The Obama administration said on Monday that 16.4 million uninsured people had gained health coverage since major provisions of the Affordable Care Act began to take effect in 2010, driving the largest reduction in the number of uninsured in about 40 years
— NY Times
According to the latest government figures, 16.4 million previously uninsured Americans now benefit from healthcare coverage thanks to Obamacare, including large gains for blacks and Latinos. Conservative critics have yet to come up with a coherent response beyond “so what!” — however you look at it, that’s a lot of Americans who won’t be left bleeding in the dirt if they get sick.
Still, as we know, Obamacare is still under attack — just one pending Supreme Court ruling away from being almost completely dismantled, a decision that could put millions back in the ranks of the uninsured. What’s less well known is that the think tank pushing for the death of Obamacare is partly funded by… Google.
In the orbit of Washington think tanks, the Competitive Enterprise Institute is an obscure name with a modest budget that belies its political connections to conservative titans like the Koch brothers.
But the institute, a libertarian research group, enjoyed a coming-out of sorts on Wednesday, as the lawsuit that it organized and bankrolled — challenging the Affordable Care Act — was heard by the Supreme Court. The case has the potential to end federal insurance subsidies for some 7.5 million people in 34 states.
But, while the Times did mention that the CEI is largely bankrolled by the Koch brothers, it didn’t dig into some of the group’s smaller funders. Funders including Silicon Valley giants like Google and Facebook. Could there be a clearer antithesis to the valley mantra of “Don’t Be Evil” than an organization which exists to deny 7.5m people access to basic health insurance?
The CEI and Google have been linked in the media before. In mid-2013, the Washington Post reported on the CEI’s annual fundraising dinner for which “the biggest single donor is Google, which gave $ 50,000, and Facebook kicked in $ 25,000.” At the time, the CEI was largely known as one of the most aggressive and cynical of the DC climate change-denier front groups: “a factory for global warming skepticism” as the WaPo described it. As such, the news that Google, and Facebook, were supporters was greeted with something between shock, puzzlement, and dread.
It was still hard for a lot of people in 2013 to square a company like Google — with its progressive Bay Area image, its close relationship with the Obama White House and funder of his and other Democrats’ campaigns — with something as reactionary and anti-science as climate change denial. Why on earth were the stars of Silicon Valley’s Internet industry positioning themselves alongside fellow sponsors Charles and David Koch, coal giant Murray Energy, Monsanto, tobacco behemoth Altria, and others?
Certainly Google seems to have learned that mixing with climate change deniers isn’t a great strategy. Last year, the company quit the Kochs’ state lobbying group ALEC because of its position opposing climate change science. As Eric Schmidt explained in an interview with NPR’s Diane Rehm:
“Everyone understands climate change is occurring and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place. And so we should not be aligned with such people — they’re just, they’re just literally lying.”
But as CEI has moved from climate change denial to healthcare denial, Google appears to have stayed along for the ride. The $ 50,000 Google grant to the CEI is the only payment that has been publicly itemized. But, according to the search engine giant’s public policy “transparency reports” pages, Google has been funding the Competitive Enterprise Institute for at least the past five years.
Google is also tied into the CEI through its “Google Policy Fellows” program, which has been placing Google-funded “fellows” at the Competitive Enterprise Institute since at least 2008. According to the company’s description, Google Fellowships underwrite summer programs for law students, college undergrads and grad students to,
“work at public interest organizations at the forefront of debates on broadband and access policy, content regulation, copyright and trademark reform, consumer privacy, open government, and more.”
The “and more” is one of the big open questions when it comes to Google’s interest in showering a vile outfit like the Competitive Enterprise Institute with so much largesse. After all, it’s hard to imagine an organization that stands so opposed to Google’s stated principles.
Few well-funded DC think-tanks are as shamelessly and aggressively anti-science as the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Going back to the early 1990s, the CEI collaborated with Big Tobacco companies to issue a handbook called “Bad Science” listing PR strategies companies can use to combat real scientific research harmful to companies that deal in toxic businesses — starting with Big Tobacco’s attempts to discredit scientific research proving that second-hand smoke causes cancer and a host of other diseases affecting babies and children.
Among the suggested “MESSAGES” in the Big Tobacco/CEI book “Bad Science”:
-Too often science is manipulated to fulfill a political agenda.
