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Criticizing Google got me fired (washingtonpost.com)
1010 points by pyrophane 102 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 440 comments



This is the article in a nutshell. Google funds anti-monopoly think tank. Anti monopoly think tank writer praises the EU for fining Google for being anti competitive, Schmidt gets guy fired by threatening to withdraw funding. I know that's just his side of the story, but it doesn't look great for the think tank or the Google.

If you didn't know it already, think tanks are a euphemism for propaganda machine.

Shortly after my group published a statement praising the European Union for fining Google for violating antitrust standards in June of this year, I was contacted by Anne-Marie Slaughter, the president of New America, who said that Eric Schmidt, Google’s parent company’s executive chairman, was furious about the statement. Schmidt, she said, was threatening to pull his name and substantial funding from New America in retaliation.


I see it repeated a lot that think tanks are really propaganda engines with an intellectual veneer, but can you back that up with specific examples?

I subscribe to the Brookings Papers, Cato Journal, Chatham House and Council on Foreign Relations. Yes, the content is political, but discussions of economics and policy are necessarily political in nature. I think there is a lot in these publications that is descriptive, not just prescriptive. Certainly more rigor than you're giving them credit for.

If you're expecting an organization without any bias, that's different. But your critique sounds as though there is no empiricism involved whatsoever. I take issue with that, because personally I find that I learn quite a bit by reading these, and often the value is in conflicting perspectives. I also think it becomes a little too easy for people to hear what you're saying and just start repeating it (as an example, see this thread where multiple people have piled on to agree with you without any examples cited).

To make a comparison: I also subscribe to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, because they have different implicit (and even explicit!) biases. That doesn't mean there isn't high quality journalism, it just means that the nature of information is often biased.


Think tanks all have agendas driven by their backers.

Based on your interest in think tanks, you appear to be a person that likes to dig under the surface for more detailed and comprehensive information, so it seems you should also take it upon yourself to research your sources and do some critical thinking on your own. But if you insist, this is a high-level piece on think tanks as servants of corporate agendas:

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/08/us/politics/think-tanks-r...


I think the OP made it clear that he accepts think tanks have an agenda, and are politically opinionated and motivated.

The implication of "propoganda" is generally more than that.

Personally, I think "unbiased" and "independant" are silly goals, when it comes to politically contentious issues. In practice it leads to a transparent veneer of impartiality far too often. Who says publications can't be opinionted.

In days past, political parties had publications, pamphlets...

TLDR, I sometimes prefer partial or partisan, especially compared to impartial publications pretending otherwise.


"Propaganda" is a loaded word, as it immediately reminds us of authoritative regimes and totalitarianism, but its definition, according to Merriam-Webster is:

- The spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person

- Ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause; also : a public action having such an effect.

Is what think-tanks do any different ? Mind, it's different from what normal press/media do, as their goal is usually financial and they just cater to their audience.


Whatever the dictionary definition, we don't use propaganda unless we mean disingenuous means in any context. Propaganda is an accusation.


Who do you trust then? There are no organizations that receive funding from no one are run by no one.


You can't really trust any single source. Get information from all over the place initially and figure out what's closest to the real thing. Eventually you'll find reliable sources. Plus, a reliable source in one area might not be reliable in another.


Not to go tin hat here either, but it seems very weird that just a few hours after this was submitted, it has by far the most upvotes and comments on hacker news, yet is near the bottom of the page. I wonder how much manual influence YC puts over their actual topic rankings.


A high rate of comments can work against a submission as it can trigger the "overheated discussion detector" which is used to work against flame wars. User flags (which suppress ranking even before the [flagged] tag appears) as well as mod weighting can affect ranking.

From the FAQ:

> How are stories ranked?

> The basic algorithm divides points by a power of the time since a story was submitted. Comments in comment threads are ranked the same way.

> Other factors affecting rank include user flags, anti-abuse software, software which downweights overheated discussions, and moderator intervention.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsfaq.html


being aware of ways to manipulate content is not being tin hat, i would love to be good at that kind of data manipulation, I admire it, sometimes its used for bad but i admire it, its real.

tin hat would be that its being done by some wierd cult of secret members that have a goal of making us unisex slaves to serve the elite few (which no one can agree on anyone in this group, Lady Gaga is apparently one of them, (how are people this dumb and not dead from their stupidity is something my OCD freaks out on)

I wish i saw the data the way that some do, I just make it neat and in order. we gotta stop the retaliation and jealousy of someone getting something we didnt. You will never get that satisfaction. Make life better for you, and just hope they get hit by a car and let it go.


Universities? After all, isn't this what tenure is for? To allow professors to make contributions to the public space without the risk of censure?


In a sense yes, but modern universities are also dependent on contributions from outsiders, so if a professor wants to become "successful" he/she may become bound to the political wishes of their donors. Economics is an area where this is very clear.


Moreover professors have their own agenda. Just looks at the reproducibility problems in many fields. There's very little information out there that doesn't have some kind of hidden bias. At least when you know there is a bias you can systematically take that into account.


while i feel for everyone, I will openly state that you should not trust me. Its not personal, its life. Heres a tip though, I usually trust the news i find excites me the most, the least, then i take the headline and paraphrase that into google and see the sources that are saying similar reports. If I see multiple sites that have a similar bias as the ONLY ones to dominate the first 3 pages of results, especially if they are the same sentence or article, I trust that to be not real until further credible news comes out. I also take anything that the actions of the people have an odd motive. Like Hilary Clinton running a secret child porn ring from the basement of a pizza parlor and a child sex ring, while running for President. (while the onion usually would print that, we have many friends and neighbors that actually would see that story and go "hate the lady, must be true" (I honestly was shocked and saddened by how many bought into that.) None ask "why would she do that?" Evil or Greed or one word, usually moral flaws as motive, are not actual motivators. No one does something just because they love, no they help the poor because they feel for others and knowing that they did just something to help a needy person gives them an endorphine rush and makes them feel good. Others get that from making money and never spending it. I get it from kinky sex with different people, and organizing chaos into structured data for others to pick apart. We may help others in life but nothing is 100% selfless.

Well i heard that parental thing can make you do things like that, but again its a bio feedback of purpose. Ted bundy got it from killing, he didnt do it to be EVIL. read something other than a 2000 year old book of prophecy. or at least stop making everyone else jump in line to fulfil it. If its a prophecy it will happen regardless of your actions. if you could stop it, not a prophecy.


A man has a think tank...


Only trust your fists.


In age of technology, even your fists may spy on you :)


Why do you need a think tank to think for you? Have you not read about the importance of distraction-free, analog, time with yourself and others?

Trust shouldn't enter into the equation, bro. That's fallacious.

'development' is code for domination by a miniscule portion of the global population who use that monopoly of state and economic power to extricate the maximum of value with the least cost (de facto parasitism) while also using that monopoly to guide behavior so as to maintain said relation.


"Why do you need a doctor to think for you?

[...]

Trust shouldn't enter into the equation, bro."

Sometimes other people know more about something than I can afford to figure out by myself, and listening to what they have to say can be useful.


Cato was specifically founded to advance libertarian views. They say so explicitly. They tolerate some open debate and have some intellectual honesty about it, but don't expect them to continue to fund or advance projects counter to libertarian concepts.

Brookings are pretty dang centrist, and I think there was actually a formal study on this point.

Anyhow, the point I'm making is that think tanks vary in how overtly political they are, but some like Cato and Heritage are very ideologically driven, and others like Brookings more reflect the selection bias of the status quo.


It comes down to where their money comes from. Think tanks are funded by people who are looking to manufacture intellectual backing for their political agenda. Given recent developments, I can see a positive aspect to this, because at least it implicitly supports the assumption that research and intellectual arguments matter in politics. However, it shows that you can't conclude anything from the existence of a well-researched and well-argued intellectual support for a position. The think tank system guarantees that anybody with sufficient resources can buy well-researched and well-argued intellectual support.

Which is important. I know I've had a few epiphanies in my time where I realized, "Wait, this thing I thought was stupid, there are some really smart people who are into it... they've invested a lot of effort and research and have some coherent arguments to support it... I should really take another look." It's a meaningful signal in some contexts. In some contexts it even creates a presumption in my mind that I am probably wrong in not recognizing any value in something. In politics, though, it doesn't mean anything, because that kind of intellectual engagement is manufactured through the think tank system as a matter of course.


I have not observed many people who have the ability (or willingness) to honestly engage in that sort of introspection. Very seldom do I hear, "You make a good point..." It is even rarer that I hear, "I was wrong..."


> "Wait, this thing I thought was stupid, there are some really smart people who are into it... they've invested a lot of effort and research and have some coherent arguments to support it... I should really take another look."

