History of the alt-right

The movement isn’t just Breitbart and white nationalists — it’s worse

The alt-right is likely to grow, gaining a firmer foothold in American politics

History of the alt-right: The movement isn't just Breitbart and white nationalists — it's worse

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

In recent months, far-right activists — which some have labeled the “alt-right” — have gone from being an obscure, largely online subculture to a player at the very center of American politics.

Long relegated to the cultural and political fringe, alt-right activists were among the most enthusiastic supporters of Donald Trump. Earlier this year, Breitbart executive Steve Bannon declared the website “the platform for the alt-right.” By August, Bannon was appointed the CEO of the Trump campaign. In the wake of Trump’s victory, he’ll be joining Trump in the White House as a senior advisor.

I’ve spent years extensively researching the American far right, and the movement seems more energized than ever. To its critics, the alt-right is just a code term for white nationalism, a much-maligned ideology associated with neo-Nazis and Klansmen. The movement, however, is more nuanced, encompassing a much broader spectrum of right-wing activists and intellectuals.

How did the movement gain traction in recent years? And now that Trump has won, could the alt-right change the American political landscape?

Mainstreaming a movement

The alt-right includes white nationalists, but it also includes those who believe in libertarianism, men’s rights, cultural conservatism and populism.

Nonetheless, its origins can be traced to various American white nationalist movements that have endured for decades. These groups have historically been highly marginalized, with virtually no influence on the mainstream culture and certainly not over public policy. Some of the most radical elements have long advocated a revolutionary program.

Groups such as the Aryan Nations, White Aryan Resistance, the National Alliance and the World Church of the Creator have preached racial revolution against ZOG, or the “Zionist Occupation Government.” Many were inspired by the late William L. Pierce’s “Turner Diaries,” a novel about a race war that consumes America. (Timothy McVeigh, who carried out the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, had pages from the book in his possession when he was captured.)

But these exhortations didn’t resonate with most people. What’s more, after 9/11, many of the revolutionary right’s leading representatives were prosecuted under new anti-terrorism statutes and sent to prison. By the mid-2000s, the far right appeared to have reached its nadir.

Into this void stepped Richard Spencer and a new group of far-right intellectuals.

In 2008, conservative political philosopher Paul Gottfried was the first to use the term “alternative right,” describing it as a dissident far-right ideology that rejected mainstream conservatism. (Gottfried had previously coined the term “paleoconservative” in an effort to distance himself and like-minded intellectuals from neoconservatives, who had become the dominant force in the Republican Party.)

William Regnery II, a wealthy and reclusive, founded the National Policy Institute as a white nationalist think tank. A young and rising star of the far right, Spencer assumed leadership in 2011. A year earlier, he launched the website “Alternative Right” and became recognized as one of the most important, expressive leaders of the alt-right movement.

Around this time, Spencer popularized the term “cuckservative,” which has gained currency in the alt-right vernacular. In essence, a cuckservative is a conservative sellout who is first and foremost concerned about abstract principles such as the U.S. Constitution, free market economics and individual liberty.

The alt-right, on the other hand, is more concerned about concepts such as nation, race, civilization and culture. Spencer has worked hard to rebrand white nationalism as a legitimate political movement. Explicitly rejecting the notion of racial supremacy, Spencer calls for the creation of separate, racially exclusive homelands for white people.

Different factions

The primary issue for American white nationalists is immigration. They claim that high fertility rates for third-world immigrants and low fertility rates for white women will — if left unchecked — threaten the very existence of whites as a distinct race.

But even on the issue of demographic displacement, there’s disagreement in the white nationalist movement. The more genteel representatives of the white nationalism argue that these trends developed over time because whites have lost the temerity necessary to defend their racial group interests.

By contrast, the more conspiratorial segment of the movement implicates a deliberate Jewish-led plot to reduce whites to minority status. By doing so, Jews would render their historically most formidable “enemy” weak and minuscule — just another minority among many.

Emblematic of the latter view is Kevin MacDonald, a former psychology professor at the California State University at Long Beach. In a trilogy of books released in the mid- to late 1990s, he advanced an evolutionary theory to explain both Jewish and antisemitic collective behavior.

According to MacDonald, anti-Semitism emerged not so much out of perceived fantasies of Jewish malfeasance but because of genuine conflicts of interests between Jews and Gentiles. He’s argued that Jewish intellectuals, activists and leaders have sought to fragment Gentile societies along the lines of race, ethnicity and gender. Over the past decade and a half, his research has been circulated and celebrated in white nationalist online forums.

A growing media and internet presence

Cyberspace became one area where white nationalists could exercise some limited influence on the broader culture. The subversive, underground edges of the internet — which include forums like 4chan and 8chan — have allowed young white nationalists to anonymously share and post comments and images. Even on mainstream news sites such as USA Today, The Washington Post and The New York Times, white nationalists can troll the comments sections.

More important, new media outlets emerged online that began to challenge their mainstream competitors: Drudge Report, Infowars and, most notably, Breitbart News.

Founded by Andrew Breitbart in 2007, Breitbart News has sought to be a conservative outlet that influences both politics and culture. For Breitbart, conservatives didn’t adequately prioritize winning the culture wars — conceding on issues like immigration, multiculturalism and political correctness — which ultimately enabled the political left to dominate the public discourse on these topics.

As he noted in 2011, “politics really is downstream from culture.”

The candidacy of Donald Trump enabled a disparate collection of groups — which included white nationalists — to coalesce around one candidate. But given the movement’s ideological diversity, it would be a serious mischaracterization to label the alt-right as exclusively white nationalist.

