was later revealed, not only that her full name was Nayirah al-Sabah and she was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador, but that she had never volunteered at a hospital and had seen no babies, soldiers or incubators. The whole thing was a fiction. A fiction paid for by the “Citizens of Free Kuwait”, an NGO (and obvious CIA front) set up to lobby the US to intervene in the Iraq-Kuwait war.

By the time this fiction was revealed it was too late, and the US had launched Operation Desert Storm….which was, of course, the entire point of the exercise

Remember this, when you hear about Assad gassing children or bombing kittens.

3. COINTELPRO – The FBI’s long running (and sometimes illegal) COunter INTELligence PROgram, COINTELPRO was a series of domestic projects carried out by the FBI (with cooperation from other agencies), over decades, with the aim of “surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic political organizations”.

These political organizations included anti-Vietnam protestors, civil rights groups (including both MLK and Malcolm X), socialists, Communist Party USA, environmental groups and feminist organizations.

The brief for these “disruptions” came straight from J. Edgar Hoover who wanted the FBI to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise Neutralize”people he perceived to be enemies of the state. The capital N in “neutralise” is no accident, as the FBI was implicated in the deaths of several Black Panther leaders, including Fred Hampton.

COINTELPRO didn’t just involve undermining left-wing groups, but also creating right-wing groups:

The FBI also financed, armed, and controlled an extreme right-wing group of former Minutemen, transforming it into a group called the Secret Army Organization that targeted groups, activists, and leaders involved in the Anti-War Movement, using both intimidation and violent acts.

Whether this was done to actually push a right-wing agenda, create a fake threat to step up police powers, or just sow division and chaos, is unclear. But it definitely happened.

Much like MKUltra (below), COINTELPRO was “officially shut down”, not long after the public found out it existed. However, the accidental outing of undercover policeman at a rally in Oakland, and recent relaxation of the laws limiting the FBI’s powers, means that COINTELPRO – or a modern successor – is very likely still a thing.

The aim of COINTELPRO was to “Neutralize” anti-establishment political figures – the vast majority of targets were left wingers – through “smearing individuals and groups using forged documents and by planting false reports in the media”. Remember that when you see Rand Paul called a “traitor” on twitter, or read about “Russian collusion”, or see Jeremy Corbyn branded an anti-Semite.

Remember that it is proven that the Deep State – our trusted intelligence agencies – pay people to plant false stories and discredit political opponents.

2. PROJECT MKULTRA – It might sound like something from a 70s sci-fi TV series, but it is unfortunately real. MKUltra was a series of (illegal) experiments carried out by the CIA from 1953 until it was *cough* “officially halted” in 1973 (just after its existence was leaked). The experiments were wide-ranging, achieved varied levels of success, but pretty uniformly brutal and unethical. They included, but were not limited too:

– Giving LSD to unsuspecting soldiers to see what happened.
– Mass hypnosis and mass suggestion
– Torture studies
– Studies on the effect of verbal and/or sexual abuse

We’ll never know the full range of studies, or how they were carried out, because in 1973 Richard Helms, then director of the CIA, ordered all MKUltra files destroyed. Only a fraction of them survive, thanks to FOIA requests, but it’s reasonable to assume they destroyed the worst parts and kept the more quote-unquote innocent files.

The CIA were not unique in this regard either, MKUltra was their baby – but there were parallel projects in other quarters of the deep state. Army Intelligence had Edgewood Arsenal, whilst the Department of Defense had Project 112. All these projects were “officially halted” in the early 70s…just around the time the public found out they existed.

The CIA (et al.) have strongly denied that these experiments and projects have ever been continued in any way, shape or form…but if you’d asked them in 1969, they would have denied they had ever taken place at all.

1. THE IRAQ WAR – This might not be the most callous, the most dangerous, the most recent, the most secret or the most insidious of the items on this list, nevertheless it is – must be – number one…because it is the most brazen.

The war was started in the name of “weapons of mass destruction” that everyone – everyone – knew never existed. They all knew the truth, but they lied.

The President lied, the vice-president lied, the secretary of defence lied, the secretary of state lied. The Prime Minister lied, the defence minister lied, the foreign minister lied. They lied to the press, the people and the UN.

The CIA, the NSA, the FBI – then headed by the “heroic marine” Robert Mueller – they lied too. The press repeated these lies, without question (see: Operation Mockingbird). They weren’t “misinformed”, they weren’t “mistaken”. They lied, they lied repeatedly – and provably – and they did it in order to start a war, make money, take control, spread influence.

One million Iraqis died.

Our ruling class is peopled with psychopaths and war criminals, who have so little regard for the people they lie to they recycle the same childishly simple falsehoods to further their evil agenda again and again and again. They tried the same in Libya…it worked again. They tried again in Syria…luckily, it didn’t work there.

Our “democratic institutions” lie to start wars. There’s no reason to think they aren’t doing – or wouldn’t do – the same thing about Iran, North Korea…or Russia.

That’s our list, and there’s really only one lesson you can take away from it:

These people, agencies and institutions deserve no trust, have earned no trust and have abused every micron of trust ever placed in them. To suggest we have a duty to believe them – or that they have ever done anything to serve the public good – is to live in a dream world.

This list is not a full catalogue of Deep State crimes, it would be 1000s of entries long if it were, but these ten are important. They’re important because they are admitted, proven and beyond debate. They are important because they show the many facets of dishonesty, hypocrisy and abuses of power that Intelligence agencies engage in, and they are important because they form the best riposte to the disingenuous clamour for “trust” in our “democratic institutions”.

Never trust the CIA, they have proved they don’t deserve it.

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The Schizophrenic Deep State is a Symptom, Not the Disease

If we understand the profound political disunity fracturing the nation and its Imperial Project, we understand the Deep State must also fracture along the same fault lines.

If we consider the state of the nation from 40,000 feet, several key indicators of profound political disunity within the elites pop out:

1. The overt politicization of the central state’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies: it is now commonplace to find former top officials of the CIA et al. accusing a sitting president of treason in the mainstream media. What was supposed to be above politics is now nothing but politics.

2. The overt politicization of the centralized (corporate) media: evidence that would stand up in a court of law is essentially non-existent but the interpretations and exaggerations that fit the chosen narrative are ceaselessly promoted–the classic definition of desperate propaganda by those who have lost the consent of the governed.

The nation’s elites are not just divided–they’re exhibiting signs of schizophrenic breakdown: disassociation and a loss of the ability to discern the difference between reality and their internal fantasies.

I’ve been writing about the divided Deep State for a number of years, for example, The Conflict within the Deep State Just Broke into Open Warfare. The topic appears to be one of widespread interest, as this essay drew over 300,000 views.

It’s impossible to understand the divided Deep State unless we situate it in the larger context of profound political disunity, a concept I learned from historian Michael Grant, whose slim but insightful volume The Fall of the Roman Empire I have been recommending since 2009.

As I noted in my 2009 book Survival+, this was a key feature of the Roman Empire in its final slide to collapse. The shared values and consensus which had held the Empire’s core together dissolved, leaving petty fiefdoms to war among themselves for what power and swag remained.

A funny thing happens when a nation allows itself to be ruled by Imperial kleptocrats: such rule is intrinsically destabilizing, as there is no longer any moral or political center to bind the nation together. The public sees the value system at the top is maximize my personal profit by whatever means are available, i.e. complicity, corruption, monopoly and rentier rackets, and they follow suit by pursuing whatever petty frauds and rackets are within reach: tax avoidance, cheating on entrance exams, gaming the disability system, lying on mortgage and job applications, and so on.

But the scope of the rentier rackets is so large, the bottom 95% cannot possibly keep up with the expanding wealth and income of the top .1% and their army of technocrats and enablers, so a rising sense of injustice widens the already yawning fissures in the body politic.

Meanwhile, diverting the national income into a few power centers is also destabilizing, as Central Planning and Market Manipulation (a.k.a. the Federal Reserve) are intrinsically unstable as price can no longer be discovered by unfettered markets. As a result, imbalances grow until some seemingly tiny incident or disruption triggers a cascading collapse, a.k.a. a phase shift or system re-set.

As the Power Elites squabble over the dwindling crumbs left by the various rentier rackets, there’s no one left to fight for the national interest because the entire Status Quo of self-interested fiefdoms and cartels has been co-opted and is now wedded to the Imperial Oligarchy as their guarantor of financial security.

The divided Deep State is a symptom of this larger systemic political disunity. I have characterized the divide as between the Wall Street-Neocon-Globalist Neoliberal camp–currently the dominant public face of the Deep State, the one desperately attempting to exploit the “Russia hacked our elections and is trying to destroy us” narrative–and a much less public, less organized “rogue Progressive” camp, largely based in the military services and fringes of the Deep State, that sees the dangers of a runaway expansionist Empire and the resulting decay of the nation’s moral/political center.

What few observers seem to understand is that concentrating power in centralized nodes is intrinsically unstable. Contrast a system in which power, control and wealth is extremely concentrated in a few nodes (the current U.S. Imperial Project) and a decentralized network of numerous dynamic nodes.

The disruption of any of the few centralized nodes quickly destabilizes the entire system because each centralized node is highly dependent on the others. This is in effect what happened in the 2008-09 Financial Meltdown: the Wall Street node failed and that quickly imperiled the entire economy and thus the entire political order, up to and including the Global Imperial Project.

Historian Peter Turchin has proposed that the dynamics of profound political disunity (i.e. social, financial and political disintegration) can be quantified in a Political Stress Index, a concept he describes in his new book Ages of Discord.

If we understand the profound political disunity fracturing the nation and its Imperial Project, we understand the Deep State must also fracture along the same fault lines. There is no other possible output of a system of highly concentrated nodes of power, wealth and control and the competing rentier rackets of these dependent, increasingly fragile centralized nodes.

Of related interest:

Is the Deep State Fracturing into Disunity? (March 14, 2014)

Following in Ancient Rome’s Footsteps: Moral Decay, Rising Wealth Inequality(September 30, 2015)

Profound Political Disunity Is Now Pitting Rising Elites Against Fading Elites (November 24, 2015)

The Age of Disintegration: Political Disunity and Elites At War (November 21, 2016)

The Ruling Elite Has Lost the Consent of the Governed (October 20, 2016)

USA 2020: An Ungovernable Nation? (October 10, 2016)

Virtue-Signaling the Decline of the Empire (February 28, 2017)

Summer Book Sale: 30% off Kindle editions, 25% off print editions. If you’re interested in real solutions, check these out:

A Radically Beneficial World ($6.95 Kindle, $15 print) Read the first chapter for free.

Money and Work Unchained ($6.95 Kindle, $15 print) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Resistance, Revolution, Liberation ($6.95 Kindle, $15 print)

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Contributed by Charles Hugh Smith of Of Two Minds.

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Brett Kavanaugh, Defender of the Deep State

Earlier this week rumors swirled that President Trump actually considered filling the vacant Supreme Court slot with Judge Napolitano.

It was too good to be true.

Instead, he picked Brett Kavanaugh, no friend to the Constitution. Kavanaugh supports allowing the state to violate the Fourth Amendment and conduct widespread snooping on the American people. 

He also wants to make sure you never find out who whacked JFK. 

JFK Facts reports Kavanaugh sided with the CIA—included on the list of suspects accused of murdering the president—making sure you never find out what the government is keeping secret about the assassination. 

In November 2013 on the fiftieth anniversary of the murder Gallup reported only thirty percent of polled Americans believe Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone gunman. More than sixty percent believe “others were involved” in a conspiracy. 

From the start, many Americans didn’t believe the government cover story.

“Americans were skeptical about the ‘lone gunman’ theory almost immediately after Kennedy was killed,” Gallup reported. “In a poll conducted Nov. 22-27, 1963, Gallup found that 29% of Americans believed one man was responsible for the shooting and 52% believed others were involved in a conspiracy. A majority of Americans have maintained that ‘others were involved’ in the shooting each time Gallup has asked this question over the past 50 years, except December 1966, when exactly half of Americans said someone in addition to Oswald was responsible.”

Trump promised he would release secret CIA and FBI documents on the murder. During the campaign, he accused Ted Cruz’s father of being associated with Oswald. 

I was skeptical when Trump made his announcement. I said no way will the government release documents that contradict the absurd lone gunman theory that became the official explanation fifty years ago. 

Sure enough, Trump backed down. 

He said “executive departments and agencies have proposed to me that certain information should continue to be redacted because of national security, law enforcement, and foreign affairs concerns.”

Brett Kavanaugh’s protection of the CIA and his disregard for the Constitution make him a dangerous choice for the Supreme Court. 

Democrats and liberals are opposed to Kavanaugh—not because he will undermine the Bill of Rights, but because they think he will try to overturn Roe v. Wade.

In 2006, during his confirmation hearings on appointment to the DC circuit court, Kavanaugh told Chuck Schumer that if he ever made it to the Supreme Court he would up hold the federal abortion law. But we know how promises go when issued by swamp critters in service to the deep state.

No way in hell will a man or woman or Andrew Napolitano’s stature be elevated to the highest court in the land. Libertarians may be allowed to defend the Constitution on Fox News, but they will never be permitted to sit on the Supreme Court and do the same. 

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Contributed by Kurt Nimmo of Another Day in the Empire.

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Technetronic Enslavement: Life Inside the Matrix of Control

The march of modern progress has brought forth many advances for humanity, and yet man is lost.

Technology, automation, and miniaturisation, along with the micro-processing revolution, allow things to happen that were unimaginable only ten years ago, let alone a century before. These rapid advances have brought with them a number of complex problems, some of which challenge the very notion of progress.

If you define the level of an advanced civilisation by how much freedom its citizens experience in their day to day lives – along with the protection of individual liberties as we have come to expect in the 21st century – then the march of the mass surveillance state over the last 15 years should be of serious concern.

Despite public pleas from our leaders that, ‘if only we pass this next law or security measure’, or ‘if we can just launch one more month of airstrikes’, or ‘if the public will allow just a bit more access to their personal information…’ and so on, the state and its corporate partners have developed a firm grip on power over, and intrusions into, our personal lives that is only increasing.

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The GOOGLE CONSPIRACY Laid Bare Unwittingly By An ‘Insider’

 

 

The GOOGLE CONSPIRACY Laid Bare Unwittingly By An ‘Insider’

Google.gov

Amid growing calls to break up Google, are we missing a quiet alignment between “smart” government and the universal information engine?

By Adam J. White

The New Atlantis

Google exists to answer our small questions. But how will we answer larger questions about Google itself? Is it a monopoly? Does it exert too much power over our lives? Should the government regulate it as a public utility — or even break it up?

In recent months, public concerns about Google have become more pronounced. This February, the New York Times Magazine published “The Case Against Google,” a blistering account of how “the search giant is squelching competition before it begins.” The Wall Street Journal published a similar article in January on the “antitrust case” against Google, along with Facebook and Amazon, whose market shares it compared to Standard Oil and AT&T at their peaks. Here and elsewhere, a wide array of reporters and commentators have reflected on Google’s immense power — not only over its competitors, but over each of us and the information we access — and suggested that the traditional antitrust remedies of regulation or breakup may be necessary to rein Google in.

Dreams of war between Google and government, however, obscure a much different relationship that may emerge between them — particularly between Google and progressive government. For eight years, Google and the Obama administration forged a uniquely close relationship. Their special bond is best ascribed not to the revolving door, although hundreds of meetings were held between the two; nor to crony capitalism, although hundreds of people have switched jobs from Google to the Obama administration or vice versa; nor to lobbying prowess, although Google is one of the top corporate lobbyists.

Rather, the ultimate source of the special bond between Google and the Obama White House — and modern progressive government more broadly — has been their common ethos. Both view society’s challenges today as social-engineering problems, whose resolutions depend mainly on facts and objective reasoning. Both view information as being at once ruthlessly value-free and yet, when properly grasped, a powerful force for ideological and social reform. And so both aspire to reshape Americans’ informational context, ensuring that we make choices based only upon what they consider the right kinds of facts — while denying that there would be any values or politics embedded in the effort.

Follow The New AtlantisAddressing an M.I.T. sports-analytics conference in February, former President Obama said that Google, Facebook, and prominent Internet services are “not just an invisible platform, but they are shaping our culture in powerful ways.” Focusing specifically on recent outcries over “fake news,” he warned that if Google and other platforms enable every American to personalize his or her own news sources, it is “very difficult to figure out how democracy works over the long term.” But instead of treating these tech companies as public threats to be regulated or broken up, Obama offered a much more conciliatory resolution, calling for them to be treated as public goods:

I do think that the large platforms — Google and Facebook being the most obvious, but Twitter and others as well that are part of that ecosystem — have to have a conversation about their business model that recognizes they are a public good as well as a commercial enterprise.

This approach, if Google were to accept it, could be immensely consequential. As we will see, during the Obama years, Google became aligned with progressive politics on a number of issues — net neutrality, intellectual property, payday loans, and others. If Google were to think of itself as a genuine public good in a manner calling upon it to give users not only the results they want but the results that Google thinks they need, the results that informed consumers and democratic citizens ought to have, then it will become an indispensable adjunct to progressive government. The future might not be U.S. v. Google but Google.gov.

“To Organize the World’s Information”

Before thinking about why Google might begin to embrace a role of actively shaping the informational landscape, we must treat seriously Google’s stated ethos to the contrary, which presents the company’s services as merely helping people find the information they’re looking for using objective tools and metrics. From the start, Google had the highest aspirations for its search engine: “A perfect search engine will process and understand all the information in the world,” co-founder Sergey Brin announced in a 1999 press release. “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information, making it universally accessible and useful.”

Google’s beginning is a story of two idealistic programmers, Brin and Larry Page, trying to impose order on a chaotic young World Wide Web, not through an imposed hierarchy but lists of search results ranked algorithmically by their relevance. In 1995, five years after an English computer scientist created the first web site, Page arrived at Stanford, entering the computer science department’s graduate program and needing a dissertation topic. Focusing on the nascent Web, and inspired by modern academia’s obsession with scholars’ citations to other scholars’ papers, Page devised BackRub, a search engine that rated the relevance of a web page based on how often other pages link back to it.

Because a web page does not itself identify the sites that link back to it, BackRub required a database of the Web’s links. It also required an algorithm to rank the relevance of a given page on the basis of all the links to it — to quantify the intuition that “important pages tend to link to important pages,” as Page’s collaborator Brin put it. Page and Brin called their ranking algorithm PageRank. The name PageRank “was a sly vanity,” Steven Levy later observed in his 2011 book In the Plex — “many people assumed the name referred to web pages, not a surname.”

Page and Brin quickly realized that their project’s real value was in ranking not web pages but results for searches of those pages. They had developed a search engine that was far superior to AltaVista, Excite, Infoseek, and all the other now-forgotten rivals that preceded it, which could search for words on pages but did not have effective ways of determining the inherent importance of a page. Coupled with PageRank, BackRub — which would soon be renamed Google — was immensely useful at helping people find what they wanted. When combined with other signals of web page quality, PageRank generated “mind-blowing results,” writes Levy.

Wary of the fate of Nikola Tesla — who created world-changing innovations but failed to capitalize on them — Page and Brin incorporated Google in September 1998, and quickly attracted investors. Instead of adopting the once-ubiquitous “banner ad” model, Google created AdWords, which places relevant advertisements next to search results, and AdSense, which supplies ads to other web sites with precisely calibrated content. Google would find its fortune in these techniques — which were major innovations in their own right — with $1.4 billion in ad revenue in 2003, ballooning to $95 billion last year. Google — recently reorganized under a new parent company, Alphabet — has continued to develop or acquire a vast array of products focused on its original mission of organizing information, including Gmail, Google Books, Google Maps, Chrome, the Android operating system, YouTube, and Nest.

In Google We Trust

Page and Brin’s original bet on search has proved world-changing. At the outset, in 1999, Google was serving roughly a billion searches per year. Today, the figure runs to several billion per day. But even more stark than the absolute number of searches is Google’s market share: According to the JanuaryWall Street Journal article calling for antitrust action against Google, the company now conducts 89 percent of all Internet searches, a figure that rivals Standard Oil’s market share in the early 1900s and AT&T’s in the early 1980s.

But Google’s success ironically brought about challenges to its credibility, as companies eager to improve their ranking in search results went to great lengths to game the system. Because Google relied on “objective” metrics, to some extent they could be reverse-engineered by web developers keen to optimize their sites to increase their ranking. “The more Google revealed about its ranking algorithms, the easier it was to manipulate them,” writes Frank Pasquale in The Black Box Society (2015). “Thus began the endless cat-and-mouse game of ‘search engine optimization,’ and with it the rush to methodological secrecy that makes search the black box business that it is.”

While the original PageRank framework was explained in Google’s patent application, Google soon needed to protect the workings of its algorithms “with utmost confidentiality” to prevent deterioration of the quality of its search results, writes Steven Levy.

But Google’s approach had its cost. As the company gained a dominant market share in search … critics would be increasingly uncomfortable with the idea that they had to take Google’s word that it wasn’t manipulating its algorithm for business or competitive purposes. To defend itself, Google would characteristically invoke logic: any variance from the best possible results for its searchers would make the product less useful and drive people away, it argued. But it withheld the data that would prove that it was playing fair. Google was ultimately betting on maintaining the public trust. If you didn’t trust Google, how could you trust the world it presented in its results?

Google’s neutrality was critical to its success. But that neutrality had to be accepted on trust. And today — even as Google continues to reiterate its original mission “to organize the world’s information, making it universally accessible and useful” — that trust is steadily eroding.

Google has often stressed that its search results are superior precisely because they are based upon neutral algorithms, not human judgment. As Ken Auletta recounts in his 2009 book Googled, Brin and then-CEO Eric Schmidt “explained that Google was a digital Switzerland, a ‘neutral’ search engine that favored no content company and no advertisers.” Or, as Page and Brin wrote in the 2004 Founders Letter that accompanied their initial public offering,

Google users trust our systems to help them with important decisions: medical, financial, and many others. Our search results are the best we know how to produce. They are unbiased and objective, and we do not accept payment for them or for inclusion or more frequent updating.