That's what causes hype around technology. Even if people don't 'get it' they think well everyone else is doing it there has to be something to it.


The book Dark Money by Jane Mayer tells much of the backstory of how many of these think tanks got started. Most of them were funded by rich folks, mostly far right or libertarian (e.g. Kochs brothers), for one reason: to make the rich folks' far right, libertarian views seem moderate and mainstream. The idea was to sponsor a think tank that looked moderate and unbiased, but then to fill it up handpicked people who were basically paid to try to "prove" that the Koch brothers ideas are good. Of course both sides do this now, but the libertarian and far right folks have done it the best.


Left and right are flavors of authoritarianism. Far right and libertarian are not synonymous.


You have no idea what you're talking about, nor do the people that responded to you it seems. Authoritarianism is completely orthogonal to the "left-right" axis of political philosophy.

There is a libertarian left (anarchism) and libertarian right (Ayn Rand style American libertarianism), as well as authoritarian left (marxist-leninist style socialism) and authoritarian right (fascism).

politicalcompass.org


> You have no idea what you're talking about

Please don't post like this, no matter how wrong someone else is. It poisons the commons and breaks the site rules.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


I am just a random know-nothing Internet guy. Leonard E. Read, who started the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), has better credentials.

“Left” and “right” are each descriptive of authoritarian positions. Liberty has no horizontal relationship to authoritarianism. Libertarianism’s relationship to authoritarianism is vertical; it is up from the muck of men enslaving man. But, let’s begin at the beginning …

Source: “Neither Left Nor Right,” https://fee.org/articles/neither-left-nor-right/


The kind of libertarianism the FEE think tank advocates for is what I would call right-libertarianism. And it's kind of an oxymoron because there is still a need for authority. How do you assert anyone's claim to private property without a centralised authority? The original libertarianism, which is a strain of socialist political philosophy, calls for decentralised authority and therefore also the end of the private ownership of property.

Of course, this FEE think tank, along with all the other "Libertarian" think tanks, are funded by the likes of the Koch brothers in an effort to legitimise the deregulation of their industries. There is no requirement for it to make any logical sense, just to appear as if it does so that legislation can have some semblance of an intellectual backing.


Please apply the principle of charity[0], friend.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_charity


And this itself is a piece of propaganda spread by libertarian think tanks.


Left and right are degrees of authoritarianism, e.g. libertarian is far right, and nazism and communism are far left. Nazism and communism would be flavors of authoritarianism.


[flagged]


The comment you replied to wasn't great, but you took what was worst about it and dialed it up to 11.


I agree. Soros and the Koch bros are two sides of the same coin. They both advocate pro-globalization policies, Soros the social aspects, and Koch the economic aspects. It's clear that globalism has massively benefitted the ultra-wealthy at the expense of the lower and middle class, and one way they justify the madness is by funding these propaganda organizations.

What bugs me is how often reports from "Think Tanks" and NGOs are uncritically reported as news by the media without disclosing their donors.


Nancy Pelosi is a mainstream center-left Democrat who just happens to be a woman (!) from San Francisco (!) in a position of power, which gets some people in a tizzy. Most of the outrage about whatever it is she’s saying or doing this week is manufactured by a propaganda machine.

The Koch Brothers, by contrast, have a self-serving radical fringe ideology and no public accountability whatsoever, but because they are billionaires who have organized with other billionaires, can spend huge amounts of money in a subversive campaign to make their fringe ideas seem respectable.

Have you ever heard Limbaugh’s show? My grandfather once was a reasonable, competent, practical mainstream Republican (worked in the White House during the Nixon and Ford administrations), but 20 years of listening to Limbaugh and later Fox News turned him into a ranting conspiracy theorist.


>I see it repeated a lot that think tanks are really propaganda engines with an intellectual veneer, but can you back that up with specific examples?

You mean other than the article we are replying to? :)

All joking aside, I'm sure all think tanks aren't shilling with every article, but follow the money. They are typically founded by, actively solicit and are paid for by corporate donations and corporations don't typically give money for nothing.

Cato is a libertarian think tank. They have a specific libertarian slant. The print more articles that libertarians would like and print fewer articles that libertarians don't, specifically Koch flavored libertarian-ism. I mean that's the way it just is. I mean I favor social libertarian-ism, but for someone to be an objective reader, they need to know that Cato was formed to serve libertarian interests.


Remember the Koch's 2012 takeover:

The Koch brothers have long supported Cato, which they helped found in Washington in 1977. Recently, however, they have come to consider their creation politically unreliable. In a meeting with Robert Levy, chairman of Cato’s board of directors, they expressed their intention to remake the institute into a party organ that would aid their effort to unseat President Obama. To do so, however, they need control of the board. They intend to get it by suing the widow of William Niskanen, a recently deceased board member, for control of Niskanen’s shares.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/why-wou...


Pointing to Ezra Klein to explain what is happening on the right is the opposite of "slant-free".


He's not "pointing to Ezra Klein to explain"; he's citing reporting. If some part of it is false, correct it.


In the age of the internet, shooting the messenger is not an effective way to suppress the message.


Most of the time it is. Look at how they character assassinated Snowden. They said his girlfriend was a stripper, he was a Russian spy, etc.

Your first impression might be to say that wasn't effective, but did we ever get any real NSA reform? Nope.

But to your point, the message still got out, but many people allowed themselves to ignore it.


I direct the Open Source Policy Center at the American Enterprise Institute. We contribute to open source economic modeling tools. Check us out. I think we do good work, and I have never felt as if a donor biased our work -- this is probably because I state our values and objectives clearly when we raise money.


It's more about what they don't publish or research than what they do. Very few of those publications have ever published staunchly anti-corporate articles.

It's all good to argue some partisan political stuff, or things around the edges, but god help you if you start publishing anti-corporate articles.


> I subscribe to the Brookings Papers, Cato Journal, Chatham House and Council on Foreign Relations. Yes, the content is political, but discussions of economics and policy are necessarily political in nature.

There is a difference between political subject matter and a clear ideological bias that makes it so if you know the subject and the name of the think tank producing a work, you can predict the general thrust fairly reliably with no other information (or, similarly, where you can identify someone's membership in both a major party and a faction within that party by the think tank’s they are inclined to cite.)

Many major think tanks are ideological in this way.


>Many major think tanks are ideological in this way.

That's not at all the same statement as "think tanks are a euphemism for propaganda machine".

The goalpost has shifted.


> That's not at all the same statement as "think tanks are a euphemism for propaganda machine"

Yes, it's a different (compatible, though, not contradictory) statement, though related.

> That's not at all the same statement as "think tanks are a euphemism for propaganda machine"

You are mistaking a many-soded discussion for a two-sided debate. My having a different position than an earlier participant is not a goalpost shift (them changing the point they are arguing for without acknowledging that it has changed would be.)


Yeah it is; when you are ideological, you put out pieces that subscribe to said ideology and ignore evidence/observations that support other ideologies or contradict your own. This is the same as propaganda which, instead of putting out pieces raised from an objective perspective, you only publish pieces that support a specific ideology.


I don't believe so. Ideological propaganda is still propaganda.


I think you can roughly split this into two questions:

1) Is the organization receiving funding to focus on analyzing a certain area of policy? Here, you can argue that the organization has an agenda that is driven by its backers, but I don't think it's sufficient to call it propaganda, because by that definition, any paid effort to focus on any particular area is propaganda.

2) Is the organization seeking to highlight positive evidence while seeking to squelch negative evidence? That's where it more becomes about propaganda.


Not every think tank is the same. I'm sure some of them are just fronts for various interests, and some are legitimate groups of people interested in an issue.


I agree there probably are some good ones that get funding somehow. But if the general consensus is most/many think tanks are independent organizations that think about stuff and publish articles, like authors or philosophers for the common good, they certainly are not.

Also, I would suspect that the bigger the think tank (read well funded) the better chance of getting their article republished. I mean if I started Clubber's think tank about whatever, I doubt I'd get much traction.


Depends on what Clubber's think tank produced. If you create "reports" (they don't call 'em studies, and for good reason) media outlets can use for story hooks you might get plenty of traction.

Also, you need to call your think tank something meaningless and anodyne like "People United for Truth and Justice". Because who isn't united for truth and justice?


Think tanks were born as ways for monarchs to research and organize legal arguments against Church doctrine. They have since expanded to cover a broad range of subjects, but the central point of a think tank is to get a bunch of smart people together to formalize a particular opinion and support it with arguments/research.

Most often, these are funded by a particular group, for a particular agenda. This is the definition of propaganda.


I don't see how this is incompatible with the parent's remarks.