Yes, Breitbart News has become popular with white nationalists. But the site has also unapologetically backed Israel. Since its inception, Jews — including Andrew Breitbart, Larry Solov, Alexander Marlow, Joel Pollak, Ben Shapiro and Milo Yiannopoulos — have held leading positions in the organization. In fact, in recent months, Yiannopoulos, a self-described “half Jew” and practicing Catholic — who’s also a flamboyant homosexual with a penchant for black boyfriends — has emerged as the movement’s leading spokesman on college campuses (though he denies the alt-right characterization).

Furthermore, the issues that animate the movement — consternation over immigration, national economic decline and political correctness — existed long before Trump announced his candidacy. As political scientist Francis Fukuyama opined, the real question is not why this brand of populism emerged in 2016, but why it took so long to manifest.

Mobilized for the future?

The success of the Trump campaign demonstrated the potential influence of the alt-right in the coming years. At first blush, Trump’s victory in the Electoral College seems substantial. But his margin of victory in several key states was quite slim. For that reason, support from every quarter he received — including the alt-right — was vitally important.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that they were among his most avid foot soldiers in getting out the vote in both the primaries and general election. Moreover, the Trump campaign provided the opportunity for members of this movement to meet face to face.

Shortly after the election, Richard Spencer said that Trump’s victory was “the first step, the first stage towards identity politics for white people.” To some observers, Bannon’s appointment as Trump’s chief strategist confirms fears that the far-right fringe has penetrated the White House.

But if Trump fails to deliver on his most emphatic campaign promises — such as building the wall — the alt-right might become disillusioned with him, just like the progressives who chastised Barack Obama for continuing to prosecute wars in the Middle East.

Unlike old-school white nationalist movements, the alt-right has endeavored to create a self-sustaining counterculture, which includes a distinct vernacular, memes, symbols and a number of blogs and alternative media outlets.

Now that it has been mobilized and demonstrated its relevance (just look at the number of articles written about the movement, which further publicizes it), the alt-right is likely to grow, gaining a firmer foothold in American politics.

The Conversation

George Michael is a professor of criminal justice at Westfield State University.

http://www.salon.com/2016/11/24/history-of-the-alt-right-the-movement-is-not-just-breitbart-and-white-nationalists-it-is-worse_partner/?source=newsletter

Quit Social Media. Your Career May Depend on It.

Preoccupations
By CAL NEWPORT

I’m a millennial computer scientist who also writes books and runs a blog. Demographically speaking I should be a heavy social media user, but that is not the case. I’ve never had a social media account.

At the moment, this makes me an outlier, but I think many more people should follow my lead and quit these services. There are many issues with social media, from its corrosion of civic life to its cultural shallowness, but the argument I want to make here is more pragmatic: You should quit social media because it can hurt your career.

This claim, of course, runs counter to our current understanding of social media’s role in the professional sphere. We’ve been told that it’s important to tend to your so-called social media brand, as this provides you access to opportunities you might otherwise miss and supports the diverse contact network you need to get ahead. Many people in my generation fear that without a social media presence, they would be invisible to the job market.

In a recent New York magazine essay, Andrew Sullivan recalled when he started to feel obligated to update his blog every half-hour or so. It seemed as if everyone with a Facebook account and a smartphone now felt pressured to run their own high-stress, one-person media operation, and “the once-unimaginable pace of the professional blogger was now the default for everyone,” he wrote.

I think this behavior is misguided. In a capitalist economy, the market rewards things that are rare and valuable. Social media use is decidedly not rare or valuable. Any 16-year-old with a smartphone can invent a hashtag or repost a viral article. The idea that if you engage in enough of this low-value activity, it will somehow add up to something of high value in your career is the same dubious alchemy that forms the core of most snake oil and flimflam in business.

Professional success is hard, but it’s not complicated. The foundation to achievement and fulfillment, almost without exception, requires that you hone a useful craft and then apply it to things that people care about. This is a philosophy perhaps best summarized by the advice Steve Martin used to give aspiring entertainers: “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” If you do that, the rest will work itself out, regardless of the size of your Instagram following.

A common response to my social media skepticism is the idea that using these services “can’t hurt.” In addition to honing skills and producing things that are valuable, my critics note, why not also expose yourself to the opportunities and connections that social media can generate? I have two objections to this line of thinking.

First, interesting opportunities and useful connections are not as scarce as social media proponents claim. In my own professional life, for example, as I improved my standing as an academic and a writer, I began receiving more interesting opportunities than I could handle. I currently have filters on my website aimed at reducing, not increasing, the number of offers and introductions I receive.

My research on successful professionals underscores that this experience is common: As you become more valuable to the marketplace, good things will find you. To be clear, I’m not arguing that new opportunities and connections are unimportant. I’m instead arguing that you don’t need social media’s help to attract them.

My second objection concerns the idea that social media is harmless. Consider that the ability to concentrate without distraction on hard tasks is becoming increasingly valuable in an increasingly complicated economy. Social media weakens this skill because it’s engineered to be addictive. The more you use social media in the way it’s designed to be used — persistently throughout your waking hours — the more your brain learns to crave a quick hit of stimulus at the slightest hint of boredom.

Once this Pavlovian connection is solidified, it becomes hard to give difficult tasks the unbroken concentration they require, and your brain simply won’t tolerate such a long period without a fix. Indeed, part of my own rejection of social media comes from this fear that these services will diminish my ability to concentrate — the skill on which I make my living.

The idea of purposefully introducing into my life a service designed to fragment my attention is as scary to me as the idea of smoking would be to an endurance athlete, and it should be to you if you’re serious about creating things that matter.

