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The dismantling of the State since the 1980s: Brexit is the wrong diagnosis of a real crisis

Brexit is the last opportunity to radically dismantle the state-as-economic-referee as the window on the popularity of neoliberalism starts to close.

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Authored by Abby Innes via The London School of Economics British Politics blog:


Abby Innes writes that the vote to leave the EU and the administrative chaos around it pull into focus the crisis we should have been talking about before: the failures of homegrown neoliberal policies and their dire implications. She argues that while Brexit has been heralded by supporters as a solution to a number of problems, what it will actually do is to accelerate to the point of ‘completion’ the already failed experiments to reform the state.

The Leave campaign in 2016 had a lot in common with the 1979 Conservative election manifesto. Both evoked the threat of a bureaucratic super-state and something approaching a conspiracy of that state against the public. Both promised to rescue a Greater Britain from the conspiratorial political forces that were holding it back. Both campaigns were a misdiagnosis of the real crisis at hand. This time we face a crisis of ungovernability potentially far more severe than that of the 1970s; but its roots are less in Europe than in the failures of the homegrown neoliberal reforms of the British state.

The ‘supply-side revolution’

The last three decades of state reform in Western democracies have aggravated rather than resolved the social divisions that emerged with de-industrialisation. Over the last thirty years, liberal market economies in general and the UK in particular have transformed the character of their states through privatization and outsourcing, through the development of quasi markets in welfare, and the rejection of industrial policies. At the same time, permissive tax and regulatory regimes have encouraged large corporations to opt out of their former social obligations in the name of maximising shareholder value.

The ‘supply-side revolution’ of the last thirty years was driven by the dominant New Right diagnosis of the economic crises of the 1970s and based on the radical public choice economics aligned with the Chicago and Virginia schools. According to this diagnosis it was the state that was primarily responsible for the end of the post-war ‘golden age of growth’ because of its inhibition of the market. Thus, according to the New Right and later New Labour too, it wasn’t technological change, or de-industrialisation in the face of emerging markets, it wasn’t the Nixon shock, or the end of Bretton Woods, nor rising exchange rate instability, it wasn’t stagflation or the oil crises that had confronted the country with a need to re-evaluate its production regime. It was the state. And so it was the state, above all else, that had to be transformed.

The first problem with the supply-side logic: the state as a firm

The supply-side critique of the state is profoundly flawed. It is rooted in abstract deductive logic derived from the first-principles of neoclassical economics uncalibrated against empirical reality. The public choice school based its understanding of politics on the assumptions of neoclassical economics that until the late 1950s had been applied only to decision-making in markets. Carrying over this methodology drove a devastating conclusion that is actually just an artefact of the method itself. To answer their questions around why the state had grown in the post-war era, public choice theorists simply asserted that politicians, bureaucrats and their voters are self-interested economic actors like any others in a marketplace.

By declaring that all public officials should be understood as homo economicus, the New Right could reconceive of democratic politics as a process in which politicians are effectively entrepreneurs who compete to gain control over the resources of a monopoly: the state. To increase their fiefdoms, both self-interested politicians and bureaucrats will generate policies most likely to appease self-interested voters in the market for votes. By this logic, according to the New Right, democracy is doomed to crowd itself out: the demand for state privileges by individually self-seeking voters will never be satisfied until the growth of the state has reached an unstoppable momentum towards totalitarianism. Bureaucrats, as in any monopoly firm, will tend only towards exploitative price-making and general budgetary greed. A responsible politician will strip the state of its powers to intervene in a ‘free’ market: the only ‘honest’ mechanism in a rationally selfish world.

The micro-foundations behind this thesis make it philosophically extreme. They assume a society populated by individuals who, in all contexts, deploy a clear and cold calculation of the costs and benefits of their actions, and do so with perfect information about their options. The supply-side diagnosis assumes that individuals are super-humanly rational around their immediate interests but completely witless about social or constitutional considerations and unmoved by ethics as distinct from material gain: implicitly, theirs is a voting population that can’t tell the difference between the NHS and communism. It is in this light that the European Union is viewed as no more and no better than a cartel of self-seeking monopoly enterprises. Clearly, if you conceive of the state in this way then the only rational solution is not to reform it but to break it.

