By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. GP article archive here. Originally published at DownWithTyranny.
Google says “Don’t be evil.” Look for their name as the third to sign on to NSA spying.
Yes, we’re talking about that Google and that Trump. Just two points first, before we look at Dave Dayen’s report of the news.
The Cult of the High-Tech Billionaire
First, a little context. We on the hipster left, along with many others in the non-political culture, tend to think of the billionaire high-tech founder and CEO as special, as a seer into the future and a builder of the world of the future — the world of driverless cars, the “gig economy” that powers “disrupted” industries, and especially the world of mobile smart devices that give us undreamed-of ways of “connected” interacting (and new ways of getting fabulously rich in an ironically breaking world).
This is perfectly analogous to the early 20th century and post-World War I “cult of the airman,” which lionized such people as Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart as not only possessing special skills and bravery, but a specialist futurist vision as well (emphasis mine throughout):
Modern aviation and abstract art emerged almost simultaneously at the turn of the 20th century, and were self-consciously twinned from the outset. ‘Notre Avenir est dans l’Air (Our Future is in the Air), declared a painted pamphlet on one of Picasso’s Cubist table-tops from 1912 – the original was issued by Michelin to raise funds for France’s aviation programme. Since the Wright brothers debuted their biplane near the French town of Le Mans in 1908, Picasso and Braque had taken to calling themselves ‘Wilbur’ and ‘Orville’, enjoying the metaphor as they cut their art loose from the restraints of linear perspective. Modernists in other countries also made early bids for the skies: Marinetti, in his first Futurist manifesto of 1909, rounded off a long list of praiseworthy inventions with the aeroplane; Malevich, who launched Suprematism in 1915, spoke of ‘an urge to take off from the Earth’.
“An urge to take off from the Earth,” to fly into the future, to rise above the petty and see the whole at once instead of just the parts. And the “airmen” — just pilots, really, but people who did rise above the petty and, looking down, did see the whole from the air — were to lead the way:
This contradiction between the glamour of flight as a feat in itself, and the danger of a world opened up to the aerial gaze, was one of the defining features of aerial art in the interwar years. Public enthusiasm for flight was undiminished, and well provided for, as ex-servicemen opened or joined entrepreneurial new businesses – air transport, air mail, and air shows among them. Flight could make celebrities of its pioneers. In 1932, Walter Sickert painted Miss Earhart’s Arrival from a photograph in the Daily Sketch; shown on her arrival at Hanworth Air Park in Middlesex, the popular aviator is almost lost in the crowd of well-wishers braving the rain to celebrate her solo crossing of the Atlantic.
The cult of the airman placed aviators symbolically – as well as geographically – at a godlike remove from those on the ground:
The cult of the airman developed during the war as an heroic counter to the squalid and anonymous war in the trenches. It contained three features: a belief in the dynamic power of flying, an illusion of the airman as a hero and a militarist recognition of the potentially offensive use of the aeroplane.
That terribly mistaken belief in the “airman as hero” is one of the reasons Charles Lindbergh, a leader of the pre-World War II America First movement, and an avowed racist, had such a following in his post-pilot years (and the reason Philip Roth made Lindbergh the Trump-like president in his alternate history novel, The Plot Against America).
And now we’re at it again, looking to men and women (but mostly men) with special skills to show us the future (and by the way, unlock for us the secret of getting exceptionally rich). In this case, the heroes are men like the farseeing Steve Jobs and and his much worshiped, and imagined, hipster ideas:
Also men like search-engine billionaire Eric Schmidt and his hipster slogan, Don’t Be Evil. Modern heroes.
High-Tech Billionaires Are “Our” Billionaires
The second point before we go to Dayen’s article is this — that high-tech billionaires are “ours,” are somehow the property of the Democratic Party and an offset to “their” billionaires, like Charles and David Koch or Robert Mercer. We on the left naturally assume that the Silicon Valley rich are ours because they are more culturally advanced (less anti-gay, for example), run companies that deploy what appear to be worker-friendly policies, and in general contribute to Democrats more than to Republicans.
“Our” billionaires will therefore stand by us and can be used as leverage against “their” billionaires, as when Silicon Valley companies helped fight off the genuine evils of Internet-neutering bills like SOPA and PIPA.
We generally feel good about “our” billionaires — not only are they Democrats, they’re seers, like Steve Jobs, like ourselves. We were therefore hardly surprised that the Silicon Valley rich, like Eric Schmidt, were generally big Hillary Clinton supporters, even in the primary against Bernie Sanders:
A newly published batch of stolen emails shows a close relationship between Google and members of Hillary Clinton’s campaign staff.
The private emails were apparently stolen from John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, and published by WikiLeaks. They contain several references to Google and its parent company Alphabet’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt.
The emails reveal a relationship with Schmidt dating back to at least 2008 and show that Google loaned its jet to members of Clinton’s campaign staff on several occasions.