Perhaps more important, however, than my specific objections to the idea that social media is a harmless lift to your career, is my general unease with the mind-set this belief fosters. A dedication to cultivating your social media brand is a fundamentally passive approach to professional advancement. It diverts your time and attention away from producing work that matters and toward convincing the world that you matter. The latter activity is seductive, especially for many members of my generation who were raised on this message, but it can be disastrously counterproductive.

Most social media is best described as a collection of somewhat trivial entertainment services that are currently having a good run. These networks are fun, but you’re deluding yourself if you think that Twitter messages, posts and likes are a productive use of your time.

If you’re serious about making an impact in the world, power down your smartphone, close your browser tabs, roll up your sleeves and get to work.

How the Internet Is Loosening Our Grip on the Truth

Next week, if all goes well, someone will win the presidency. What happens after that is anyone’s guess. Will the losing side believe the results? Will the bulk of Americans recognize the legitimacy of the new president? And will we all be able to clean up the piles of lies, hoaxes and other dung that have been hurled so freely in this hyper-charged, fact-free election?

Much of that remains unclear, because the internet is distorting our collective grasp on the truth. Polls show that many of us have burrowed into our own echo chambers of information. In a recent Pew Research Center survey, 81 percent of respondents said that partisans not only differed about policies, but also about “basic facts.”

For years, technologists and other utopians have argued that online news would be a boon to democracy. That has not been the case.

More than a decade ago, as a young reporter covering the intersection of technology and politics, I noticed the opposite. The internet was filled with 9/11 truthers, and partisans who believed against all evidence that George W. Bush stole the 2004 election from John Kerry, or that Barack Obama was a foreign-born Muslim. (He was born in Hawaii and is a practicing Christian.

Of course, America has long been entranced by conspiracy theories. But the online hoaxes and fringe theories appeared more virulent than their offline predecessors. They were also more numerous and more persistent. During Mr. Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, every attempt to debunk the birther rumor seemed to raise its prevalence online.

In a 2008 book, I argued that the internet would usher in a “post-fact” age. Eight years later, in the death throes of an election that features a candidate who once led the campaign to lie about President Obama’s birth, there is more reason to despair about truth in the online age.

Why? Because if you study the dynamics of how information moves online today, pretty much everything conspires against truth.

You’re Not Rational

The root of the problem with online news is something that initially sounds great: We have a lot more media to choose from.

In the last 20 years, the internet has overrun your morning paper and evening newscast with a smorgasbord of information sources, from well-funded online magazines to muckraking fact-checkers to the three guys in your country club whose Facebook group claims proof that Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump are really the same person.

A wider variety of news sources was supposed to be the bulwark of a rational age — “the marketplace of ideas,” the boosters called it.

But that’s not how any of this works. Psychologists and other social scientists have repeatedly shown that when confronted with diverse information choices, people rarely act like rational, civic-minded automatons. Instead, we are roiled by preconceptions and biases, and we usually do what feels easiest — we gorge on information that confirms our ideas, and we shun what does not.

This dynamic becomes especially problematic in a news landscape of near-infinite choice. Whether navigating Facebook, Google or The New York Times’s smartphone app, you are given ultimate control — if you see something you don’t like, you can easily tap away to something more pleasing. Then we all share what we found with our like-minded social networks, creating closed-off, shoulder-patting circles online.

That’s the theory, at least. The empirical research on so-called echo chambers is mixed. Facebook’s data scientists have run large studies on the idea and found it wanting. The social networking company says that by exposing you to more people, Facebook adds diversity to your news diet.

Others disagree. A study published last year by researchers at the IMT School for Advanced Studies Lucca, in Italy, found that homogeneous online networks help conspiracy theories persist and grow online.

“This creates an ecosystem in which the truth value of the information doesn’t matter,” said Walter Quattrociocchi, one of the study’s authors. “All that matters is whether the information fits in your narrative.”

No Power in Proof

Digital technology has blessed us with better ways to capture and disseminate news. There are cameras and audio recorders everywhere, and as soon as something happens, you can find primary proof of it online.

You would think that greater primary documentation would lead to a better cultural agreement about the “truth.” In fact, the opposite has happened.

Consider the difference in the examples of the John F. Kennedy assassination and 9/11. While you’ve probably seen only a single film clip of the scene from Dealey Plaza in 1963 when President Kennedy was shot, hundreds of television and amateur cameras were pointed at the scene on 9/11. Yet neither issue is settled for Americans; in one recent survey, about as many people said the government was concealing the truth about 9/11 as those who said the same about the Kennedy assassination.

Documentary proof seems to have lost its power. If the Kennedy conspiracies were rooted in an absence of documentary evidence, the 9/11 theories benefited from a surfeit of it. So many pictures from 9/11 flooded the internet, often without much context about what was being shown, that conspiracy theorists could pick and choose among them to show off exactly the narrative they preferred. There is also the looming specter of Photoshop: Now, because any digital image can be doctored, people can freely dismiss any bit of inconvenient documentary evidence as having been somehow altered.

This gets to the deeper problem: We all tend to filter documentary evidence through our own biases. Researchers have shown that two people with differing points of view can look at the same picture, video or document and come away with strikingly different ideas about what it shows.

That dynamic has played out repeatedly this year. Some people look at the WikiLeaks revelations about Mrs. Clinton’s campaign and see a smoking gun, while others say it’s no big deal, and that besides, it’s been doctored or stolen or taken out of context. Surveys show that people who liked Mr. Trump saw the Access Hollywood tape where he casually referenced groping women as mere “locker room talk”; those who didn’t like him considered it the worst thing in the world.