The second problem with the supply-side logic: the state as a standard economic agent

But what if this metaphor is just wrong? What if it was always a normative assertion by a faction of academic theoreticians on a roll rather than an argument based on the historical evolution of actual states. What if the theory was an irresistible platform for large corporations who preferred to return to the good old days of laissez faire over a wise or sustainable political economic strategy? What if a failed firm enforces a limited reallocation of labour and capital, and a failing state collapses the effective mechanisms for democratic representation, the stability of capitalism, social integration and public order as such?

Not only does the supply-side revolution reintroduce market failures where they had always, historically, failed, it introduces state failures where they hadn’t previously existed.

As the economic theories of contract and property rights make clear, the higher the complexity of a good or product, the higher the risk of so-called ‘asymmetrical’ contracts in which the seller has more information than the buyer and hence can exploit that buyer. This is a fundamental problem when the state becomes that customer at the taxpayers’ expense. Transaction cost theory shows that trying to manage such asymmetrical contracts leads to massively increased costs. And these costs can never be rendered efficientbecause of the intrinsically unbalanced nature of the original contract, because of the complexity of the good. After thirty years the evidence suggests that introducing businesses into the UK state and competition between states produces the worst of both public and private regimes.

In the case of welfare reforms, the UK norm has become one of profit-seeking firms engaged at the tax-payers expense but in thoroughly non-competitive conditions. The resulting failure to produce either high quality services or lower costs has forced the state into doomed games of ever more Kafkaesque remedial action because of its continuing statutory responsibility for outcomes. Thus, in the name of this continuing supply-side experiment our schools, health service, prisons, transport services and social care institutions have become text-book case studies for ‘moral hazard’, in which private providers have few incentives to avoid risky or perfunctory behaviour because of the de facto insurance of continued public payment.

Private provision and its effect on government accountability

And this is before you consider the conflicts of interest that increasingly run through UK policymaking structures like a stick of rock. A relatively hidden dimension of today’s crisis of state failure is the increasingly pervasive role for private businesses throughout the entire state administration. After a sabbatical in the Cabinet Office Matthew Flinders reported that UK central government had lost the capacity to operate ‘meta-governance’ over state authority. That was in 2005. Since then that authority has increasingly been gifted into private hands. This process of dis-integrating state capacity was intensified after 2010 under the renewed supply-side zeal of the coalition and Conservative governments.

In 2015 Ruth Dixon and Christopher Hood found that reported administration costs in the UK had risen by 40% in constant prices over the previous thirty years, despite a third of the civil service being cut over the same period, whilst total public spending doubled. Running costs were driven up most in the outsourced areas. Deep failures of service, complaints, and judicial challenges had soared. This was in no respect the ‘better government for less money’ promised by governments of left and right. These reforms have also undermined the accountability of government because the more the state has become structurally dependent on private provision the harder it’s become to reverse even openly failing policies: the state capacity that used to be there has frequently been destroyed. The administrative chaos around Brexit demonstrate to the wider public the dysfunction that those who depend on the state have suffered for years.

The democratic principle of fiscal consent is that people are willing to pay their taxes because the liabilities are fair and the revenues never confiscated. But that principle is severely stretched. The wealthiest firms have escaped their side of the fiscal contract through an international race to the bottom on tax rates, standards, and enforcement. In the meantime the burden of continuing taxation has been pushed onto less mobile factors such as labour, consumption, and small and medium-sized businesses.

And all of this might have been worth it had we gained the promised renaissance of investment, innovation, higher quality employment, and growth that was supposed to occur spontaneously when the state was got out of the way. But what we have seen instead is the transformation of post-war democratic capitalism from a system of wealth-creation to one of wealth extraction.

A process of financialisation has occurred on three levels: financial markets and institutions increasingly displace other economic sectors as the source of profitable activity. Non-financial corporations are becoming financialized through a regime of maximizing shareholder value, wherein profits are increasingly extracted for higher executive pay through share buy-backs and dispersed through higher share dividends rather than reinvested. Finally, finance has penetrated into every aspect of life as people are increasingly incorporated into financial activity, and to a degree that significantly increases the systemic risk inherent in the boom and bust cycles of poorly regulated financial markets.