According to a February 2015 email to Podesta from Tina Flournoy — who serves as Bill Clinton’s chief of staff — Google planned to lend its company jet for a trip to Africa. Podesta wrote, “FYI. They are donating the Google plane for the Africa trip.”
There was a widely circulated Politico picture of Eric Schmidt wearing a “staff badge” at Clinton’s election night “victory” party. Schmidt must surely be one of the good ones, a Democrat if not a progressive, and one of those who “get it.”
Of course, Hollywood billionaires, like Steven Spielberg, are also big Democratic Party supporters, but they aren’t lionized these days the way the modern far-seeing “airmen of today” — the hyper-successful founders of high-tech start-up companies — are lionized.
To fully appreciate that, look again at the Steve Jobs book cover above, consider the lines outside Apple stores when a new iPhone is released, and look carefully at the cultivated hipster look of the many store agents. I called the hipster look “cultivated” not because the agents aren’t who they appear to be, but because they are hired because that’s exactly who they are — tech-savvy hipsters, just like you, just like Apple, just like its founders.
This combination — the “cult of the futurist high-tech billionaire” coupled with their supposed Democratic leanings — blinds us to what we’re actually looking at, just as the “cult of the airman” blinded many in the 1920s and 1930s to what they were seeing.
There’s an important difference, though, between then and now. In the early part of the 20th century, the airmen (and women) were ordinary people with a skill. In our century, the “futurists” we idolize are also among the most wealthy and powerful men and women on earth — in a very real sense no different at all than Charles and David Koch — with all that that implies. Amelia Earhart didn’t live for wealth and power. High-tech billionaires like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg most certainly do.
We’re not just being fooled by our hero-worship; we’re being had by them as well.
With the two points above as context, let’s now read David Dayen.
Google and Trump, Together At Last
At The Intercept, Dayen writes (my emphasis):
Google Gets a Seat on the Trump Transition Team
Google is among the many major corporations whose surrogates are getting key roles on Donald Trump’s transition team.
Joshua Wright has been put in charge of transition efforts at the influential Federal Trade Commission [FTC] after pulling off the rare revolving-door quadruple-play, moving from Google-supported academic work to government – as an FTC commissioner – back to the Google gravy train and now back to the government.
The Intercept has documented how Wright, as a law professor at George Mason University, received Google funding for at least four academic papers, all of which supported Google’s position that it did not violate antitrust laws when it favored its own sites in search engine requests and restricted advertisers from running ads on competitors. George Mason received $762,000 in funding from Google from 2011 to 2013.
Wright then became an FTC commissioner in January 2013, agreeing to recuse himself from Google cases for two years, because of his Google-funded research. He lasted at the FTC until August 2015, returning to George Mason’s law school (now named after Antonin Scalia). But Wright also became an “of counsel” at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, Google’s main outside law firm. Wilson Sonsini has represented Google before the FTC.
Wright’s leadership position in the Trump FTC transition flips him back into government work….
Why is the FTC so important? The FTC “has responsibilities over consumer protection and policing anti-competitive business practices, like the employing of monopoly power. Outside of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, no government agency is more responsible for competition policy than the FTC.”
Score one for the Google. They appear to have joined forces with Trump to make sure no high-tech billionaire is harmed in the relentless march toward monopolistic capitalism. Are they still “our” billionaires, or just their own?
Don’t Be Evil indeed.
Don’t be (obviously) evil…
LOL and Yes
yes, yes, why i see that our own progressive president obama is thinking about a (lucrative) future in silicon valley, thereby greasing the way for perhaps a new revolving door. what’s the problem? he’s hip, sv is hipster and they’re all tolerant. IT’S 2016 AND THEY’RE ALL TOLERANT DON’T YOU KNOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Maintaing Net Neutrality and reigning in the behemoths who control the “last mile” (AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Charter, etc) are currently interests shared by Google and the rest of us. The search and ad giant would have been used to spy on us either way (they have been and always will be spineless and given to avarice), so our use of technical measures to frustrate surveillance, including foregoing participation in some of the more privacy unfriendly services, was always going to be part of our future. Frankly, I would be much more concerned if Comcast’s chairman is given a seat at the table. Time to make some lemonade.
Agree. Google has frequent bouts of hypocrisy and, well, Evil Behavior, but they are in a completely different league from Comcast.
Gmail – you give Google carte blanche access to read your mail
Chrome and Google Phone – you give Google complete access to you web activity and phone calls
Google Voice – you give Google open season for them to listen to your phone call
Google WiFi hotspots (such as at Starbucks) and Google Maps – so Google can track you and your web activity (don’t log in from any of these insecure hot spots)
Google fiber – so Google can snoop on your web activity, e-mail, phone calls
Google Earth – so Google can see what parts of the globe you’re interested in
Youtube – for Google to spy on you political, musical, movie and other interest
Google Self Driving Cars – so they know who you are and where you go all the time
All the above products are for them to collect info on you and sell it to the NSA and other interested parties. Soon their prying eyes will see through the walls of your home.