Lies as an Institution

One of the apparent advantages of online news is persistent fact-checking. Now when someone says something false, journalists can show they’re lying. And if the fact-checking sites do their jobs well, they’re likely to show up in online searches and social networks, providing a ready reference for people who want to correct the record.

But that hasn’t quite happened. Today dozens of news outlets routinely fact-check the candidates and much else online, but the endeavor has proved largely ineffective against a tide of fakery.

That’s because the lies have also become institutionalized. There are now entire sites whose only mission is to publish outrageous, completely fake news online (like real news, fake news has become a business). Partisan Facebook pages have gotten into the act; a recent BuzzFeed analysis of top political pages on Facebook showed that right-wing sites published false or misleading information 38 percent of the time, and lefty sites did so 20 percent of the time.

“Where hoaxes before were shared by your great-aunt who didn’t understand the internet, the misinformation that circulates online is now being reinforced by political campaigns, by political candidates or by amorphous groups of tweeters working around the campaigns,” said Caitlin Dewey, a reporter at The Washington Post who once wrote a column called “What Was Fake on the Internet This Week.”

Ms. Dewey’s column began in 2014, but by the end of last year, she decided to hang up her fact-checking hat because she had doubts that she was convincing anyone.

“In many ways the debunking just reinforced the sense of alienation or outrage that people feel about the topic, and ultimately you’ve done more harm than good,” she said.

Other fact-checkers are more sanguine, recognizing the limits of exposing online hoaxes, but also standing by the utility of the effort.

“There’s always more work to be done,” said Brooke Binkowski, the managing editor of Snopes.com, one of the internet’s oldest rumor-checking sites. “There’s always more. It’s Sisyphean — we’re all pushing that boulder up the hill, only to see it roll back down.”

Yeah. Though soon, I suspect, that boulder is going to squash us all.

Clinton: The Silicon Valley Candidate

By refusing to release the transcripts of her paid speeches to Wall Street bankers, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton cast doubt on her independence from the crooks who run the financial system.  By contrast, Clinton’s program for “technology and innovation policy” has been an open book since June 2016.  What she publicized is as revealing – and as disturbing – as what she tried to keep secret.

Clinton paints her tech agenda in appealing terms.  She says it’s about reducing social and economic inequality, creating good jobs, and bridging the digital divide. The real goals – and beneficiaries – are different.  The document is described as “a love letter to Silicon Valley” by a journalist,[1] and as a “Silicon Valley wish list” by theWashington Post.[2]

On the domestic side, Clinton promises to invest in STEM education and immigration reform to expand the STEM workforce by allowing green cards for foreign workers who’ve earned STEM degrees in the US. The internet industry has been lobbying Congress for years to reform US immigration policy to gain flexibility in hiring, to ease access to a global pool of skilled labor, and to weaken employees’ bargaining power.[3]

Clinton’s blanket endorsement of online education opens new room for an odious private industry.  With buzzwords like “entrepreneurship,” “competitive,” and “bootstrap,” Clinton wants to “leverage technology”: by “delivering high-speed broadband to all Americans” she declares it will be feasible to provide “wrap-around learning for our students in the home and in our schools.”[4] Absent an overt commitment to public education, this is an encouragement to online vendors to renew their attack on the U.S. education system – despite a track record of failure and flagrant corruption. Still more deceitful is Hillary’s lack of acknowledgment of a personal conflict of interest.  According to a Financial Times analysis, after stepping down as Secretary of State in 2013, Hillary accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars for speeches to private education providers; her husband Bill has “earned” something like $21 million from for-profit education companies since 2010.[5]

Clinton’s proposal for access to high-speed Internet for all by 2020 would further relax regulation to help the Internet industry to build new networks, tap into existing public infrastructure, and encourage “public and private” partnerships. These are euphemisms for corporate welfare, after the fashion of the Google fiber project – which is substantially subsidized by taxpayers, as cities lease land to the giant company for its broadband project at far below market value and offer city services for free or below cost.[6] Clinton’s policy program also backs the 5G wireless network initiative and the release of unlicensed spectrum to fuel the “Internet of Thing.” (IoT). 5G wireless and IoT are a solution in search of a problem – unless you are a corporate supplier or a business user of networks.  This is an unacknowledged program to accelerate and expand digital commodification.

Clinton’s international plans are equally manipulative. She will press for “an open Internet abroad,” that is, for “internet freedom” and “free flow of information across borders.” Despite the powerful appeal of this rhetoric, which she exploited systematically when she was Secretary of State, Clinton actually is pushing to bulwark U.S. big capital in general, and U.S. internet and media industries, in particular.  Secretary Clinton’s major speech on Internet freedom[7]in 2010 came mere days after Google’s exit from China, supposedly on grounds of principle, making it plain that the two interventions – one private, one public – were coordinated elements of a single campaign.  Outside the United States, especially since the disclosures by Edward Snowden in 2013, it is increasingly well-understood that the rhetoric of human rights is a smokescreen for furthering U.S. business interests.[8] Reviving this approach is cynical electioneering rather than an endeavor to advance human rights or, indeed, more just international relations.

This in turn provides the context in which to understand Clinton’s vow to support the “multi-stakeholder” approach to Internet governance.  “Multi-stakeholderism” endows private corporations with public responsibilities, while it downgrades the ability of governments to influence Internet policy – as they have tried to do, notably, in the United Nations.  By shifting the domain in this way, the multi-stakeholder model actually reduces the institutional room available to challenge U.S. power over the global Internet.  It was for this very reason that the Obama Administration recently elevated multi-stakeholderism into the reigning principle for global Internet governance:  On 1 October, the U.S. Commerce Department preempted (other) governments from exercising a formal role.