The existing structural divisions and the EU referendum

For a doctrine to require a super-human rationality to function as promised makes it totalitarian, whether that rationality is social, as in Marxism-Leninism, or utilitarian, as in neoliberalism: it requires a perfect consistency of human character. But it’s also in the nature of such ideologies that in the face of often terrible social consequences their dogmatism encourages the doubling down on their projects in the belief that the validity of the programme will be finally proved at the point of completion. As a result, the energy of these doctrines only becomes fully unspooled once the disorder that they create has spread to every single part of the polity. Hard Brexit is an invitation from supply-side zealots to enter the full disorder of a ‘liberated’ market.

The Global Financial Crisis was also used as a pretext by George Osborne for an acceleration of the supply-side project but that same government was heedless enough of the social consequences to offer an opportunity for a public judgement on the current direction of travel: the 2016 Referendum. The findings on subjective attitudes are telling. Those most likely to vote Leave were:

  • Those finding it difficult to manage financially (70%) or just about getting by (60%);
  • Those who believed Britain has got a lot worse in the last ten years (73%);
  • Those who think things have got worse for them rather than other people (76%);
  • Those who perceive themselves as working class (59%). Those who see themselves as English rather than British (74%) or more English than British (62%).

These are constituencies built by the supply-side revolution. They were unlikely to be persuaded by a Remain campaign that spoke only of the economic joys of the status quo. The voting split for Remain versus Leave is between the centres of the new knowledge economy – rooted in ICT and services – and those of the rural, industrial and mid-range technology economies, abandoned by a state no longer understood by government as the historical midwife of development.

These trends support the worrying thesis that there are deepening structural divisions in advanced capitalist economies between those higher educated voters who prefer the labour market dynamism of highly liberalised economies, versus those with little hope of achieving a stake in any such system.[1] The rising emphasis on English national identity follows as a reaction to the unmanageable pace of globalisation: the scale of displacement of manufacturing activities by imports into a region drove perceptions around the risks of immigration more than the scale of immigration as such. This is hardly a trajectory compatible with democracy.

It was under these conditions that the referendum was heralded by Leave as the solution to the collective pain and frustration of an already divided society. Under the UK’s constant leadership the EU had often become a champion of neoliberal policies. More often, however, it had acted as a brake on the more extreme preferences of UK supply-sider governments. It was the Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties in government that made of the British state both an inefficient public regime and an increasingly extractive private regime dominated by large corporations. The historical irony is that the supply-side revolution has effectively built the state that haunted the fever dreams of the public choice theorists.

Brexit as the last chance saloon

So why are we leaving the largest trading block in the world rather than having an empiricist public debate about the systemic crisis of the domestic political economy? One reason is that this crisis creates no neat division between party lines as it did in 1979: no party but the Greens gains from discussing their role in these developments. For Labour it is the deepest ideological division between its right and left. The expressive function of parties is further discouraged when the most powerful actors across the political economy are likewise implicated, from the City to the CBI. Even if supply-side reforms hadn’t built so powerful a large business constituency for their extension, it would be awkward for mainstream elites to call for the renewal of central and local state capacity after so many years of insisting its relative incompetence.

The entire history of empiricist political economy tends to teach us that both states and markets have their virtues and their vices. The virtues are typically interactive. Cooperative solutions tend to be more efficient than markets at solving problems characterised by complexity and uncertainty: Germany’s stakeholder production regime is exceptionally functional. Given the urgency of climate change the debate we ought to be having is about how to develop a political economic strategy with ecology at its very core. Even were we not dangerously behind on climate mitigation it is unclear how the trend towards increasing social polarisation driven by a doctrinally and practically corporate-captured state could be reversed without a radical shift in the political economic paradigm.

But in the face of these realities the strategy of the hard Brexiteers is uniquely unwise: it is to accelerate to the point of ‘completion’ the already failed supply-side experiments of the last thirty years and to deny climate change, all in pursuit of arrangements that exist nowhere but in the pages of the economic utopias of the 1960s. Brexit militants have offered no precise strategy for free-market greatness because it exists in no realisable place: the days of the British Empire are mercifully finished, a democratic free market is a fantasy. For its leadership, Brexit is the last opportunity to radically dismantle the state-as-economic-referee as the window on the popularity of neoliberalism starts to close. It is the hard right equivalent of rallying for Soviet Communism in 1989. As Arthur Koestler wrote of his former ideological zeal, “Gradually I learned to distrust my mechanistic preoccupation with facts and to regard the world around me in the light of dialectic interpretation. It was a satisfactory and indeed blissful state.” Koestler was talking about communism, but it sounds familiar for a reason.