But Google’s own standard of neutrality in presenting the world’s information is only part of the story, and there is reason not to take it at face value. The standard of neutrality is itself not value-neutral but a moral standard of its own, suggesting a deeper ethos and aspiration about information. Google has always understood its ultimate project not as one of rote descriptive recall but of informativeness in the fullest sense. Google, that is, has long aspired not merely to provide people the information they ask for but to guide them toward informed choices about what information they’re seeking.

Put more simply, Google aims to give people not just the information they do want but the information Google thinks they should want. As we will see, the potential political ramifications of this aspiration are broad and profound.

“Don’t Be Evil,” and Other Objective Aims

Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one.” So opened that novel Founders Letter accompanying Google’s 2004 IPO. It was hardly the beginning of Page and Brin’s efforts to brand theirs as a company apart.

In July 2001, after Eric Schmidt became chairman of the board and the month before he would become CEO, Page and Brin had gathered a small group of early employees to identify Google’s core values, so that they could be protected through the looming expansion and inevitable bureaucratization. As John Battelle describes it in his 2005 book The Search:

The meeting soon became cluttered with the kind of easy and safe corporate clichés that everyone can support, but that carry little impact: Treat Everyone with Respect, for example…. That’s when Paul Buchheit, another engineer in the group, blurted out what would become the most important three words in Google’s corporate history…. “All of these things can be covered by just saying, Don’t Be Evil.

Those three words “became a cultural rallying call at Google, initially for how Googlers should treat each other, but quickly for how Google should behave in the world as well.” The motto exerted a genuine gravitational pull on the company’s deliberations, as Steven Levy recounts: “An idea would come up in a meeting with a whiff of anticompetitiveness to it, and someone would remark that it sounded … evil. End of idea.”

To Googlers, Levy notes, the motto “was a shortcut to remind everyone that Google was better than other companies.” This also seems to have been the upshot to Google’s rivals, to whom the motto smacked of arrogance. “Well, of course, you shouldn’t be evil,” Amazon founder Jeff Bezos told Battelle. “But then again, you shouldn’t have to brag about it either.”

Google’s founders themselves have been less than unified about the motto over the years. Page was at least equivocally positive in an interview with Battelle, arguing that “Don’t Be Evil” is “much better than Be Good or something.” But Brin (with Page alongside him) told attendees of the 2007 Global Philanthropy Forum that the better choice indeed would have been “Be Good,” precisely because “ultimately we’re in a position where we do have a lot of resources and unique opportunities. So you should ‘not be evil’ and also take advantage of the opportunity you have to do good.” Eric Schmidt, true to form as the most practical of Google’s governing troika, gives the slogan a pragmatic interpretation in his 2014 book How Google Works:

The famous Google mantra of “Don’t be evil” is not entirely what it seems. Yes, it genuinely expresses a company value and aspiration that is deeply felt by employees. But “Don’t be evil” is mainly another way to empower employees…. Googlers do regularly check their moral compass when making decisions.

As Schmidt implies, “Don’t Be Evil” has never exactly been self-explanatory — or objective. In a 2003 Wired profile titled “Google vs. Evil,” Schmidt elaborated on the motto’s gnomic moral code: “Evil,” he said, “is what Sergey [Brin] says is evil.” Even at that early stage in the company’s life, Brin recognized that the slogan was more portentous for Google itself than for other companies. Google, as gateway to the World Wide Web, was effectively establishing the infrastructure and governing framework of the Internet, granting the company unique power to benefit or harm the public interest. As the author of the Wired article explained, “Governments, religious bodies, businesses, and individuals are all bearing down on the company, forcing Brin to make decisions that have an effect on the entire Internet. ‘Things that would normally be side issues for another company carry the weight of responsibility for us,’ Brin says.”

“Don’t Be Evil” is a catchy slogan. But Google’s self-conception as definer and defender of the public interest is more revealing and weighty. The public focus on the slogan has distracted from the more fundamental values embodied in Google’s mission statement: “to organize the world’s information, making it universally accessible and useful.” On its face, Google’s mission — a clear, practical goal that everyone, it seems, can find laudable — sounds value-neutral, just as its organization of information purportedly is. But one has to ask: Useful for what? And according to whom?

What a Googler Wants

There has always been more to Google’s mission than merely helping people find the information they ask for. In the 2013 update of the Founders Letter, Page described the “search engine of my dreams,” which “provides information without you even having to ask, so no more digging around in your inbox to find the tracking number for a much-needed delivery; it’s already there on your screen.” Or, as Page and Brin describe in the 2005 Founders Letter,

Our search team also works very hard on relevancy — getting you exactly what you want, even when you aren’t sure what you need. For example, when Google believes you really want images, it returns them, even if you didn’t ask (try a query on sunsets).

Page acknowledged in the 2013 letter that “in many ways, we’re a million miles away” from that perfect search engine — “one that gets you just the right information at the exact moment you need it with almost no effort.” In the 2007 Founders Letter, they explain: “To do a perfect job, you would need to understand all the world’s information, and the precise meaning of every query.”

To say that the perfect search engine is one that minimizes the user’s effort is effectively to say that it minimizes the user’s active input. Google’s aim is to provide perfect results for what users “truly” want — even if the users themselves don’t yet realize what that is. Put another way, the ultimate aspiration is not to answer a user’s question but the question Google believes she should have asked. Schmidt himself drew this conclusion in 2010, as described in Wall Street Journal article for which he was interviewed:

The day is coming when the Google search box — and the activity known as Googling — no longer will be at the center of our online lives. Then what? “We’re trying to figure out what the future of search is,” Mr. Schmidt acknowledges. “I mean that in a positive way. We’re still happy to be in search, believe me. But one idea is that more and more searches are done on your behalf without you needing to type.”

I actually think most people don’t want Google to answer their questions,” he elaborates. “They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next.”

Let’s say you’re walking down the street. Because of the info Google has collected about you, “we know roughly who you are, roughly what you care about, roughly who your friends are.” Google also knows, to within a foot, where you are. Mr. Schmidt leaves it to a listener to imagine the possibilities: If you need milk and there’s a place nearby to get milk, Google will remind you to get milk. [Emphasis added.]

Or maybe, one is tempted to add: If Google knows you’ve been drinking too much milk lately, and thinks you’re the sort of person who cares about his health — and who doesn’t? — it will suggest you get water instead.

As Stanford’s Terry Winograd, Page and Brin’s former professor and a consultant on Gmail, explains to Ken Auletta, “The idea that somebody at Google could know better than the consumer what’s good for the consumer is not forbidden.” He describes his former students’ attitude as “a form of arrogance: ‘We know better.’” Although the comment was about controversies surrounding Gmail advertising and privacy — until June 2017, Gmail tailored its ads based on the content of users’ emails — the attitude Winograd describes also captures well Google’s aim to create the perfect search engine, which, in Schmidt’s words, will search “on your behalf.”

Fixing Search Results

Overshadowed by the heroic story of Google’s triumph through objective engineering is the story of the judgments of the engineers. Their many choices — reasonable but value-laden, even value-driven — are evident throughout the accounts of the company’s rise. And the history of Google’s ongoing efforts to change its search results to suit various needs — of foreign governments, of itself — indicates what Google might someday do to advance a particular notion of, in Barack Obama’s words, the “public good.”

As the story goes, Page and Brin designed Google to avoid human judgment in rating the relevance of web pages. Recounting Google’s original design, Steven Levy describes the founders’ opinion that “having a human being determine the ratings was out of the question,” not just because “it was inherently impractical,” but also because “humans were unreliable. Only algorithms — well drawn, efficiently executed, and based on sound data — could deliver unbiased results.”

But of course the algorithms had to be well drawn by someone, in accord with someone’s judgment. When the algorithms were originally created, Page and Brin themselves would judge the accuracy of search results and then tweak the code as needed to deliver better results. It was, Levy writes, “a pattern of rapid iterating and launching. If the pages for a given query were not quite in the proper order, they’d go back to the algorithm and see what had gone wrong,” then adjust the variables. As Levy shows, it was by their own account a subjective eyeball test: “You do the ranking initially,” Page explains, “and then you look at the list and say, ‘Are they in the right order?’ If they’re not, we adjust the ranking, and then you’re like, ‘Oh this looks really good.’”

Google continues to tweak its search algorithms. In their 2008 Founders Letter, Page and Brin wrote, “In the past year alone we have made 359 changes to our web search — nearly one per day.” These included “changes in ranking based on personalization” — Google had introduced its “personalized search” feature in 2004 to tailor search results to users’ interests. In newer versions, results are tailored to users’ search history, so that previously visited sites are more likely to be ranked higher. In 2015, Google’s general counsel told the Wall Street Journal, “We regularly change our search algorithms and make over 500 changes a year to help our users get the information they want.”

Sometimes Google adjusts its algorithms to make them “well drawn” to suit its own commercial interests. Harvard business professor Benjamin Edelman, an investigator of online consumer fraud and privacy violations, published findings in 2010 indicating that Google “hard-coded” its search algorithms, responding to queries for certain keywords by prioritizing its own web sites, such as Google Health and Google Finance. And in 2012 the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition compiled a reportdetailing Google’s pattern of prioritizing some of its own commercial web pages over those of its competitors in search results.

Edelman’s and the FTC’s conclusions seem well founded, but even more striking are the 2007 words of Google’s own Marissa Mayer, then one of its senior executives. In a public talk, she was asked why searches for stock tickers had begun to list Google Finance’s page as the top result, instead of the Yahoo! Finance web site that had previously dominated. Mayer (who, ironically, would later leave Google to become CEO of Yahoo!) told the audience bluntly that Google did arrange to put Google Finance atop search listings, and that it was also company “policy” to do likewise for Google Maps and other sites. She quipped, “It seems only fair, right? We do all the work for the search page and all these other things, so we do put it first.”

Censorship and the Public Good

Some of the changes Google has made to its search results have been for apparently political reasons. In 2002, Benjamin Edelman and Jonathan Zittrain (also of Harvard) showed that Google had quietly deleted from the French and German search engines 113 pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic, white supremacist, or otherwise objectionable web sites — some of them “difficult to cleanly categorize.” Although the authors found “no mention of government-mandated (or -requested) removals,” it seemed clear that these were pages “with content that might be sensitive or illegal in the respective countries.”

Google also has accommodated governmental demands for much less laudable reasons. In 2006, Google attracted strong criticism for censoring its search results at Google.cn to suit the Chinese government’s restrictions on free speech and access to information. As the New York Times reported, for Google’s Chinese search engine, “the company had agreed to purge its search results of any Web sites disapproved of by the Chinese government, including Web sites promoting Falun Gong, a government-banned spiritual movement; sites promoting free speech in China; or any mention of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.”

Google’s entry into China under these conditions spurred significant debate within the company. Would bowing to an authoritarian regime’s demands to limit freedom empower the regime, harming Google’s mission? Or would continuing to make the search engine available — even under the restrictions imposed by the government — ultimately empower the Chinese people?

Andrew McLaughlin, then Google’s director of global public policy, urged his colleagues against partnering with the Chinese government because of how it would change Google. Steven Levy recounts McLaughlin’s reasoning: “My basic argument involved the day-to-day moral degradation, just dealing with bad people who are badly motivated and force you into a position of cooperation.” But Page was hopeful, and so, as Levy tells the story, “the Google executives came to a decision using a form of moral metrics” — that is, they tallied the evil of banning content against the good Google might bring to China. Schmidt later said, “We actually did an ‘evil scale’ and decided [that] not to serve at all was worse evil.”

After several difficult years in China, cold reality confirmed McLaughlin’s skepticism. In 2010, Google announced that it had discovered an “attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China” and that a main target was the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Google had had enough of its approach to China, announcing it would only continue operating its search engine in the country if it could come to an agreement with the government on how to do so without censorship. Without any formal declaration as such, the negotiations eventually failed. Google stopped censoring, but the Chinese government threatened action and gradually cracked down, with reports indicating that Google search has been blocked in mainland China since 2014, along with many other Google services.

Google’s awkward moral dance with China offers a case study in what happens when its two core missions — providing objective searches of all the world’s information and Not Being Evil — come into conflict. It suggests an important and paradoxical lesson: Google is willing to compromise the neutrality of its search results, and itself, for the sake of what it deems the broader public good, a goal that is plainly morally driven to begin with.

The question raised by the example of China, and in a limited but perhaps clearer way by France and Germany, is: What are the possibilities when Google is cooperating with a government with which it is less adversarial, and whose conception of the public good it more closely shares?

Google — Change Obama Could Believe In

Barack Obama first visited Google’s headquarters during a fundraising trip in California in 2004, around the time he burst onto the national stage with his riveting address to the Democratic National Convention. The visit made such an impression on Obama that he described it at length two years later in his book The Audacity of Hope. He recounts touring the Google campus and meeting Larry Page: “We spoke about Google’s mission — to organize all of the world’s information into a universally accessible, unfiltered, and usable form.” But Obama was particularly moved by “a three-dimensional image of the earth rotated on a large flat-panel monitor,” on which colored lights showed the ceaseless flurry of Google searches across the globe, from Cambridge to rural India. “Then I noticed the broad swaths of darkness as the globe spun on its axis — most of Africa, chunks of South Asia, even some portions of the United States, where the thick cords of light dissolved into a few discrete strands.”

Obama’s “reverie,” as he put it, was broken by the arrival of Sergey Brin, who brought him to see Google’s weekly casual get-together where employees could meet and discuss issues with him and Page. Afterward, Obama discussed with Google executive David Drummond the need for America to welcome immigrants and foreign visitors, lest other nations leapfrog us as the world’s leader in technological innovation. “I just hope somebody in Washington understands how competitive things have become,” Obama recalls Drummond telling him. “Our dominance isn’t inevitable.”

Obama returned to Google in November 2007, choosing it as the forum to announce his nascent presidential campaign’s “Innovation Agenda,” a broad portfolio of policies on net neutrality, patent reform, immigration, broadband Internet infrastructure, and governmental transparency, among other topics. His remarks reveal his deepening affinity for Google and its founders. Recounting the company’s beginnings in a college dorm room, he cast its vision as closely aligned with his own for America: “What we shared is a belief in changing the world from the bottom up, not the top down; that a bunch of ordinary people can do extraordinary things.” With words that would become familiar for describing Obama’s outlook, he said that “the Google story is more than just being about the bottom line. It’s about seeing what we can accomplish when we believe in things that are unseen, when we take the measure of our changing times and we take action to shape them.”

After Obama’s opening remarks, CEO Eric Schmidt — who would later endorse Obama and campaign for him — joined him on stage to lead a long and wide-ranging Q&A. While much of the discussion focused on predictable subjects, in the closing minutes Obama addressed a less obvious issue: the need to use technology and information to break through people’s ill-founded opinions. He said that as president he wouldn’t allow “special interests” to dominate public discourse, for instance in debates about health care reform, because his administration would reply with “data and facts.” He added, jokingly, that “if they start running ‘Harry and Louise’ ads, I’ll run my own ads, or I’ll send out something on YouTube. I’m president and I’ll be able to — I’ll let them know what the facts are.”

But then, joking aside, he focused squarely on the need for government to use technology to correct what he saw as a well-meaning but too often ignorant public:

You know, one of the things that you learn when you’re traveling and running for president is, the American people at their core are a decent people. There’s a generosity of spirit there, and there’s common sense there, but it’s not tapped. And mainly people — they’re just misinformed, or they are too busy, they’re trying to get their kids to school, they’re working, they just don’t have enough information, or they’re not professionals at sorting out all the information that’s out there, and so our political process gets skewed. But if you give them good information, their instincts are good and they will make good decisions. And the president has the bully pulpit to give them good information.

And that’s what we have to return to: a government where the American people trust the information they’re getting. And I’m really looking forward to doing that, because I am a big believer in reason and facts and evidence and science and feedback — everything that allows you to do what you do, that’s what we should be doing in our government. [Crowd applauds.]

I want people in technology, I want innovators and engineers and scientists like yourselves, I want you helping us make policy — based on facts! Based on reason!

The moment is captured perfectly in Steven Levy’s book In the Plex, where he writes of Obama: “He thought like a Googler.

Obama then invoked the famous apocryphal line of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.” Obama finished his speech by pointing to the crucial role that Google could play in a politics based on facts:

And part of the problem that we’re having … is, we constantly have a contest where facts don’t matter, and I want to restore that sense of decisions being based on facts to the White House. And I think that many of you can help me, so I want you to be involved.

Obama’s appeal to the Googlers proved effective. Not only did Eric Schmidt personally campaign for Obama in 2008, but Google tools proved instrumental to his 2012 reelection campaign machine, years before the Trump campaign used tech platforms to similar effect in 2016. According to a 2013Bloomberg report, Google’s data tools helped the Obama campaign cut their media budget costs by tens of millions of dollars through effective targeting. Schmidt helped make hiring and technology decisions for Obama’s analytics team, and after the election he hired the core team members as the staff of Civis Analytics, a new consulting firm for which Schmidt was the sole investor. The staff of Google Analytics, the company’s web traffic analytics product, cited the 2012 campaign’s use of their platform as a case study for its effectiveness at targeting and responding to voters. In words reminiscent of Obama’s odes to making policy based on reason and facts, the report claims that Google Analytics helped the reelection campaign support “a culture of analysis, testing and optimization.”

And Google’s relationship with Obama didn’t stop with the campaigns. In the years after his election, scores of Google alums would join the Obama administration. Among the most prominent were Megan Smith, a Google vice president, who became Obama’s Chief Technology Officer, and her deputy Andrew McLaughlin, who had been Google’s director of global public policy. Eric Schmidt joined the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. In October 2014, the Washington Post recounted the migration of talent from Google to the Obama White House under the headline, “With appointment after appointment, Google’s ideas are taking hold in D.C.”

But the professional kinship between Google and the administration only saw comprehensive attention in its closing. In April 2016, The Intercept published “The Android Administration,” an impressive report laying out in great detail a case that “no other public company approaches this degree of intimacy with government.” It included charts that visualized the 252 job moves between Google and government from Obama’s campaign years to early 2016, and the 427 meetings between White House and Google employees from 2009 to 2015 — more than once a week on average. The actual number of meetings is likely even higher, since, according to reports of the New York Times and Politico, White House officials frequently conducted meetings outside the grounds in order to skirt disclosure requirements. As TheIntercept aptly observed, “the Obama administration — attempting to project a brand of innovative, post-partisan problem-solving of issues that have bedeviled government for decades — has welcomed and even come to depend upon its association with one of America’s largest tech companies.”

Obama — Change Google Could Believe In

The relationship seemed to bear real fruit, as the Obama White House produced a number of major policies that Google had advocated for. The most prominent of these was “net neutrality,” which proved to be one of the Obama administration’s top policy goals. The term refers to policies requiring broadband Internet providers to be “neutral” in transmitting information to customers, meaning that they are not allowed to prioritize certain kinds of traffic or to charge users accordingly. As I’ve previously described it in an online article for this journal, “net neutrality would prohibit networks from selling faster, more reliable service to preferred websites or applications while concomitantly degrading the service for disfavored sites and applications — such as peer-to-peer services for swapping bootleg music and video files.”

The Obama administration’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) attempted twice to implement net-neutrality regulations, both times (in 2010 and early 2014) being rejected by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Finally, in November 2014, President Obama exhorted his FCC to impose a strict regulatory framework typically used for “common carriers.” That is, the move sought to regulate broadband Internet companies with the same kind of framework long ago applied to railroads and traditional telephone companies. Providers are required to share their public networks and are prohibited from discriminating against any uses of it, as long as those uses are lawful. The FCC adopted Obama’s expansive approach in 2015 in a set of regulations that it called the “Open Internet Order.”

Google was originally ambivalent toward net neutrality, signing on to a policy proposal that might allow for some forms of traffic prioritization. But by 2014, Google came to fully endorse net neutrality. It joined other tech companies in a letter to the FCC warning that regulations allowing Internet providers to discriminate or offer paid prioritization would constitute a “grave threat to the Internet,” and it launched a public campaign on its “Take Action” website. The FCC returned to the issue in December 2017, with its new Trump-appointed chairman, Ajit Pai, leading the way toward repealing the Obama FCC’s rule. Google maintains a web page to rally support behind the Obama-era regulation, and the issue remains unresolved as of this writing.

Google enjoyed other policy successes with the Obama-era FCC. At least as early as 2007, Google had urged the FCC to exempt part of the radio spectrum from the longstanding, time-consuming process to obtain a non-marketable license for its usage. Instead, Google proposed treating it as an open market, in which the right to use portions of the spectrum could be easily bought and sold between companies. Google anticipated that the move could encourage competition among service providers, increasing consumer availability of mobile wireless access to the Internet — and to Google’s services. In 2014, as the Obama FCC began to propose a plan to reform its spectrum management, Google urged the FCC to dedicate the equivalent of four television channels for unlicensed uses. When the FCC adopted a plan that reallocated spectrum for such uses, Google posted a note on its public policy blog celebrating the FCC’s “important step toward powering tomorrow’s wireless broadband.”

In another example, in January 2016 the FCC proposed rules requiring cable TV providers to “unlock” their set-top boxes. Most consumers currently have to rent their set-top boxes from cable companies, so the move would allow competitors to offer devices at cheaper rates. It would also have permitted Google and other companies to access and repackage the cable channels as they saw fit. In theory, you could buy a single device through which you could watch Netflix, YouTube, HBO, and C-SPAN, all on your TV and without having to switch sources. The FCC proposal framed the move as aimed at “creating choice & innovation.” For Google, it would also have opened a new front in the nascent bid to compete directly against TV and Internet providers — already underway with Chromecast, its device for playing streaming Internet video on a TV, and Google Fiber, its ultra-fast Internet access service.