This is, once again, the preferred agenda of Silicon Valley.[9] Aaron Cooper, vice president of strategic initiatives for the Software Alliance, a Washington trade group representing software developers, crowed in a Washington Post interview, “A lot of the proposals that are in the Clinton initiative are consistent with the broad themes that [we] and other tech associations have been talking about, so we’re very pleased.”[10]

To build up her policy platform in this vital field, Clinton has assembled a network of more than 100 tech and telecom advisors.[11] The members of this shadowy group have not been named, but they are said to include former advisors and officials, affiliates of think-tanks and trade groups, and executives at media corporations.  Apparently, just as with respect to Wall Street, the public has no right to know who is shaping Clinton’s program for technology.  Equally clearly, however, it is meant to resonate with Apple’s Tim Cook, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz – all of whom have publicly rallied to her campaign.[12]

Some might choose to emphasize that the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, has not even bothered to hint to voters about his tech and information policy. Fair enough. Clinton’s program, though, is both surreptitious and plutocratic. It’s not that she’s not good enough – it’s that she’s in the wrong camp.  England’s Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s “Digital Democracy” program offers a better entry point for thinking about democratic information policy, as it includes publicly financed universal internet access, fair wages for cultural workers, release to open source of publicly funded software and hardware, cooperative ownership of digital platforms and more.  That would be a start.

Notes.

[1] Noah Kulwin, “Hillary Clinton’s tech policy proposal sounds like a love letter to Silicon Valley,” recode, June 28, 2016.

[2] Brian Fung, “Hillary Clinton’s tech agenda is really a huge economic plan in disguise,Washington Post, June 28, 2016.

[3] Schiller, D. & Yeo. S. (Forthcoming, Fall 2016) Science and Engineering Into Digital Capitalism, in Tyfield, D., Lave, R., Randalls, S., and Thorpe, C. (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of the Political Economy of Science.

[4] “Hillary Clinton’s Initiative on Technology and Innovation,” The Briefing, June 27, 2016.

[5] Gary Silverman, “Hillary and Bill Clinton: The For-Profit Partnership,” Financial Times, July 21, 2016.

[6] Kenric Ward, “Taxpayers subsidize Google Fiber in this city with bargain land leases,” Watchdog.org, August 16, 2016; Timothy B. Lee,”How Kansas City taxpayers support Google Fiber,” arstechnica, September 7, 2012.

[7] Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of State, “Remarks on Internet Freedom,” January 21, 2010, The Newseum, Washington, DC.

[8] Dan Schiller, Digital Depression.  Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2014: 161-69.

[9] Heather Greenfield, “CCIA Applauds Hillary Clinton’s Tech Agenda,” Computer & Communications Industry Association, June 28, 2016.

[10] Brian Fung, “Hillary Clinton’s tech agenda is really a huge economic plan in disguise,” Washington Post, June 28, 2016.

[11] Margaret Harding McGill & Nancy Scola, “Clinton quietly amasses tech policy corps,” Politico, August 24, 2016; Steven Levy, “How Hillary Clinton Adopted the Wonkiest Tech Policy Ever,” Backchannel, August 29, 2016 ; Tony Romm, “Inside Clinton’s tech policy circle,”Politico, June 7, 2016.

[12]Sen. Hilary Clinton, OpenSecrets.org; Levy Sumagaysay, “Facebook co-founder pledges $20 million to help Hillary Clinton defeat Donald Trump,” The Mercury News, September 9, 2016;  Russell Brandom, “Tim Cook is hosting a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton,Verge, July 29, 2016.

This article originally appeared on Information Observatory.

Dan Schiller is a historian of information and communications at the University of Illinois. His most recent book is Digital Depression: Information Technology and Economic Crisis Shinjoung Yeo is an assistant prof at Loughborough University in London.

The Silicon Valley Candidate

Standing Up to Apple

Posted on Sep 4, 2016

By Robert Reich / RobertReich.org

For years, Washington lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have attacked big corporations for avoiding taxes by parking their profits overseas. Last week the European Union did something about it.

The European Union’s executive commission ordered Ireland to collect $14.5 billion in back taxes from Apple.

But rather than congratulate Europe for standing up to Apple, official Washington is outraged.

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan calls it an “awful” decision. Democratic Senator Charles Schumer, who’s likely to become Senate Majority Leader next year, says it’s  “a cheap money grab by the European Commission.” Republican Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, accuses Europe of “targeting” American businesses. Democratic Senator Ron Wyden says it “undermines our tax treaties and paints a target on American firms in the eyes of foreign governments.”

P-l-e-a-s-e.

These are taxes America should have required Apple to pay to the U.S. Treasury. But we didn’t – because of Ryan, Schumer, Hatch, Wyden, and other inhabitants of Capitol Hill haven’t been able to agree on how to close the loophole that has allowed Apple, and many other global American corporations, to avoid paying the corporate income taxes they owe.

Let’s be clear. The products Apple sells abroad are designed and developed in the United States. So the foreign royalties Apple collects on them logically should be treated as corporate income to Apple here in America.

But Apple and other Big Tech corporations like Google and Amazon – along with much of Big Pharma, and even Starbucks – have avoided paying hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes on their worldwide earnings because they don’t really sell things like cars or refrigerators or television sets that they make here and ship abroad.

Their major assets are designs, software, and patented ideas.

Although most of this intellectual capital originates here, it can be transferred instantly around the world – finding its way into a vast array of products and services abroad.

Intellectual capital is hard to see, measure, value, and track. So it’s a perfect vehicle for tax avoidance.