When it comes to history repeating itself, it is both tragic and farcical that it is the most militant supply-siders of all who were crowned by the 2016 Referendum. It is this faction above all that gets the diagnosis of our current condition most exactly wrong. It is their idea of a cure that would be most lethal to the British body politic.

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When we voted for Brexit we knew it would cause hardships, but the main aim is to destroy the status quo, and rebuild a new political reality as a sovereign nation, most Brit’s today don’t care or remember the Empire we just want decent lives for ourselves and our family! Richard Branson said on morning TV that if they hold a new referendum in 5 years the remainers would win as most Brexiters will be dead from old age, which just goes to show how out of touch he is, all young hard working (non University indoctrinated/eductated) voted leave, also… Read more »

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May survives ‘no confidence’ vote as UK moves towards March 29 deadline or Article 50 extension (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 168.

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the ‘no confidence’ vote that UK Prime Minister May won with the a slim margin…meaning that though few MPs have confidence in her ‘Brexit withdrawal’ negotiating skills, they appear to have no problem allowing May to lead the country towards its Brexit deadline in March, which coincidently may be delayed and eventually scrapped altogether.

Meanwhile Tony Blair is cozying up to Brussels’ oligarchs, working his evil magic to derail the will of the British people, and keep the integrationist ambitions for the UK and Europe on track.

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Via RT


The UK government led by Theresa May, has survived to fight another day, after winning a no-confidence vote, tabled by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, following parliament rejecting the PM’s Brexit deal, earlier on Tuesday evening.

The no-confidence vote was defeated by 19 votes – the government winning by 325 to 306. It’s a rare positive note for May’s Tory cabinet after the humiliating Brexit defeat.

Speaking immediately after the vote, a victorious May said she was “pleased” that the House expressed its confidence in her government. May said she will “continue to work” to deliver on the result of the Brexit referendum and leave the EU.

May invited the leaders of parliamentary parties to meet with her individually, beginning on Wednesday evening.

“I stand ready to work with any member of this House to deliver on Brexit,” she said.

Responding to the vote, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that the House had “emphatically” rejected May’s deal on Tuesday. The government, he said, must now remove “clearly once and for all the prospect of the catastrophe of a no-deal Brexit from the EU and all the chaos that would result from that.”

Labour will now have to consider what move to make next. Their official Brexit policy, decided by members at conference in September, states that if a general election cannot be forced, then all options should be left on the table, including calling for a second referendum.

Liberal Democrats MP Ed Davey also called on May to rule out a no deal Brexit.

The way forward for Brexit is not yet clear and May’s options are now limited, given that the Brexit deal she was offering was voted down so dramatically on Tuesday.

Gavin Barrett, a professor at the UCD Sutherland School of Law in Dublin, told RT that May will now have to decide if her second preference is a no-deal Brexit or a second referendum. Her preference will likely be a no-deal Brexit, Barrett said, adding that “since no other option commands a majority in the House” a no-deal exit is now “the default option.”

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Final Steps in Syria’s Successful Struggle for Peace and Sovereignty

The war of aggression against Syria is winding up, and this can be observed by the opening of a series of new embassies in Damascus.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The situation in Syria evolves daily and sees two situations very closely linked to each other, with the US withdrawal from Syria and the consequent expansionist ambitions of Erdogan in Syria and the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) takeover in Idlib that frees the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and Russian aviation to liberate the de-escalation zone.

Trump has promised to destroy Turkey economically if he attacks the Kurds, reinforcing his claim that Erdogan will not target the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) once the US withdraws from the area. One of the strongest accusations made against Trump’s withdrawal by his opponents is that no Middle Eastern force will ever trust the US again if they abandon the SDF to its fate, that is, to its annihilation at the hands of the Turkish army and its FSA proxies. This, however, is not possible; not so much because of Trump’s economic threats, but because of Damascus and Moscow being strongly opposed to any Turkish military action in the northeast of Syria.