The disconnect is probably with confusion or distaste over the word 'propaganda'. It has a negative connotation, but 'propaganda' means "non-objective information used primarily to influence an audience or further an agenda", which is what think tanks produce.


I think many think-tanks would take issue with "non-objective". Certainly the think tanks themselves subjectively examine only certain issues, but they would like to believe their examinations are as objective as possible.

The difference being that while I may only ever study the stars and refuse to study plants, my examinations of the stars are still objective, even though the area of my examinations are not comprehensive.


Sure, there are researchers who are making narrow claims, but what think tank isn't making broad claims?

If you're going to make broad claims and claim to be objective, you need a more robust metaphysical approach than the mission statement of these places usually allows... And even then, you'll probably fail. Your tactics leak into your metaphysics and your ideology leaks into your tactics. Broad claims and objectivity just don't mix.


Citation requested.


>I see it repeated a lot that think tanks are really propaganda engines with an intellectual veneer, but can you back that up with specific examples?

You'd figure the fact that the only "thinking" that gets factored into any decision (apart of that of bureaucrats too worried about their election coffers and thus easily paid off - oh, I'm sorry, "donated to") is privately paid is damning enough...


I don't really understand what you're trying to say here. Would you mind elaborating or rephrasing it?


They present the illusion of rigor with the style of presentation and sophistication of their rhetoric.

However what makes censorship so powerful is that you can't see it!


In Class, Fussell cited think-tanks' kind-of-ridiculous adoption of academic titles and trappings ("Fellow" and such) to make themselves seem respectable and trustworthy as evidence of the social and class standing of academics.

They're lobbying organizations with a carefully and consciously applied veneer of learned, academic legitimacy.


It becomes even more powerful when every single mainstream media outlet and every 'think tank' approach the context with the same 'frame.'


Think tanks are organizations funded and founded on a believe, whatever that might be. Their goal is to support the believe with "research." I am one that thinks that it's possible to put just about any believe in positive light. Given this then think tanks are propaganda machines. It comes down to this. If I believe in the think tank's vision then the research papers are research. If I don't then they are research with a spin. Which is the same as propaganda.

Bottom line, think tanks are propaganda machines. It just depends on what your believes are.


Not to distract from the main point, but my experience has been NYT and WST lean towards the left than the right, although WST is more conversative on the financial side which is obvious.


I recently wrote a little Python script to scrape the url from top submissions to Reddit's /r/The_Donald vs. /r/EnoughTrumpSpam to get an idea of the most conservative-leaning and liberal-leaning news outlets (e.g. more specifically which news sites conservative-leaning and liberal-leaning redditors use to support their respective narratives). Here are the results:

https://i.redd.it/45ezt3j9hziy.png

Edit: Oh and I almost forgot (and to bring this full circle) a Googler saw my post about this and made an interactive version:

https://medium.com/@hoffa/reddit-favorite-sources-the-most-l...

Edit: and to really bring this full circle, this Googler made an interactive version about HN:

https://medium.com/@hoffa/hacker-news-on-bigquery-now-with-d...


What if one side is more reality based than the other? Which certainly has to be the case, both sides would not have exactly equal representation of reality based facts.

So your graph is not very helpful unless you want to pretend the Washington Post and New York times are just leftist versions of Breitbart.

Honestly do not see the point or value in what you have done.


I wanted to see "which news sites conservative-leaning and liberal-leaning redditors use to support their respective narratives". I think my graph helped me find out. Nowhere did I mention anything about truthfulness.


Well here's an interesting observation: the "right" subreddit cites some sources that the "left" subreddit cites, but not vice versa. For example, NYT and Politico appear near the tail of the "right" sub's sources and near the head of the "left" sub's sources, but none of the "right" sub's sources appear anywhere in the "left" sub's sources.

So, assuming that NYT and Politico are left-leaning, it would appear that the "right" sub links to its opponents' views, while the "left" sub does not.

The implications of this are left to the reader.


The conservative subreddit links to archive.us (notice it is 2nd on the list) instead of the NYT, WaPo, etc. because they do not want those news orgs to capitalize from traffic it would be sending there; instead they send their massive conservative user base to archive. (i suppose this behavior might be another interesting observation?)


This is not just because of traffic, but to get the original story. There have been plenty of times where the story was changed and edited after the initial post.


Also, I think the majority of journalism harbors a liberal bias. So any basic analysis of aggregate news links would likely lean liberal.


> Reddit's /r/The_Donald vs. /r/EnoughTrumpSpam to get an idea of the most conservative-leaning and liberal-leaning news outlets

I mean, I guess if you consider Trump-supporting == "conservative" and Trump-critical == "liberal"

I'm not sure that's really true.


hah that's really cool, can you run it again for August?


In an edit above, I linked to a version fhoffa from Google made using data studio; I think that version might auto update.


What's ”WST“? Did you mean WSJ (Wall Street Journal)?


Sorry, I mixed up right and left. Ah, sometimes I just can't.


[flagged]


Center right? If center left is international socialism or the revival of the Soviet Union, then perhaps you’re correct. Your analysis is would suggest that Obama was center right, which is patently ridiculous.


Compared to Europe Obama is center-right. Sanders is the closest thing we have to what would be considered center-left in Europe.

https://www.quora.com/Are-left-wing-Democrats-of-the-United-...

Universal basic income, free university education and free state-run healthcare are leftist... no Democrat puts those things in their platform so I wouldn't call any democrat leftist.


> Universal basic income, free university education and free state-run healthcare are leftist... no Democrat puts those things in their platform so I wouldn't call any democrat leftist.

That's not a logical conclusion. Even if they did support those things, they wouldn't put them in their platform now because it wouldn't fly now. You're defining "leftist" as "actively supports X, Y, and Z," which is arbitrary. And the part about Europe is a red herring; this isn't Europe.


the WST is a left wing paper lol


Thanks the "lol", sarcasm.


We have the equivalent of "think tanks" with real intellectual rigor, they are called universities. Yes, you can take issue with the way that university research is funded, etc., but tenure makes a difference.


> I see it repeated a lot that think tanks are really propaganda engines with an intellectual veneer, but can you back that up with specific examples?

Let's not lump together all think tanks. Some are more intellectually honest, some are places for partisan intellectuals to work when their party is out of power, some exist to provide intellectual cover to political goals.

I've had the same questions as you. According to an interesting paper I came across[0], there have been three waves of think tanks (and this also is painting them with a very broad brush):: 1) Think tanks like Council on Foreign Relations and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which aimed to promote global engagement by Americans. 2) Brookings and Rand, which grew out of quasi-governmental programs (IIRC). 3) Starting in the 1970s, groups that "focus as much on advocacy as on research, aiming to generate timely advice that can compete in a crowded marketplace of ideas and influence policy decisions." Heritage is the prototype; it was the source of much of Reagan's policy and now of Trump's. Heritage (I really hope I have the right think tank) hired someone to write talking points for cutting the estate tax in the U.S., and that is the origin of the meme "death tax", and the (false) argument that small businesses and farmers suffer widespread harm from it - so effective that I'll bet you've heard those.

In the last few years, I've seen many allegations of leading think tanks selling out their independence, including Brookings, CNAS, CSIS, and others. The leader of one defended the practice saying (IIRC), 'This isn't the Greatest Generation. Nobody will give you money now and say 'do something good with it'. Everyone wants specific results.'

Here is a dump of some more articles. If you really want to know about them, look up U. of Pennsylvania's 'Think Tanks and Civil Society Program'.

-- Researchers or Corporate Allies? Think Tanks Blur the Line by Eric Lipton, Brooke Williams, in NY Times - https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/08/us/politics/think-tanks-r...

-- Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks by Eric Lipton, Brooke Williams, Nicholas Confessore NY Times - https://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/07/us/politics/foreign-power...

-- How Saudi Arabia captured Washington by Max Fisher in Vox: Covers more than Saudi Arabia - http://www.vox.com/2016/3/21/11275354/saudi-arabia-gulf-wash...

-- Hacked Emails Show UAE Building Close Relationship With D.C. Think Tanks That Push Its Agenda by Zaid Jilani, Alex Emmons in The Intercept - https://theintercept.com/2017/07/30/uae-yousef-otaiba-cnas-a...

-- Hackers Vow to Release Apparent Trove of U.A.E. Ambassador’s Emails by Kevin Poulsen in The Daily Beast - http://www.thedailybeast.com/hackers-vow-to-release-apparent...

[0] From Contributor to Partner? Norway's role in foreign policy research and implementation in the United States by Tove Bjørgaasat Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre/Norsk Ressurssenter for Fredsbygging (NOREF). Here's an old link: https://s3.amazonaws.com/s3.documentcloud.org/documents/1284...