Two days after the FCC announced its proposal, Google hosted an event in its Washington, D.C. office near Capitol Hill to demonstrate its own prototype for a TV box, for a very specific audience: “It wasn’t an ordinary Google product event,” CNN reported. “There were no skydiving executives. No throngs of app developers. No tech press.” Instead, “The audience consisted of congressional staffers and federal regulators.” The proposal has since been canceled by President Trump’s FCC chairman.

The signs of a Google–government policy alignment during the Obama administration were not limited to the FCC. The landmark intellectual property reforms that Obama signed into law as the America Invents Act of 2011 found enthusiastic support from Google, which had joined with a number of other big tech companies to form the Coalition for Patent Fairness, which lobbied for the bill. Google’s main interest was in fighting so-called “patent trolls” — agents who obtain intellectual property rights not to create new products but to profit from infringement lawsuits. Companies like Google, which use and produce a vast array of individual technologies, are naturally vulnerable to such lawsuits. In comments submitted to the Patent and Trademark Office shortly after the bill’s enactment, Google (together with a few other tech companies) urged the PTO to adopt rules to reduce the costs and burdens of patent-related litigation. Their stated aim was to “advance Congress’ ultimate goal of increasing patent quality by focusing the time and resources of America’s patent community on productive innovation and strengthening the national economy.”

In February 2013, Obama returned to the subject of intellectual property during a “Fireside Hangout,” an online conversation with Americans arranged and moderated by Google, using its platform for video chat. Echoing Google’s position, Obama argued for still more legislation to further limit litigation by patent holders who “don’t actually produce anything themselves” and are “trying to essentially leverage and hijack somebody else’s idea and see if they can extort some money out of them.” The following year, Obama appointed Google’s former deputy general counsel and head of patents and patent strategy, Michelle K. Lee, to serve as director of the PTO.

Why did the Obama administration side so reliably with Google? Some might credit it simply to the blunt force of lobbying. In 2012, Google was the nation’s second-largest corporate spender on lobbying, behind General Electric; by 2017 it had taken the lead, spending $18 million. That money and effort surely had some effect, as did the hundreds of meetings between Google employees and the White House. Responding to a 2015 Wall Street Journal article on Google’s friendly relationship with the Obama administration, Google stated that their meetings covered a very broad range of subjects: “patent reform, STEM education, self-driving cars, mental health, advertising, Internet censorship, smart contact lenses, civic innovation, R&D, cloud computing, trade and investment, cyber security, energy efficiency and our workplace benefit policies.”

But there are some things even money can’t buy. Conjectures about the effectiveness of Google’s lobbying and its persistent visits miss that the Obama administration’s affinity for Google ultimately rested on more fundamental principles — principles held not by Obama alone, but by modern progressives generally.

“A Common Baseline”

Recounting Barack Obama’s 2007 visit to Google, Steven Levy observes that “Google was Obama Territory, and vice versa. With its focus on speed, scale, and above all data, Google had identified and exploited the key ingredients for thinking and thriving in the Internet era. Barack Obama seemed to have integrated those concepts in his own approach to problem solving.” Later Levy adds, “Google and Obama vibrated at the same frequency.”

It is not hard to see the similarities in Google’s and Obama’s social outlooks and self-conceptions. There is not a great distance between Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” and Obama’s “Don’t Do Stupid Sh**,” the glib slogan he reportedly started using in his second term to describe his foreign policy views. Nor does a vast gulf separate Google’s increasingly confident goal of answering questions you haven’t asked and Obama’s 2007 sketch of the American people as full of untapped common sense yet often ignorant, so that what they need is a president to give them the facts from the bully pulpit. The common theme is that we make wrong decisions not because the world is inherently complex but because most people are self-interested and dumb — except for the self-anointed enlighteners, that is.

For years, American progressives have offered paeans to “facts,” “evidence,” and “science,” and bemoaned that their opponents are at odds with the same. The 2008 platform of the Democratic Party, for example, vowed to “end the Bush Administration’s war on science, restore scientific integrity, and return to evidence-based decision-making.” As we’ve seen, Obama had already embraced that critique during his presidential campaign. “I’ll let them know what the facts are,” he told his Google audience in 2007, sure of his ability to discern the objective truths his ideological opponents missed or ignored or concealed. At the time, he saw Google as a partner in that endeavor.

But over a decade later, at the M.I.T. conference this February, Obama presented a less optimistic view of the major tech companies’ effect on national debates. (The event was off the record, but Reasonmagazine obtained and posted an audio recording.) He noted his belief that informational tools such as social media are a “hugely powerful potential force for good.” But, he added, they are merely tools, and so can also be used for evil. Tech companies such as Google “are shaping our culture in powerful ways. And the most powerful way in which that culture is being shaped right now is the balkanization of our public conversation.”

Rather than uniting the nation around a common understanding of the facts, Obama saw that Google and other companies were contributing to the nation’s fragmentation — a process that goes back to TV and talk radio but “has accelerated with the Internet”:

… essentially we now have entirely different realities that are being created, with not just different opinions but now different facts — different sources, different people who are considered authoritative. It’s — since we’re at M.I.T., to throw out a big word — it’s epistemological. It’s a baseline issue.

As in his 2007 talk at Google, Obama then offered the same (ironically apocryphal) anecdote about Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan winning a heated debate with the line, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.” The radical difference in information presented between sources, such as Fox News and the New York Times editorial page, Obama explained, means that “they do not describe the same thing.” Google and social media, he seemed to imply, facilitate the creation of alternate realities, as poor information can be spread just as easily and can look just as authoritative as good information, and “it is very difficult to figure out how democracy works over the long term in those circumstances.”

Calling for “a common baseline of facts and information,” Obama urged that we need to have “a serious conversation about what are the business models, the algorithms, the mechanisms whereby we can create more of a common conversation.” Although he greatly admires Google and some of the other tech companies, he explained, we need some “basic rules,” just as we need them in a well-functioning economy. This shift must be oriented around an understanding that tech companies are “a public good as well as a commercial enterprise.”

Taken together, it was a significant change in tone from Obama’s 2007 talk at Google — as well as from his 2011 State of the Union Address, in which he called America a “nation of … Google and Facebook,” and meant it in the best possible way, as an example of American ingenuity. In 2018, after his presidency, he still saw America as a nation of Google and Facebook — but in a much more ominous way.

Meanwhile, and perhaps unbeknownst to Obama, Google already seems to be moving in the direction he indicated, self-imposing some basic rules to help ensure public debates are bound by a common baseline of facts.

“Evil Content”

Google’s founders have always maintained the conceit that Google’s ranking of information is fundamentally objective, determined by what is, or should be, most useful to users. But in recent years — particularly in the last two, as concern has grown from many quarters over the rise of “fake news” — Google has begun to tailor its search to prioritize content that it sees as more credible.

In April 2017, Google announced the worldwide release of its “Fact Check” feature for search results: “For the first time, when you conduct a search on Google that returns an authoritative result containing fact checks for one or more public claims, you will see that information clearly on the search results page.” A box will clearly display the claim and who stated it, together with who checked it and, ostensibly, whether it is true. The announcement explained that Google is not itself doing the fact-checking, and that instead it relies on “publishers that are algorithmically determined to be an authoritative source of information.” And while different publishers may sometimes come to different conclusions, “we think it’s still helpful for people to understand the degree of consensus around a particular claim and have clear information on which sources agree.” Google tied this new program directly to its fundamental mission: “Google was built to help people find useful information,” the release explained, and “high quality information” is what people want.

Only a few weeks later, Google announced that it would be taking much more direct steps toward the presentation of factual claims. In response to the problem of “fake news” — “the spread of blatantly misleading, low quality, offensive or downright false information” — Google has adjusted its search algorithms to down-rank “offensive or clearly misleading content, which is not what people are looking for,” and in turn to “surface more authoritative content.” In Google-speak, to “surface” is to raise items higher in search results.

Then, in November 2017, Google announced that it would further supplement its Fact Check approach with another labeling effort known as the “Trust Project.” Funded by Google, hosted by Santa Clara University, and developed in conjunction with more than 75 news organizations worldwide, the Trust Project includes eight “trust indicators,” such as “author expertise,” “citations and references,” and “diverse voices.” News publishers would be able to provide these indicators for their online content, so that Google could store and present this information to users in Google News and other products, much like how articles in Google News now display their publication name and date.

Two days later, Eric Schmidt — by then the Executive Chairman of Alphabet, Google’s new parent company — appeared at the Halifax International Security Forum and engaged in a wide-ranging Q&Aabout the geopolitical scene. Explaining the steps that Google and its sister companies, such as YouTube, were taking to combat Russian “troll farms,” terrorist propaganda, and other forms of fake news and abuse, Schmidt eventually turned to a broader point about Google’s role in vetting the factual — or moral — quality of search results.

We started with a position that — the American general view — that bad speech will be replaced by good speech in a crowded network. And the problem in the last year is that that may not be true in certain situations, especially when you have a well-funded opponent that’s trying to actively spread this information. So I think everybody is sort of grappling with where is that line.

Schmidt continued, offering a “typical example”: When “a judge or a leader, typically in a foreign country,” complains that illegal information appeared in Google search results, Google will respond that, within a minute and a half, they had noticed it themselves and taken it down. Using their crowdsourcing model, that time frame, Schmidt explains, is difficult to beat. But he goes on: “We’re working hard to use machine learning and AI to spot these things ahead of time … so that the publishing time of evil content is exactly zero.”

So what about Google’s role in the United States? Where would it find the line? At one point, an audience member, Columbia professor Alexis Wichowski, raised a question along the same lines that Obama would at M.I.T. a few months later — about the “lack of common narrative.” “We talk about echo chambers as if they’re some sort of inevitable consequence of technology, but really they’re a consequence of how good the algorithms are at filtering information out that we don’t want to see. So do you think that Google has any sort of role to play in countering the echo chamber phenomenon?” Schmidt responded that the problem was primarily one of social networks, not of Google’s search engine. But, he added, Google does have an important role to play:

I am strongly not in favor of censorship. I am very strongly in favor of ranking. It’s what we do. So you can imagine an answer to your question would be that you would de-rank — that is, lower-rank — information that was repetitive, exploitive, false, likely to have been weaponized, and so forth.

Were Schmidt referring only to the most manifestly false or harmful content, then his answer would have been notable but not surprising; after all, Google had long ago begun scrubbing racist and certain other offensive web pages from its search results in France and Germany. But the suggestion that Google might de-rank information that it deems false or exploitative more generally raises much different possibilities. Such an approach — employed, for example, in service of Obama’s call to bring Americans together around common facts relevant to policy — would have immense ramifications.

Payday

We see a glimpse and a possible portent of Google’s involvement in public policy in its fight against the payday loan industry. A type of small, high-interest loan usually borrowed as an advance on a consumer’s next paycheck, payday loans are typically used by low-income people who are unable to get conventional loans, and have been widely decried as predatory.

Google’s targeting of payday loans arguably began within their objective wheelhouse. In 2013, Google started tailoring its search algorithms to de-rank sites that use spamming tactics, such as bot queries, to artificially increase their rankings. Matt Cutts, then the head of Google’s web spam team, mentioned payday-loan and pornography sites as two chief targets. The editors of the news site Search Engine Land dubbed the new anti-spam code the “Payday Loan Algorithm.” (One editor attributes the name to Danny Sullivan, then also an editor of the site, who has since become Google’s public liaison of search.) At least as Google described it, these measures were simply aimed at countering exploitations of its ranking algorithm.

Yet even at this stage, there were indications that combating spam may not have been Google’s sole rationale. When someone tweeted at Cutts a criticism of the change — “Great job on payday loans in UK. Can’t find a provider now, but plenty of news stories. Way to answer users queries” — Cutts did not reply with a defense of combating spam tactics. Instead, he replied with a link to a news article about how the U.K. Office of Fair Trading was investigating payday lenders for anticompetitive practices and “evidence of financial loss and personal distress to many people.” “Seems like pretty important news to me?,” Cutts added. “OFT is investigating entire payday loan space?” Cutts’s reply was suggestive in two ways. One was a reminder that qualitative judgments about relevance have always been part of Google’s rationalizations for its search rankings. The other was the suggestion that top leadership at Google was well aware of the concerns that payday loans are predatory, and perhaps even saw it as desirable that information about the controversy be presented to users searching for payday lenders.

A clearer shift arrived in May 2016, when Google announced that it would start “banning ads for payday loans and some related products from our ads systems.” Although there was no mention of this change affecting search rankings, it was a more aggressive move than the de-ranking of spammers, as the rationale for it this time was explicitly political: “research has shown that these loans can result in unaffordable payment and high default rates for users.” The announcement quoted the endorsement of Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights: “This new policy addresses many of the longstanding concerns shared by the entire civil rights community about predatory payday lending.” (It should be noted that it is not clear that Google’s move has been entirely effective. Five months after the announcement, a report in the Washington Examiner found that ads for intermediary “lead-generation companies that route potential borrowers to lenders” were still displaying.)

Unlike Google’s decision to combat spam associated with payday loans, there is no universal agreement about whether the loans themselves are exploitative or harmful. For example, a 2017 article in the Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance found that “payday loans may cause little harm while providing benefits, albeit small ones, to some consumers” and counseled “further study and caution.” An episode of the popular Freakonomics podcast gives reason to believe that the seemingly predatory practices of payday lenders owe in some significant measure to the nature of the service itself — providing quick, small amounts of credit to people vulnerable to sudden, minor financial shocks. It tells the story of a twenty-year-old Chicago man for whom a payday loan meant he could pay off a ticket for smoking, presumably avoiding even greater penalties for nonpayment. If this picture of payday loans is hardly rosy, it is not simple either. More to the point, there is no purely apolitical judgment of payday loans to be had. Google made the decision to ban payday-loan ads based not on a concern about legitimate search practices but on its judgment of sound public policy.

The timing of Google’s decision on this issue also came at a politically opportune moment, suggesting a fortuitous convergence in the outlooks of Google and the Obama administration. In March 2015, President Obama announced his administration’s opposition to payday loans, in a speech that coincided with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s announcement that it would formulate rules restricting such loans. The administration continued its campaign against payday loans through 2016, culminating with the CFPB’s formal release of proposed regulations in June. This was only a few weeks after Google announced its ban on payday-loan ads. And this May, Google, joined by Facebook, announced a similar ban on ads for bail-bond services — bail reform has recently become a popular cause among libertarians and progressives.

These kinds of political efforts may be a departure from Google’s founding principle of neutrality — but they are a clear extension of its principle of usefulness. Again, Google’s mission “to organize the world’s information, making it universally accessible and useful” is rife with value judgments about what information qualifies as useful.

It is not much of a further stretch to imagine that Google might decide that not only payday lenders themselves but certain information favorable to payday lenders is no longer useful to consumers either. If “research has shown” that payday loans are harmful or predatory, it is not difficult to imagine that contrary information — industry literature, research by people with ties to the industry, even simply articles that present favorable arguments — might fall under what Eric Schmidt deems “exploitive, false, likely to have been weaponized,” and be de-ranked.

And how much further, then, to other subjects? If it is widely believed that certain policy stances, especially bearing on science — say, on energy or climate policy or abortion — are simply dictated by available factual evidence, then arguments or evidence to the contrary could likewise be deemed a kind of exploitative informational fraud, hardly what any user really intends to find. Under the growing progressive view of political disagreement, it is not difficult to see the rationale for “de-ranking” many other troublesome sources.

“A Level Playing Field”

Another striking recent example — still unfolding as this article went to publication — illustrates the shaky ground on which Google now finds itself, the pressures to which it is vulnerable, and the new kinds of actions it might be willing to take in response.

On May 4, responding to ongoing concerns over how it and other tech companies were used by Russian agents to influence the 2016 U.S. elections, Google announced new policies to support “election integrity through greater advertising transparency,” including a requirement that people placing ads related to U.S. elections provide documentation of U.S. citizenship or lawful residency. This announcement came amid debate over Ireland’s referendum to repeal its constitutional limits on abortion. Just five days later, Google decided to “pause” all ads related to the referendum, including ads on YouTube.

As a rationale, Google cited only its recent election-integrity effort, and did not offer further explanation. Its decision came a day after a similar decision by Facebook to restrict referendum ads only to advertisers residing in Ireland, citing unspecified concerns that foreign actors had been attempting to influence the vote by buying Facebook ads. Multiple Irish Times articles cited Gavin Sheridan, an Irish entrepreneur who, starting ten days before Google’s decision, wrote a widely read series of tweets offering evidence that anti-repeal ads were being bought by pro-life groups in the United States.

Though Google’s and Facebook’s pause on ads applied to both sides of the campaign, it was not perceived by Irish activists as having equal impact. In fact, the response of both sides suggests a shared belief that the net effect of the restriction would favor the repeal campaign. A report in the Irish Timesquotes campaigners on both sides who saw it as a boon for repeal — a spokesperson for the repeal campaign praised the restriction as a move that “creates a level playing field,” while anti-repeal groups claimed it was motivated by concern that repeal would fail. As an article in The Irish Catholic described it, the pro-life activists argued that “mainstream media is dominated by voices who favour the legalisation of abortion in Ireland,” and “online media had provided them with the only platform available to them to speak to voters directly on a large scale.” (The referendum vote had not yet been held when this article went to publication.)

Google and Facebook alike have cited concerns over foreign influence on elections that sound reasonable, and are shared by many. But Irish Times reporter Pat Leahy, who said that Google declined to respond to questions about its rationale, also cited sources familiar with the companies’ thinking who said that they “became fearful in the past week that if the referendum was defeated, they would be the subject of an avalanche of blame and further scrutiny of their role in election campaigns.”

With this action, Google has placed itself in a perilous situation. A decision to prevent foreign actors from advertising in a country’s elections has clear merit, but it also requires unavoidably political reasoning. Moreover, although the action is on its face neutral, as it bars advertising from both sides of the campaign, the decision to apply the rationale to this particular case is also plainly subjective and political. Notice that, as justification for banning referendum ads in Ireland, Google cited only an earlier policy announcement that applied just to the United States. And whereas that policy had banned only foreign advertisers, in Ireland Google banned referendum ads from everyone, even Irish citizens and residents. Google did not offer rationales for either expansion, or explain whether the practices would apply to other countries going forward. From now on, Google’s decision to invoke one rationale in one case and another rationale in another will inevitably appear ad hoc and capricious.

Whatever its real motives, Google — which surely knew full well that its action would benefit the repeal campaign — has left itself incapable of credibly rebutting the charge that politics entered into its decision. And if political considerations are legitimate reasons for Google in these particular cases, then all other cases will become open to political pressure from activists too. Indeed, failure to act in other cases, invoking the old “digital Switzerland” standard of nonintervention, will now risk being seen as no less capricious and political.

From Antitrust to Woke Capital

All around, there is a growing unease at Google’s power and influence, and a rising belief from many quarters that the answer is antitrust action. It certainly seems like the sort of company that might require breaking up or regulating. As noted earlier, the Wall Street Journal recently found that Google’s market share of all Internet searches is 89 percent, while it scoops up 42 percent of all Internet advertising revenue.

Some might draw solace from the fact that users can switch to a different search engine anytime. “We do not trap our users,” Eric Schmidt told a Senate subcommittee in 2011. “If you do not like the answer that Google search provides you can switch to another engine with literally one click, and we have lots of evidence that people do this.” That Google search has competition is true enough, but only up to a point, because Google enjoys an immense and perhaps insurmountable advantage over aspiring rivals. Having accumulated nearly twenty years of data, its algorithms draw from a data set so comprehensive that no upstart search engine could ever begin to imitate it. Schmidt himself recognized this in 2003, when he told the New York Times that the sheer size of Google’s resources created an uncrossable moat: “Managing search at our scale is a very serious barrier to entry.” And that was just a few years into Google’s life; the barrier to entry has grown vastly wider since.

It is not hard to imagine the federal government bringing antitrust action against Google someday, as it did in 1974 against AT&T and in 2001 against Microsoft. Congress has taken an interest in Google’s practices: In 2011, the Senate’s antitrust subcommittee convened a hearing titled “The Power of Google: Serving Consumers or Threatening Competition?” And in 2012, staffers of the Federal Trade Commission completed a long and detailed report analyzing Google’s practices, half of which was later obtained and published by the Wall Street Journal.

The report found a variety of anticompetitive practices by Google, including illegally copying reviews from Amazon and other websites to its own shopping listings; threatening to remove these websites from Google’s search results when they asked Google not to copy their content; and disfavoring competitors in its search results. The report recommended an antitrust lawsuit against Google, citing monopolistic behavior that “will have lasting negative effects on consumer welfare.” But the commission rejected the recommendation of its staff, deciding unanimously to close the investigation without bringing legal action. Instead, it reached a settlement with Google in which the company agreed to change some of its practices. The European Union, however, has not been so hesitant, levying a $2.7 billion fine against Google in 2017 for similar practices.

But while progressive critics of Google seem to focus exclusively on either regulation or breakup as the natural remedies for its seeming monopoly, they forget the third possibility: that government might actually draw closer to business, collaborating toward a shared vision of the public interest. Collaboration between government and industry giants would not be a departure from progressivism; quite the contrary, there is some precedent in New Deal economic policy, as recounted by E. W. Hawley in The New Deal and the Problem of Monopoly (1966). FDR-era proponents of the “business commonwealth” approach believed that certain business leaders “had taken and would take a paternalistic and fair-minded interest in the welfare of their workers,” had moreover “played a major role in the creation of American society,” and that therefore they “were responsible for its continued well-being.” Accordingly, the argument went, “they should be given a free hand to organize the system in the most efficient, rational, and productive manner.” Government would retain a “supervisory role,” but this would not be an onerous task so long as an industry’s interests were generally seen to be “identical with those of society as a whole.”