This is a red line drawn by Putin and Assad, and the Turkish president likely understands the consequences of any wrong moves. It is no coincidence that he stated several times that he had no problems with the “Syrians or Syrian-Kurdish brothers”, and repeated that if the area under the SDF were to come under the control of Damascus, Turkey would have no need to intervene in Syria. Trump’s request that Ankara have a buffer zone of 20 kilometers separating the Kurdish and Turkish forces seems to complement the desire of Damascus and Moscow to avoid a clash between the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) and the SDF.

The only party that seems to be secretly encouraging a clash between the SDF and Turkish forces is Israel, criticizing Ankara and singing the praises of the SDF, in order to try and accentuate the tensions between the two sides, though naturally without success. Israel’s continued raids in Syria, though almost constantly failing due to Syrian air defense, and the divide-and-rule policy used against Turkey and the SDF, show that Tel Aviv is now weakened and mostly irrelevant in the Syrian conflict.

In Idlib, the situation seems to be becoming less complicated and difficult to decipher. Russia, Iran and Syria had asked Erdogan to take control of the province through its “moderate jihadists”, sit down at the negotiating table, and resolve the matter through a diplomatic solution. Exactly the opposite happened. The HTS (formerly al-Nusra/al-Qaeda in Syria) has in recent weeks conquered practically the whole province of Idlib, with numerous forces linked to Turkey (Ahrar al-Sham and Nour al-Din al-Zenki) dissolving and merging into HTS. This development puts even more pressure on Erdogan, who is likely to see his influence in Idlib fade away permanently. Moreover, this evolution represents a unique opportunity for Damascus and Moscow to start operations in Idlib with the genuine justification of combating terrorism. It is a repeat of what happened in other de-escalation areas. Moscow and Damascus have repeatedly requested the moderates be separated from the terrorists, so as to approach the situation with a diplomatic negotiation.

In the absence of an effective division of combatants, all are considered terrorists, with the military option replacing the diplomatic. This remains the only feasible option to free the area from terrorists who are not willing to give back territory to the legitimate government in Damascus and are keeping civilians hostages. The Idlib province seems to have experienced the same playbook applied in other de-escalation zones, this time with a clear contrast between Turkey and Saudi Arabia that shows how the struggle between the two countries is much deeper than it appears. The reasons behind the Khashoggi case and the diplomatic confrontation between Qatar and Saudi Arabia were laid bare in the actions of the HTS in Idlib, which has taken control of all the areas previously held by Ankara’s proxies.

It remains to be seen whether Moscow and Damascus would like to encourage Erdogan to recover Idlib through its proxies, trying to encourage jihadists to fight each other as much as possible in order to lighten the task of the SAA, or whether they would prefer to press the advantage themselves and attack while the terrorist front is experiencing internal confusion.

In terms of occupied territory and accounts to be settled, two areas of great importance for the future of Syria remain unresolved, namely al-Tanf, occupied by US forces on the Syrian-Jordanian border, and the area in the north of Syria occupied by Turkish forces and their FSA proxies. It is too early to approach a solution militarily, it being easier for Damascus and Moscow to complete the work to free Syria from the remaining terrorists. Once this has been done, the presence of US or Turkish forces in Syria, whether directly or indirectly, would become all the more difficult to justify. Driving away the US and, above all, Turkey from Syrian territory will be the natural next step in the Syrian conflict.

This is an unequivocal sign that the war of aggression against Syria is winding up, and this can be observed by the opening of a series of new embassies in Damascus. Several countries — including Italy in the near future — will reopen their embassies in Syria to demonstrate that the war, even if not completely over, is effectively won by Damascus and her allies.

For this reason, several countries that were previously opposed to Damascus, like the United Arab Emirates, are understood to have some kind of contact with the government of Damascus. If they intend to become involved in the reconstruction process and any future investment, they will quite naturally need to re-establish diplomatic relations with Damascus. The Arab League is also looking to welcome Syria back into the fold.