Apple transfers its intellectual capital to an Apple subsidiary in Ireland, which then “sells” Apple products all over Europe. And it keeps most of the money there. Ireland has been more than happy to oblige by imposing on Apple a tax rate that’s laughably low – 0.005 percent in 2014, for example.

Apple is America’s most profitable high-tech company and also one of America’s biggest tax cheats. It maintains a worldwide network of tax havens to park its global profits, some of which don’t even have any employees.

Sitting atop this network is “Apple Operations International,” incorporated in Ireland. Never mind that Apple Operations International keeps its bank accounts and records in the United States and holds board meetings in California. It’s still considered Irish. And its main job is allocating Apple’s earnings among its international subsidiaries in order to keep taxes as low as possible.

As a result, over last decade alone Apple has amassed a stunning $231.5 billion cash pile abroad, subjected to little or no taxes.

This hasn’t stopped Apple from richly rewarding its American shareholders with fat dividends and stock buybacks that raise share prices. But rather than use its overseas cash to fund these, Apple has taken on billions of dollars of additional debt.

It’s a scam, at the expense of American taxpayers.

Add in the worldwide sales of America’s Big Tech, Big Pharma, and Big Franchise operations, and the scam is sizeable. Over 2 trillion dollars of U.S. corporate profits are now parked abroad – all of it escaping the U.S. corporate income tax.

To make up the difference, you and I and millions of other Americans have to pay more in income taxes and payroll taxes to finance the U.S. government.

Why can’t this loophole be closed? In fact, what’s stopping the Internal Revenue Service from doing what the European Commission just did – telling Apple it owes tens of billions of dollars, but to America rather than to Ireland?

The dirty little secret is the loophole could be closed, and the IRS could probably do what Europe just did even under existing law. But neither will happen because Big Tech, Big Pharma, and Big Franchise have enough political clout to stop them from happening.

Ironically, the European Commission’s ruling is having the opposite effect in the United States. It’s adding fuel to the demand Apple and other giant U.S. global corporations have been making, that the United States slash taxes on corporations that move their overseas earnings back to the United States.

In other words, they want another tax amnesty.

Congress’s last tax amnesty occurred in 2004, when global U.S. corporations brought back about $300 billion from overseas, and paid just a tax rate of 5.25 percent rather than the regular 35 percent U.S. corporate rate.

Corporate executives argued then – as they argue now – that the amnesty would allow them to reinvest those earnings in America.

The argument was baloney then and it’s baloney now. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that 92 percent of the repatriated cash was used to pay for dividends, share buybacks or executive bonuses.

“Repatriations did not lead to an increase in domestic investment, employment or R.&D., even for the firms that lobbied for the tax holiday stating these intentions,” the studyconcluded.

The political establishment in Washington is preparing for another tax amnesty nonetheless. In a white paper published last week, the Treasury Department warned that an American corporation like Apple, ordered by the European Commission to make tax repayments, might eventually use such payments to offset its U.S. tax bill “when its offshore earnings are repatriated or treated as repatriated as part of possible U.S. tax reform.”

Rather than another tax amnesty, we need a crackdown on corporate tax avoidance.

Instead of criticizing the European Commission for forcing Apple to pay up, American politicians ought to be thanking Europe for standing up to Apple.

At least someone has.

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/standing_up_to_apple_20160904

The DNC Is One Big Corporate Bribe

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Drink up—it’s on us! Then go protest the TPP to your heart’s content.

To get to the Democratic National Convention, you take the subway to the AT&T Station and walk to the Wells Fargo Center. Along the way, you’ll stroll by the Comcast Xfinity Live complex, where delegates and honored guests can booze it up. You’ll also see the “Cars Move America” exhibit, an actual showroom sponsored by Ford, GM, Toyota, and others. Finally, you’ll reach your seat and watch Democrats explain why we have to reduce the power of big corporations in America.

Party conventions have always been collection points for big money. But many major corporations sat out last week’s Republican gathering for fear of Trump contamination. There’s no such reticence here in Philadelphia; in fact, it feels like they’re making up for that lack of investment.

It’s hard to ferret out all the special interests at the DNC, because there’s no full public schedule. Invitations are doled out individually, and people whisper about this or that event. But enter any official hotel where a delegation is staying, or any Philadelphia landmark, and you’re likely to have a complimentary drink thrust into your hand.

As Politico’s Ben White reported on Monday, private equity firm Blackstone has a meet-and-greet on Thursday. Independence Blue Cross, the southeastern Pennsylvania arm of the large insurer, held a host-committee reception Tuesday; their chief executive is the finance chair of that host committee. The same day, Le Meridien hotel had a private event for Bloomberg LP, and the Logan Hotel hosted “Inspiring Women, a Luncheon Discussion.” The sponsors included Johnson & Johnson, Walgreens, AFLAC, the Financial Services Roundtable (the industry trade lobby), and New York Life. (How many people were they serving, given the number of corporations involved?)

Facebook commandeered a bar inside the Wells Fargo Center for delegates and guests. Twitter rented out an entire restaurant, bestowing attendees with free breakfast, lunch and an open bar. (Full disclosure: I had a slider and some salad. The way I see it, I’ve boosted their market value through the free labor of tweeting and deserve something back.) And when the speeches end, convention-goers fan out to a sea of mostly industry-sponsored parties. A particular favorite of convention delegates is the Distilled Spirits Council kickoff, which in Philadelphia featured music from Jason Isbell and former Eagle Joe Walsh.

