Thursday, December 12, 2013

CATO turns Google Evil (with some help from Mercatus)

Not all that long ago, Google was the champion of the Left, when it came to all sorts of issues. I remember how--under the Bush Administration--Google was garnering non-stop praise from the Left for resisting Federal subpoenas for the search data of its users. Remember that? AOL, MSN, and Yahoo! had all gone along with the requests and provided the data, but Google refused to do so. Interestingly enough, this was so-called "metadata" the Feds were after, as specific user details related to searches were not requested. And of course, the current administration, Dems in Congress, and their Left-wing fanboys in the media are apparently fine with the government compiling metadata.

But then--in 2006--Google was the champ, the defender of the righteous, the technology giant that was not Microsoft, was not AOL, was somehow not even a real corporation (because it wasn't evil). In those days it was still hip to talk about Google, to be a shareholder after its 2004 IPO. Despite its immense size and wealth, Google was still one of the Good Guys, though there were some rumblings growing already.

And that's the way of things for much of the Left. The self-congratulatory narcissistic elitism that is so critical to the modern liberal and progressive world views thrives on the notions of intellectual and cultural superiority. Thus, members of this group endeavor to be on the cutting edge of all things, of technology, of art, of music, of lifestyles, you name it. And when something trendy becomes overly popular, the same people who were so proud of their participation in the beginning of a movement are quick to dump the same and look for something new and less popular to latch onto (while mocking those who are still into it). If too many people catch on to something, it's just not as much fun to be a fan or a proponent, apparently.

I observed this attitude long ago, back in my younger days, particularly when it came to things of an artistic nature. The whole "college band/college rock" movement--that was really the genesis of alt rock--is the quintessential example. Being a fan of one or more bands who were so characterized was a mark of distinction, it made one feel special and "in the know." But when such a band became hugely popular--as was the case for U2, REM, and others--many in the initial core group of fans criticized the bands for "going commercial," criticized the newer fans for being Johnny-come-latelies and not really understanding the music, or both. Similar attitudes are also readily apparent in the film and fashion industries.

I always thought these to be strange reactions. And note, they weren't true across the board. Some people were thrilled to death when the band, filmmaker, or style they loved got more attention. They didn't have a problem at all with the increased popularity; they welcomed it. But in my experience, such people were usually a minority, sometimes a severe one (the more "counter-cultural" the thing, the more protection it received from its elitist fan-base).

The technology boom that started in the eighties has chartered a similar course. For a long time, Apple played the part of revolutionary to Microsoft's role as the commercially successful "sell-out" (which I always found to be a bit ironic, given Rush Limbaugh's early, vocal, and consistent support of Apple). And as the internet grew and blossomed, the browser wars began, where one's choice of browsers was actually deemed by many to say something significant about oneself. It was--and I guess still is--a matter of conscience for many on the Left to have an alternative to IE. Personally, I use Chrome. But that's just because I like it better, because I find it to be a cleaner experience. My choice is simply my choice; it indicates nothing else about me, in my opinion.

When it comes to other technology choices, the pattern is much the same. When Google launched as a search engine, it was initially a small player in the field. Since it grew out of a college environment, that was were it's usage first exploded (much like Facebook). Its superior techniques led to rapid growth in the market. Its competitors--like Yahoo!, Lycos, AltaVista, and InfoSeek--were left in the dust for the most part. Microsoft launched MSN Search the same year as Google. It has been rebranded several times and now exists as Bing. Despite attempts to challenge it, Google is--far and away--the dominant search engine by far. The money raked in by Google through advertising dollars and its IPO have allowed it to expand into many other areas of technology in general and internet-related activity in particular.

Yet despite this growth, Google has--or at least had--remained firmly entrenched as a counter-cultural force, thanks largely to things like the above opposition to Federal subpoenas, to its corporate culture, and to its own sloganeering ("Don't Be Evil").

Still, Google is a corporation, a big, multinational corporation whose interests span the globe and are impacted by government policy as a matter of course. Thus, Google does what all such entities do, by and large: it hedges its bets. Google donates to politicians, it joins business organizations, it promotes itself via charitable work and the like, it employees lobbying and PR firms when necessary, Google behaves just like Exxon-Mobil in this regard.

And because it does all of these things, the core group of elitists on the Left given to navel-gazing and self-flagellation feels betrayed. Big time betrayed. As I noted above, the rumblings in this regard started way back in 2006. But they're much more than rumblings now. Yesterday--December 11th, 2013--there was supposed to be a one-day boycott of all Google products and services. Don't be surprised if you didn't hear about it, it didn't really get off the ground. More significant here is the supposed justification for the boycott: the fact that Google is "supporting" evil conservative organizations.