Such are signs that Syria is returning to normality, without forgetting which and how many countries have conspired and acted directly against the Syrians for over seven years. An invitation to the Arab League or some embassy being reopened will not be enough to compensate for the damage done over years, but Assad does not preclude any option, and is in the meantime demonstrating to the Israelis, Saudis and the US Deep State that their war has failed and that even their most loyal allies are resuming diplomatic relations with Damascus, a double whammy against the neocons, Wahhabis and Zionists.

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Google Manipulated YouTube Search Results for Abortion, Maxine Waters, David Hogg

The existence of the blacklist was revealed in an internal Google discussion thread leaked to Breitbart News.

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Via Breitbart


In sworn testimony, Google CEO Sundar Pichai told Congress last month that his company does not “manually intervene” on any particular search result. Yet an internal discussion thread leaked to Breitbart News reveals Google regularly intervenes in search results on its YouTube video platform – including a recent intervention that pushed pro-life videos out of the top ten search results for “abortion.”

The term “abortion” was added to a “blacklist” file for “controversial YouTube queries,” which contains a list of search terms that the company considers sensitive. According to the leak, these include some of these search terms related to: abortion, abortions, the Irish abortion referendum, Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and anti-gun activist David Hogg.

The existence of the blacklist was revealed in an internal Google discussion thread leaked to Breitbart News by a source inside the company who wishes to remain anonymous. A partial list of blacklisted terms was also leaked to Breitbart by another Google source.

In the leaked discussion thread, a Google site reliability engineer hinted at the existence of more search blacklists, according to the source.

“We have tons of white- and blacklists that humans manually curate,” said the employee. “Hopefully this isn’t surprising or particularly controversial.”

Others were more concerned about the presence of the blacklist. According to the source, the software engineer who started the discussion called the manipulation of search results related to abortion a “smoking gun.”

The software engineer noted that the change had occurred following an inquiry from a left-wing Slate journalist about the prominence of pro-life videos on YouTube, and that pro-life videos were replaced with pro-abortion videos in the top ten results for the search terms following Google’s manual intervention.

“The Slate writer said she had complained last Friday and then saw different search results before YouTube responded to her on Monday,” wrote the employee. “And lo and behold, the [changelog] was submitted on Friday, December 14 at 3:17 PM.”

The manually downranked items included several videos from Dr. Antony Levatino, a former abortion doctor who is now a pro-life activist. Another video in the top ten featured a woman’s personal story of being pressured to have an abortion, while another featured pro-life conservative Ben Shapiro. The Slate journalist who complained to Google reported that these videos previously featured in the top ten, describing them in her story as “dangerous misinformation.”

Since the Slate journalist’s inquiry and Google’s subsequent intervention, the top search results now feature pro-abortion content from left-wing sources like BuzzFeed, Vice, CNN, and Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. In her report, the Slate journalist acknowledged that the search results changed shortly after she contacted Google.

The manual adjustment of search results by a Google-owned platform contradicts a key claim made under oath by Google CEO Sundar Pichai in his congressional testimony earlier this month: that his company does not “manually intervene on any search result.”

A Google employee in the discussion thread drew attention to Pichai’s claim, noting that it “seems like we are pretty eager to cater our search results to the social and political agenda of left-wing journalists.”

One of the posts in the discussion also noted that the blacklist had previously been edited to include the search term “Maxine Waters” after a single Google employee complained the top YouTube search result for Maxine Waters was “very low quality.”

Google’s alleged intervention on behalf of a Democratic congresswoman would be further evidence of the tech giant using its resources to prop up the left. Breitbart News previously reported on leaked emails revealing the company targeted pro-Democrat demographics in its get-out-the-vote efforts in 2016.

According to the source, a software engineer in the thread also noted that “a bunch of terms related to the abortion referendum in Ireland” had been added to the blacklist – another change with potentially dramatic consequences on the national policies of a western democracy.

youtube_controversial_query_blacklist

At least one post in the discussion thread revealed the existence of a file called “youtube_controversial_query_blacklist,” which contains a list of YouTube search terms that Google manually curates. In addition to the terms “abortion,” “abortions,” “Maxine Waters,” and search terms related to the Irish abortion referendum, a Google software engineer noted that the blacklist includes search terms related to terrorist attacks. (the posts specifically mentions that the “Strasbourg terrorist attack” as being on the list).

