The New Market Machines

“Reality-Test The Press Release”: Red-Zone B-School Cases in Point

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Originally posted on April 20:

That political parties and interest blocs try to frame hot-button issues in order to own them and align them with their own agendas is simply politics as usual. Nixon, so despised by the hippie counterculture, had his picture taken with Elvis. Best PR move he ever made. Lotta good it did him, but hey, Elvis is the King.

Even so, my jaw fairly dropped to hear Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), who chairs the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights, and International Operations, say the following at a hearing Wednesday:

Google, for its part, created an exclusively Chinese search engine that only a Joseph Goebbels could love. Type in any number of vile words like human rights, or Tian An Men Square massacre, or Falun Gong, and you will get rerouted to government propaganda – much of it heavily anti-American and anti-President Bush, and filled with hate, especially for the Falun Gong. How did Google respond to our deep concern about their enabling a dictatorship to expand its hate message? They hired big-time Washington lobbying firms like Podesta-Mattoon and the DCI group to put a good face on it all — and presumably kill my pending legislation, the Global Online Freedom Act of 2006.

To my knowledge, Nazi propaganda didn’t come with a disclosure statement saying, “Some facts may have been left out at the insistence of your government.” Which every Google.cn search results page does say.

Flack Attack

This is a classic Rove-style flack attack: When your party and its patronage network appears to be mired in an unrelenting news cycle about corruption and lobbying abuses, and when your president is on the defensive over human rights, civil rights and Fourth Amendment issues at home and abroad, change the subject, retake the moral high ground, and try to make sure those selfsame labels get stuck to someone else.

And especially when your party in power and its non-profit shell corporations have been found engaging extensively in domestic propaganda at taxpayer expense by government auditors, you need to shift the label of “propagandist” to someone else.

A classic case: the ex-gay-hustler blogger and “citizen journalist” with the White House press pass, who wrote on his personal Web site, after his fall from grace, of being “a victim of the politics of personal destruction“–a phrase invented by Clinton but now owned verbatim by the likes of Tom DeLay, Clinton’s persecutor in chief.

So who the hell is this Smith guy? Wikipedia has this:

Smith is best known for his strong opposition to abortion. He reportedly changed his party affilition from Democratic to Republican due to the Democrats’ early support for Roe v. Wade. He is the Co-Chairman of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus. In a January 22, 2004 press release [1] Smith stated, “Americans want the abortion holocaust to end,” and referred to abortion as “child slaughter.” On most other issues, however, Smith’s voting record is typical of the moderate brand of Republicanism practiced in New Jersey. He also has strong ties to organized labor, which is unusual for a Republican and has allowed him to hold onto a district with a slight Democratic lean.

Labor and pro-life groups and telecom companies seem to be his political base: Verizon is one of his largest contributors.

And Verizon just received a controversial exemption from regulations requiring DSL carriers to share facilities with ISPs and limitations on its business-broadband operations.

Don’t misunderstand me–I’m not pointing to the distant link and saying j’accuse, just marking the ground for further excavation.

But reading Smith’s statement and scanning his background, there is a striking complex of themes that would seem tailor-made for this apparently unlikely constituent coalition: the links between the Holocaust and abortion, protecting domestic telcoms from foreign competition, keeping American skilled labor from moving offshore … My antennae are twitching.

Pot: The Kettle is Black!

I’m going to eat dinner now, but I think what I’m smelling is a whiff of how nasty the telco-ISP lobbying wars are getting and concerted effort to protect the Baby Bells from foreign competition, which may have a lot more to do with this ranting about a holocaust of aborted fetuses and mangled tai-chi practicioners than you would think.

I have been reading a history lately of the technical assistance that Time-Life, at the behest of the U.S. government, gave to the O Globo network in Brazil back in the 1960s, when the military dictatorship granted a monopoly to the Marinho clan over national network TV, in exchange for being able to use it as their dedicated propaganda platform.

And I still find it hard to see how the Google case measures up to the cynicism of that Faustian bargain–or the Faustian bargains apparently still being made between Congress, business groups and “civil society” these days.

And speaking of Faustian bargains: The GOFA, flacked for with such assiduity and disingenous moral outrage by the likes of Rebecca MacKinnon, is patently absurd.

It would result in a state of affairs in which tech companies with public Web services would be forbidden from turning over data to foreign powers but required to turn it over to the U.S. Dept. of Justice.

Which is precisely what Google recently refused to do.