Think tank research does not undergo peer review, so there is no accountability


An interesting point: it's not at all clear to me that Schmidt actually made any statement about funding.

This says "Schmidt, she said, was threatening to pull his name and substantial funding from New America in retaliation", but previous articles have said that Schmidt simply mentioned his displeasure and Slaughter took care of the rest.

I'm not exonerating Google here regardless; calling the head of a think tank (as opposed to, say, the essay writer) to express displeasure is obviously a display of power. But it's interesting as a taste of how authoritarian behavior works.

Schmidt couldn't have ordered the article spiked, and he would have looked terrible if he expressly said "I'm pulling funding if you criticize Google". So instead, he calls and says "I'm unhappy about this article". And Slaughter, not being an idiot, recognizes that she got the call for a reason and needs to act. If she hadn't been so blunt about her internal message, everyone could have quietly insisted the firing was "for other reasons" and left the whole point unproved.

In one sense, the news story here is that an explicit message was sent. A sensible person ought to expect that soft power and unstated implications cause similar consequences every day.


Also, is Google itself funding New America, or is Eric using his own funds? I think there's a pretty big different, and making it all about Google just because Eric happens to work at Google seems unfair.

People are free to fund and support any cause they want in their own time with their own money. Yes, the person also happens to like Google a lot and doesn't want to see Google hurt, but I don't think Google should be held responsible for his personal actions.


Both Google and 'Eric and Wendy Schmidt' are listed as $1 million+ funders.

https://web.archive.org/web/20170821001334/https://www.newam...


>Schmidt couldn't have ordered the article spiked

The comment from the writer happened, then Schmidt complained. I don't think the writer asked Schmidt his opinion before he gave his comment.

In other words, Schmidt's actions were a result of the writer's comments, after the fact.


Sorry, 'spiked' was incorrect. I should have said 'pulled', since the article was briefly taken down and then restored. Thanks for catching that.


think tanks are a euphemism for propaganda machine

I call them "thought tanks" exactly because all the thinking has been done well before any particular question gets asked.


The past tense form (and also past participle) of to think is glaringly ambiguous against the noun thought, suggesting that thought might be going on.

I humbly suggest the alternative thunk tank.

The bad grammar eliminates suspicions of thought and as a bonus, it rhymes with drunk tank.

"I thinked and thinked real hard and real long till I couldn' think a nuthin' I ain't already thunk. So I then I passed on the remainin' reckonin' on to the fine folks in the thunk tank."


Seriously though, the agenda behind a think tank may be a thought-out given. But there can be plenty of conniving left for the think tank related to carrying it out.

Obviously, this guy wasn't fit for a think tank, if he couldn't rub two brain cells together to learn the adage "don't bite the hand that feeds you".

Or maybe he is meta-clever; no publicity is bad publicity. Get fired from a Google funded think tank for anti-Google thoughts and come out smelling like some kind of hero.


I like that. So true. It usually seems the conclusion is also decided before much thinking goes on as well.


The bulk of this article is a critique of corporate power. In particular, Barry Lynn argues that bipartisan deregulation of monopoly controls have permitted a concentration of corporate power:

How did we drift so far from the founding generation’s deep fear of massive corporations? In the 1970s and 1980s, an alliance of economic and legal scholars from the right and left of the parties — including Robert Bork and John Kenneth Galbraith — combined to overthrow America’s two-century-old antimonopoly system. ... It’s a dangerous misperception that will continue to imperil democracy as long as the power of corporations continues to grow unchecked.


I realize you're quoting here, but two century old? Wasn't the start of US antitrust law at the beginning of the 20th century?


The founding of the United States can be seen as a rebellion against British crony capitalism.

http://www.history.com/topics/american-revolution/tea-act

https://core.ac.uk/display/76558315 # Monopolies and the Constitution: A History of Crony Capitalism


A tad bit earlier - the Sherman Antitrust Act was 1890.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sherman_Antitrust_Act


One of my favorite plot lines is where someone is an unexpected ally but then circumstances and conflicts of interest cause the alliance to become untenable. E.g. the movie "The Siege," General William Deveraux (Bruce Willis) reassures the protagonists, after a terrorist scare, that he's a "card-carrying member of the ACLU." But eventually, he's rounding U.S. citizens up into camps.

Big companies' alliances with social justice types strikes me as similar. It's tenable, to a point.


> where someone is an unexpected ally but then circumstances and conflicts of interest cause the alliance to become untenable.

It's not always unexpected as it is non-obvious. As the OP said:

>> think tanks are a euphemism for propaganda machine.

This is basically the reality that's being masked in this article: the Think Tank was never hired to tell the truth. Maybe find the truth, but it's certainly not Google's primary interest for them to publicly finance the promotion of an inconvenient truth. Which as far as I'm concerned makes business sense. You can't have your cake and eat it too as an activist (nor does it mean the activist is automatically right because they spoke out against the interests of their financiers either).

Similar to how Google and Apple only make token efforts at 'securing' their messaging platforms and operating systems against surveillance - to the point where business interests don't align. Any business output is largely a product of competing interests, hidden or otherwise.

Which is why voluntary donations (which includes personal time, such as open source) are so critical to tip these scales towards the general public's interest - particularly when it comes to things that also don't align with the interests of government agencies (see: surveillance) or the interests of mega-corporations/special interest groups with political pull.

Depending on government or corporate programs alone is insufficient IMO, and it's unfortunate that this third option is typically treated as an afterthought in our culture. We tend to treat time/resources as merely a dynamic between personal benefit and our maximum capacity for taxation, where donations are merely a luxury of the wealthy and/or the compassionate non-industrious types, which ends up being a minority of the public.


Hell of an underrated movie. If you liked The Siege but haven't seen Unthinkable, give that one a watch as well.


> think tanks are a euphemism for propaganda machine.

Yep and they go back in one form or another centuries possibly millenia, right back to when kings used to pay people to justify why they owed less money to the catholic church.


From the perspective of Eric Shmidt, Anne-Marie Slaughter mishandled that tricky situation by leaking Eric Shmidt dissatisfaction to the renegade employee.


> If you didn't know it already, think tanks are a euphemism for propaganda machine.

Exactly, the wealthy and corporations fund think tanks to support their interests, not for ideals. Think tanks don't exist for truth/objectivity. They exist to push an agenda.

No matter how good this guy's intentions were, coming out against google's interests is a sure fire way of getting fired.

Not only that, his career at any google or google affiliated/funded institutions are pretty much over.


When Google funds an anti-monopoly think tank, it should be clear to everyone working there that it's an anti-non-Google-monopoly think tank that is really about how to prevent other organizations form gaining monopolistic footholds in any areas that Google might be interested in, and how to skirt any laws and regulations which block Google from doing same.


> If you didn't know it already, think tanks are a euphemism for propaganda machine.

Surely the proper response would be to pay less attention to think tanks / propaganda machines. Google's action here may even be morally neutral; while it is unfortunate that this fellow and his coworkers lost their jobs, (our part of) the world has been given a timely reminder of the true nature of think tanks.


Schmidt, she said, was threatening to pull his name...

Could this be the problem? It would look ugly if someone in an organization bearing Schmidt's name actually praised actions detrimental to Schmidt's employer.


I wonder if the other founders of Google got involved.


> think tanks are a euphemism for propaganda machine

Sometimes they are. Sometimes they do legitimate research and work, funded by people who care about certain issues. It's kind of a crap-shoot, really.


> If you didn't know it already, think tanks are a euphemism for propaganda machine.

I'm not sure if this is hyperbole or if you don't actually know what propaganda means. Propaganda refers to media/communication that influences a large group of people (citizens in the context of politics or employees in the context of business).

Most think tanks (aei, cato, brookings etc) publish research for an academic and legislative audience, not for the masses to consume.


1. That trickles down to mass media eventually.

2. They communicate to the few people who really matter —decision makers and their counsel.


> think tanks are a euphemism for propaganda machine

While I tend to agree, it's interesting that this think tank employee seems to have believed that 'think tank' means something closer to 'independent private research institute' or 'university department' than to 'paid propagandists, for moneyed special interests, kept on a leash by their masters'.

What did he think his group was? Maybe not a 'think tank'?

Are there any 'think tanks' that might be called 'independent'? Any 'think tanks' that might be said not to be 'propagandists'? 'Good' think tanks?

I guess it's tricky to define, when merely being super dogmatic can already ensure that you'll be loyal to whatever special interests happen to benefit from your particular brand of dogmatism. So no direct control/intervention is needed.

ACLU or EFF are also dogmatic in a way, and they're activist organizations, they exist to improve the world according to some ideology (civil liberties, free software).