-No agency is more guilty of adjusting science to support preconceived public policy prescriptions than the Environmental Protection Agency.
-Proposals that seek to improve indoor air quality by singling out tobacco smoke only enable bad science to become a poor excuse for enacting new laws and jeopardizing individual liberties.
“Bad Science was a compendium of attacks on science, published in places like the Washington Times, and written by staff of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The articles weren’t written by scientists and they didn’t appear in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Rather, they appeared in media venues whose readers would be sympathetic to the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s laissez-faire ideology.”
Beyond its long deep ties to the tobacco and fossil fuels industries, the CEI has been attacking scientists and environmentalists on behalf of the chemicals and pesticides industry. In the mid-1990s, the CEI hired Michelle Malkin to smear the late Rachel Carson, whose 1962 book “Silent Spring” sparked the environmental movement. More recently, the CEI nominated Rush Limbaugh for the Nobel Peace Prize for helping push the CEI’s “Rachel Was Wrong” campaign. In case you haven’t noticed, the CEI and its petrochemicals/Monsanto funders aren’t very fond of Rachel Carson’s legacy.
As for the CEI’s two decades of work to discredit climate change science as “a theory, not a fact,” with crude PR efforts, one of its many absurd lowlights was a 2006 television ad campaign it funded, featuring the slogan “C02: They call it pollution, we call it Life!”
The CEI’s longtime chairman Michael Greve (recently listed as CEI “board director”) has been the main driver behind the King v Burwell lawsuit strategy. Throughout the years that Google has been investing money and resources into the CEI, Greve has served as either the group’s chairman or board director — including in 2010, when Greve presided over a right-wing legal strategy session on how to murder Obamacare:
“This bastard [Obamacare] has to be killed as a matter of political hygiene. . . . I don’t care how this is done, whether it’s dismembered, whether we drive a stake through its heart, whether we tar and feather it and drive it out of town, whether we strangle it.”
There are a lot of obvious things wrong with Greve’s violent, crypto-fascist rhetoric (not least because the German-born Greve speaks in a vaguely Strangelovean accent). For one thing, if Greve and the CEI win this case before the Supreme Court, experts say it will mean eight million mostly lower-income people losing health insurance, leading to an estimated 9,800 premature deaths annually. Also, this is the same Michael Greve who in the 1990s, while leading the fight to destory affirmative action programs, said:
‘The only legalized discrimination in this country is against whites and males.”
And this leads to the other problem of Google investing in a group chaired by Michael Greve. In the late 1980s, Greve co-founded a far-right race-baiting group called the Center for Individual Rights, which did more than any organization to dismantle affirmative action programs during his tenure there. Greve’s group successfully knocked down affirmative action at the University of Texas, and led the legal defense upholding California’s Prop 209, which ended affirmative action in California state institutions.
Greve’s group also got the Supreme Court to rule in favor of the Boy Scouts anti-gay discrimination policy, and he succeeded in dismantling portions of the Violence Against Women Act, defending a university football player accused of rape and sued under the VAWA.
Among Greve’s funders back when he ran the group was the neo-Nazi “Pioneer Fund” which bankrolls racial eugenics quacks who argue that blacks and Latinos are genetically inferior — quacks like U Delaware’s Linda Gottfredson and CUNY’s Michael Levin, both defended by Greve’s organization, all of them bankrolled by the Pioneer Fund.
In a recent blog post, the German-born Greve made a crude Holocaust analogy comparing a health industry group’s legal support for Obamacare to Nazi Germany cattle wagons and death camps used to murder millions of Jews and others.
Given the fact that Michael Greve was chairman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute throughout nearly all of Google’s funding period, and a board director since at least 2008, when Google began funding CEI Google Fellows — and given Google’s (and Silicon Valley’s) notorious diversity problems — it boggles the mind why Google felt so little compunction getting into bed with such a reactionary group as the CEI. Even if they might claim their funding is for other political purposes — like supporting CEI technology flak Ryan Radia, who blogs at the Big Tech PR site “Technology Liberation Front” which bills itself as
“the tech policy blog dedicated to keeping politicians’ hands off the ‘net and everything else related to technology.”