While this approach, unsurprisingly, was first advanced by the business community, it became a core component of the first New Deal’s crown jewel, the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, which empowered industry groups to write their own “codes of fair competition” in the public interest, under the president’s oversight. The law was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court two years later. But until then its cooperative provisions embodied, in Hawley’s words, “the vision of a business commonwealth, of a rational, cartelized business order.” By coupling those provisions with the more familiar progressive policies of antitrust and regulation, the NIRA, “as written … could be used to move in any of these directions,” thus embodying progressivism’s ambivalence as to whether it is better to beat Big Business or join it.

One should not draw too close a connection between policy then and now. But Hawley’s description bears a striking resemblance to modern progressive visions of what Google is and perhaps ought to become. Although progressives have traditionally been deeply suspicious of corporate power in our government and in our society, and corporations in turn have traditionally shown little interest in convincing progressives otherwise, that trend may be changing, as New York Times columnist Ross Douthat suggested in February. Citing recent corporate advocacy on behalf of gun control, immigration, and gay and transgender rights, Douthat observed that “the country’s biggest companies are growing a conscience, prodded along by shifts in public opinion and Donald Trump’s depredations and their own idealistic young employees, and becoming a vanguard force for social change.” The usual profit motives have not been displaced, of course, but some major corporations seem increasingly interested in obligations of social conscience. It is, to quote the column’s headline, “the rise of woke capital.”

In important senses, Google has defined itself from the start as ahead of the woke curve. “We have always wanted Google to be a company that is deserving of great love,” said Larry Page in 2012. In establishing Google as a company defined by its values as much as its technology, Page and Sergey Brin have long made clear their desire to see Google become a force for good in the world. In 2012, Page reaffirmed that vision in an interview with Fortune magazine, describing his plan to “really scale our ambition such that we are able to cause more positive change in the world and more technological change. I have a deep feeling that we are not even close to where we should be.”

As Google’s sense of public obligation grows, and as progressive government becomes ever more keen on technology as a central instrument of its aims and more aware of tech companies’ power to shape public debates, it is not difficult to see how Google’s role could expand. At the very least, Google’s ability to structure the information presented to its users makes it a supremely potent “nudger.” As Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein argue in their 2008 book Nudge, how information is presented is a central aspect of “choice architecture.” As they put it,

public-spirited choice architects — those who run the daily newspaper, for example — know that it’s good to nudge people in directions that they might not have specifically chosen in advance. Structuring choice sometimes means helping people to learn, so they can later make better choices on their own.

If the “public-spirited” publisher of a daily newspaper can have such an effect on a community, just imagine the impact Google might have nationwide, even worldwide.

This, of course, would be a scenario well beyond merely nudging. As the de facto gateway to the Internet, Google’s power to surface or sink web sites is effectively a power to edit how the Internet appears to users — a power to edit the world’s information itself. This is why a decision by Google to “de-index” a web page, striking it from its search results altogether (usually for a serious violation of guidelines) is commonly called Google’s “death penalty.” In a sense, Google exercises significant power to regulate its users in lieu of government. As Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig argued in his seminal 1999 book Code:

While of course code is private, and of course different from the U.S. Code, its differences don’t mean there are not similarities as well. “East Coast Code” — law — regulates by enabling and limiting the options that individuals have, to the end of persuading them to behave in a certain way. “West Coast Code” does the same.

Whether we think of Google as acting in lieu of government or in league with government — either Lessig’s codemaker-as-lawmaker or Thaler and Sunstein’s public-spirited choice architect — Google is uniquely well suited to help further the aims of progressive government along the lines that President Obama described, creating a “common baseline of facts and information.” So will Google someday embrace that role?

 

Adjusting the Signals

There has long been a fundamental tension between the dual missions — being trusted as the source of objective search results and Not Being Evil — by which Google has sought to earn the public’s love.

That this tension is now coming to a head is evident in a pair of statements from Google over seven years apart. In November 2009, outrage arose when users discovered that one of the top image results when querying “Michelle Obama” was a racist picture. Google responded by including a notice along with the search results that linked to a statement, which read:

Search engines are a reflection of the content and information that is available on the Internet. A site’s ranking in Google’s search results relies heavily on computer algorithms using thousands of factors to calculate a page’s relevance to a given query.

The beliefs and preferences of those who work at Google, as well as the opinions of the general public, do not determine or impact our search results…. Google views the integrity of our search results as an extremely important priority. Accordingly, we do not remove a page from our search results simply because its content is unpopular or because we receive complaints concerning it.

Compare this statement to the company’s April 2017 announcement of its efforts to combat “fake news”:

Our algorithms help identify reliable sources from the hundreds of billions of pages in our index. However, it’s become very apparent that a small set of queries in our daily traffic … have been returning offensive or clearly misleading content, which is not what people are looking for…. We’ve adjusted our signals to help surface [rank higher] more authoritative pages and demote low-quality content, so that issues similar to the Holocaust denial results that we saw back in December are less likely to appear.

Google links to a December 2016 Fortune article that explains, “Querying the search engine for ‘did the Holocaust happen’ now returns an unexpected first result: A page from the website Stormfront titled ‘Top 10 reasons why the Holocaust didn’t happen.’”

The example is instructive. The problem here is that Google does not claim that — as with the spammy payday loan results — there were any artificial tactics that led to this search result. And Google’s logic — “offensive or clearly misleading content … is not what people are looking for” — is peculiar and telling. For search results are supposed to be objective in no small part because they’re based on massive amounts of data about what other people have actually looked for and clicked on. Google seems to have it backward: The vexing problem is that people are increasingly getting offensive, misleading search results because that’s increasingly what people are looking for.

Google is now faced squarely with the irresolvable conflict between its core missions: The information people objectively want may, by Google’s reckoning, be evil. Put another way, there is a growing logic for Google to transform its conception of what is objective to suit its conception of what is good.

The most recent update to Google’s Code of Conduct, released in April, may be telling. The previous version had opened with the words “Don’t be evil” — defined, among other things, as “providing our users unbiased access to information.” But the new version opens with an unspecified reference to “Google’s values,” adds a new mention of “respect for our users,” and now omits any assurance of providing unbiased information.

The present moment, then, offers Google a unique opportunity to recast its public role. In the Trump era, no company is better suited to combat “fake news,” or to answer complaints that the American public is poorly informed on matters of public policy. Barack Obama may have been boasting in 2007 when he told his Google audience that he would let opponents “know what the facts are,” but Google is equipped to deliver on that promise. And if progressives persist in their belief that science and facts prove their policy preferences objectively superior, and their related belief that the public’s lack of consensus on factual questions poses a threat to democracy, then Google seems the best company to lead, in Obama’s words, “a serious conversation about what are the business models, the algorithms, the mechanisms whereby we can create more of a common conversation.”

In President Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell address in which he famously described a looming “military–industrial complex,” he also warned that “in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.” Past moments of alignment between industry and government are rarely remembered fondly as exemplars of public–private cooperation in the national interest. Rather, they tend to be remembered as moments of dangerous influence of private interest over public policy — especially by progressives, with reliable invocations of Eisenhower.

Yet it is this very logic that may now demand the opposite response — for more and more progressives view Google’s influence on public policy as already dangerous precisely because it is not more actively altering its product to serve the public good. Where before Google could respond to any complaint about its search results by saying, Sorry, our hands are tied  the algorithm did it, its many recent interventions on political grounds mean that it no longer has such cover. And the pressure for Google to adopt ever more expansive interpretations of “exploitative,” “authoritative,” and “what people are looking for” will doubtless rise.

If Google were to embrace the growing desire for it to become an active player in the fight against misinformation, then it would go a long way toward dousing the increasingly heated criticism of its monopoly status. Facing strident calls for antitrust action, especially from the left, Google may find it prudent to proactively employ its tools in service of the particular vision of the public good that progressives have embraced, and to be seen as the world’s best hope for defending facts, evidence, and science, as it chooses to define them. And then, instead of seeking to punish Google, modern progressives may find their goals better met by quietly partnering with it.

 


Adam J. White, a New Atlantis contributing editor, is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and director of the Center for the Study of the Administrative State at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School.

___

Go To Source

 

 

The GOOGLE CONSPIRACY Laid Bare Unwittingly By An ‘Insider’

Google.gov

Amid growing calls to break up Google, are we missing a quiet alignment between “smart” government and the universal information engine?

By Adam J. White

The New Atlantis

Google exists to answer our small questions. But how will we answer larger questions about Google itself? Is it a monopoly? Does it exert too much power over our lives? Should the government regulate it as a public utility — or even break it up?

In recent months, public concerns about Google have become more pronounced. This February, the New York Times Magazine published “The Case Against Google,” a blistering account of how “the search giant is squelching competition before it begins.” The Wall Street Journal published a similar article in January on the “antitrust case” against Google, along with Facebook and Amazon, whose market shares it compared to Standard Oil and AT&T at their peaks. Here and elsewhere, a wide array of reporters and commentators have reflected on Google’s immense power — not only over its competitors, but over each of us and the information we access — and suggested that the traditional antitrust remedies of regulation or breakup may be necessary to rein Google in.

Dreams of war between Google and government, however, obscure a much different relationship that may emerge between them — particularly between Google and progressive government. For eight years, Google and the Obama administration forged a uniquely close relationship. Their special bond is best ascribed not to the revolving door, although hundreds of meetings were held between the two; nor to crony capitalism, although hundreds of people have switched jobs from Google to the Obama administration or vice versa; nor to lobbying prowess, although Google is one of the top corporate lobbyists.

Rather, the ultimate source of the special bond between Google and the Obama White House — and modern progressive government more broadly — has been their common ethos. Both view society’s challenges today as social-engineering problems, whose resolutions depend mainly on facts and objective reasoning. Both view information as being at once ruthlessly value-free and yet, when properly grasped, a powerful force for ideological and social reform. And so both aspire to reshape Americans’ informational context, ensuring that we make choices based only upon what they consider the right kinds of facts — while denying that there would be any values or politics embedded in the effort.

Follow The New AtlantisAddressing an M.I.T. sports-analytics conference in February, former President Obama said that Google, Facebook, and prominent Internet services are “not just an invisible platform, but they are shaping our culture in powerful ways.” Focusing specifically on recent outcries over “fake news,” he warned that if Google and other platforms enable every American to personalize his or her own news sources, it is “very difficult to figure out how democracy works over the long term.” But instead of treating these tech companies as public threats to be regulated or broken up, Obama offered a much more conciliatory resolution, calling for them to be treated as public goods:

I do think that the large platforms — Google and Facebook being the most obvious, but Twitter and others as well that are part of that ecosystem — have to have a conversation about their business model that recognizes they are a public good as well as a commercial enterprise.

This approach, if Google were to accept it, could be immensely consequential. As we will see, during the Obama years, Google became aligned with progressive politics on a number of issues — net neutrality, intellectual property, payday loans, and others. If Google were to think of itself as a genuine public good in a manner calling upon it to give users not only the results they want but the results that Google thinks they need, the results that informed consumers and democratic citizens ought to have, then it will become an indispensable adjunct to progressive government. The future might not be U.S. v. Google but Google.gov.

“To Organize the World’s Information”

Before thinking about why Google might begin to embrace a role of actively shaping the informational landscape, we must treat seriously Google’s stated ethos to the contrary, which presents the company’s services as merely helping people find the information they’re looking for using objective tools and metrics. From the start, Google had the highest aspirations for its search engine: “A perfect search engine will process and understand all the information in the world,” co-founder Sergey Brin announced in a 1999 press release. “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information, making it universally accessible and useful.”

Google’s beginning is a story of two idealistic programmers, Brin and Larry Page, trying to impose order on a chaotic young World Wide Web, not through an imposed hierarchy but lists of search results ranked algorithmically by their relevance. In 1995, five years after an English computer scientist created the first web site, Page arrived at Stanford, entering the computer science department’s graduate program and needing a dissertation topic. Focusing on the nascent Web, and inspired by modern academia’s obsession with scholars’ citations to other scholars’ papers, Page devised BackRub, a search engine that rated the relevance of a web page based on how often other pages link back to it.

Because a web page does not itself identify the sites that link back to it, BackRub required a database of the Web’s links. It also required an algorithm to rank the relevance of a given page on the basis of all the links to it — to quantify the intuition that “important pages tend to link to important pages,” as Page’s collaborator Brin put it. Page and Brin called their ranking algorithm PageRank. The name PageRank “was a sly vanity,” Steven Levy later observed in his 2011 book In the Plex — “many people assumed the name referred to web pages, not a surname.”

Page and Brin quickly realized that their project’s real value was in ranking not web pages but results for searches of those pages. They had developed a search engine that was far superior to AltaVista, Excite, Infoseek, and all the other now-forgotten rivals that preceded it, which could search for words on pages but did not have effective ways of determining the inherent importance of a page. Coupled with PageRank, BackRub — which would soon be renamed Google — was immensely useful at helping people find what they wanted. When combined with other signals of web page quality, PageRank generated “mind-blowing results,” writes Levy.

Wary of the fate of Nikola Tesla — who created world-changing innovations but failed to capitalize on them — Page and Brin incorporated Google in September 1998, and quickly attracted investors. Instead of adopting the once-ubiquitous “banner ad” model, Google created AdWords, which places relevant advertisements next to search results, and AdSense, which supplies ads to other web sites with precisely calibrated content. Google would find its fortune in these techniques — which were major innovations in their own right — with $1.4 billion in ad revenue in 2003, ballooning to $95 billion last year. Google — recently reorganized under a new parent company, Alphabet — has continued to develop or acquire a vast array of products focused on its original mission of organizing information, including Gmail, Google Books, Google Maps, Chrome, the Android operating system, YouTube, and Nest.

In Google We Trust

Page and Brin’s original bet on search has proved world-changing. At the outset, in 1999, Google was serving roughly a billion searches per year. Today, the figure runs to several billion per day. But even more stark than the absolute number of searches is Google’s market share: According to the JanuaryWall Street Journal article calling for antitrust action against Google, the company now conducts 89 percent of all Internet searches, a figure that rivals Standard Oil’s market share in the early 1900s and AT&T’s in the early 1980s.

But Google’s success ironically brought about challenges to its credibility, as companies eager to improve their ranking in search results went to great lengths to game the system. Because Google relied on “objective” metrics, to some extent they could be reverse-engineered by web developers keen to optimize their sites to increase their ranking. “The more Google revealed about its ranking algorithms, the easier it was to manipulate them,” writes Frank Pasquale in The Black Box Society (2015). “Thus began the endless cat-and-mouse game of ‘search engine optimization,’ and with it the rush to methodological secrecy that makes search the black box business that it is.”

While the original PageRank framework was explained in Google’s patent application, Google soon needed to protect the workings of its algorithms “with utmost confidentiality” to prevent deterioration of the quality of its search results, writes Steven Levy.

But Google’s approach had its cost. As the company gained a dominant market share in search … critics would be increasingly uncomfortable with the idea that they had to take Google’s word that it wasn’t manipulating its algorithm for business or competitive purposes. To defend itself, Google would characteristically invoke logic: any variance from the best possible results for its searchers would make the product less useful and drive people away, it argued. But it withheld the data that would prove that it was playing fair. Google was ultimately betting on maintaining the public trust. If you didn’t trust Google, how could you trust the world it presented in its results?

Google’s neutrality was critical to its success. But that neutrality had to be accepted on trust. And today — even as Google continues to reiterate its original mission “to organize the world’s information, making it universally accessible and useful” — that trust is steadily eroding.

Google has often stressed that its search results are superior precisely because they are based upon neutral algorithms, not human judgment. As Ken Auletta recounts in his 2009 book Googled, Brin and then-CEO Eric Schmidt “explained that Google was a digital Switzerland, a ‘neutral’ search engine that favored no content company and no advertisers.” Or, as Page and Brin wrote in the 2004 Founders Letter that accompanied their initial public offering,

Google users trust our systems to help them with important decisions: medical, financial, and many others. Our search results are the best we know how to produce. They are unbiased and objective, and we do not accept payment for them or for inclusion or more frequent updating.

But Google’s own standard of neutrality in presenting the world’s information is only part of the story, and there is reason not to take it at face value. The standard of neutrality is itself not value-neutral but a moral standard of its own, suggesting a deeper ethos and aspiration about information. Google has always understood its ultimate project not as one of rote descriptive recall but of informativeness in the fullest sense. Google, that is, has long aspired not merely to provide people the information they ask for but to guide them toward informed choices about what information they’re seeking.

Put more simply, Google aims to give people not just the information they do want but the information Google thinks they should want. As we will see, the potential political ramifications of this aspiration are broad and profound.

“Don’t Be Evil,” and Other Objective Aims

Google is not a conventional company. We do not intend to become one.” So opened that novel Founders Letter accompanying Google’s 2004 IPO. It was hardly the beginning of Page and Brin’s efforts to brand theirs as a company apart.

In July 2001, after Eric Schmidt became chairman of the board and the month before he would become CEO, Page and Brin had gathered a small group of early employees to identify Google’s core values, so that they could be protected through the looming expansion and inevitable bureaucratization. As John Battelle describes it in his 2005 book The Search:

The meeting soon became cluttered with the kind of easy and safe corporate clichés that everyone can support, but that carry little impact: Treat Everyone with Respect, for example…. That’s when Paul Buchheit, another engineer in the group, blurted out what would become the most important three words in Google’s corporate history…. “All of these things can be covered by just saying, Don’t Be Evil.

Those three words “became a cultural rallying call at Google, initially for how Googlers should treat each other, but quickly for how Google should behave in the world as well.” The motto exerted a genuine gravitational pull on the company’s deliberations, as Steven Levy recounts: “An idea would come up in a meeting with a whiff of anticompetitiveness to it, and someone would remark that it sounded … evil. End of idea.”

To Googlers, Levy notes, the motto “was a shortcut to remind everyone that Google was better than other companies.” This also seems to have been the upshot to Google’s rivals, to whom the motto smacked of arrogance. “Well, of course, you shouldn’t be evil,” Amazon founder Jeff Bezos told Battelle. “But then again, you shouldn’t have to brag about it either.”

Google’s founders themselves have been less than unified about the motto over the years. Page was at least equivocally positive in an interview with Battelle, arguing that “Don’t Be Evil” is “much better than Be Good or something.” But Brin (with Page alongside him) told attendees of the 2007 Global Philanthropy Forum that the better choice indeed would have been “Be Good,” precisely because “ultimately we’re in a position where we do have a lot of resources and unique opportunities. So you should ‘not be evil’ and also take advantage of the opportunity you have to do good.” Eric Schmidt, true to form as the most practical of Google’s governing troika, gives the slogan a pragmatic interpretation in his 2014 book How Google Works:

The famous Google mantra of “Don’t be evil” is not entirely what it seems. Yes, it genuinely expresses a company value and aspiration that is deeply felt by employees. But “Don’t be evil” is mainly another way to empower employees…. Googlers do regularly check their moral compass when making decisions.

As Schmidt implies, “Don’t Be Evil” has never exactly been self-explanatory — or objective. In a 2003 Wired profile titled “Google vs. Evil,” Schmidt elaborated on the motto’s gnomic moral code: “Evil,” he said, “is what Sergey [Brin] says is evil.” Even at that early stage in the company’s life, Brin recognized that the slogan was more portentous for Google itself than for other companies. Google, as gateway to the World Wide Web, was effectively establishing the infrastructure and governing framework of the Internet, granting the company unique power to benefit or harm the public interest. As the author of the Wired article explained, “Governments, religious bodies, businesses, and individuals are all bearing down on the company, forcing Brin to make decisions that have an effect on the entire Internet. ‘Things that would normally be side issues for another company carry the weight of responsibility for us,’ Brin says.”

“Don’t Be Evil” is a catchy slogan. But Google’s self-conception as definer and defender of the public interest is more revealing and weighty. The public focus on the slogan has distracted from the more fundamental values embodied in Google’s mission statement: “to organize the world’s information, making it universally accessible and useful.” On its face, Google’s mission — a clear, practical goal that everyone, it seems, can find laudable — sounds value-neutral, just as its organization of information purportedly is. But one has to ask: Useful for what? And according to whom?

What a Googler Wants

There has always been more to Google’s mission than merely helping people find the information they ask for. In the 2013 update of the Founders Letter, Page described the “search engine of my dreams,” which “provides information without you even having to ask, so no more digging around in your inbox to find the tracking number for a much-needed delivery; it’s already there on your screen.” Or, as Page and Brin describe in the 2005 Founders Letter,

Our search team also works very hard on relevancy — getting you exactly what you want, even when you aren’t sure what you need. For example, when Google believes you really want images, it returns them, even if you didn’t ask (try a query on sunsets).

Page acknowledged in the 2013 letter that “in many ways, we’re a million miles away” from that perfect search engine — “one that gets you just the right information at the exact moment you need it with almost no effort.” In the 2007 Founders Letter, they explain: “To do a perfect job, you would need to understand all the world’s information, and the precise meaning of every query.”

To say that the perfect search engine is one that minimizes the user’s effort is effectively to say that it minimizes the user’s active input. Google’s aim is to provide perfect results for what users “truly” want — even if the users themselves don’t yet realize what that is. Put another way, the ultimate aspiration is not to answer a user’s question but the question Google believes she should have asked. Schmidt himself drew this conclusion in 2010, as described in Wall Street Journal article for which he was interviewed:

The day is coming when the Google search box — and the activity known as Googling — no longer will be at the center of our online lives. Then what? “We’re trying to figure out what the future of search is,” Mr. Schmidt acknowledges. “I mean that in a positive way. We’re still happy to be in search, believe me. But one idea is that more and more searches are done on your behalf without you needing to type.”

I actually think most people don’t want Google to answer their questions,” he elaborates. “They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next.”