I guess the difference between 'think tank' and 'research institute' is that the latter is more interested in advancing science, than in saving the world.

Among the 'think tanks' you can then, differentiate between those that serve (through control or dogmatism) the less powerful (EFF?) vs those that serve the more powerful (Kochs, arguably Cato, AEI).

I guess a better, orthogonal way you can differentiate, is: does the organization end up adding or detracting from the ideal of educated public discourse? Are their arguments manipulative, or do they serve, in the end, to educate? (This is about effect, not intent, or bias.)

You can ask about intent too, I guess. Do they presume ideas are at "war" or do they presume that ideas tend to combine to get closer to the truth?

A highly biased, paid-for group can still be useful to discourse, either it refrains from demagogic manipulation (it 'plays fair' so to speak), or its ideology is so weird and fringe, rather than hegemonic, that it adds alot of new stuff to discourse.

I'm sure there are other ways of dividing up the space of highly biased schools of thought.

The ancient philosophical schools like the Pythagoreans were probably a species of think tank. Although they likely weren't 'propagandists'. Although they drowned the guy who came up with the irrational numbers. It's confusing.

What we should avoid is trying to divide them just by "left" vs "right". That's just dumb.

What's also kind of dangerous is falling into the trap of saying, everything is propaganda. The university is a propaganda machine, for the left, haha. That's moldbuggery. I think Voltaire would get cramps when being made to deal with mr Moldbug, I'll leave it at that.


I've never looked into this much, how does peer review at a think tank work?

Is your piece going to get reviewed by people who might be inclined to agree with you already? By people who might not share your views? How easy is it to "overlook" a study which has contradictory findings to your own, or misinterpret a stat in a way favorable to "your side" (whether intentionally or not)?


Calling anything propaganda is not very helpful; is it biased or deceptive? And how much?

There is nothing inherently wrong with propaganda. It is not necessarily manipulative or deceitful.

(from wikipedia) "In the twentieth century, the term propaganda has been associated with a manipulative approach, but propaganda historically was a neutral descriptive term"


I think in this example, it can definitely be said to be manipulative and deceitful. Schmidt's agenda seems to be actively silencing reporting that describes them as using their near monopoly power to their own benefit. In this example, it seems to quell murmurs that maybe the Google is a monopoly that is abusing it's power in the US. I'm sure they don't want to go through what Microsoft went through in 2001.

I mean show me some think tanks that don't disperse manipulative and deceitful research and I could change my mind about said individual think tank, but as a general rule, I stand by my statement.


There's nothing inherently wrong with using modern language to mean what it means in the modern world.


Not inherently, except when it just destroys information. Let's say a couch is really light but made from good material, and has a design and colors I find very pretty, and it comes at a fair price, too. I might just call it "awesome" and be done with it, but that conveys nothing, and then when I am actually in awe, I have to talk about how something is "literally genuinely really awesome". Likewise, if propaganda "now means" propaganda one doesn't like, how does one call propaganda in general? I would guess "public relations", "public outreach", "engaging with the community", "influencing the narrative for a positive outcome", and a lot of others, but why not "propaganda"? I'm sure I use it in a purely negative meaning all the time myself, but I still can't see anything gained from that.


Propaganda has negative connotations under the presumption that the message is dishonest in some way. The original meaning was 'neutral', and in that sense more information is being provided by the modern term than the older one.

>how does one call propaganda in general?

Communication.


> The original meaning was 'neutral', and in that sense more information is being provided by the modern term than the older one.

The modern term comes fairly directly from a use in which it was positive, not neutral (though it was negative to outsiders of the group using it, which shaped the modern connotation.) Specifically, it comes from the old Latin name (Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fidei, “Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith”) of what is now the “Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples” of the Roman Catholic Church.


In the modern language propaganda typically is a subjective descriptor that explains very little outside of your own views on the subject.


Why doesn't it look great for Google? Google is a company and it moves according to its interest.

The weird part is to expect a company to fund a group for the love of truth and public good. Companies are in a competition against each other and the amount of genuine benevolent collaboration they can do is limited by nature.


I don't get this. The guy works for a think tank that is paid for by google and schmidt. So he is kind of an external PR person for google (put simply). Then he writes something negative about them and gets fired. So he got fired for not doing his job (or doing the opposite of his job). Why is anyone surprised he got fired, including himself?


One of the aspects of this I'm most interested in is when Google started donating to New America. It seems obvious to me that Google is giving money to political organizations in exchange for influence and that both parties here share blame. But if Google started giving money to New America and Eric Schmidt joined the board knowing that New America was funding an anti-monopoly group then I think that makes Google and Eric look a lot worse.

How many think tank papers have been quietly shredded because the author didn't have the courage Barry Lynn did?


The whole think tank industry is like this. This is one of the main reasons why things like single payer don't have the intellectual backing of rigorous white papers and advocacy -- there isn't a whole lot of money to be made for corporations lowering the cost of healtcare.


> there isn't a whole lot of money to be made for corporations lowering the cost of healtcare.

I don't know if that's true. There are a lot of companies that would save money if healthcare was cheaper -- pretty much every company in America is a health-care consumer. It's just that benefits are diffuse and the downsides of lower-cost health care are concentrated.


I think large companies love it the way it is. Healthcare being so tightly bound to employment makes it more difficult for employees to leave, which probably has a dampening affect on salaries. I haven't had to deal with it in a while, but getting healthcare for a small company ~10 years ago was a nightmare.


It wasn't too bad for us. We provide gold level healthcare for our employees (~20 FTEs). Companies like Zenefits (yes yes I know) and others have made it a lot simpler to get started.


Guessing you’re a tech company employing educated young single (low risk) workers?

Things look very different in other industries... not everyone gets the same price...


>>tech company

Nope.

>>not everyone gets the same price

I don't care about the price. I pay for insurance for my employees because it is the right thing to do.

The comment I am referring to is the nightmare of the setup, not the cost to me for providing the healthcare. And many middleware insurance navigators make it easy to provide it (at least for me).

As far as how much it costs me, whatever.


large firms would lose talent to smaller firms.


Then the smaller firms could be acquired. As it is, because of the slowing new-company generation, large firms have been getting fewer and fewer options. Small firms can take risks to create new products and processes which can then be acquired and taken up and expanded by large companies. Generally its much more difficult for a large company to do that creation part in-house. So insufficient small firms end up affecting the large-firm capability in the end.


Unfortunately this type of long term benefit for the large corporation doesn't affect the next quarterly report and is ignored in favor of more short term gains.


Productivity gains seem to be dropping and one theory is that companies are getting larger, but aren't able to pickup efficiency/new value generation boosts from acquisitions like they once were able to (at an economy wide scale, not talking about the acquisitions of any specific company or even sectors here). It is difficult to make any certain conclusions here though. But if true, they will have to care sooner or later.


Minor compared to the cost of funding health care


Exactly. Huge corporations would LOVE to push their health insurance costs to the taxpayers.


Maybe, but they LOVE the huge competitive advantage it gives them over smaller and more nimble firms nipping at their market share, because it's very onerous for small businesses to competitively offer health benefits.


I think they're afraid some of the cost would be dumped onto them.


I don't know about that. If your employer were to pay you more and you were to use your salary to buy health insurance, you'd be bumped into a higher tax bracket and you'd be using post tax money to buy the insurance.

It's not a long term benefit because the government should be able to lower taxes given the increased revenue, but you'd never look past the short term (and the government would never lower taxes).


Isn't YCs research arm looking into healthcare?


I think this is a bit of a just-so story. Rebuttals:

* There are top-tier progressive think-tanks that write favorably about single-payer; EPI is an example.

* Single-payer is ideologically anathema to conservatives and libertarians, so a majority of think tanks are going to be constitutionally incapable of proposing plans.

* For the past 8 years or so, progressives have been working to support the health care victory they already achieved in the ACA, which has been under continuous assault since the GOP regained control of the legislature. It would be weird to see them endorsing a new health care system (and, in the process, conceding defeat on the ACA).


>>Single-payer is ideologically anathema to libertarians

For Libertarians (LP), maybe. There are plenty of libertarians who see initiatives like single-payer and UBI as the only way to reduce graft and overspending of the federal government, knowing that pure elimination is impossible.


Can you really be a libertarian, even with a small 'l', and support single-payer?


Yes, if you combine it with reducing absurd controls of the industry. Libertarians tend to be angry about the fact that Americans cannot buy medicine abroad, that medical schools are absurdly regulated, coupling insurance with jobs, and so forth. Single-payer + those reforms are well within a reasonable libertarian platform.

https://www.google.com/search?q=libertarians+who+support+sin...