Here's the "big story" in this regard, from a rabidly liberal/progressive org, the Center for Media and Democracy. Apparently, according the deep thinkers at PR Watch (one of CMD's websites), Google is somehow violating its "Don't Be Evil" maxim because--horror of horrors--it has donated some monies to the following groups (EVIL groups, it would seem):
Google, the tech giant supposedly guided by its "don't be evil" motto, has been funding a growing list of groups advancing the agenda of the Koch brothers... 
American Conservative Union
Americans for Tax Reform
CATO Institute
Federalist Society
George Mason University Law School Law and Economics Center
Heritage Action
Mercatus Center
National Taxpayers Union
R Street Institute
Texas Public Policy Foundation
Scary, isn't it, the idea that Google is funding these groups. Because after all, everyone knows how evil they are (or at least every progressive ideologue knows this). Interestingly enough, SourceWatch--another CMD website--says the following about the CATO Institute:
Cato's work has a strongly ideological flavor, but the institute has not consistently aligned itself with either major political party. Although the Institute has close ties with elements of the Republican Party, it has often been critical of Republican officeholders—especially President Bush—in recent years. Cato scholars criticized the 2003 decision by U.S. President George W. Bush to go to war with Iraq, prosecution of the war on drugs, giving federal money to faith-based organizations, and the decision of President George H.W. Bush to fight the first Gulf war. The Cato Institute has argued repeatedly against the Republican party on spending issues. Democratic politicians have likewise received criticism from Cato scholars. For example, President Obama's stimulus legislation and his health care law have received strong criticism from Cato scholars. Cato scholars have also criticized President Obama for escalating the war in Afghanistan and for continuing Bush-era civil liberties abuses.
Huh. That doesn't sound so bad. In fact, CATO comes off quite good, given the ideological agenda behind SourceWatch. Still, one could say CATO is just the tip of the iceberg, that other orgs in the above list have a much higher "evilness" quotient. Plus, it's a "growing list" that clearly indicates Google's turn to the Dark Side. But is this accurate in the least? As I noted above, Google is doing what all multinationals tend to do: hedging bets by playing all sides. In a response to the PR Watch article, TechCrunch notes this reality. We can still dig further. The above list comes from Google's Public Policy and Government Affairs Team, which lists all of its activities in this regard. The ten "evil" orgs singled out by PR Watch are just a small portion of the third party orgs Google has funded:
Access Now
American Action Forum
American Antitrust Institute
American Association of People with Disabilities
American Conservative Union
American Constitution Society for Law and Policy
American Council of the Blind
American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
American Foundation for the Blind
American Library Association
Americans for Tax Reform
Asian American Justice Center
Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies
APAICS Leadership Network
Aspen Institute
American University Program on Information Justice and IP
The Brookings Institution
CATO Institute
Center for a New American Security
Center for American Progress Action Fund
Center for Democracy and Technology
Center for the Rule of Law
Center for Strategic and International Studies
Committee to Protect Journalists
Common Sense Media
Competitive Enterprise Institute
Congressional Black Caucus Foundation
Congressional Black Caucus Institute
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute
Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute
Constitution Project
Consumer Action
Consumer Federation of America
Consumer Travel Alliance
Council of Better Business Bureaus Inc.
Creative Commons
Digital 4th
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Engine Advocacy
Enough is Enough
Family Online Safety Institute
Federalist Society
Free State Foundation
Freedom House
Future of Music Coalition
Future of Privacy Forum
George Mason University Law School Law and Economics Center
Global Network Initiative
Global Voices
Heritage Action
Heritage Foundation
Human Rights Campaign
Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
International Center for Law and Economics
Internet Education Foundation
Institute for IP and Social Justice at Howard Law School
Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies
The Latino Coalition
Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
League of United Latin American Citizens
Mercatus Center
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials
National Association of the Deaf
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
National Consumers League
National Congress of American Indians
National Council of La Raza
National Cyber Security Alliance
National Federation of the Blind
National Hispanic Media Coalition
National Network to End Domestic Violence
National Taxpayers Union
National Urban League
New America Foundation
Northwestern University Law School – Searle Center on Law, Regulation, and Economic Growth
People for the American Way
Progressive Policy Institute
Public Knowledge
Reporters Without Borders
Ripon Society
R Street Institute
Technology Policy Institute
Texas Public Policy Foundation
Transparency International
U.S. Black Chamber Inc.
U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
Washington Legal Foundation
Wired Safety
That's ninety-four third party orgs Google has been funding. And of those ninety-four, PR Watch singles out ten as conservative and therefore evil, concluding that Google is violating it's own maxim, is contradicting its supposedly progressive image. As stupid as this analysis is, it's made even moreso by the inclusion of CATO, Mercatus, and George Mason Law School as evil "right-wing" groups.

Such stupidity is--in my opinion--proof positive of the underlying reality here: many liberals and progressives are angry that Google is not "theirs" alone. They don't like the fact that Google has grown as much as it has, that it is as popular as it is now. And somehow, Google is to blame for this, is guilty of "selling out" or the like, just like all those college bands and indie filmmakers from the eighties and nineties who dared to make it big. Funny stuff, if somewhat sad and embarrassing as well.

Cheers, all.

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