Let’s say you’re walking down the street. Because of the info Google has collected about you, “we know roughly who you are, roughly what you care about, roughly who your friends are.” Google also knows, to within a foot, where you are. Mr. Schmidt leaves it to a listener to imagine the possibilities: If you need milk and there’s a place nearby to get milk, Google will remind you to get milk. [Emphasis added.]

Or maybe, one is tempted to add: If Google knows you’ve been drinking too much milk lately, and thinks you’re the sort of person who cares about his health — and who doesn’t? — it will suggest you get water instead.

As Stanford’s Terry Winograd, Page and Brin’s former professor and a consultant on Gmail, explains to Ken Auletta, “The idea that somebody at Google could know better than the consumer what’s good for the consumer is not forbidden.” He describes his former students’ attitude as “a form of arrogance: ‘We know better.’” Although the comment was about controversies surrounding Gmail advertising and privacy — until June 2017, Gmail tailored its ads based on the content of users’ emails — the attitude Winograd describes also captures well Google’s aim to create the perfect search engine, which, in Schmidt’s words, will search “on your behalf.”

Fixing Search Results

Overshadowed by the heroic story of Google’s triumph through objective engineering is the story of the judgments of the engineers. Their many choices — reasonable but value-laden, even value-driven — are evident throughout the accounts of the company’s rise. And the history of Google’s ongoing efforts to change its search results to suit various needs — of foreign governments, of itself — indicates what Google might someday do to advance a particular notion of, in Barack Obama’s words, the “public good.”

As the story goes, Page and Brin designed Google to avoid human judgment in rating the relevance of web pages. Recounting Google’s original design, Steven Levy describes the founders’ opinion that “having a human being determine the ratings was out of the question,” not just because “it was inherently impractical,” but also because “humans were unreliable. Only algorithms — well drawn, efficiently executed, and based on sound data — could deliver unbiased results.”

But of course the algorithms had to be well drawn by someone, in accord with someone’s judgment. When the algorithms were originally created, Page and Brin themselves would judge the accuracy of search results and then tweak the code as needed to deliver better results. It was, Levy writes, “a pattern of rapid iterating and launching. If the pages for a given query were not quite in the proper order, they’d go back to the algorithm and see what had gone wrong,” then adjust the variables. As Levy shows, it was by their own account a subjective eyeball test: “You do the ranking initially,” Page explains, “and then you look at the list and say, ‘Are they in the right order?’ If they’re not, we adjust the ranking, and then you’re like, ‘Oh this looks really good.’”

Google continues to tweak its search algorithms. In their 2008 Founders Letter, Page and Brin wrote, “In the past year alone we have made 359 changes to our web search — nearly one per day.” These included “changes in ranking based on personalization” — Google had introduced its “personalized search” feature in 2004 to tailor search results to users’ interests. In newer versions, results are tailored to users’ search history, so that previously visited sites are more likely to be ranked higher. In 2015, Google’s general counsel told the Wall Street Journal, “We regularly change our search algorithms and make over 500 changes a year to help our users get the information they want.”

Sometimes Google adjusts its algorithms to make them “well drawn” to suit its own commercial interests. Harvard business professor Benjamin Edelman, an investigator of online consumer fraud and privacy violations, published findings in 2010 indicating that Google “hard-coded” its search algorithms, responding to queries for certain keywords by prioritizing its own web sites, such as Google Health and Google Finance. And in 2012 the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition compiled a reportdetailing Google’s pattern of prioritizing some of its own commercial web pages over those of its competitors in search results.

Edelman’s and the FTC’s conclusions seem well founded, but even more striking are the 2007 words of Google’s own Marissa Mayer, then one of its senior executives. In a public talk, she was asked why searches for stock tickers had begun to list Google Finance’s page as the top result, instead of the Yahoo! Finance web site that had previously dominated. Mayer (who, ironically, would later leave Google to become CEO of Yahoo!) told the audience bluntly that Google did arrange to put Google Finance atop search listings, and that it was also company “policy” to do likewise for Google Maps and other sites. She quipped, “It seems only fair, right? We do all the work for the search page and all these other things, so we do put it first.”

Censorship and the Public Good

Some of the changes Google has made to its search results have been for apparently political reasons. In 2002, Benjamin Edelman and Jonathan Zittrain (also of Harvard) showed that Google had quietly deleted from the French and German search engines 113 pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic, white supremacist, or otherwise objectionable web sites — some of them “difficult to cleanly categorize.” Although the authors found “no mention of government-mandated (or -requested) removals,” it seemed clear that these were pages “with content that might be sensitive or illegal in the respective countries.”

Google also has accommodated governmental demands for much less laudable reasons. In 2006, Google attracted strong criticism for censoring its search results at Google.cn to suit the Chinese government’s restrictions on free speech and access to information. As the New York Times reported, for Google’s Chinese search engine, “the company had agreed to purge its search results of any Web sites disapproved of by the Chinese government, including Web sites promoting Falun Gong, a government-banned spiritual movement; sites promoting free speech in China; or any mention of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.”

Google’s entry into China under these conditions spurred significant debate within the company. Would bowing to an authoritarian regime’s demands to limit freedom empower the regime, harming Google’s mission? Or would continuing to make the search engine available — even under the restrictions imposed by the government — ultimately empower the Chinese people?

Andrew McLaughlin, then Google’s director of global public policy, urged his colleagues against partnering with the Chinese government because of how it would change Google. Steven Levy recounts McLaughlin’s reasoning: “My basic argument involved the day-to-day moral degradation, just dealing with bad people who are badly motivated and force you into a position of cooperation.” But Page was hopeful, and so, as Levy tells the story, “the Google executives came to a decision using a form of moral metrics” — that is, they tallied the evil of banning content against the good Google might bring to China. Schmidt later said, “We actually did an ‘evil scale’ and decided [that] not to serve at all was worse evil.”

After several difficult years in China, cold reality confirmed McLaughlin’s skepticism. In 2010, Google announced that it had discovered an “attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China” and that a main target was the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Google had had enough of its approach to China, announcing it would only continue operating its search engine in the country if it could come to an agreement with the government on how to do so without censorship. Without any formal declaration as such, the negotiations eventually failed. Google stopped censoring, but the Chinese government threatened action and gradually cracked down, with reports indicating that Google search has been blocked in mainland China since 2014, along with many other Google services.

Google’s awkward moral dance with China offers a case study in what happens when its two core missions — providing objective searches of all the world’s information and Not Being Evil — come into conflict. It suggests an important and paradoxical lesson: Google is willing to compromise the neutrality of its search results, and itself, for the sake of what it deems the broader public good, a goal that is plainly morally driven to begin with.

The question raised by the example of China, and in a limited but perhaps clearer way by France and Germany, is: What are the possibilities when Google is cooperating with a government with which it is less adversarial, and whose conception of the public good it more closely shares?

Google — Change Obama Could Believe In

Barack Obama first visited Google’s headquarters during a fundraising trip in California in 2004, around the time he burst onto the national stage with his riveting address to the Democratic National Convention. The visit made such an impression on Obama that he described it at length two years later in his book The Audacity of Hope. He recounts touring the Google campus and meeting Larry Page: “We spoke about Google’s mission — to organize all of the world’s information into a universally accessible, unfiltered, and usable form.” But Obama was particularly moved by “a three-dimensional image of the earth rotated on a large flat-panel monitor,” on which colored lights showed the ceaseless flurry of Google searches across the globe, from Cambridge to rural India. “Then I noticed the broad swaths of darkness as the globe spun on its axis — most of Africa, chunks of South Asia, even some portions of the United States, where the thick cords of light dissolved into a few discrete strands.”

Obama’s “reverie,” as he put it, was broken by the arrival of Sergey Brin, who brought him to see Google’s weekly casual get-together where employees could meet and discuss issues with him and Page. Afterward, Obama discussed with Google executive David Drummond the need for America to welcome immigrants and foreign visitors, lest other nations leapfrog us as the world’s leader in technological innovation. “I just hope somebody in Washington understands how competitive things have become,” Obama recalls Drummond telling him. “Our dominance isn’t inevitable.”

Obama returned to Google in November 2007, choosing it as the forum to announce his nascent presidential campaign’s “Innovation Agenda,” a broad portfolio of policies on net neutrality, patent reform, immigration, broadband Internet infrastructure, and governmental transparency, among other topics. His remarks reveal his deepening affinity for Google and its founders. Recounting the company’s beginnings in a college dorm room, he cast its vision as closely aligned with his own for America: “What we shared is a belief in changing the world from the bottom up, not the top down; that a bunch of ordinary people can do extraordinary things.” With words that would become familiar for describing Obama’s outlook, he said that “the Google story is more than just being about the bottom line. It’s about seeing what we can accomplish when we believe in things that are unseen, when we take the measure of our changing times and we take action to shape them.”

After Obama’s opening remarks, CEO Eric Schmidt — who would later endorse Obama and campaign for him — joined him on stage to lead a long and wide-ranging Q&A. While much of the discussion focused on predictable subjects, in the closing minutes Obama addressed a less obvious issue: the need to use technology and information to break through people’s ill-founded opinions. He said that as president he wouldn’t allow “special interests” to dominate public discourse, for instance in debates about health care reform, because his administration would reply with “data and facts.” He added, jokingly, that “if they start running ‘Harry and Louise’ ads, I’ll run my own ads, or I’ll send out something on YouTube. I’m president and I’ll be able to — I’ll let them know what the facts are.”

But then, joking aside, he focused squarely on the need for government to use technology to correct what he saw as a well-meaning but too often ignorant public:

You know, one of the things that you learn when you’re traveling and running for president is, the American people at their core are a decent people. There’s a generosity of spirit there, and there’s common sense there, but it’s not tapped. And mainly people — they’re just misinformed, or they are too busy, they’re trying to get their kids to school, they’re working, they just don’t have enough information, or they’re not professionals at sorting out all the information that’s out there, and so our political process gets skewed. But if you give them good information, their instincts are good and they will make good decisions. And the president has the bully pulpit to give them good information.

And that’s what we have to return to: a government where the American people trust the information they’re getting. And I’m really looking forward to doing that, because I am a big believer in reason and facts and evidence and science and feedback — everything that allows you to do what you do, that’s what we should be doing in our government. [Crowd applauds.]

I want people in technology, I want innovators and engineers and scientists like yourselves, I want you helping us make policy — based on facts! Based on reason!

The moment is captured perfectly in Steven Levy’s book In the Plex, where he writes of Obama: “He thought like a Googler.

Obama then invoked the famous apocryphal line of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.” Obama finished his speech by pointing to the crucial role that Google could play in a politics based on facts:

And part of the problem that we’re having … is, we constantly have a contest where facts don’t matter, and I want to restore that sense of decisions being based on facts to the White House. And I think that many of you can help me, so I want you to be involved.

Obama’s appeal to the Googlers proved effective. Not only did Eric Schmidt personally campaign for Obama in 2008, but Google tools proved instrumental to his 2012 reelection campaign machine, years before the Trump campaign used tech platforms to similar effect in 2016. According to a 2013Bloomberg report, Google’s data tools helped the Obama campaign cut their media budget costs by tens of millions of dollars through effective targeting. Schmidt helped make hiring and technology decisions for Obama’s analytics team, and after the election he hired the core team members as the staff of Civis Analytics, a new consulting firm for which Schmidt was the sole investor. The staff of Google Analytics, the company’s web traffic analytics product, cited the 2012 campaign’s use of their platform as a case study for its effectiveness at targeting and responding to voters. In words reminiscent of Obama’s odes to making policy based on reason and facts, the report claims that Google Analytics helped the reelection campaign support “a culture of analysis, testing and optimization.”

And Google’s relationship with Obama didn’t stop with the campaigns. In the years after his election, scores of Google alums would join the Obama administration. Among the most prominent were Megan Smith, a Google vice president, who became Obama’s Chief Technology Officer, and her deputy Andrew McLaughlin, who had been Google’s director of global public policy. Eric Schmidt joined the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. In October 2014, the Washington Post recounted the migration of talent from Google to the Obama White House under the headline, “With appointment after appointment, Google’s ideas are taking hold in D.C.”

But the professional kinship between Google and the administration only saw comprehensive attention in its closing. In April 2016, The Intercept published “The Android Administration,” an impressive report laying out in great detail a case that “no other public company approaches this degree of intimacy with government.” It included charts that visualized the 252 job moves between Google and government from Obama’s campaign years to early 2016, and the 427 meetings between White House and Google employees from 2009 to 2015 — more than once a week on average. The actual number of meetings is likely even higher, since, according to reports of the New York Times and Politico, White House officials frequently conducted meetings outside the grounds in order to skirt disclosure requirements. As TheIntercept aptly observed, “the Obama administration — attempting to project a brand of innovative, post-partisan problem-solving of issues that have bedeviled government for decades — has welcomed and even come to depend upon its association with one of America’s largest tech companies.”

Obama — Change Google Could Believe In

The relationship seemed to bear real fruit, as the Obama White House produced a number of major policies that Google had advocated for. The most prominent of these was “net neutrality,” which proved to be one of the Obama administration’s top policy goals. The term refers to policies requiring broadband Internet providers to be “neutral” in transmitting information to customers, meaning that they are not allowed to prioritize certain kinds of traffic or to charge users accordingly. As I’ve previously described it in an online article for this journal, “net neutrality would prohibit networks from selling faster, more reliable service to preferred websites or applications while concomitantly degrading the service for disfavored sites and applications — such as peer-to-peer services for swapping bootleg music and video files.”

The Obama administration’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) attempted twice to implement net-neutrality regulations, both times (in 2010 and early 2014) being rejected by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Finally, in November 2014, President Obama exhorted his FCC to impose a strict regulatory framework typically used for “common carriers.” That is, the move sought to regulate broadband Internet companies with the same kind of framework long ago applied to railroads and traditional telephone companies. Providers are required to share their public networks and are prohibited from discriminating against any uses of it, as long as those uses are lawful. The FCC adopted Obama’s expansive approach in 2015 in a set of regulations that it called the “Open Internet Order.”

Google was originally ambivalent toward net neutrality, signing on to a policy proposal that might allow for some forms of traffic prioritization. But by 2014, Google came to fully endorse net neutrality. It joined other tech companies in a letter to the FCC warning that regulations allowing Internet providers to discriminate or offer paid prioritization would constitute a “grave threat to the Internet,” and it launched a public campaign on its “Take Action” website. The FCC returned to the issue in December 2017, with its new Trump-appointed chairman, Ajit Pai, leading the way toward repealing the Obama FCC’s rule. Google maintains a web page to rally support behind the Obama-era regulation, and the issue remains unresolved as of this writing.

Google enjoyed other policy successes with the Obama-era FCC. At least as early as 2007, Google had urged the FCC to exempt part of the radio spectrum from the longstanding, time-consuming process to obtain a non-marketable license for its usage. Instead, Google proposed treating it as an open market, in which the right to use portions of the spectrum could be easily bought and sold between companies. Google anticipated that the move could encourage competition among service providers, increasing consumer availability of mobile wireless access to the Internet — and to Google’s services. In 2014, as the Obama FCC began to propose a plan to reform its spectrum management, Google urged the FCC to dedicate the equivalent of four television channels for unlicensed uses. When the FCC adopted a plan that reallocated spectrum for such uses, Google posted a note on its public policy blog celebrating the FCC’s “important step toward powering tomorrow’s wireless broadband.”

In another example, in January 2016 the FCC proposed rules requiring cable TV providers to “unlock” their set-top boxes. Most consumers currently have to rent their set-top boxes from cable companies, so the move would allow competitors to offer devices at cheaper rates. It would also have permitted Google and other companies to access and repackage the cable channels as they saw fit. In theory, you could buy a single device through which you could watch Netflix, YouTube, HBO, and C-SPAN, all on your TV and without having to switch sources. The FCC proposal framed the move as aimed at “creating choice & innovation.” For Google, it would also have opened a new front in the nascent bid to compete directly against TV and Internet providers — already underway with Chromecast, its device for playing streaming Internet video on a TV, and Google Fiber, its ultra-fast Internet access service.

Two days after the FCC announced its proposal, Google hosted an event in its Washington, D.C. office near Capitol Hill to demonstrate its own prototype for a TV box, for a very specific audience: “It wasn’t an ordinary Google product event,” CNN reported. “There were no skydiving executives. No throngs of app developers. No tech press.” Instead, “The audience consisted of congressional staffers and federal regulators.” The proposal has since been canceled by President Trump’s FCC chairman.

The signs of a Google–government policy alignment during the Obama administration were not limited to the FCC. The landmark intellectual property reforms that Obama signed into law as the America Invents Act of 2011 found enthusiastic support from Google, which had joined with a number of other big tech companies to form the Coalition for Patent Fairness, which lobbied for the bill. Google’s main interest was in fighting so-called “patent trolls” — agents who obtain intellectual property rights not to create new products but to profit from infringement lawsuits. Companies like Google, which use and produce a vast array of individual technologies, are naturally vulnerable to such lawsuits. In comments submitted to the Patent and Trademark Office shortly after the bill’s enactment, Google (together with a few other tech companies) urged the PTO to adopt rules to reduce the costs and burdens of patent-related litigation. Their stated aim was to “advance Congress’ ultimate goal of increasing patent quality by focusing the time and resources of America’s patent community on productive innovation and strengthening the national economy.”

In February 2013, Obama returned to the subject of intellectual property during a “Fireside Hangout,” an online conversation with Americans arranged and moderated by Google, using its platform for video chat. Echoing Google’s position, Obama argued for still more legislation to further limit litigation by patent holders who “don’t actually produce anything themselves” and are “trying to essentially leverage and hijack somebody else’s idea and see if they can extort some money out of them.” The following year, Obama appointed Google’s former deputy general counsel and head of patents and patent strategy, Michelle K. Lee, to serve as director of the PTO.

Why did the Obama administration side so reliably with Google? Some might credit it simply to the blunt force of lobbying. In 2012, Google was the nation’s second-largest corporate spender on lobbying, behind General Electric; by 2017 it had taken the lead, spending $18 million. That money and effort surely had some effect, as did the hundreds of meetings between Google employees and the White House. Responding to a 2015 Wall Street Journal article on Google’s friendly relationship with the Obama administration, Google stated that their meetings covered a very broad range of subjects: “patent reform, STEM education, self-driving cars, mental health, advertising, Internet censorship, smart contact lenses, civic innovation, R&D, cloud computing, trade and investment, cyber security, energy efficiency and our workplace benefit policies.”

But there are some things even money can’t buy. Conjectures about the effectiveness of Google’s lobbying and its persistent visits miss that the Obama administration’s affinity for Google ultimately rested on more fundamental principles — principles held not by Obama alone, but by modern progressives generally.

“A Common Baseline”

Recounting Barack Obama’s 2007 visit to Google, Steven Levy observes that “Google was Obama Territory, and vice versa. With its focus on speed, scale, and above all data, Google had identified and exploited the key ingredients for thinking and thriving in the Internet era. Barack Obama seemed to have integrated those concepts in his own approach to problem solving.” Later Levy adds, “Google and Obama vibrated at the same frequency.”

It is not hard to see the similarities in Google’s and Obama’s social outlooks and self-conceptions. There is not a great distance between Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” and Obama’s “Don’t Do Stupid Sh**,” the glib slogan he reportedly started using in his second term to describe his foreign policy views. Nor does a vast gulf separate Google’s increasingly confident goal of answering questions you haven’t asked and Obama’s 2007 sketch of the American people as full of untapped common sense yet often ignorant, so that what they need is a president to give them the facts from the bully pulpit. The common theme is that we make wrong decisions not because the world is inherently complex but because most people are self-interested and dumb — except for the self-anointed enlighteners, that is.

For years, American progressives have offered paeans to “facts,” “evidence,” and “science,” and bemoaned that their opponents are at odds with the same. The 2008 platform of the Democratic Party, for example, vowed to “end the Bush Administration’s war on science, restore scientific integrity, and return to evidence-based decision-making.” As we’ve seen, Obama had already embraced that critique during his presidential campaign. “I’ll let them know what the facts are,” he told his Google audience in 2007, sure of his ability to discern the objective truths his ideological opponents missed or ignored or concealed. At the time, he saw Google as a partner in that endeavor.

But over a decade later, at the M.I.T. conference this February, Obama presented a less optimistic view of the major tech companies’ effect on national debates. (The event was off the record, but Reasonmagazine obtained and posted an audio recording.) He noted his belief that informational tools such as social media are a “hugely powerful potential force for good.” But, he added, they are merely tools, and so can also be used for evil. Tech companies such as Google “are shaping our culture in powerful ways. And the most powerful way in which that culture is being shaped right now is the balkanization of our public conversation.”

Rather than uniting the nation around a common understanding of the facts, Obama saw that Google and other companies were contributing to the nation’s fragmentation — a process that goes back to TV and talk radio but “has accelerated with the Internet”:

… essentially we now have entirely different realities that are being created, with not just different opinions but now different facts — different sources, different people who are considered authoritative. It’s — since we’re at M.I.T., to throw out a big word — it’s epistemological. It’s a baseline issue.

As in his 2007 talk at Google, Obama then offered the same (ironically apocryphal) anecdote about Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan winning a heated debate with the line, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.” The radical difference in information presented between sources, such as Fox News and the New York Times editorial page, Obama explained, means that “they do not describe the same thing.” Google and social media, he seemed to imply, facilitate the creation of alternate realities, as poor information can be spread just as easily and can look just as authoritative as good information, and “it is very difficult to figure out how democracy works over the long term in those circumstances.”

Calling for “a common baseline of facts and information,” Obama urged that we need to have “a serious conversation about what are the business models, the algorithms, the mechanisms whereby we can create more of a common conversation.” Although he greatly admires Google and some of the other tech companies, he explained, we need some “basic rules,” just as we need them in a well-functioning economy. This shift must be oriented around an understanding that tech companies are “a public good as well as a commercial enterprise.”