It’s a trend that goes hand in hand with recent attempts to limit and control technology transfer and declare certain industries as “crucial infrastructure” subject to national security oversight, including beefed-up powers for the CFIUS. Case in point: the Dubai deal, and the brakes put on a bid by Lenovo, the Chinese-owned IBM spinoff, to provide 15,000 PCs and laptops to the U.S. Dept. of State.

I’ll say it again, at the risk of attracting more lachrymose personal outrage from the good cause fighters: The suffering of people under the Chinese government is real, but it really needs to be asked whether it isn’t being leveraged in the most crass and cynical way here to promote a political agenda here that has very little to do to do with liberty and justice for all.

The irony is that some of the loudest and most insistent voices for Internet “freedom” and inclusion are working in the service of an agenda that will Balkanize the global network and allow proprietors of various backbone segments to commit highway robbery along the way.

The Neocon Organ Harvesting Photo Op

Ethan Gutmann’s participation, for example, as the bookend witness framing the testimony of folks who have suffered in the Chinese gulag: The line about Yahoo’s having already achieved “IBM-Holocaust” status is lifted straight from The Corporation. He made this astonishing statement to the committee this week:

I would guess that few people in this room actually desire intrusive government intervention and oversight of U.S. companies. I certainly don’t. I’m a former consultant to American corporations operating in China and a former vice-chair of the Government Relations Committee for the American Chamber of Commerce Beijing. I’m also a former believer in the concept that we would change China, not that China would change us.

But I now believe that the Internet Freedom Act may not be comprehensive enough, particularly in explicitly sanctioning Internet surveillance technologies. And I believe that the tragedy did not start with this committee but in the very early stages of American involvement in the Chinese Internet. It’s the history of a collision course, not so much between Washington and American Internet companies, but between American corporate decisions and American values. We can study that history for insights into the current dilemma and potential solutions.

Ah, yes, he’s a former flack, disillusioned and repentant, and now dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

And he wants more political control of “surveillance” technologies. Only the U.S. government should have access to them. Some libertarian, this guy.

And as to his appeal to American values: American values did not prevent us from embracing Werner von Braun, the A.K. Khan of his time, and absolving him of guilt for participating in Germany’s WMD program, now did it?

Some corporations are good Americans and some are traitors “doing the work of the Chinese Communist Party.” He actually says this. Sound familiar?

Realpolitik and Gramscian Propaganda

The problem, speaking coldly and strategically now, is that American technological know-how would suffer without access to Chinese and Indian expertise. Keeping our part of the open-source bargain is important because, with open-source technology, the rest of the world is no longer dependent upon us as a center of innovation.

Gutmann’s book on “losing the Chinese Internet” has been reviewed glowingly in a number of neonconservative publications–pages and pages of Google results’ worth, but not a professional bio or CV to be found. These people may despise Google, but not enough to refrain from gaming it.

Jacobson’s review in China Tech News–part of my “open-source Bloomberg box on the subject,” in fact–sounds a lonely dissenting note:

This book is essential reading for anyone interested in buttressing a lingering 50s-era McCarthy mentality. Those of us who were raised to run out into the hallway in school and put our head between our legs at the beck of an air-raid siren will find comfort in these pages–the sky is falling and Gutmann has just told us so–hence “New China” is being lost.

We are introduced to nefarious American technology companies in China. Cisco gets creamed for colluding with the wholesale “loss” of the Internet in China.

Yet when the Big Brother machinations of the U.S. against its own populace are laid bare by our intrepid globetrotter–”Cisco Systems would have to report on any Cisco products that U.S. law enforcement and national security agencies are currently using” (p. 158)–for some reason we are eating apple pie again.

The admission makes me wonder when some enterprising young man or woman will write the no less evocative, “Who Lost the Old United States: A Tale of American Fear, Manipulation and Betrayal.”

Hell or High Water?

These days, we seemed to be faced with a choice between an open Internet, come hell or high water, or a controlled internet dotted with tollboths on the backbone and a DMZ patrolled by packet-sniffing watchdogs between us and the Cold War II enemy of the week.

So I guess I’m in the come hell or high water camp. I’m as skeptical as anyone about what corporations do and say, but having seen the Cisco Network Academy at work in Brazil, I am going to need to look hard at some documentary evidence before I believe that they are engaged in the moral equivalent of running death camps.

What I do know is that there is some nasty–and really pretty clumsy–political sleight of hand going on here. And I’m against it, whatever it’s ultimately about. I hear only calculated folly and demagoguery in the shrill, grandiloquent voices on both sides.

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