I'm not an expert on libertarianism, but I looked at the first results from that search and it seems like some libertarians support some form of single-payer but purely as a political compromise, which I assume is what you were referring to. It still doesn't jibe with the ideology, but they seem to think that certain forms of single-payer might be better than what exists now.


Yeah, pretty much. I used to be a libertarian and know a lot of people who are, and many regard it as a reasonable compromise and a strict upgrade over the nonsense we have now.


Not really. Advocates of any ideology can compromise their ideals pragmatically, but libertarians explicitly cannot countenance single-payer as an end state. The idea of a government-run monopoly on health care is directly contrary to libertarianism.

Which is what you see when you read posts from libertarians about single-payer. Single-payer as a compromise, and only if accompanied by such a radical deregulation of medicine that "single-payer" is really just an economic subsidy for consumers on a private marketplace. That's a coherent (if, to me, terrifying) plan, but it's not what mainstream policy thinkers mean by single-payer!

Again: I'm not saying a libertarian can't accept single-payer as a temporary compromise (even for very long definitions of "temporary"). But if you find single-payer attractive, you're an economic liberal.


People don't throw the word "monopsony" around as much, so people aren't as afraid of them.


ACA is structurally designed to be a stepping stone to a more rational system. I don't think you'll find a lot of ACA boosters who think healthcare in the US is a solved problem because of it.


It's not a stepping-stone towards single-payer.


>there isn't a whole lot of money to be made for corporations lowering the cost of healtcare.

There is a whole lot of money to be made by special interests in giving people free heathcare at the taxpayers expense. It means massively increasing government spending afterall, and that gives those with political control more resources to divvy up. And there's an enormous amount of advocacy for single payer. It also does not reduce costs.


Wow. That's really disturbing actually...The layers of power and control are so mind bogglingly intricate. Eric Schmidt just demonstrated how finely tuned and detailed power actually is today. To know of a single paper and effectively flip a switch to shut it down. The Google of 'do no evil' is certainly dead. Where does this leave us in changing these things? What options are there for gaining momentum for real change when all the powers that be fight against it?


> why things like single payer don't have the intellectual backing of rigorous white papers and advocacy

I dont understand why Gates or Buffett who have made comments supporting single payer systems dont fund such think tanks who will "educate" the public about single payer.


All think tanks are like this. People don't tend to pay other people to tell them their baby is ugly.

IMO this is more about Barry Lynn than Google. I've known about Google for nearly 20 years. Never heard of Barry.


>All think tanks are like this.

I don't necessarily disagree. But it is a good moment to remind everyone that those white papers have a man behind the curtain. It's also a nice cultural moment for anti-trust (admittedly my pet issue.)

>People don't tend to pay other people to tell them their baby is ugly.

Sure but if I have an ugly baby and I start funding a group called "The Baby Raters" and I watch and continue donating as they judge all of my friends babies to be ugly but then pull funding (or threaten to) when they judge my baby as ugly, I'd say that I've successfully undermined the institution. It's no longer what it says on the tin.


But if Google started giving money to New America and Eric Schmidt joined the board knowing that New America was funding an anti-monopoly group then I think that makes Google and Eric look a lot worse

Schmidt joined the board in 2008. Lynn says he has been doing this research since 1999.


Barry Lynn <=> Sergey Brin?!!


Sorry I meant: Barry Lynn <=> Larry Brin O.O


Let's do a thought experiment: Imagine if a company had enough power to inject money into all of the major media outlets, to the point where they depend on this company to stay alive. Now, if this company threatens to pull the money out if the media outlet says anything that goes against it, the company will effectively have control over the opinions of all major media channels. This is obviously not acceptable in a society that considers itself "free speech". It's free from legal consequences but when you shut opinions down due to "other consequences" you end up with the same result. A muted society.


The funny thing there is we worry about someone having enough money to exert soft power on the media while allowing Murdoch to control a huge chunk of the media market in the UK (and US...).

He has far more control of the media than any single company could hope to buy indirectly (and it'd be cheaper to just buy it directly at that point I think).


Why do you think Jeff Bezos brought the Washington Post - he saw how Rupert Murdoch works.

Google should have brought the independent when it was up for sale cheap


And look at how he's made it much worse. Clickbait headlines, political pandering. They have some good content but I'm so sick of the bad stuff I go elsewhere.


And Clinton's top financial backer bought "The Onion".

Shrug. It's got to be owned by someone.


I don't see your point.

Somebody is going to own the media. It just so happens that Murdoch started some media outlets.

It's much better than the media being state-run.


The difference between now and say 30 years ago is many media companies were independently owned, now, like food in supermarkets, there are a few conglomerates that own all the media companies.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_conglomerate

If you go to the local level, John Oliver did a segment on Sinclair Broadcast Group that owns a bunch of local news stations and pushes political propaganda to them.

http://www.indiewire.com/2017/07/john-oliver-local-news-cons...

The point being is you have all our media digestible content, particularly news, controlled by a handful of corporations.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nexstar_Media_Group

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinclair_Broadcast_Group

Sinclair, the one Oliver mentions, covers 40% of US households and is only the second largest next to Nexstar.


And John Oliver is owned by Time Warner/Turner Broadcasting.

You don't think Oliver is above propaganda do you?


No, he has an agenda as well. His position is a little less influenced now though because HBO's business model doesn't involve advertisements. I'm sure he doesn't bite the hand that feeds him either.


>Somebody is going to own the media

Disagree. Why do you think anyone "owning the media" would be a giood idea, let alone an acceptable one.


I didn't say anything about a good idea.

I definitely think it's better for individuals and regulated corporations to own it than for the media to be state-run.


And your proposed alternative is?


Lots of people own lots of media.


Awesome. You have your wish. Surf around.


You can make a similar argument about land: if one person owns all of the land, the rest of the people won't be very free even if the laws are the same.

But neither argument is very convincing. There's a lot of cheap land, and there are a lot of cheap ways to publish your opinions widely.


As long as you don't piss off cloudflare.


Well, the same mentality spills over from Think Tanks to regular people on YouTube.

On YouTube, if your account is suspended, you are severed from your audience that you worked hard to build.

Sure, you can find cheap/free land, but don't you think you would feel that someone stole your work, robbed you of the fruits of your labor, if the land you toiled for years to make fertile is taken away from you?

This think tank situation is tip of the iceberg of what Google is doing in terms of censorship (suspensions/terminations/demonetization) on their platforms.


> Sure, you can find cheap/free land, but don't you think you would feel that someone stole your work, robbed you of the fruits of your labor, if the land you toiled for years to make fertile is taken away from you?

If I voluntarily chose to took away on land owned by someone else under express terms that allowed it to be taken away arbitrarily, I’d kind of expect that risk, and wouldn't view it as theft.

There's a reason plenty of people making a living selling video content use YouTube to distribute promotional material but some other mechanism to monetize the content.


Let's say the customers, that you sold your produce to, know that you sell at your farm: the YouTube channel.

You may be willing to toil the earth at new location, but not having those same customers who want to buy from you at new location, is the biggest loss, more so than the land.

The land owner, didn't mind what you were doing, it's even legal what you were doing, but then one fine day the landowner dated a girl who didn't like that you cultivated onions, she hates onions, she convinced the landowner to get rid of you. And the landowner owns 70% of the land in your country and 90% of the produce buyers are also residing on the same lands. Going to new land is much much unfair proposition. At these scales the legal system, which still exists and has power, should step in an break apart the land owner or impose rules which forces him to play fair.

Anti-trust laws exist for this very reason. Break up Google.


Like that law that says you can't own more than x radio stations? But what if you don't "own" them, just fund them. I think we need to stretch the legal definition of ownership to influence.


Isn't that what happened to Fox News (although indirectly)?

    Fox criticized Trump
    Trump said Fox sucks
    Viewership went down  
    "Oops, Trump is great"  
    Money are back in.

This according to Vox, anyway: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYMIgnw2FPU


This is how media and entertainment already bended to clients. Pull advertisements or sponsorship = lost revenue. A large parent corporation (e.g Verizon) can do this. Whether this is wise to lose coverage is another assessment.


we don't need a thought experiment, Google has just been shown to have demanded a site to take down an article they did not the author of. they do this by withdrawing adsense income and with a dominant position they can shape the content of the web. while initially at the behest of their corporate needs its easy to see how it will become co-opted by politicians


> This is obviously not acceptable in a society that considers itself "free speech". It's free from legal consequences but when you shut opinions down due to "other consequences" you end up with the same result.

Which is exactly why the principle of free speech (as opposed to "the first amendment to the US Constitution") doesn't just apply to legal consequences, and free speech absolutely does require freedom from some consequences.