Taken together, it was a significant change in tone from Obama’s 2007 talk at Google — as well as from his 2011 State of the Union Address, in which he called America a “nation of … Google and Facebook,” and meant it in the best possible way, as an example of American ingenuity. In 2018, after his presidency, he still saw America as a nation of Google and Facebook — but in a much more ominous way.

Meanwhile, and perhaps unbeknownst to Obama, Google already seems to be moving in the direction he indicated, self-imposing some basic rules to help ensure public debates are bound by a common baseline of facts.

“Evil Content”

Google’s founders have always maintained the conceit that Google’s ranking of information is fundamentally objective, determined by what is, or should be, most useful to users. But in recent years — particularly in the last two, as concern has grown from many quarters over the rise of “fake news” — Google has begun to tailor its search to prioritize content that it sees as more credible.

In April 2017, Google announced the worldwide release of its “Fact Check” feature for search results: “For the first time, when you conduct a search on Google that returns an authoritative result containing fact checks for one or more public claims, you will see that information clearly on the search results page.” A box will clearly display the claim and who stated it, together with who checked it and, ostensibly, whether it is true. The announcement explained that Google is not itself doing the fact-checking, and that instead it relies on “publishers that are algorithmically determined to be an authoritative source of information.” And while different publishers may sometimes come to different conclusions, “we think it’s still helpful for people to understand the degree of consensus around a particular claim and have clear information on which sources agree.” Google tied this new program directly to its fundamental mission: “Google was built to help people find useful information,” the release explained, and “high quality information” is what people want.

Only a few weeks later, Google announced that it would be taking much more direct steps toward the presentation of factual claims. In response to the problem of “fake news” — “the spread of blatantly misleading, low quality, offensive or downright false information” — Google has adjusted its search algorithms to down-rank “offensive or clearly misleading content, which is not what people are looking for,” and in turn to “surface more authoritative content.” In Google-speak, to “surface” is to raise items higher in search results.

Then, in November 2017, Google announced that it would further supplement its Fact Check approach with another labeling effort known as the “Trust Project.” Funded by Google, hosted by Santa Clara University, and developed in conjunction with more than 75 news organizations worldwide, the Trust Project includes eight “trust indicators,” such as “author expertise,” “citations and references,” and “diverse voices.” News publishers would be able to provide these indicators for their online content, so that Google could store and present this information to users in Google News and other products, much like how articles in Google News now display their publication name and date.

Two days later, Eric Schmidt — by then the Executive Chairman of Alphabet, Google’s new parent company — appeared at the Halifax International Security Forum and engaged in a wide-ranging Q&Aabout the geopolitical scene. Explaining the steps that Google and its sister companies, such as YouTube, were taking to combat Russian “troll farms,” terrorist propaganda, and other forms of fake news and abuse, Schmidt eventually turned to a broader point about Google’s role in vetting the factual — or moral — quality of search results.

We started with a position that — the American general view — that bad speech will be replaced by good speech in a crowded network. And the problem in the last year is that that may not be true in certain situations, especially when you have a well-funded opponent that’s trying to actively spread this information. So I think everybody is sort of grappling with where is that line.

Schmidt continued, offering a “typical example”: When “a judge or a leader, typically in a foreign country,” complains that illegal information appeared in Google search results, Google will respond that, within a minute and a half, they had noticed it themselves and taken it down. Using their crowdsourcing model, that time frame, Schmidt explains, is difficult to beat. But he goes on: “We’re working hard to use machine learning and AI to spot these things ahead of time … so that the publishing time of evil content is exactly zero.”

So what about Google’s role in the United States? Where would it find the line? At one point, an audience member, Columbia professor Alexis Wichowski, raised a question along the same lines that Obama would at M.I.T. a few months later — about the “lack of common narrative.” “We talk about echo chambers as if they’re some sort of inevitable consequence of technology, but really they’re a consequence of how good the algorithms are at filtering information out that we don’t want to see. So do you think that Google has any sort of role to play in countering the echo chamber phenomenon?” Schmidt responded that the problem was primarily one of social networks, not of Google’s search engine. But, he added, Google does have an important role to play:

I am strongly not in favor of censorship. I am very strongly in favor of ranking. It’s what we do. So you can imagine an answer to your question would be that you would de-rank — that is, lower-rank — information that was repetitive, exploitive, false, likely to have been weaponized, and so forth.

Were Schmidt referring only to the most manifestly false or harmful content, then his answer would have been notable but not surprising; after all, Google had long ago begun scrubbing racist and certain other offensive web pages from its search results in France and Germany. But the suggestion that Google might de-rank information that it deems false or exploitative more generally raises much different possibilities. Such an approach — employed, for example, in service of Obama’s call to bring Americans together around common facts relevant to policy — would have immense ramifications.

Payday

We see a glimpse and a possible portent of Google’s involvement in public policy in its fight against the payday loan industry. A type of small, high-interest loan usually borrowed as an advance on a consumer’s next paycheck, payday loans are typically used by low-income people who are unable to get conventional loans, and have been widely decried as predatory.

Google’s targeting of payday loans arguably began within their objective wheelhouse. In 2013, Google started tailoring its search algorithms to de-rank sites that use spamming tactics, such as bot queries, to artificially increase their rankings. Matt Cutts, then the head of Google’s web spam team, mentioned payday-loan and pornography sites as two chief targets. The editors of the news site Search Engine Land dubbed the new anti-spam code the “Payday Loan Algorithm.” (One editor attributes the name to Danny Sullivan, then also an editor of the site, who has since become Google’s public liaison of search.) At least as Google described it, these measures were simply aimed at countering exploitations of its ranking algorithm.

Yet even at this stage, there were indications that combating spam may not have been Google’s sole rationale. When someone tweeted at Cutts a criticism of the change — “Great job on payday loans in UK. Can’t find a provider now, but plenty of news stories. Way to answer users queries” — Cutts did not reply with a defense of combating spam tactics. Instead, he replied with a link to a news article about how the U.K. Office of Fair Trading was investigating payday lenders for anticompetitive practices and “evidence of financial loss and personal distress to many people.” “Seems like pretty important news to me?,” Cutts added. “OFT is investigating entire payday loan space?” Cutts’s reply was suggestive in two ways. One was a reminder that qualitative judgments about relevance have always been part of Google’s rationalizations for its search rankings. The other was the suggestion that top leadership at Google was well aware of the concerns that payday loans are predatory, and perhaps even saw it as desirable that information about the controversy be presented to users searching for payday lenders.

A clearer shift arrived in May 2016, when Google announced that it would start “banning ads for payday loans and some related products from our ads systems.” Although there was no mention of this change affecting search rankings, it was a more aggressive move than the de-ranking of spammers, as the rationale for it this time was explicitly political: “research has shown that these loans can result in unaffordable payment and high default rates for users.” The announcement quoted the endorsement of Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights: “This new policy addresses many of the longstanding concerns shared by the entire civil rights community about predatory payday lending.” (It should be noted that it is not clear that Google’s move has been entirely effective. Five months after the announcement, a report in the Washington Examiner found that ads for intermediary “lead-generation companies that route potential borrowers to lenders” were still displaying.)

Unlike Google’s decision to combat spam associated with payday loans, there is no universal agreement about whether the loans themselves are exploitative or harmful. For example, a 2017 article in the Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance found that “payday loans may cause little harm while providing benefits, albeit small ones, to some consumers” and counseled “further study and caution.” An episode of the popular Freakonomics podcast gives reason to believe that the seemingly predatory practices of payday lenders owe in some significant measure to the nature of the service itself — providing quick, small amounts of credit to people vulnerable to sudden, minor financial shocks. It tells the story of a twenty-year-old Chicago man for whom a payday loan meant he could pay off a ticket for smoking, presumably avoiding even greater penalties for nonpayment. If this picture of payday loans is hardly rosy, it is not simple either. More to the point, there is no purely apolitical judgment of payday loans to be had. Google made the decision to ban payday-loan ads based not on a concern about legitimate search practices but on its judgment of sound public policy.

The timing of Google’s decision on this issue also came at a politically opportune moment, suggesting a fortuitous convergence in the outlooks of Google and the Obama administration. In March 2015, President Obama announced his administration’s opposition to payday loans, in a speech that coincided with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s announcement that it would formulate rules restricting such loans. The administration continued its campaign against payday loans through 2016, culminating with the CFPB’s formal release of proposed regulations in June. This was only a few weeks after Google announced its ban on payday-loan ads. And this May, Google, joined by Facebook, announced a similar ban on ads for bail-bond services — bail reform has recently become a popular cause among libertarians and progressives.

These kinds of political efforts may be a departure from Google’s founding principle of neutrality — but they are a clear extension of its principle of usefulness. Again, Google’s mission “to organize the world’s information, making it universally accessible and useful” is rife with value judgments about what information qualifies as useful.

It is not much of a further stretch to imagine that Google might decide that not only payday lenders themselves but certain information favorable to payday lenders is no longer useful to consumers either. If “research has shown” that payday loans are harmful or predatory, it is not difficult to imagine that contrary information — industry literature, research by people with ties to the industry, even simply articles that present favorable arguments — might fall under what Eric Schmidt deems “exploitive, false, likely to have been weaponized,” and be de-ranked.

And how much further, then, to other subjects? If it is widely believed that certain policy stances, especially bearing on science — say, on energy or climate policy or abortion — are simply dictated by available factual evidence, then arguments or evidence to the contrary could likewise be deemed a kind of exploitative informational fraud, hardly what any user really intends to find. Under the growing progressive view of political disagreement, it is not difficult to see the rationale for “de-ranking” many other troublesome sources.

“A Level Playing Field”

Another striking recent example — still unfolding as this article went to publication — illustrates the shaky ground on which Google now finds itself, the pressures to which it is vulnerable, and the new kinds of actions it might be willing to take in response.

On May 4, responding to ongoing concerns over how it and other tech companies were used by Russian agents to influence the 2016 U.S. elections, Google announced new policies to support “election integrity through greater advertising transparency,” including a requirement that people placing ads related to U.S. elections provide documentation of U.S. citizenship or lawful residency. This announcement came amid debate over Ireland’s referendum to repeal its constitutional limits on abortion. Just five days later, Google decided to “pause” all ads related to the referendum, including ads on YouTube.

As a rationale, Google cited only its recent election-integrity effort, and did not offer further explanation. Its decision came a day after a similar decision by Facebook to restrict referendum ads only to advertisers residing in Ireland, citing unspecified concerns that foreign actors had been attempting to influence the vote by buying Facebook ads. Multiple Irish Times articles cited Gavin Sheridan, an Irish entrepreneur who, starting ten days before Google’s decision, wrote a widely read series of tweets offering evidence that anti-repeal ads were being bought by pro-life groups in the United States.

Though Google’s and Facebook’s pause on ads applied to both sides of the campaign, it was not perceived by Irish activists as having equal impact. In fact, the response of both sides suggests a shared belief that the net effect of the restriction would favor the repeal campaign. A report in the Irish Timesquotes campaigners on both sides who saw it as a boon for repeal — a spokesperson for the repeal campaign praised the restriction as a move that “creates a level playing field,” while anti-repeal groups claimed it was motivated by concern that repeal would fail. As an article in The Irish Catholic described it, the pro-life activists argued that “mainstream media is dominated by voices who favour the legalisation of abortion in Ireland,” and “online media had provided them with the only platform available to them to speak to voters directly on a large scale.” (The referendum vote had not yet been held when this article went to publication.)

Google and Facebook alike have cited concerns over foreign influence on elections that sound reasonable, and are shared by many. But Irish Times reporter Pat Leahy, who said that Google declined to respond to questions about its rationale, also cited sources familiar with the companies’ thinking who said that they “became fearful in the past week that if the referendum was defeated, they would be the subject of an avalanche of blame and further scrutiny of their role in election campaigns.”

With this action, Google has placed itself in a perilous situation. A decision to prevent foreign actors from advertising in a country’s elections has clear merit, but it also requires unavoidably political reasoning. Moreover, although the action is on its face neutral, as it bars advertising from both sides of the campaign, the decision to apply the rationale to this particular case is also plainly subjective and political. Notice that, as justification for banning referendum ads in Ireland, Google cited only an earlier policy announcement that applied just to the United States. And whereas that policy had banned only foreign advertisers, in Ireland Google banned referendum ads from everyone, even Irish citizens and residents. Google did not offer rationales for either expansion, or explain whether the practices would apply to other countries going forward. From now on, Google’s decision to invoke one rationale in one case and another rationale in another will inevitably appear ad hoc and capricious.

Whatever its real motives, Google — which surely knew full well that its action would benefit the repeal campaign — has left itself incapable of credibly rebutting the charge that politics entered into its decision. And if political considerations are legitimate reasons for Google in these particular cases, then all other cases will become open to political pressure from activists too. Indeed, failure to act in other cases, invoking the old “digital Switzerland” standard of nonintervention, will now risk being seen as no less capricious and political.

From Antitrust to Woke Capital

All around, there is a growing unease at Google’s power and influence, and a rising belief from many quarters that the answer is antitrust action. It certainly seems like the sort of company that might require breaking up or regulating. As noted earlier, the Wall Street Journal recently found that Google’s market share of all Internet searches is 89 percent, while it scoops up 42 percent of all Internet advertising revenue.

Some might draw solace from the fact that users can switch to a different search engine anytime. “We do not trap our users,” Eric Schmidt told a Senate subcommittee in 2011. “If you do not like the answer that Google search provides you can switch to another engine with literally one click, and we have lots of evidence that people do this.” That Google search has competition is true enough, but only up to a point, because Google enjoys an immense and perhaps insurmountable advantage over aspiring rivals. Having accumulated nearly twenty years of data, its algorithms draw from a data set so comprehensive that no upstart search engine could ever begin to imitate it. Schmidt himself recognized this in 2003, when he told the New York Times that the sheer size of Google’s resources created an uncrossable moat: “Managing search at our scale is a very serious barrier to entry.” And that was just a few years into Google’s life; the barrier to entry has grown vastly wider since.

It is not hard to imagine the federal government bringing antitrust action against Google someday, as it did in 1974 against AT&T and in 2001 against Microsoft. Congress has taken an interest in Google’s practices: In 2011, the Senate’s antitrust subcommittee convened a hearing titled “The Power of Google: Serving Consumers or Threatening Competition?” And in 2012, staffers of the Federal Trade Commission completed a long and detailed report analyzing Google’s practices, half of which was later obtained and published by the Wall Street Journal.

The report found a variety of anticompetitive practices by Google, including illegally copying reviews from Amazon and other websites to its own shopping listings; threatening to remove these websites from Google’s search results when they asked Google not to copy their content; and disfavoring competitors in its search results. The report recommended an antitrust lawsuit against Google, citing monopolistic behavior that “will have lasting negative effects on consumer welfare.” But the commission rejected the recommendation of its staff, deciding unanimously to close the investigation without bringing legal action. Instead, it reached a settlement with Google in which the company agreed to change some of its practices. The European Union, however, has not been so hesitant, levying a $2.7 billion fine against Google in 2017 for similar practices.

But while progressive critics of Google seem to focus exclusively on either regulation or breakup as the natural remedies for its seeming monopoly, they forget the third possibility: that government might actually draw closer to business, collaborating toward a shared vision of the public interest. Collaboration between government and industry giants would not be a departure from progressivism; quite the contrary, there is some precedent in New Deal economic policy, as recounted by E. W. Hawley in The New Deal and the Problem of Monopoly (1966). FDR-era proponents of the “business commonwealth” approach believed that certain business leaders “had taken and would take a paternalistic and fair-minded interest in the welfare of their workers,” had moreover “played a major role in the creation of American society,” and that therefore they “were responsible for its continued well-being.” Accordingly, the argument went, “they should be given a free hand to organize the system in the most efficient, rational, and productive manner.” Government would retain a “supervisory role,” but this would not be an onerous task so long as an industry’s interests were generally seen to be “identical with those of society as a whole.”

While this approach, unsurprisingly, was first advanced by the business community, it became a core component of the first New Deal’s crown jewel, the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, which empowered industry groups to write their own “codes of fair competition” in the public interest, under the president’s oversight. The law was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court two years later. But until then its cooperative provisions embodied, in Hawley’s words, “the vision of a business commonwealth, of a rational, cartelized business order.” By coupling those provisions with the more familiar progressive policies of antitrust and regulation, the NIRA, “as written … could be used to move in any of these directions,” thus embodying progressivism’s ambivalence as to whether it is better to beat Big Business or join it.

One should not draw too close a connection between policy then and now. But Hawley’s description bears a striking resemblance to modern progressive visions of what Google is and perhaps ought to become. Although progressives have traditionally been deeply suspicious of corporate power in our government and in our society, and corporations in turn have traditionally shown little interest in convincing progressives otherwise, that trend may be changing, as New York Times columnist Ross Douthat suggested in February. Citing recent corporate advocacy on behalf of gun control, immigration, and gay and transgender rights, Douthat observed that “the country’s biggest companies are growing a conscience, prodded along by shifts in public opinion and Donald Trump’s depredations and their own idealistic young employees, and becoming a vanguard force for social change.” The usual profit motives have not been displaced, of course, but some major corporations seem increasingly interested in obligations of social conscience. It is, to quote the column’s headline, “the rise of woke capital.”

In important senses, Google has defined itself from the start as ahead of the woke curve. “We have always wanted Google to be a company that is deserving of great love,” said Larry Page in 2012. In establishing Google as a company defined by its values as much as its technology, Page and Sergey Brin have long made clear their desire to see Google become a force for good in the world. In 2012, Page reaffirmed that vision in an interview with Fortune magazine, describing his plan to “really scale our ambition such that we are able to cause more positive change in the world and more technological change. I have a deep feeling that we are not even close to where we should be.”

As Google’s sense of public obligation grows, and as progressive government becomes ever more keen on technology as a central instrument of its aims and more aware of tech companies’ power to shape public debates, it is not difficult to see how Google’s role could expand. At the very least, Google’s ability to structure the information presented to its users makes it a supremely potent “nudger.” As Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein argue in their 2008 book Nudge, how information is presented is a central aspect of “choice architecture.” As they put it,

public-spirited choice architects — those who run the daily newspaper, for example — know that it’s good to nudge people in directions that they might not have specifically chosen in advance. Structuring choice sometimes means helping people to learn, so they can later make better choices on their own.

If the “public-spirited” publisher of a daily newspaper can have such an effect on a community, just imagine the impact Google might have nationwide, even worldwide.

This, of course, would be a scenario well beyond merely nudging. As the de facto gateway to the Internet, Google’s power to surface or sink web sites is effectively a power to edit how the Internet appears to users — a power to edit the world’s information itself. This is why a decision by Google to “de-index” a web page, striking it from its search results altogether (usually for a serious violation of guidelines) is commonly called Google’s “death penalty.” In a sense, Google exercises significant power to regulate its users in lieu of government. As Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig argued in his seminal 1999 book Code:

While of course code is private, and of course different from the U.S. Code, its differences don’t mean there are not similarities as well. “East Coast Code” — law — regulates by enabling and limiting the options that individuals have, to the end of persuading them to behave in a certain way. “West Coast Code” does the same.

Whether we think of Google as acting in lieu of government or in league with government — either Lessig’s codemaker-as-lawmaker or Thaler and Sunstein’s public-spirited choice architect — Google is uniquely well suited to help further the aims of progressive government along the lines that President Obama described, creating a “common baseline of facts and information.” So will Google someday embrace that role?

 

Adjusting the Signals

There has long been a fundamental tension between the dual missions — being trusted as the source of objective search results and Not Being Evil — by which Google has sought to earn the public’s love.

That this tension is now coming to a head is evident in a pair of statements from Google over seven years apart. In November 2009, outrage arose when users discovered that one of the top image results when querying “Michelle Obama” was a racist picture. Google responded by including a notice along with the search results that linked to a statement, which read:

Search engines are a reflection of the content and information that is available on the Internet. A site’s ranking in Google’s search results relies heavily on computer algorithms using thousands of factors to calculate a page’s relevance to a given query.

The beliefs and preferences of those who work at Google, as well as the opinions of the general public, do not determine or impact our search results…. Google views the integrity of our search results as an extremely important priority. Accordingly, we do not remove a page from our search results simply because its content is unpopular or because we receive complaints concerning it.

Compare this statement to the company’s April 2017 announcement of its efforts to combat “fake news”:

Our algorithms help identify reliable sources from the hundreds of billions of pages in our index. However, it’s become very apparent that a small set of queries in our daily traffic … have been returning offensive or clearly misleading content, which is not what people are looking for…. We’ve adjusted our signals to help surface [rank higher] more authoritative pages and demote low-quality content, so that issues similar to the Holocaust denial results that we saw back in December are less likely to appear.

Google links to a December 2016 Fortune article that explains, “Querying the search engine for ‘did the Holocaust happen’ now returns an unexpected first result: A page from the website Stormfront titled ‘Top 10 reasons why the Holocaust didn’t happen.’”

The example is instructive. The problem here is that Google does not claim that — as with the spammy payday loan results — there were any artificial tactics that led to this search result. And Google’s logic — “offensive or clearly misleading content … is not what people are looking for” — is peculiar and telling. For search results are supposed to be objective in no small part because they’re based on massive amounts of data about what other people have actually looked for and clicked on. Google seems to have it backward: The vexing problem is that people are increasingly getting offensive, misleading search results because that’s increasingly what people are looking for.

Google is now faced squarely with the irresolvable conflict between its core missions: The information people objectively want may, by Google’s reckoning, be evil. Put another way, there is a growing logic for Google to transform its conception of what is objective to suit its conception of what is good.

The most recent update to Google’s Code of Conduct, released in April, may be telling. The previous version had opened with the words “Don’t be evil” — defined, among other things, as “providing our users unbiased access to information.” But the new version opens with an unspecified reference to “Google’s values,” adds a new mention of “respect for our users,” and now omits any assurance of providing unbiased information.