“If you look at the other entries recently added to the youtube_controversial_query_blacklist(e.g., entries related to the Strasbourg terrorist attack), the addition of abortion seems…out-of-place,” wrote the software engineer, according to the source.

After learning of the existence of the blacklist, Breitbart News obtained a partial screenshot of the full blacklist file from a source within Google. It reveals that the blacklist includes search terms related to both mass shootings and the progressive anti-second amendment activist David Hogg.

This suggests Google has followed the lead of Democrat politicians, who have repeatedly pushed tech companies to censor content related to the Parkland school shooting and the Parkland anti-gun activists. It’s part of a popular new line of thought in the political-media establishment, which views the public as too stupid to question conspiracy theories for themselves.

Here is the partial blacklist leaked to Breitbart:

2117 plane crash Russian

2118 plane crash

2119 an-148

2120 florida shooting conspiracy

2121 florida shooting crisis actors

2122 florida conspiracy

2123 florida false flag shooting

2124 florida false flag

2125 fake florida school shooting

2126 david hogg hoax

2127 david hogg fake

2128 david hogg crisis actor

2129 david hogg forgets lines

2130 david hogg forgets his lines

2131 david hogg cant remember his lines

2132 david hogg actor

2133 david hogg cant remember

2134 david hogg conspiracy

2135 david hogg exposed

2136 david hogg lines

2137 david hogg rehearsing

2120 florida shooting conspiracy

The full internal filepath of the blacklist, according to another source, is:

//depot/google3/googledata/superroot/youtube/youtube_controversial_query_blacklist

Contradictions

Responding to a request for comment, a YouTube spokeswoman said the company wants to promote “authoritative” sources in its search results, but maintained that YouTube is a “platform for free speech” that “allow[s]” both pro-life and pro-abortion content.

YouTube’s full comment:

YouTube is a platform for free speech where anyone can choose to post videos, as long as they follow our Community Guidelines, which prohibit things like inciting violence and pornography. We apply these policies impartially and we allow both pro-life and pro-choice opinions. Over the last year we’ve described how we are working to better surface news sources across our site for news-related searches and topical information. We’ve improved our search and discovery algorithms, built new features that clearly label and prominently surface news sources on our homepage and search pages, and introduced information panels to help give users more authoritative sources where they can fact check information for themselves.

In the case of the “abortion” search results, YouTube’s intervention to insert “authoritative” content resulted in the downranking of pro-life videos and the elevation of pro-abortion ones.

A Google spokesperson took a tougher line than its YouTube subsidiary, stating that “Google has never manipulated or modified the search results or content in any of its products to promote a particular political ideology.”

However, in the leaked discussion thread, a member of Google’s “trust & safety” team, Daniel Aaronson, admitted that the company maintains “huge teams” that work to adjust search results for subjects that are “prone to hyperbolic content, misleading information, and offensive content” – all subjective terms that are frequently used to suppress right-leaning sources.

He also admitted that the interventions weren’t confined to YouTube – they included search results delivered via Google Assistant, Google Home, and in rare cases Google ’s organic search results.

In the thread, Aaronson attempted to explain how search blacklisting worked. He claimed that highly specific searches would generate non-blacklisted results, even controversial ones. But the inclusion of highly specific terms in the YouTube blacklist, like “David Hogg cant remember his lines” – the name of an actual viral video – seems to contradict this.

Aaronson’s full post is copied below:

I work in Trust and Safety and while I have no particular input as to exactly what’s happening for YT I can try to explain why you’d have this kind of list and why people are finding lists like these on Code Search.