Those are just the liquor and cocktail-weenie bribes. An entire other category of corporate cash goes toward “policy discussions,” must-see educational roundtables with a host of luminaries. On Tuesday, Obama campaign guru David Plouffe (now with Uber) and Gore consultant Chris Lehane (now with Airbnb) unveiled new polling data on the sharing economy; a second Airbnb event celebrated the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Party, featuring actor Bryan Cranston. On Wednesday, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation convenes its own technology conference, featuring four members of Congress, a Federal Trade Commission member, the president of the biotech lobby, representatives from Microsoft and Facebook, and former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, now at Amazon.

A softer version—in perfect concert with the “Hillary works for families and children” theme of the week—is the corporate PR booth, highlighting charitable work, usually with children. JPMorgan Chase has its summer youth employment program. Johnson & Johnson (they get around) has the Save the Children Action Network, committed to eradicating rural poverty. I saw House Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn holding court at their booth when I passed by yesterday.

None of this is considered money toward the convention, which is being entirely privately funded for the first time. The donors who are actually paying for the festivitities in Philly are anonymous. So God (and Debbie Wasserman Shultz) only knows where it all comes from. And clearly the DNC wants to keep it that way.

The DNC’s host committee refuses to disclose the names despite a court order, allowing corporate benefactors to hide behind anonymity. The 2014 “CRomnibus” budget law massively increased contribution limits for political convention committees, which can raise up to $800,000 from a single donor per year. And overlooked by emails showing possible anti-Bernie Sanders bias by DNC officials in the Democratic primaries, the WikiLeaks trove released last Friday actually detailedhow the DNC woos big donors with gifts and perks.

The whole spectacle is not technically considered lobbying, but it may have a more insidious effect. Not only are elected officials compromised by their proximity to big money—a version of this happens daily in Washington, after all—but the delegates, usually the grassroots activists most likely to pressure their members of Congress to stand up for Democratic values, get caught up in the muck as well.

Big money didn’t necessarily overshadow Day 2 of the convention, with the historic selection of the first female president and a succession of speakers hailing Hillary Clinton’s lifetime of work. But it pervaded the whole scene. Right before the roll-call vote, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, himself one of the most prodigious corporate fundraisers in Democratic history, addressed the convention. In an interview directly afterward, he suggested that Clinton would eventually come around and support the Trans-Pacific Partnership corporate trade deal, “with some tweaks.” Clinton campaign aide John Podesta had to refute McAuliffe; for his part,  Podesta has jumped in and out of government and corporate lobbying for three decades.

Wasserman Schultz, supposedly banished to Florida after resigning as DNC chair, was still hanging around Philadelphia, and slipped into the Wells Fargo Center to watch the roll call. She got to see the vice presidential nomination of her predecessor as lead party fundraiser, Tim Kaine, who ran the DNC from 2009 to 2011. During the roll call, lobbyists with the Society for Human Resource Management, which helpedstall the signature equal pay bill in Congress, cheered from the floor.

Former Attorney General and corporate lawyer Eric Holder took time off from his work with Uber and Airbnb to address the convention. Former Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, now Global Chief Communications Officer for McDonald’s, showed up in a video. Howard Dean praised Hillary Clinton on health care, but strangely left out her support for the public option. Perhaps that’s because he’s a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry, which doesn’t want government insurance plans driving down prices. Even former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who added her praise of Clinton to others’ on Tuesday night, has her own lobbying firm. And Tuesday closer Bill Clinton also has a certain, er, comfort with the corporate world.


The best speech I saw on Tuesday happened five miles from the Wells Fargo Center. In an afternoon address she should have unleashed the previous night—and not sponsored by anyone but her own Senate office—Elizabeth Warren gave a couple hundred delegates a Power Point presentation showing how the economy shifted from broadly shared prosperity to a funnel of practically everything to the very top.

The average American holds 15 times more debt than a generation ago, Warren noted, and one in three with a credit file is dealing with a debt collector. “I went to college for $50 a semester,” Warren said, but now fixed costs on education and health care have skyrocketed, making it impossible for the middle class to keep up. The reason: disinvestment in the public good, deregulation of banks and industry, and policies that pushed practically all economic gains upward.

Warren pointed the finger directly at lobbying, which grew seven-fold in the past 30 years. After the speech, I asked her about the corporate underwriting of practically everything in Philadelphia this week. “Too many CEOs have learned that they can invest millions in Washington and get billions in return with special deals with the government,” she said. “This is the central issue of 2016.”

You wouldn’t know that from the official, industry-sponsored proceedings. Maybe the ideological split within the Democratic Party has something to do with Bernie Sanders’s supporters distaste for the ostentatious display of corporate money, and how it has affected the party. The rare moment when overturning Citizens United gets a mention in a convention speech, loud whoops and cheers go up. But corporate influence on the party goes way beyond SuperPACs and campaign contributions; in Philadelphia, it is everywhere.

https://newrepublic.com/article/135564/dnc-one-big-corporate-bribe?utm_source=New+Republic&utm_campaign=793f2a71b5-Daily_Newsletter_7_27_167_27_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c4ad0aba7e-793f2a71b5-60030489

THE RISE OF FACEBOOK AND ‘THE OPERATING SYSTEM OF OUR LIVES’

Siva Vaidhyanathan, UVA’s Robertson Professor of Media Studies, is the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Media and Citizenship.Siva Vaidhyanathan, UVA’s Robertson Professor of Media Studies, is the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Media and Citizenship. (Photo by Dan Addison)

Recent changes announced by social media giant Facebook have roiled the media community and raised questions about privacy. The company’s updates include a higher level of news feed priority for posts made by friends and family and testing for new end-to-end encryption software inside its messenger service.