The present moment, then, offers Google a unique opportunity to recast its public role. In the Trump era, no company is better suited to combat “fake news,” or to answer complaints that the American public is poorly informed on matters of public policy. Barack Obama may have been boasting in 2007 when he told his Google audience that he would let opponents “know what the facts are,” but Google is equipped to deliver on that promise. And if progressives persist in their belief that science and facts prove their policy preferences objectively superior, and their related belief that the public’s lack of consensus on factual questions poses a threat to democracy, then Google seems the best company to lead, in Obama’s words, “a serious conversation about what are the business models, the algorithms, the mechanisms whereby we can create more of a common conversation.”

In President Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell address in which he famously described a looming “military–industrial complex,” he also warned that “in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.” Past moments of alignment between industry and government are rarely remembered fondly as exemplars of public–private cooperation in the national interest. Rather, they tend to be remembered as moments of dangerous influence of private interest over public policy — especially by progressives, with reliable invocations of Eisenhower.

Yet it is this very logic that may now demand the opposite response — for more and more progressives view Google’s influence on public policy as already dangerous precisely because it is not more actively altering its product to serve the public good. Where before Google could respond to any complaint about its search results by saying, Sorry, our hands are tied  the algorithm did it, its many recent interventions on political grounds mean that it no longer has such cover. And the pressure for Google to adopt ever more expansive interpretations of “exploitative,” “authoritative,” and “what people are looking for” will doubtless rise.

If Google were to embrace the growing desire for it to become an active player in the fight against misinformation, then it would go a long way toward dousing the increasingly heated criticism of its monopoly status. Facing strident calls for antitrust action, especially from the left, Google may find it prudent to proactively employ its tools in service of the particular vision of the public good that progressives have embraced, and to be seen as the world’s best hope for defending facts, evidence, and science, as it chooses to define them. And then, instead of seeking to punish Google, modern progressives may find their goals better met by quietly partnering with it.

 


Adam J. White, a New Atlantis contributing editor, is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and director of the Center for the Study of the Administrative State at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School.

___

Go To Source

Twilight Of The Psychopaths

 

 

 

Twilight Of The Psychopaths

By Dr. Kevin Barrett

“Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I’m liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That’s what’s insane about it.”– John Lennon, before his murder by CIA mind-control subject Mark David Chapman

When Gandhi was asked his opinion of Western civilization he said it would be a good idea. But that oft-cited quote, is misleading, assuming as it does that civilization is an unmitigated blessing.

Civilized people, we are told, live peacefully and cooperatively with their fellows, sharing the necessary labour in order to obtain the leisure to develop arts and sciences. And while that would be a good idea, it is not a good description of what has been going on in the so-called advanced cultures during the past 8,000 years.

Civilization, as we know it, is largely the creation of psychopaths. All civilizations, our own included, have been based on slavery and “warfare.” Incidentally, the latter term is a euphemism for mass murder.

 


The prevailing recipe for civilization is simple:

  1. Use lies and brainwashing to create an army of controlled, systematic mass murderers
  2. Use that army to enslave large numbers of people (i.e. seize control of their labour power and its fruits)
  3. Use that slave labour power to improve the brainwashing process (by using the economic surplus to employ scribes, priests, and PR men). Then go back to step one and repeat the process.

Psychopaths have played a disproportionate role in the development of civilization, because they are hard-wired to lie, kill, injure, and generally inflict great suffering on other humans without feeling any remorse. The inventor of civilization – the first tribal chieftain who successfully brainwashed an army of controlled mass murderers—was almost certainly a genetic psychopath.

Since that momentous discovery, psychopaths have enjoyed a significant advantage over non-psychopaths in the struggle for power in civilizational hierarchies – especially military hierarchies.

Military institutions are tailor-made for psychopathic killers. The 5% or so of human males who feel no remorse about killing their fellow human beings make the best soldiers. And the 95% who are extremely reluctant to kill make terrible soldiers – unless they are brainwashed with highly sophisticated modern techniques that turn them (temporarily it is hoped) into functional psychopaths.

In On Killing, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman has re-written military history, to highlight what other histories hide: The fact that military science is less about strategy and technology, than about overcoming the instinctive human reluctance to kill members of our own species.

The true “Revolution in Military Affairs” was not Donald Rumsfeld’s move to high-tech in 2001, but Brigadier Gen. S.L.A. Marshall’s discovery in the 1940s that only 15-20% of World War II soldiers along the line of fire would use their weapons:

“Those (80-85%) who did not fire did not run or hide (in many cases they were willing to risk great danger to rescue comrades, get ammunition, or run messages), but they simply would not fire their weapons at the enemy, even when faced with repeated waves of banzai charges”(Grossman, p. 4).

Marshall’s discovery and subsequent research, proved that in all previous wars, a tiny minority of soldiers – the 5% who are natural-born psychopaths, and perhaps a few temporarily-insane imitators—did almost all the killing.

Normal men just went through the motions and, if at all possible, refused to take the life of an enemy soldier, even if that meant giving up their own. The implication: Wars are ritualized mass murders by psychopaths of non-psychopaths. (This cannot be good for humanity’s genetic endowment!)

Marshall’s work, brought a Copernican revolution to military science. In the past, everyone believed that the soldier willing to kill for his country was the (heroic) norm, while one who refused to fight was a (cowardly) aberration. The truth, as it turned out, was that the normative soldier hailed from the psychopathic five percent.

The sane majority, would rather die than fight.

The implication, too frightening for even the likes of Marshall and Grossman to fully digest, was that the norms for soldiers’ behavior in battle had been set by psychopaths. That meant that psychopaths were in control of the military as an institution.

Worse, it meant that psychopaths were in control of society’s perception of military affairs. Evidently, psychopaths exercised an enormous amount of power in seemingly sane, normal society.

How could that be?

In Political PonerologyAndrzej Lobaczewski explains that clinical psychopaths enjoy advantages even in non-violent competitions to climb the ranks of social hierarchies. Because they can lie without remorse (and without the telltale physiological stress that is measured by lie detector tests) psychopaths can always say whatever is necessary to get what they want.

In court, for example, psychopaths can tell extreme bald-faced lies in a plausible manner, while their sane opponents are handicapped by an emotional predisposition to remain within hailing distance of the truth. Too often, the judge or jury imagines that the truth must be somewhere in the middle, and then issues decisions that benefit the psychopath. As with judges and juries, so too with those charged with decisions concerning who to promote and who not to promote in corporate, military and governmental hierarchies.

The result is that all hierarchies inevitably become top-heavy with psychopaths.

So-called conspiracy theorists, some of whom deserve the pejorative connotation of that much-abused term, often imagine that secret societies of Jews, Jesuitsbankers, communists, Bilderbergers,Muslim extremistspapists, and so on, are secretly:

  • controlling history,
  • doing dastardly deeds,
  • and/or threatening to take over the world…

As a leading “conspiracy theorist” according to Wikipedia, I feel eminently qualified to offer an alternative conspiracy theory which, like the alternative conspiracy theory of 9/11, is both simpler and more accurate than the prevailing wisdom:

The only conspiracy that matters is the conspiracy of the psychopaths against the rest of us.

Behind the apparent insanity of contemporary history, is the actual insanity of psychopaths fighting to preserve their disproportionate power. And as that power grows ever-more-threatened, the psychopaths grow ever-more-desperate.

We are witnessing the apotheosis of the overworld—the criminal syndicate or overlapping set of syndicates that lurks above ordinary society and law just as the underworld lurks below it.

In 9/11 and the 9/11 wars, we are seeing:

  • the final desperate power-grab or endgame” (Alex Jonesof brutal, cunning gangs of CIA drug-runners and President-killers
  • money-laundering international bankers and their hit-men, economic and otherwise
  • corrupt military contractors and gung-ho generals
  • corporate predators and their political enablers
  • brainwashers and mind-rapists euphemistically known as psy-ops experts and PR specialists

In short, the whole sick crew of certifiable psychopaths running our so-called civilization.

And they are running scared. It was their terror of losing control that they projected onto the rest of us by blowing up the Twin Towers and inciting temporary psychopathic terror-rage in the American public.

Why does the pathocracy fear it is losing control?

Because it is threatened by the spread of knowledge. The greatest fear of any psychopath is of being found out.

As George H. W. Bush said to journalist Sarah McClendon, December 1992,

“If the people knew what we had done, they would chase us down the street and lynch us.”

Given that Bush is reported to have participated in parties where child prostitutes were sodomized and otherwise abused, among his many other crimes, his statement to McClendon should be taken seriously.

Psychopaths go through life knowing that they are completely different from other people. They quickly learn to hide their lack of empathy, while carefully studying others’ emotions so as to mimic normalcy while cold-bloodedly manipulating the normals.

Today, thanks to new information technologies, we are on the brink of unmasking the psychopaths and building a civilization of, by and for the normal human being – a civilization without war, a civilization based on truth, a civilization in which the saintly few rather than the diabolical few would gravitate to positions of power.

We already have the knowledge necessary to diagnose psychopathic personalities and keep them out of power. We have the knowledge necessary to dismantle the institutions in which psychopaths especially flourish – militaries, intelligence agencies, large corporations, and secret societies. We simply need to disseminate this knowledge, and the will to use it, as widely as possible.

Above all, we need to inform the public about how psychopaths co-opt and corrupt normal human beings. One way they do this, is by manipulating shame and denial – emotions foreign to psychopaths but common and easily-induced among normals.

Consider how gangs and secret societies (psychopaths’ guilds in disguise) recruit new members. Some criminal gangs and satanist covens demand that candidates for admission commit a murder to “earn their stripes.” Skull and Bones, the Yale-based secret society that supplies the CIA with drug-runners, mind-rapists, child abusers and professional killers, requires neophytes to lie naked in a coffin and masturbate in front of older members while reciting the candidate’s entire sexual history.

By forcing the neophyte to engage in ritualized behavior that would be horrendously shameful in normal society, the psychopaths’ guild destroys the candidate’s normal personality, assuming he had one in the first place, and turns the individual into a co-opted, corrupt, degraded shadow of his former self – a manufactured psychopath or psychopath’s apprentice.

This manipulation of shame has the added benefit of making psychopathic organizations effectively invisible to normal society. Despite easily available media reports, American voters in 2004 simply refused to see that the two major-party presidential candidates had lain naked in a coffin masturbating in front of older Bonesmen in order to gain admission to Skull and Bones and thus become members of the criminal overworld.

Likewise, many Americans have long refused to see that hawkish elements of the overworld, operating through the CIA, had obviously been the murderers of JFK, MLK, RFK, JFK Jr., Malcolm X, Ché, Allende, Wellstone, Lumumba, Aguilera, Diem, and countless other relatively non-psychopathic leaders. They refuse to see the continuing murders of millions of people around the world in what amounts to an American holocaust.

They refuse to see the evidence that the psychopaths’ guilds running America’s most powerful institutions use the most horrific forms of sexualized abuse imaginable to induce multiple-personality-disorder in child victims, then use the resulting mind-control slaves as disposable drug-runners, prostitutes, Manchurian candidates, and even diplomatic envoys.

And of course they refuse to see that 9/11 was a transparently obvious inside job, and that their own psychopath-dominated military-intelligence apparatus is behind almost every major terrorist outrage of recent decades.

All of this psychopathic behavior at the top of the social hierarchy is simply too shameful for ordinary people to see, so they avert their gaze, just as wives of husbands who are sexually abusing their children sometimes refuse to see what is happening in plain view. If deep, deep denial were a river in Egypt, American citizens’ willful blindness would be more like the Marianas Trench.

But thanks to the power of the Internet, people everywhere are waking up. The only obvious non-psychopath among Republican presidential candidates, Ron Paul, also happens to be the only candidate in either party with significant grassroots support.

If “love” is embedded in the Revolution Ron Paul heralds, that is because Dr. Paul – a kindly, soft-spoken physician who has delivered more than 4,000 babies – implicitly recognizes that government is the invention and tool of psychopaths, and therefore must be strictly limited in scope and subjected to a rigorous system of checks and balances, lest the psychopath’s tools, fear and hatred, replace love as the glue that binds society together.

The decline in militarism since World War II in advanced countries, the spread of literacy and communications technology, and the people’s growing demands for a better life, together represent a gathering force that terrifies the pathocracy, (those alternately competing-then-cooperating gangs of psychopaths who have ruled through lies, fear and intimidation since the dawn of so-called civilization).

Since nuclear weapons have made war obsolete, the pathocracy is terrified that its favorite social control mechanism – ritualized mass slaughter – is increasingly unavailable. And if war was the great human tragedy, the pathocrats’ pathetic attempt at a war-substitute – the transparently phoney “war on terror” – is repeating it as sheerest farce.

Truly, we are witnessing the twilight of the psychopaths.

Whether in their death throes they succeed in pulling down the curtain of eternal night on all of us, or whether we resist them and survive to see the dawn of a civilization worthy of the name, is the great decision in which all of us others, however humbly, are now participating.

___
https://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/sociopolitica/sociopol_ponerology08.htm

 

 

 

Twilight Of The Psychopaths

By Dr. Kevin Barrett

“Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I’m liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That’s what’s insane about it.”– John Lennon, before his murder by CIA mind-control subject Mark David Chapman

When Gandhi was asked his opinion of Western civilization he said it would be a good idea. But that oft-cited quote, is misleading, assuming as it does that civilization is an unmitigated blessing.

Civilized people, we are told, live peacefully and cooperatively with their fellows, sharing the necessary labour in order to obtain the leisure to develop arts and sciences. And while that would be a good idea, it is not a good description of what has been going on in the so-called advanced cultures during the past 8,000 years.

Civilization, as we know it, is largely the creation of psychopaths. All civilizations, our own included, have been based on slavery and “warfare.” Incidentally, the latter term is a euphemism for mass murder.

 


The prevailing recipe for civilization is simple:

  1. Use lies and brainwashing to create an army of controlled, systematic mass murderers
  2. Use that army to enslave large numbers of people (i.e. seize control of their labour power and its fruits)
  3. Use that slave labour power to improve the brainwashing process (by using the economic surplus to employ scribes, priests, and PR men). Then go back to step one and repeat the process.

Psychopaths have played a disproportionate role in the development of civilization, because they are hard-wired to lie, kill, injure, and generally inflict great suffering on other humans without feeling any remorse. The inventor of civilization – the first tribal chieftain who successfully brainwashed an army of controlled mass murderers—was almost certainly a genetic psychopath.

Since that momentous discovery, psychopaths have enjoyed a significant advantage over non-psychopaths in the struggle for power in civilizational hierarchies – especially military hierarchies.

Military institutions are tailor-made for psychopathic killers. The 5% or so of human males who feel no remorse about killing their fellow human beings make the best soldiers. And the 95% who are extremely reluctant to kill make terrible soldiers – unless they are brainwashed with highly sophisticated modern techniques that turn them (temporarily it is hoped) into functional psychopaths.

In On Killing, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman has re-written military history, to highlight what other histories hide: The fact that military science is less about strategy and technology, than about overcoming the instinctive human reluctance to kill members of our own species.

The true “Revolution in Military Affairs” was not Donald Rumsfeld’s move to high-tech in 2001, but Brigadier Gen. S.L.A. Marshall’s discovery in the 1940s that only 15-20% of World War II soldiers along the line of fire would use their weapons:

“Those (80-85%) who did not fire did not run or hide (in many cases they were willing to risk great danger to rescue comrades, get ammunition, or run messages), but they simply would not fire their weapons at the enemy, even when faced with repeated waves of banzai charges”(Grossman, p. 4).

Marshall’s discovery and subsequent research, proved that in all previous wars, a tiny minority of soldiers – the 5% who are natural-born psychopaths, and perhaps a few temporarily-insane imitators—did almost all the killing.

Normal men just went through the motions and, if at all possible, refused to take the life of an enemy soldier, even if that meant giving up their own. The implication: Wars are ritualized mass murders by psychopaths of non-psychopaths. (This cannot be good for humanity’s genetic endowment!)

Marshall’s work, brought a Copernican revolution to military science. In the past, everyone believed that the soldier willing to kill for his country was the (heroic) norm, while one who refused to fight was a (cowardly) aberration. The truth, as it turned out, was that the normative soldier hailed from the psychopathic five percent.

The sane majority, would rather die than fight.

The implication, too frightening for even the likes of Marshall and Grossman to fully digest, was that the norms for soldiers’ behavior in battle had been set by psychopaths. That meant that psychopaths were in control of the military as an institution.

Worse, it meant that psychopaths were in control of society’s perception of military affairs. Evidently, psychopaths exercised an enormous amount of power in seemingly sane, normal society.

How could that be?

In Political PonerologyAndrzej Lobaczewski explains that clinical psychopaths enjoy advantages even in non-violent competitions to climb the ranks of social hierarchies. Because they can lie without remorse (and without the telltale physiological stress that is measured by lie detector tests) psychopaths can always say whatever is necessary to get what they want.

In court, for example, psychopaths can tell extreme bald-faced lies in a plausible manner, while their sane opponents are handicapped by an emotional predisposition to remain within hailing distance of the truth. Too often, the judge or jury imagines that the truth must be somewhere in the middle, and then issues decisions that benefit the psychopath. As with judges and juries, so too with those charged with decisions concerning who to promote and who not to promote in corporate, military and governmental hierarchies.

The result is that all hierarchies inevitably become top-heavy with psychopaths.

So-called conspiracy theorists, some of whom deserve the pejorative connotation of that much-abused term, often imagine that secret societies of Jews, Jesuitsbankers, communists, Bilderbergers,Muslim extremistspapists, and so on, are secretly:

  • controlling history,
  • doing dastardly deeds,
  • and/or threatening to take over the world…

As a leading “conspiracy theorist” according to Wikipedia, I feel eminently qualified to offer an alternative conspiracy theory which, like the alternative conspiracy theory of 9/11, is both simpler and more accurate than the prevailing wisdom:

The only conspiracy that matters is the conspiracy of the psychopaths against the rest of us.

Behind the apparent insanity of contemporary history, is the actual insanity of psychopaths fighting to preserve their disproportionate power. And as that power grows ever-more-threatened, the psychopaths grow ever-more-desperate.

We are witnessing the apotheosis of the overworld—the criminal syndicate or overlapping set of syndicates that lurks above ordinary society and law just as the underworld lurks below it.

In 9/11 and the 9/11 wars, we are seeing:

  • the final desperate power-grab or endgame” (Alex Jonesof brutal, cunning gangs of CIA drug-runners and President-killers
  • money-laundering international bankers and their hit-men, economic and otherwise
  • corrupt military contractors and gung-ho generals
  • corporate predators and their political enablers
  • brainwashers and mind-rapists euphemistically known as psy-ops experts and PR specialists

In short, the whole sick crew of certifiable psychopaths running our so-called civilization.

And they are running scared. It was their terror of losing control that they projected onto the rest of us by blowing up the Twin Towers and inciting temporary psychopathic terror-rage in the American public.

Why does the pathocracy fear it is losing control?

Because it is threatened by the spread of knowledge. The greatest fear of any psychopath is of being found out.

As George H. W. Bush said to journalist Sarah McClendon, December 1992,

“If the people knew what we had done, they would chase us down the street and lynch us.”

Given that Bush is reported to have participated in parties where child prostitutes were sodomized and otherwise abused, among his many other crimes, his statement to McClendon should be taken seriously.

Psychopaths go through life knowing that they are completely different from other people. They quickly learn to hide their lack of empathy, while carefully studying others’ emotions so as to mimic normalcy while cold-bloodedly manipulating the normals.

Today, thanks to new information technologies, we are on the brink of unmasking the psychopaths and building a civilization of, by and for the normal human being – a civilization without war, a civilization based on truth, a civilization in which the saintly few rather than the diabolical few would gravitate to positions of power.

We already have the knowledge necessary to diagnose psychopathic personalities and keep them out of power. We have the knowledge necessary to dismantle the institutions in which psychopaths especially flourish – militaries, intelligence agencies, large corporations, and secret societies. We simply need to disseminate this knowledge, and the will to use it, as widely as possible.

Above all, we need to inform the public about how psychopaths co-opt and corrupt normal human beings. One way they do this, is by manipulating shame and denial – emotions foreign to psychopaths but common and easily-induced among normals.

Consider how gangs and secret societies (psychopaths’ guilds in disguise) recruit new members. Some criminal gangs and satanist covens demand that candidates for admission commit a murder to “earn their stripes.” Skull and Bones, the Yale-based secret society that supplies the CIA with drug-runners, mind-rapists, child abusers and professional killers, requires neophytes to lie naked in a coffin and masturbate in front of older members while reciting the candidate’s entire sexual history.

By forcing the neophyte to engage in ritualized behavior that would be horrendously shameful in normal society, the psychopaths’ guild destroys the candidate’s normal personality, assuming he had one in the first place, and turns the individual into a co-opted, corrupt, degraded shadow of his former self – a manufactured psychopath or psychopath’s apprentice.

This manipulation of shame has the added benefit of making psychopathic organizations effectively invisible to normal society. Despite easily available media reports, American voters in 2004 simply refused to see that the two major-party presidential candidates had lain naked in a coffin masturbating in front of older Bonesmen in order to gain admission to Skull and Bones and thus become members of the criminal overworld.

Likewise, many Americans have long refused to see that hawkish elements of the overworld, operating through the CIA, had obviously been the murderers of JFK, MLK, RFK, JFK Jr., Malcolm X, Ché, Allende, Wellstone, Lumumba, Aguilera, Diem, and countless other relatively non-psychopathic leaders. They refuse to see the continuing murders of millions of people around the world in what amounts to an American holocaust.

They refuse to see the evidence that the psychopaths’ guilds running America’s most powerful institutions use the most horrific forms of sexualized abuse imaginable to induce multiple-personality-disorder in child victims, then use the resulting mind-control slaves as disposable drug-runners, prostitutes, Manchurian candidates, and even diplomatic envoys.