Lambert mentioned a few days ago a machine learning simulation program called Ada, which the Clinton campaign used. Used even during the primaries. Perhaps this was a Google product, and Assange suspicions were correct:
My, my. That certainly is interesting.
In the early days of my career I worked for Novell when Eric Schmidt was CEO. He hated Novell’s Provo, UT location so much that he built a new 500000 sq ft San Jose HQ, complete with a corporate jet that flew back and forth between Provo and San Jose twice a day so execs never had to spend the night in Utah.
In 2 years I personally only even physically saw the man one time at a trade show, since he would never be seen mixing with the lowly lab rats such as myself. But stories from people who worked with him personally are legion. The “don’t be evil” motto came from the Google founders, not Schmidt, and it’s probably just as well. Suffice it to say the stories I heard about his time at Novell cured me forever of any tech god hero worship, and my personal experiences suggest that he’s the rule, not the exception. Tech squillionaires, by and large, don’t become that way by being decent human beings.
So we now have the world envisioned and described by the Powell Memo come to fruition and large companies join the mega-banks in dividing all the spoils and riches they accumulate through monopolistic and collusive activities of billionaires and would-be billionaires.
Well, it only took 36 years to achieve this goal and it may last for a very long time indeed. How amazing that an election year brought all the necessary strands together: billionaire president, wealth inequality, hawkish views and monopoly business. What a future to look forward to!
> Well, it only took 36 years to achieve this goal and it may last for a very long time indeed.
After hubris, nemesis. Shelley:
alternative to what? Certainly not to Google as whole. Google now partially owns health insurance companies (such as Oscar) etc..
“We” on the left? Speak for yourself. Actual leftists do not regard tech monopolists as seers, prophets or worth listening to for any reason except to learn which products to avoid. Maybe liberals view billionaires this way. Leftists certainly do not.
I just don’t think they are uniquely evil as opposed to say Hollywood tycoon billionaires, or just non-tech CEOs, as many seem to.
Ugh, so many unexamined assumptions:
You mean like Peter Thiel, the gay libertarian Trump supporter? A lot of gays particularly gay men are libertarian and have very high incomes.
You mean like Google, who uses an army of lowly contractors to do the tedious and difficult work of digitizing books and road maps? Workers with minimal pay and benefits, zero job protections and frequently people of color, who are kept very much separate from the elite caste of actual Google employees, who are almost all white and male or H1-B.
Or do you mean worker friendly like Uber who relies on zero hours “contractors” to make money while it tries to establish its monopoly, and pays so little it hardly compensates drivers for vehicle depreciation?
Or did you mean worker friendly like the Silicon Valley behemoths who were caught red-handed engaging in collusion to fix wages for their elite workers, the engineers who actually build, design and create the products they sell?
Contributing to Democrats is a signifier of not being on the left, IMO.
Yes, we were hardly surprised because we on the left supported Bernie Sanders and we expected that the tech giants would line up behind Republican-lite “centrist but to the right of Nixon” Hillary Clinton. Which is indeed what happened.
Lest NC readers forget…
A “must read” link on 10/25: How Democrats Killed Their Populist Soul Matt Stoller, Atlantic. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/10/how-democrats-killed-their-populist-soul/504710/
From telecommunications to media to oil to banking to trade, Clinton administration officials—believing that technology and market forces alone would disrupt monopolies—ended up massively concentrating power in the corporate sector. They did this through active policy, repealing Glass-Steagall, expanding trade through NAFTA, and welcoming China’s entrance into the global-trading order via the World Trade Organization. But corporate concentration also occurred in less-examined ways, like through the Supreme Court and defense procurement. Clinton Library papers, for example, reveal that the lone Senate objection to the Supreme Court nominations of both Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg was from a lurking populist Ohio Democrat, Howard Metzenbaum, who opposed the future justices’ general agreement with Bork on competition policy. And in response to the end of the Cold War, the administration restructured the defense industry, shrinking the number of prime defense contractors from 107 to five. The new defense-industrial base, now concentrated in the hands of a few executives, stopped subsidizing key industries. The electronics industry was soon offshored.
But who could argue? The concentration of media and telecommunications companies happened concurrent with an investment boom into the newest beacon of progress: the internet. The futurism, the political coalition of the multiethnic cosmopolitans, the social justice of the private centrally planned corporation—it worked. Clinton’s “Third Way” went global, as political leaders abroad copied the Clinton model of success. A West Wing generation learned only Watergate Baby politics, never realizing an earlier progressive economic tradition had even existed.
Follow the Money. It’s always the same thing regardless of who we are following. Bush Sr voted for Hillary and Bush Jr didn’t vote for POTUS. Romney is currently groveling or, as Omarosa ordered: bowing before Trump.
Yes there are misogynists, racists, xenophobes but they share greed, love of money and the power and security it brings above all else….except when they hate women.
Love of money. Hatred of women.
It’s positively primal in all the worst ways.