One possible explanation is that Google doesn’t realize who it’s in bed with. That a company that boasts of having access to all the world’s data hasn’t read the CEI’s small print and so doesn’t realize it’s helping to kill Obamacare. The problem with that narrative is that Google also funds the CATO Institute, the other major organization leading the strategic war on Obamacare (and against climate change science). CATO’s lead jihadist against Obamacare is Michael Cannon, a former Senate staffer to disgraced Republican homophobe Larry Craig. Within days after Obama’s 2008 election victory, Cannon laid out CATO’s strategy in a blog post, “Blocking Obama’s Health Plan Is Key to the GOP’s Survival”. This was two months before Obama even took office, mind you—the Right has a crocodile’s motor-function grasp of politics, even in its lowest moments. And ever since, CATO’s Cannon has been organizing the various legal and political challenges to kill Obamacare, including playing a central role in the current case before the Supreme Court.
Google began funding CATO “Google Fellows” in 2008, the same year that CATO’s Michael Cannon launched the group’s war against Obamacare. In 2010, Google deepened its ties, becoming an official corporate sponsor of the CATO Institute every year since. That same year, Cannon — the director of CATO’s “Health Policy Studies” — tweeted out a “joke” following reports that undocumented Latino migrant workers were being exploited in New Orleans in the BP oil spill clean-up effort:
“I hear they’re very absorbent.”
The medium is the message in every joke — and in this case, when you have a right-wing Washington lobbyist on the payroll of oil billionaires the Koch brothers, making jokes about “very absorbent” undocumented Latino immigrants at an oil spill . . . it’s not a joke, more like reading a transcript of the Koch brothers’ Marie Antoinette view of the rest of humanity, parotted by one of their worshipful court servants. As Cannon himself has admitted:
“for folks at Cato . . . we wouldn’t have our jobs without Charles and David Koch. They are billionaires who have funded the libertarian movement. Not just the Cato Institute, but other groups that have — where I’ve worked and others at Cato have worked. We owe a lot to them.”
How right he is. Not only was CATO founded by the Kochs (under its original name “The Charles Koch Foundation”), but in a little known episode in libertarian history, the Kochs also are responsible for bringing the Competitive Enterprise Institute into existence. The short version: In 1984, Charles Koch disbanded his flagship Washington DC lobby group, the Council for a Competitive Economy (CCE), and created two new front groups out of its assets: Citizens for a Sound Economy, with Ron Paul as the Koch group’s first chairman (since splintered into FreedomWorks and Americans For Prosperity); and the smaller Competitive Enterprise Institute, led by Fred Smith, who had been serving as director of government affairs for the Kochs’ defunct Council for a Competitive Economy. (This is all confirmed by the former president of the CCE, Richard Wilcke.)
So few names, repeated over and over. And one name at the top, the Koch brothers, bringing with them 50 years and three generations of right-wing political investments, backed by the brothers’ estimated $ 100 billion-plus personal worth. This sort of power, political network, experience, and influence is not something that even cash-rich Google can buy overnight.
Even if we still give Google and Facebook the benefit of the doubt, and allow that their investments in the CATO Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute weren’t directly motivated by killing Obamacare and throwing millions of struggling Americans back into the ranks of the uninsured and prematurely dying — nevertheless, they are accessories, and very consciously so. Big Tech’s larger political goals are in alignment with the old extraction industry’s: Undermining the countervailing power of government and public politics to weaken its ability to impede their growing dominance over their portions of the economy, and to tax their obscene stores of cash.
Google – like Facebook, like Koch Industries — wants a government that’s strong enough to enforce its dominant private power over the economy and citizens and protect its wealth, but too broken and too alienated from the public to adequately represent the public interest against their domineering monopolistic power. That’s pretty much what’s going on here in this rather frightening merger we’re seeing between extraction industry interests and Big Tech interests.
Politically, the problem with health care is that, even in spite of all of Obamacare’s many serious flaws and corporate giveaways, the more it works in the eyes of more and more Americans, the greater the danger to the Googles, Facebooks and Kochs that the public will believe again that government can do good, that public interest politics can change things for the better. Because if Obamacare becomes widely popular, and that positive idea of politics and government becomes a basic assumption again as it once was, then who’s to say what else the public will demand of Silicon Valley’s richest and most powerful companies?
Pando contacted Google for comment several hours before publication but we have received no response. We’ll update this story immediately if we hear back.