As Facebook now boasts more than a billion users worldwide, both of these updates are likely to impact the way the world communicates. Prior to the company’s news-feed algorithm change, a 2016 study from the Pew Research Center found that approximately 44 percent of American adults regularly read news content through Facebook.

UVA Today sat down with Siva Vaidhyanathan, the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Media and Citizenship and Robertson Professor of Media Studies, to discuss the impact of these changes and the evolving role of Facebook in the world. Naturally, the conversation first aired on Facebook Live.

Excerpts from the conversation and the full video are available below.

Q. What is the change to Facebook’s News Feed?

A. Facebook has announced a different emphasis within its news feed. Now of course, your news feed is much more than news. It’s all of those links and photos and videos that your friends are posting and all of the sites that you’re following. So that could be an interesting combination of your cousin, your coworker, the New York Times and Fox News all streaming through.

A couple of years ago, the folks that run Facebook recognized that Facebook was quickly becoming the leading news source for many millions of Americans, and considering that they have 1.6 billion users around the world, and it’s growing fast, there was a real concern that Facebook should take that responsibility seriously. So one of the things that Facebook did was cut a deal with a number of publishers to be able to load up their content directly from Facebook servers, rather than just link to an original content server. That provided more dependable loading, especially of video, but also faster loading, especially through mobile.

But in recent weeks, Facebook has sort of rolled back on that. They haven’t removed the partnership program that serves up all that content in a quick form, but they’ve made it very clear that their algorithms that generate your news feed will be weighted much more heavily to what your friends are linking to, liking and commenting on, and what you’ve told Facebook over the years you’re interested in.

This has a couple of ramifications. One, it sort of downgrades the project of bringing legitimate news into the forefront by default, but it also makes sure that we are more likely to be rewarded with materials that we’ve already expressed an interest in. We’re much more likely to see material from publications and our friends we reward with links and likes. We’re much more likely to see material linked by friends with whom we have had comment conversations.

This can generate something that we call a “filter bubble.” A gentlemen named Eli Pariser wrote a book called “The Filter Bubble.” It came out in 2011, and the problem he identified has only gotten worse since it came out. Facebook is a prime example of that because Facebook is in the business of giving you reasons to feel good about being on Facebook. Facebook’s incentives are designed to keep you engaged.

Q. How will this change the experience for publishers?

A. The change or the announcement of the change came about because a number of former Facebook employees told stories about how Facebook had guided their decisions to privilege certain things in news feeds that seemed to diminish the content and arguments of conservative media.

Well, Facebook didn’t want that reputation, obviously. Facebook would rather not be mixed up or labeled as a champion of liberal causes over conservative causes in the U.S. That means that Facebook is still going to privilege certain producers of media – those producers of media that have signed contracts with Facebook. The Guardian is one, the New York Times is another. There are dozens of others. Those are still going to be privileged in Facebook’s algorithm, and among the news sources you encounter, you’re more likely to see those news sources than those that have not engaged in a explicit contract with Facebook. So Facebook is making editorial decisions based on their self-interest more than anything, and not necessarily on any sort of political ideology.

Q. You wrote “The Googlization of Everything” in 2011. Since then, have we progressed to the “Facebookization” of everything?

A. I wouldn’t say that it’s the Facebookization of everything – and that’s pretty clumsy anyway. I would make an argument that if you look at five companies that don’t even seem to do the same thing – Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon – they’re actually competing in a long game, and it has nothing to do with social media. It has nothing to do with your phone, nothing to do with your computer and nothing to do with the Internet as we know it.

They’re all competing to earn our trust and manage the data flows that they think will soon run through every aspect of our lives – through our watches, through our eyeglasses, through our cars, through our refrigerators, our toasters and our thermostats. So you see companies – all five of these companies from Amazon to Google to Microsoft to Facebook to Apple – are all putting out products and services meant to establish ubiquitous data connections, whether it’s the Apple Watch or the Google self-driving car or whether it’s that weird obelisk that Amazon’s selling us [the Echo] that you can talk to or use to play music and things. These are all part of what I call the “operating system of our lives.”

Facebook is interesting because it’s part of that race. Facebook, like those other companies, is trying to be the company that ultimately manages our lives, in every possible way.

We often hear a phrase called the “Internet of things.” I think that’s a misnomer because what we’re talking about, first of all, is not like the Internet at all. It’s going to be a closed system, not an open system. Secondly, it’s not about things. It’s actually about our bodies. The reason that watches and glasses and cars are important is that they lie on and carry human bodies. What we’re really seeing is the full embeddedness of human bodies and human motion in these data streams and the full connectivity of these data streams to the human body.

So the fact that Facebook is constantly tracking your location, is constantly encouraging you to be in conversation with your friends through it – at every bus stop and subway stop, at every traffic light, even though you’re not supposed to – is a sign that they are doing their best to plug you in constantly. That phenomenon, and it’s not just about Facebook alone, is something that’s really interesting.

Q. What are the implications of that for society?

A. The implications of the emergence of an operating system of our lives are pretty severe. First of all, consider that we will consistently be outsourcing decision-making like “Turn left or turn right?,” “What kind of orange juice to buy?” and “What kind of washing detergent to buy?” All of these decisions will be guided by, if not determined by, contracts that these data companies will be signing with consumer companies.

… We’re accepting short-term convenience, a rather trivial reward, and deferring long-term harms. Those harms include a loss of autonomy, a loss of privacy and perhaps even a loss of dignity at some point. … Right now, what I am concerned about is the notion that we’re all plugging into these data streams and deciding to allow other companies to manage our decisions. We’re letting Facebook manage what we get to see and which friends we get to interact with.

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