And of course they refuse to see that 9/11 was a transparently obvious inside job, and that their own psychopath-dominated military-intelligence apparatus is behind almost every major terrorist outrage of recent decades.

All of this psychopathic behavior at the top of the social hierarchy is simply too shameful for ordinary people to see, so they avert their gaze, just as wives of husbands who are sexually abusing their children sometimes refuse to see what is happening in plain view. If deep, deep denial were a river in Egypt, American citizens’ willful blindness would be more like the Marianas Trench.

But thanks to the power of the Internet, people everywhere are waking up. The only obvious non-psychopath among Republican presidential candidates, Ron Paul, also happens to be the only candidate in either party with significant grassroots support.

If “love” is embedded in the Revolution Ron Paul heralds, that is because Dr. Paul – a kindly, soft-spoken physician who has delivered more than 4,000 babies – implicitly recognizes that government is the invention and tool of psychopaths, and therefore must be strictly limited in scope and subjected to a rigorous system of checks and balances, lest the psychopath’s tools, fear and hatred, replace love as the glue that binds society together.

The decline in militarism since World War II in advanced countries, the spread of literacy and communications technology, and the people’s growing demands for a better life, together represent a gathering force that terrifies the pathocracy, (those alternately competing-then-cooperating gangs of psychopaths who have ruled through lies, fear and intimidation since the dawn of so-called civilization).

Since nuclear weapons have made war obsolete, the pathocracy is terrified that its favorite social control mechanism – ritualized mass slaughter – is increasingly unavailable. And if war was the great human tragedy, the pathocrats’ pathetic attempt at a war-substitute – the transparently phoney “war on terror” – is repeating it as sheerest farce.

Truly, we are witnessing the twilight of the psychopaths.

Whether in their death throes they succeed in pulling down the curtain of eternal night on all of us, or whether we resist them and survive to see the dawn of a civilization worthy of the name, is the great decision in which all of us others, however humbly, are now participating.

___
https://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/sociopolitica/sociopol_ponerology08.htm

The Money Masters: Behind the Global Debt Crisis

To watch ‘The Money Masters‘ documentary, please scroll at the bottom of this article. To learn more about the current debt situation and the people behind it, please continue reading…

In the US, we see untold millions suffering from the impact of mass foreclosures and unemployment; in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and Italy, stringent austerity measures are imposed upon the whole population; all coupled with major banking collapses in Iceland, the UK and the US, and indecent bail-outs of “too-big-to-fail” bankers (Newspeak for too powerful to fail).

No doubt, the bulk of the responsibility for these debacles falls squarely on the shoulders of caretaker governments in these countries that are subordinated to Money Power interests and objectives. In country after country, that comes together with embedded corruption, particularly evident today in the UK, Italy and the US.

As we assess some of the key components of today’s Global Financial, Currency and Banking Model in this article, readers will hopefully get a better understanding as to why we are all in such a crisis, and that it will tend to get much worse in the months and years to come.

Foundations of a Failed and False Model

Hiding behind the mask of false “laws” allegedly governing “globalised markets and economies,” this Financial Model has allowed a small group of people to amass and wield huge and overwhelming power over markets, corporations, industries, governments and the global media. The irresponsible and criminal consequences of their actions are now clear for all to see.

The “Model” we will briefly describe, falls within the framework of a much vaster Global Power System that is grossly unjust and was conceived and designed from the lofty heights of private geopolitical and geo-economic1 planning centres that function to promote the Global Power Elite’s agenda as they prepare their “New World Order” – again, Newspeak for a Coming World Government.2

Specifically, we are talking about key think tanks like the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg Group, and other similar entities such as the Cato Institute (Monetary Issues), American Enterprise Institute and the Project for a New American Century that conform an intricate, solid, tight and very powerful network, engineering and managing New World Order interests, goals and objectives.

Writing from the stance of an Argentine citizen, I admit we have some “advantages” over the citizens of industrialised countries as the US, UK, European Union, Japan or Australia, in that over the last few decades we have had direct experience of successive catastrophic national crises emanating from inflation, hyper-inflation, systemic banking collapse, currency revamps, sovereign debt bond mega-swaps, military coups and lost wars…

Finance vs the Economy

The Financial system (i.e., a basically unreal Virtual, symbolic and parasitic world), increasingly functions in a direction that is contrary to the interest of the Real Economy (i.e., the Real and concrete world of work, production, manufacturing, creativity, toil, effort and sacrifice done by real people).

Over the past decades, Finance and the Economy have gone their totally separate and antagonistic ways, and no longer function in a healthy and balanced relationship that prioritises the Common Good of We the People.

This huge conflict between the two can be seen, amongst other places, in today’s Financial and Economic System, whose main support lies in the Debt Paradigm, i.e., that nothing can be done unless you first have credit, financing and loans to do it. Thus, the Real Economy becomes dependent on and distorted by the objectives, interests and fluctuations of Virtual Finance.3

Debt-Based System

The Real Economy should be financed with genuine funds; however with time, the Global Banking Elite succeeded in getting one Sovereign Nation-State after another to give up its inalienable function of supplying the correct quantity of National Currency as the primary financial instrument to finance the Real Economy.

That requires decided action through Policies centred on promoting the Common Good of We The People in each country, and securing the National Interest against the perils posed by internal and external adversaries.

Thus, we can better understand why the financial “law” that requires central banks to always be totally “independent” of Government and the State has become a veritable dogma. This is just another way of ensuring that central banking should always be fully subordinated to the interests of the private banking over-world – both locally in each country, as well as globally.

We find this to prevail in all countries: Argentina, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, the European Union and in just about every other country that adopts so-called “Western” financial practice.

Perhaps the best (or rather, the worst) example of this is the United States where the Federal Reserve System is a privately controlled institution outright, with around 97% of its shares being owned by the member banks themselves (admittedly, it does have a very special stock scheme), even though the bankers running “Fed” do everything they can to make it appear as if it is a “public” entity operated by Government, something that it is definitely not.

One of the Global Banking Over-world’s permanent goals is – and has been – to maintain full control over all central banks in just about every country, in order to be able to control their public currencies.4

This, in turn, allows them to impose a fundamental (for them) condition whereby there is never the right quantity of public currency to satisfy the true demand and needs of the Real Economy. That is when those very same private banks that control central banking come on scene to “satisfy the demand for money” of the Real Economy by artificially generating private bank money out of nothing.

They call it “credits and loans” and offer to supply it to the Real Economy, but with an “added value” (for them): (a) they will charge interest for them (often at usury levels) and, (b) they will create most of that private bank money out of thin air through the fractional lending system.

At a Geo-economic level, this has also served to generate huge and unnecessary public sovereign debts in country after country all over the world. Argentina is a good example, whose Caretaker Governments are systematically ignorant and unwilling to use one of the sovereign state’s key powers: the issuance of high power non-interest generating Public Money (see below for a more detailed definition).

Instead, Argentina has allowed IMF (International Monetary Fund) so-called “recipes” that reflect the global banking cartel’s own interests to be imposed upon it in fundamental matters like what are the proper functions of its Central Bank, sovereign debt, fiscal policy, and other monetary, banking and financial mechanisms, that are thus systematically used against the Common Good of the Argentine People and against the National Interest of the country.

This system and its dreadful results, now and in the past, are so similar in so many other countries – Brazil, Mexico, Greece, Ireland, Iceland, UK, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Indonesia, Hungary, Russia, Ukraine… that it can only reflect a well thought-out and engineered plan, emanating from the highest planning echelons of the Global Power Elite.

Fractional Bank Lending

This banking concept is in use throughout the world’s financial markets, and allows private banks to generate “virtual” Money out of thin air (i.e., scriptural annotations and electronic entries into current and savings accounts, and a vast array of lines of credit), in a ratio that is 8, 10, 30, 50 times or more larger than the actual amount of cash (i.e., public money) held by the bank in its vaults.

In exchange for lending this private “money” created out of nothing, bankers collect interest, demand collateral with intrinsic value and if the debtor defaults they can then foreclose on their property or other assets.

The ratio that exists between the amount of Dollars or Pesos in its vaults and the amount of credit private banks generate is determined by the central banking authority which fixes the fractional lending leverage level (which is why controlling the central bank is so vital strategically for private banker cartels).

This leverage level is a statistical reserve based on actuarial calculations of the portion of account holders who in normal time go to their banks or ATM machines to withdraw their money in cash (i.e., in public money notes).

The key factor here is that this works fine in “normal” times, however “normal” is basically a collective psychology concept intimately linked to what those account holders, and the population at large, perceive regarding the financial system in general and each bank in particular.

So, when for whatever reason, “abnormal” times hit – i.e., every time there are (subtly predictable) periodic crises, bank runs, collapses and panics, which seem to suddenly explode as happened in Argentina in 2001 and as is now happening in the US, UK, Ireland, Greece, Iceland, Portugal, Spain, Italy and a growing number of countries – we see all bank account holders running to their banks to try to get their money out in cash.

That’s when they discover that there is not enough cash in their banks to pay, save for a small fraction of account holders (usually insiders “in the know” or “friends of the bankers”).

For the rest of us mortals “there is no more money left,” which means that they must resort to whatever public insurance scheme may or may not be in place (e.g., in the US, the state-owned Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation that “insures” up to US$250,000 per account holder with taxpayer money).

In countries like Argentina, however, there is no other option but to go out on the streets banging pots and pans against those ominous, solid and firmly closed bronze bank gates and doors. All thanks to the fraudulent fractional bank lending system.

Investment Banking

In the US, so called “Commercial Banks” are those that have large portfolios of checking, savings and fixed deposit accounts for people and companies (e.g., such main street names as CitiBank, Bank of America, JPMorganChase, etc.; in Argentina, we have Standard Bank, BBVA, Galicia, HSBC and others).

Commercial Banks operate with fractional lending leverage levels that allow them to lend out “virtual” dollars or pesos for amounts equal to 6, 8 or 10 times the cash actually held in their vaults; these banks are usually more closely supervised by the local monetary authorities of the country.

A different story, however, we had in the US (and still have elsewhere) with so-called global “Investment Banks” (those that make the mega-loans to corporations, major clients and sovereign states), over which there is much less control, so that their leveraging fractional lending ratios are far, far higher.

This greater flexibility is what allowed investment banks in the US to “make loans” by, for example, creating out of thin air 26 “virtual” Dollars for every real Dollar in cash they held in their vaults (i.e., Goldman Sachs), or 30 virtual Dollars (Morgan Stanley), or more than 60 virtual Dollars (Merrill Lynch until just before it folded on 15 Sept 2008), or more than 100 virtual Dollars in the cases of collapsed banks Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers.5

Private Money vs Public Money

At this point in our review, it is essential to very clearly distinguish between two types of Money or Currency:

Private Money – This is “Virtual” Money created out of thin air by the private banking system. It generates interests on loans, which increases the amount of Private money in (electronic) circulation, and spreads and expands throughout the entire economy. We then perceive this as “inflation.”

In actual fact, the main cause of inflation in the economy is structural to the interest-bearing fractional lending banking system, even among industrialised countries.

The cause of inflation nowadays is not so much the excessive issuance of Public Money by Government as all so-called banking experts would have us believe but, rather, the combined effect of fractional lending and interest on private banking money.

Public Money – This is the only Real Money there is. It is the actual notes issued by the national currency entity holding a monopoly (i.e., the central bank or some such government agency) and, as Public Money, it does not generate interest, and should not be created by anyone other than the State.

Anybody else doing this is a counterfeiter and should end up in jail because counterfeiting Public Money is equivalent to robbing the Real Economy (i.e., “we, the working people”) of their work, toil and production capabilities without contributing anything in return in terms of socially productive work.

The same should apply to private bankers under the present fractional lending system: counterfeiting money (i.e., creating it out of thin air as a ledger entry or electronic blip on a computer screen) is equivalent to robbing the Real Economy of its work and production capacity without contributing any counter-value in terms of work.

Why We Have Financial Crises

A fundamental concept that lies at the very heart of the present Financial Model can be found in the way huge parasitic profits on the one hand, and catastrophic systemic losses on the other, are effectively transferred to specific sectors of the economy, throughout the entire system, beyond borders and public control.

As with all models, the one we suffer today has its own internal logic which, once properly understood, makes that model predictable. The people who designed it know full well that it is governed by grand cycles having specific expansion and contraction stages, and specific timelines.

Thus, they can ensure that in bull market times of growth and gigantic profits (i.e., whilst the system, grows and grows, is relatively stable and generates tons of money out of nothing), all profits are privatised making them flow towards specific institutions, economic sectors, shareholders, speculators, CEO and top management & trader bonuses, “investors”, etc who operate the gears and maintain the whole system properly tuned and working.

However, they also know that – like all roller coaster rides – when you reach the very top, the system turns into a bear market that destabilises, spins out of control, contracts and irremediably collapses, as happened to Argentina in 2001 and to the better part of the world since 2008, then all losses are socialised by making Governments absorb them through the most varied transference mechanisms that dump these huge losses onto the population at large (whether in the form of generalised inflation, catastrophic hyperinflation, banking collapses, bail-outs, tax hikes, debt defaults, forced nationalisations, extreme austerity measures, etc).

The Four-sided Global “Ponzi” Pyramid Scheme

As we know, all good pyramids have four sides, and since the Global Financial System is based on a “Ponzi” Pyramid Scheme, there’s no reason why this particular pyramid should not have four sides as well.

Below is a summary of the Four-side Global “Ponzi” Pyramid Scheme that lies at the core of today’s Financial Model, indicating how these four “sides” function in a coordinated, consistent, and sequential manner.

Side One – Create Public Money Insufficiency. This is achieved, as we explained above, by controlling the National Public entity that issues public money. Its goal is to demonetise the Real Economy so that the latter is forced to seek “alternative funding” for its needs (i.e., so that it has no choice but to resort to private bank loans).

Side Two – Impose Private Banking Fractional Lending Loans. This, as we said, is virtual private money created out of thin air on which bankers charge interest – often at usury levels – thus generating enormous profit for “investors,” creditors and all sorts of entities and individuals who operate as parasites living off other people’s work.

This would never have been the case if each local central bank were to flexibly generate the correct quantity of Public Money necessary to satisfy the needs of the Real Economy in each country and region.

Side Three – Promote a Debt-Based Economic System. In fact, the whole Pyramid Model is based on being able to promote this generalised paradigm that falsely states that what really “moves” the private and public economy is not so much work, creativity, toil and effort of workers, but rather “private investors,” “bank loans” and “credit” – i.e., indebtedness.

With time, this paradigm has replaced the infinitely wiser, sounder, more balanced and solid concept of corporate profit being reinvested and genuine personal savings being the foundation for future prosperity and security. Pretty much the way Henry Ford, Sr. originally grew his most successful company.

Today, however, Debt reigns supreme and this paradigm has become entrenched and embedded into people’s minds thanks to the mainstream media and specialised journals and publications, combined with Ivy League universities’ Economics Departments that have all succeeded in imposing such “politically correct” thinking with respect to financial matters, especially those relating to the proper nature and function of Public Money.

The facts are that this Model generates unnecessary loans so that banking creditors can receive huge profits, which includes promoting uncontrolled, unwarranted and often pathological consumerism, which goes hand in hand with the increasing abandonment of the traditional value of “saving for a rainy day.”

Such debts having political and strategic goals rather than merely financial ones, are usually given a thin layer of “legality” so that they may be imposed by the creditor on the debtor (i.e., in the case of The Merchant of Venice, the bond entered into between Antonio and Shylock giving the latter the legal right to a pound of the former’s flesh; in the case of chronically indebted countries like Argentina, such “legality” is achieved through a complex public debt laundering6 mechanism carried out by successive formally “democratic” Caretaker Governments to this very day).

Side Four – Privatisation of Profits/Socialisation of Losses. Lastly, and knowing full well that, in the long run, the numbers of the entire Cycle of this Model never add up, and that the whole system will inevitably come crashing down, the Model imposes a highly complex and often subtle financial, legal and media engineering that allows privatising profits and socialising losses.

In Argentina, this cycle has become increasingly visible for those who want to see it, because in our country the local “Ponzi” Pyramid Cycle lasts on average 15 to 17 years, i.e., we’ve had successive collapses involving brutal devaluation (1975), hyperinflation (1989) and systemic banking collapse (2001), however in the industrialised world, that cycle was made to last almost 80 years (i.e., three generations spanning from 1929 to 2008).

Conclusions

The fundamental cause of today’s on-going global financial collapse that exerts massive distortions over the Real Economy – and the ensuing social hardship, suffering and violence – is clear: Virtual Finance has usurped a pedestal of supremacy over the Real Economy, which does not legitimately belong to it.

Finance must always be subordinated to, and in the service of, the Real Economy just as the Economy must heed the law and social needs of the Political Model executed by a Sovereign Nation-State (as we back-engineer this entire system, we thus understand why it is necessary for the Global Power Elite to first erode the sovereign Nation-State and to eventually do away with it altogether, in order to achieve its monetary, financial and political ends).

In fact, if we look at matters in their proper perspective, we will see that most national economies are pretty much intact, in spite of having been badly bruised by the financial collapse.

It is Finance that is in the midst of a massive global collapse, as this Model of “Ponzi” Finance has grown into a sort of malignant “cancerous tumour” that has now “metastasised,” threatening to kill the whole economy and social body politic, in just about every country in the world, and certainly in the industrialised countries.

The above comparison of today’s financial system with a malignant tumour is more than a mere metaphor. If we look at the figures, we will immediately be able to see signs of this financial “metastasis.”

For example, The New York Times in their 22 September 2008 edition explains that the main trigger of the financial collapse that had exploded just one week earlier on 15 September was, as we all know, mismanagement and lack of supervision over the “Derivatives” market.

The Times then went on to explain that twenty years earlier, in 1988, there was no derivatives market; by 2002 however, Derivatives had grown into a global 102 trillion Dollar market (that’s 50% more than the Gross Domestic Product of all the countries in the world, the US, EU, Japan and BRICS nations included), and by September 2008, Derivatives had ballooned into a global 531 trillion Dollar market. That’s eight times the GDP of the entire planet!

“Financial Metastasis” at its very worst. Since then, some have estimated this Derivatives global market figure to be in the region of One-Quadrillion Dollars…

Naturally, when that collapse began, the caretaker governments in the US, European Union and elsewhere, immediately sprang into action and implemented “Operation Bail-out” of all the mega-banks, insurance companies, stock exchanges and speculation markets, and their respective operators, controllers and “friends.”

Thus, trillions upon trillions of Dollars, Euros and Pounds were given to Goldman Sachs, Citicorp, Morgan Stanley, AIG, HSBC and other “too big to fail” financial institutions… which is newspeak for “too powerful to fail”, because they hold politicians, political parties and governments in their steel grip.

All of this was paid with taxpayer dollars or, even worse, with uncontrolled and irresponsible issuance of Public Money bank notes and treasury bonds, especially by the Federal Reserve Bank which has, in practice, technically hyper-inflated the US Dollar: “Quantitative Easing” they call it, which is Newspeak for hyperinflation.

So far, however, like the proverbial Naked Emperor, nobody dares to state this openly. At least not until some “uncontrolled” event triggers or unmasks what should by now be obvious to all: Emperor Dollar is totally and completely naked.7

When that happens, we will then see bloody social and civil wars throughout the world and not just in Greece and Argentina.

By then, however, and as always happens, the powerful bankster clique and their well-paid financial and media operators, will be watching the whole hellish spectacle perched in the safety and comfort of their plush boardrooms atop the skyscrapers of New York, London, Frankfurt, Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo…

You can watch ‘The Money Masters‘ documentary below:

By Adrian Salbuchi, NewDawnMagazine.com / Footnotes:

1. The concept of “Geoeconomics” was coined by the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, through a studies group honouring Maurice Greenberg, the financier who was for decades CEO of American International Group (AIG) which collapsed in 2008 and had strong conflict-of-interest ties with major insurance and reinsurance broker Marsh Group whose CEO was his son Jeffrey. Both father and son were indicted for fraud by then New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer. Spitzer would later pay a very heavy price for this after becoming Governor of New York State when someone “discovered” his sex escapades which were quickly blown up into a major scandal by The New York Times…

2. We have described the basic Global Power Elite structure, model and objectives in our e-Book The Coming World Government: Tragedy & Hope?, available through www.asalbuchi.com.ar.

3. For more information, see the Third Pillar of the Second Republic Project “Reject the Debt-Based Economy” on www.secondrepublicproject.com.

4. Some notable exceptions: Today: Libya, Iran, Syria, China; In the past: Peron’s Argentina, Germany and Italy in the 30’s and 40’s….  Are we seeing a pattern here?

5. See The New York Times, 22 September 2008

6. See White Paper comparing Debt Laundering mechanisms to Money Laundering mechanisms, lodged under Pillar No 3 “Reject the Debt-Based Economy” of Second Republic Project in www.secondrepublicproject.com.

7. This is more fully described in the author’s book The Coming World Government: Tragedy & Hope?, in the chapter “Death & Resurrection of the US Dollar”. Details on www.asalbuchi.com.ar. Also available upon request by E-mail: salbuchi@fibertel.com.ar.

© New Dawn Magazine and the respective author.

 
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George Orwell’s Guide to the News

The Western mainstream media falsifies the news resorting to euphemisms, half-truths and lies in the best (worst) style of George Orwell’s novel 1984.

We all live in the unreal world of “Newspeak” used by the Global Power Elite to control our minds.

Man gets confused when things that happen around him and to him, or which are done in his name, cannot be properly grasped, understood or made sense of.

Normally, such confusion leads to inaction. If you’re lost at night in the middle of a forest but you can still see the stars, then a bit of astronomical knowledge will at least quickly tell you which way is north.

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