I could argue that Mr. Lynn is crying "sour grapes" over this, but he also came very close to a point Bryan Lunduke made recently about Google[1]. Google has the power to stop people using their products from making a living, and a collapse or compromise of Google's infrastructure would cause untold economic harm to the nation and world. If Google as an "information provider" fails (search, email, telecommunications, DNS services, cloud services, etc.) a lot of other businesses stop or collapse.

A healthy economy is a lot like a healthy ecosystem: some parts are weaker, some will fail when stressed, but allowing the system to react naturally to inputs will likely result in a better outcome. But when you encourage a monoculture, single stresses can result in a complete collapse[2]. We're experimenting with establishing monocultures in our economies with potentially even more impact than those of the 19th and 20th centuries (like Standard Oil) that inspired the anti-monopoly regulation and legislation: if Samsung were to shut down tomorrow, what would be the impact on the Korean, regional and world economies?

An all-powerful Google that can't accept criticism or action to "trim it back" to preserve the overall economy represents a danger and Mr. Lynn was right to point this out.

[1] - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwzJlvx4ndk [2] - https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/12/04/the-w...


I used most of Google's services. I thought they were great, but them I met a neighbour of mine that held such hatred toward them that I could only describe it as visceral. He told me a story of how he used Gmail, Docs, chat, Blogger, but as a director YouTube was the most important. One day his account was locked. Google decided he had used YouTube inappropriately and suspended his account. No recourse, no remedy, but more importantly his data and online identity were instantly gone. And then I thought about it, what if it happened to me? And that was the end of the Google for me, death to my Apple ecosystem, and hello DNS registrations and safety deposit boxes with the backups of my data. SaaS is a Chinese Finger trap though, so the further you are in....


Very important lesson in not connecting your google products


Which doesn't work so well when Google keeps pushing consolidation down your throat. I never wanted my accounts merged, but they went ahead and did it anyway.


I know. Right?

It connected mine and my kid's school account together because same browser was used to login to those accounts.

I have come to the conclusion that Google is evil. It can't chose to not do evil anymore.


Funnily enough I mentioned Standard Oil in relation to Google and Facebook on here the other day, I'd read some terrible Clive Cussler novel that had Rockefeller as a character and that sent me of to read more about him.



Thank you for the recommendation.


This is a good point, but how would this cause Google's business branch (advertising) from collapsing? Businesses want to advertise, and their service here is reputable.


> If Google as an "information provider" fails (search, email, telecommunications, DNS services, cloud services, etc.) a lot of other businesses stop or collapse.

Seems a bit of an exaggeration. Let's pretend we got word from an all-powerful being that Google and all of its services were going to disappear from the face of the earth in exactly 30 days, giving everyone including users, competitors, partners, etc. plenty of time to prepare. 30 days from now, specifically, what collapses?


1. Every business that's running on GCE. They can't just "move off the service" in 30 days. This is a big one. Billions of dollars. Coca Cola obviously couldn't move in 30 days. Nor Airbus.

2. Every business that's running on GSuite. Let's assume this is mostly small business, and they will have limited ability to migrate to other SaaS or run in house replacements for these services.

3. Everyone who was using Youtube as a primary source of income, or whose business had a critical dependency on the Youtube platform for marketing

4. Every piece of code that depends on Google's DNS infrastructure, and anything that pulls DNS entries from 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4... how many devices like this do you think there are? How many were hard coded?

5. What happens to Android? It's a hypothetical, but potentially it could keep going, but let's assume major disruptions for everyone who runs a business that develops mobile applications for Android

6. How many people (and businesses) depend on Google Maps? How many are tied in directly to the API and won't be able to change this easily?

7. Now how many depend on Google Voice?

8. Gmail has more than 1 billion active monthly users.

I don't know if you're actually looking for a specific list of businesses, but that's not going to be possible for anyone to provide -- anyway, a shutdown of Google services would be an economic catastrophe... Most people couldn't even migrate a Gmail account in 30 days, and with Gmail alone we're already talking a billion+ people.


These all look like fixable problems, certainly not easily fixable, but also not on the level of "untold economic harm to the nation and world" and business collapse. My comment was that the parent was exaggerating, not that the loss wouldn't be temporarily painful to some companies.


1. AWS and Azure

2. Outlook 365

3. Vimeo and Dailymotion

4. Every ISP provide DNS servers.

5. IOS

6. There are many alternative to google maps. Google didn't invented maps.

7. Noone?

8. There are many email service ready to take over.

There is nothing Google offers that can't be obtained from another provider.

And I'm not even getting into how Google has zero presence in Russia/China and its disappearance won't impact them.


so .... if you can actually move a business from GCE to AWS in 30 days, will you please send me your resume? I'd like to hire you for a -- short -- contract :)

Seriously though, I think you're greatly underestimating how high the switching cost is to move from one cloud provider to another.


> Let's pretend.. that Google and all of its services were going to [shut down] in exactly 30 days

That wasn't the question the post above was asking. The question wasn't "given a chance to prepare, would the economy collapse," the question was "if Google were to suddenly collapse, would our economy survive?"

There exist several single points of failure in our global economy. Given the incredible importance Google has in our economy, with search, email, collaboration software, and cloud computing, it's not a stretch to say that Google is one of those points of failure.

It's also a location of power concentration. Google basically controls the internet as most see it. If your site is removed from Google, its chance of becoming popular is almost completely removed. If you are forced off of Google and you aren't prepared, you could lose years of important information. They also track nearly everyone, opening up the possibility of corporate population control and cultural shaping.

Do we really want single corporations this powerful?


I have relatives who are in education, and I was fairly shocked to hear how Google has taken over that space. I don't think this is a good thing at all. Not sure what can be done about it, though. If they become as dominant here as they are elsewhere, they really could control the world's information from cradle to grave. takes tin foil hat off


The parent didn't specify a time frame, just that a failure of Google would result in "untold economic harm to the nation and world". Even if they went away tomorrow with no notice, sure there would be some pain and a lot of IT departments would be pulling in extra hours for some months, but come on...


Why do expect Google to give you 30 days warning?


I cannot believe people are defending Google and attacking the researcher.

The argument goes, 1) he's a researcher for a think tank, so he's pushing an agenda and not trustworthy. 2) Google made a good business decision by cutting funding for research that goes against their agenda.

So, for-profit enterprises can push agendas, but not-for-profit enterprises and the individuals who staff them cannot, because agenda-pushing would undermine the purity of their research.

That's obviously a double standard, and one that favors the powerful over the weak.

Silicon Valley has become morally repugnant, and Google is evil. I'm on the side of the little guy.


I and the entire Open Markets team were let go because it’s not in Google’s interest to finance criticism of its business model. It’s as simple as that.

Right. Where's the scandal here? If you don't want someone or some company to have monetary power over you, then don't take money from them. I understand that it's not so simple, but at the end of the day this can't be surprising.

To wit...his prefacing comment says a lot:

No think tank wants to appear beholden to the demands of its corporate donors.

Operative word being - appear. In fact they all are beholden, of course, you just want to make sure not to appear to be.


The scandal is that most of the policy research in the US is funded by supposedly-neutral think tanks which are funded this way— which means new laws will usually be designed to serve the big interests that fund think tanks.


This is it. So many people appear unable to understand criticism at a structural level. As long as every individual or corporation is acting as you'd expect them to act given the conditions they're in, we're supposed to throw up our hands.

But of course we don't have to do that. We can note the various reasons things work this way — growing monopoly power, tax laws governing nonprofits, lobbying regulations — and figure out how to change them.


Not to sound glib but that's nothing new and everyone in the research world knows that. The only new thing here is that it's a public story involving Google.


That's not entirely true, laws are also designed by politicians and bureaucrats, which means they'll also be written to serve politicians (incumbent advantages, for example) and bureaucracy itself (agencies don't generally lobby for more focused goals).

Point being, I agree it's a shame, and I would love something better, but at some point we're saying laws are written by people and interest groups, which is pretty obvious and unavoidable.


supposedly-neutral think tanks

Who told you they were supposed to be neutral? The only thing I expect from a think tank is reproducibility of results, if they are making claim to an objective result.


Yes exactly. It's hard to take this guy seriously when monopoly profits were paying his bills.

Note that when he was publishing monopoly research there was no problem, it was the decision to 'celebrate' the EU fine that seems to have got him fired.


> Corporations are geared to pursue their interests, and criticism is not in their best interest.

Obviously we should condemn this behavior, but I can't say I'm surprised. It's good to see such a clear example of Google being unable to resist exerting its power to protect itself from criticism, but I can't help but imagine all of the instances of this that will never see the light of day. The reality is that our world is filled with greed and corruption and that's not going to change any time soon.