When dealing with abuse/controversial content on various mediums you have several levers to deal with problems. Two prominent levers are “Proactive” and “Reactive”:

  • Proactive: Usually refers to some type of algorithm/scalable solution to a general problem
    • E.g.: We don’t allow straight up porn on YouTube so we create a classifier that detects porn and automatically remove or flag for review the videos the porn classifier is most certain of
  • Reactive: Usually refers to a manual fix to something that has been brought to our attention that our proactive solutions don’t/didn’t work on and something that is clearly in the realm of bad enough to warrant a quick targeted solution (determined by pages and pages of policies worked on over many years and many teams to be fair and cover necessary scope)
    • E,g.: A website that used to be a good blog had it’s domain expire and was purchased/repurposed to spam Search results with autogenerated pages full of gibberish text, scraped images, and links to boost traffic to other spammy sites. It is manually actioned for violating policy

These Organic Search policies and the consequences to violating them are public

Manually reacting to things is not very scalable, and is not an ideal solution to most problems, so the proactive lever is really the one we all like to lean on. Ideally, our classifiers/algorithm are good at providing useful and rich results to our users while ignoring things at are not useful or not relevant. But we all know, this isn’t exactly the case all the time (especially on YouTube).

From a user perspective, there are subjects that are prone to hyperbolic content, misleading information, and offensive content. Now, these words are highly subjective and no one denies that. But we can all agree generally, lines exist in many cultures about what is clearly okay vs. what is not okay. E.g. a video of a puppy playing with a toy is probably okay in almost every culture or context, even if it’s not relevant to the query. But a video of someone committing suicide and begging others to follow in his/her footsteps is probably on the other side of the line for many folks.

While my second example is technically relevant to the generic query of “suicide”, that doesn’t mean that this is a very useful or good video to promote on the top of results for that query. So imagine a classifier that says, for any queries on a particular text file, let’s pull videos using signals that we historically understand to be strong indicators of quality (I won’t go into specifics here, but those signals do exist). We’re not manually curating these results, we’re just saying “hey, be extra careful with results for this query because many times really bad stuff can appear and lead to a bad experience for most users”. Ideally the proactive lever did this for us, but in extreme cases where we need to act quickly on something that is so obviously not okay, the reactive/manual approach is sometimes necessary. And also keep in mind, that this is different for every product. The bar for changing classifiers or manual actions on span in organic search is extremely high. However, the bar for things we let our Google Assistant say out loud might be a lot lower. If I search for “Jews run the banks” – I’ll likely find anti-semitic stuff in organic search. As a Jew, I might find some of these results offensive, but they are there for people to research and view, and I understand that this is not a reflection of Google feels about this issue. But if I ask Google assistant “Why do Jews run the banks” we wouldn’t be similarly accepting if it repeated and promoted conspiracy theories that likely pop up in organic search in her smoothing voice.

Whether we agree or not, user perception of our responses, results, and answers of different products and mediums can change. And I think many people are used to the fact that organic search is a place where content should be accessible no matter how offensive it might be, however, the expectation is very different on a Google Home, a Knowledge Panel, or even YouTube.

These lines are very difficult and can be very blurry, we are all well aware of this. So we’ve got huge teams that stay cognizant of these facts when we’re crafting policies considering classifier changes, or reacting with manual actions – these decisions are not made in a vacuum, but admittedly are also not made in a highly public forum like TGIF or IndustryInfo (as you can imagine, decisions/agreement would be hard to get in such a wide list – image if all your CL’s were reviewed by every engineer across Google all the time). I hope that answers some questions and gives a better layer of transparency without going into details about our “Pepsi formula”.

Best,

Daniel

The fact that Google manually curates politically contentious search results fits in with a wider pattern of political activity on the part of the tech giant.

In 2018, Breitbart News exclusively published a leaked video from the company that showed senior management in dismay at Trump’s election victory, and pledging to use the company’s power to make his populist movement a “hiccup” in history.

Breitbart also leaked “The Good Censor,” an internal research document from Google that admits the tech giant is engaged in the censorship of its own products, partly in response to political events.

Another leak revealed that employees within the company, including Google’s current director of Trust and Safety, tried to kick Breitbart News off Google’s market-dominating online ad platforms.

Yet another showed Google engaged in targeted turnout operations aimed to boost voter participation in pro-Democrat demographics in “key states” ahead of the 2016 election. The effort was dubbed a “silent donation” by a top Google employee.

Evidence for Google’s partisan activities is now overwhelming. President Trump has previously warned Google, as well as other Silicon Valley giants, not to engage in censorship or partisan activities. Google continues to defy him.

Allum Bokhari is the senior technology correspondent at Breitbart News. You can follow him on TwitterGab.ai and add him on Facebook. Email tips and suggestions to [email protected].

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