It's not even about them being unable to resist. Schmidt is on record saying that he feels that their success is a function of/reward for doing what's morally correct and that the company should use its power to push their morality/ideology (and that the market will reward them if they're right or won't if they aren't).

Thinking about this keeps me up at night.


Can you cite a source for this claim by Eric Schmidt?


Is it automatically greed and corruption for Google to disagree and threaten to stop funding?


Why would you care whether corruption is 'automatic' or not? It's still corruption.


Regarding concentration of corporate power and economics, Nick Hanauer was on the 1A yesterday [1] and had relevant commentary. He also brought up problems with inequality a few years ago [2] and last month [3].

[1] http://the1a.org/shows/2017-08-30/zillionaire-to-other-zilli...

[2] http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/06/the-pitchfork...

[3] http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/07/18/to-my-fell...


He also has a TEDx talk that says just as much.


Googles growing influence in the world is darn right scary. They are a private company so they can do what ever they want (i.e. they could delist & censor anything the author writes) and claim free speech. If they wanted to they could wipe someone's online identity off the face of the web.


Just a private army is missing to complete them. Essos maybe?

IMO, no company should be this powerful.

Let's not forget that Google also bought off quite a few shameless professors during the FTC investigation. http://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2017/07/13/google-favorable-r...


"I and the entire Open Markets team were let go because it’s not in Google’s interest to finance criticism of its business model."

Coming soon: Washington Post's scathing takedown of Amazon's business model.



They've actually been critical multiple times over the last little while about Amazon and Amazon's model, particularly along working conditions at warehouses. I think editorial independence is still relatively strong at wapo.

Interestingly enough New America also receives significant funding from Amazon, I wonder if they will get colored by the brush of politically expedient think tank funding as well.


Is the Washington Post a think tank now? Does Amazon own the Washington Post?


Jeff Bezos owns the WaPo now.


Jeff Bezos and Amazon are not the same person. This is an important distinction.


Jeff Bezos and Amazon are not the same person. This is an important distinction.

No doubt you can point to some Amazon PR to prove it. In reality, they're one and Bezos has done whatever he wanted till now (how many years was AMZN losing money to expand???).

You can also say "Here's an WP article slamming Amazon," but maybe the old WP would have written 5 such articles. I have no doubt that self-censorship goes on at WP just as it went with NBC /GE /Comcast and so on. They know who owns the paper and if someone has to remind them, it will be done.

Of course, you can be independent and think, but....


You can make up whatever reality you want. Suggesting Bezos abuses his influence at WaPo to benefit Amazon has nothing to do with Google deciding to stop doing business with an organization that began working against Google's interest.


You ascribe malicious intent when it's just really organizational dynamics. Most suppression of dissent is self-censorship. Most folks know when they're about to bite the hand that feeds them.


The number one person in power at Amazon = the number one person in power at the Washington Post.


Yes, Jeff Bezos. The implication that Bezos abuses his position to favor one organization over the other has no clear basis in fact. It is also not relevant to the story about Google taking action in Google's favor.


Yes, and neither are Eric Schmidt and Google.


The difference being Eric Schmidt and Google took an action. Eric Schmidt and some other business he owns did not.

The action was against an organization that Google was doing business with because the arrangement no longer made sense for Google. A think tank and a newspaper are not the same thing. There is no expectation of integrity from a think tank.

The original comparison suggests Amazon is abusing influence to control the narrative at WaPo in the absence of any evidence of such abuse.


In an older version of the claims[0], it was Eric Schmidt (as individual), Eric Schmidt's family foundation and Google who were listed as donors that might drop out. That older version was also much less clear on what was "threatened".

That guy is using outrage as marketing vehicle to raise funds and awareness for his (now "independent") think tank. It'll be interesting to see who's funding his work in a year or so.

[0] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/30/us/politics/eric-schmidt-...


Just look at the corporate double speak and their response:

https://www.newamerica.org/new-america/press-releases/new-am...

They even linked to e-mails in an effort to be more transparent but all I can see is more confirmation about what the author said as truth:

https://www.newamerica.org/new-america/press-releases/intere...


It's a weird situation for a number of reasons. Schmidt is clearly culpable, but it also seems to be the case that New America was existentially dependent on Google-derived funding.


"I bit the hand that fed me. It stopped feeding me. That's how eating out of someone's hand works."


If Google admitted it was their propaganda arm then he would have no right to complain. But since they never did, it behooves Google to fund their outcomes regardless of whether their research benefits/harms Google.


How so? Why would it benefit Google to fund outcomes that harm Google. How can a harm be a benefit?


Hypothetically, letting some anti-Google rhetoric through might legitimize an otherwise supportive stance.

Say I'm 80% evil and I fund a think tank. The think tank's reputation was 100, and now it's 60 with regard to statements about me because my funding it makes it seem biased. If it published a story that says I'm actually 4% evil, then it gets a reputation boost, I'm not looking as bad as I actually am, and I'm well positioned to let the organization do positive spin when I really need it.

I would say that Google and similar orgs actually usually do this. But Google and Amazon are getting really, really nervous when people talk about monopoly. If anti-trust comes back into vogue, and it could possibly, then it's an existential threat for these empires. They have to carefully manage their carrots and sticks on this issue, and with this one they went with the stick.


Why should Google expect funding a non-profit would benefit them? They get the tax-write-off precisely because it benefits The People first and Google second, if at all.


No, you are confusing charity with non-profit. Not every non-profit is a charity. Example: the NFL, a non-profit that serves its taxpaying members. A non-profit is an organization that exist not to generate revenue for its owners, so the owners don't pay tax -- the members or beneficaries do, under regular tax laws. Google pays taxes on its profits generated via the activity of the nonprofit.


The obvious one is that nobody is going to trust the results of that group anymore.


Trust doesn't pay. Funding pays.

Of course one could argue that nobody funds you if nobody trusts you. Interesting to see how this one pans out...


Because any short-term harm that might have come from an undesirable policy paper is outweighed by the long-term, and lasting, harm to Google's reputation that is occurring now.


I disagree. Regulators might read the output of a think tank. People like you and me are instead talking about their actions. Seems like a clear win for Google.


Same reason we pay accountants.


Best comment in the thread. What other outcome do people expect?

This guy is just trying to sell a book.


Best comment in the thread. What other outcome do people expect? This guy is just trying to sell a book.


This was my reaction - It is my understanding that "think tanks" are essentially a nice name for lobbying organizations. A google funded lobbyist being fired for criticizing the company he is paid to lobby for doesn't seem out of the ordinary. Not that i think it's good, but it sounds like a perfectly normal event given the current state of western politics.

Or am i mistaken and think tanks are usually politically neutral pure-research organizations?


Think tanks are rarely neutral; they're generally organized around a set of ideological principles. New America isn't really a pro-Google lobbying organization, except in the sense that by shackling themselves financially to Google, they've rendered themselves incapable of criticizing Google even when Google contravenes their principles.

As a lobbying strategy it would be a little like Google trying to take financial control over Cato or Heritage, not to get those think tanks to spew pro-Google stuff, but to ensure that the primary conservative and libertarian voices in Washington were unable to criticize Google.

(Cato's relationship with the Koch brothers gets similar criticism).

It's definitely fraught! But New America isn't a victim here.


You can construe it more broadly than that.

"Think tanks" are influence laundering operations.

If someone or some corporation wants something (anything) done, it is more persuasive when the proposed ideas come from an ostensibly neutral organization rather than a transparently self-interested one.

This works well or it wouldn't be done this way. This is also why influence laundering organizations will fight tooth and nail to defend the appearance of funding-independence while knowing quite well that it's a lie: the appearance of neutrality is the product they are selling to patrons, and if they can't sell product they will go out of business.


Even if they are politically neutral why would the think tank expect to be funded by the target of their criticism? If they are truly neutral why would they not seek out diverse funding sources?


The idea is that sources are interested in funding BECAUSE they might be criticized. That's when they actually get something out of it. Not a lot of actual altruists in the world, and if they exist, they're funding NGOs that deal with clean water or hunger or something less abstract, at least in the aggregate.


well, they are "supposed" to be non-partisan with policy proposals based on objective research


The interesting generalization of that question is that after > 10 years of an ad fueled boom who else is existentially dependent on Google?


Millions of web based businesses relying on ads served by Google adwords.


Right, and when Google uses its clout in online ads to starve businesses that criticize Google, it'll be a clearer, less fraught story. Here, though, New America is dependent on charity from Google. Google doesn't donate to every think tank in Washington, just the ones it agrees with or has something to gain from.

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