Changing the Culture

The key to deep, lasting social change is changing the intellectual and social culture that serves as a platform for the politics, the norms, the ingrained assumptions and expectations, and certainly the day-to-day exchange of interests and playing of tactics.

In the broader field of U.S. society, conservatives did this in the 1980s with a linked limited government/family values discourse, and liberals did it a generation earlier through the civil rights and anti-war movements.  In the legal field, which both follows and leads broader societal changes, “conservative” legal thinkers (the labels are harder here) changed the culture in the 1990s with a linked strict-constructionist and law-and-economics discourse, but only after “liberals” changed it a generation earlier through critical legal theory and the clinical legal education discourses.

Sometimes these culture-changing developments are easy to follow: key cases, articles, or political or social events.  But far more often they occur under the radar, subtly but (I believe) intentionally masked, and very often using controversial methods and tactics, such as, for those with money and power, lobbying and interest-sharing deals, or for those that don’t, street protests and civil disobedience.  These are only examples: part of what makes the culture-change analysis so fascinating is the amazing variety of methods and tactics that interest and ideology groups employ.

A great illustrative article on how this has been done by Google was published recently in the Washington Post.  Google is a great subject to really explore the difficulties here because of its unique identity — I would submit that the vitality of Google’s halcyon-days promise to not be “evil” is the defining question of the technological/political/legal moment we are witnessing.  What is going on here is a damning indictment, from one perspective, and a celebration of social dynamics, from another perspective.  Food for so much thought. 

Google, once disdainful of lobbying, now a master of Washington influence, Wash Post, Apr. 13, 2014.  Describes how Google has developed a massive lobbying shop, but in particular focuses on how Google orchestrated a series of apparently independent academic symposium on the state of competition in the online search field at the same time as it was facing an FTC investigation on the same and used the symposium to mount a massive de facto lobbying campaign on key congressional and FTC contacts.

The behind-the-scenes machinations demonstrate how Google — once a lobbying weakling — has come to master a new method of operating in modern-day Washington, where spending on traditional lobbying is rivaled by other, less visible forms of influence.

That system includes financing sympathetic research at universities and think tanks, investing in nonprofit advocacy groups across the political spectrum and funding pro-business coalitions cast as public-interest projects.

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The company has also pioneered new and unexpected ways to influence decision-makers, harnessing its vast reach. It has befriended key lawmakers in both parties by offering free training sessions to Capitol Hill staffers and campaign operatives on how to use Google products that can help target voters.

Through a program for charities, Google donates in-kind advertising, customized YouTube channels and Web site analytics to think tanks that are allied with the company’s policy goals.

Google “fellows” — young lawyers, writers and thinkers paid by the company — populate elite think tanks such as the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the New America Foundation.

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An early sign of Google’s new Washington attitude came in September 2011, when executives paid a visit to the Heritage Foundation, the stalwart conservative think tank that has long served as an intellectual hub on the right, to attend a weekly lunch for conservative bloggers. . . .

A few weeks after the blogger session, Heritage researcher James L. Gattuso penned a critique of the antitrust investigation into Google, praising the company as “an American success story.”

That winter, Heritage joined the chorus of groups weighing in against the anti-piracy legislation.

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[re GMU] For the past several years, the free-market-oriented law center has received an annual donation from the company, a grant that totaled $350,000 last year, according to the school. . .

Even as Google executives peppered the GMU staff with suggestions of speakers and guests to invite to the event, the company asked the school not to broadcast its involvement.

“It may seem like Google is overwhelming the conference,” [Google’s lawyer] fretted in an e-mail to the center’s administrative coordinator, Jeffrey Smith, after reviewing the confirmed list of attendees a few weeks before the event. She asked Smith to mention “only a few Googlers.”

Smith was reassuring. “We will certainly limit who we announce publicly from Google,” he replied.

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Cato was not always in sync with Google’s policy agenda. In previous years, the think tank’s bloggers and scholars had been sharply critical of the company’s support for government rules limiting the ways providers such as Comcast and Verizon could charge for Internet services.

But, like many institutions in Washington, Cato has since found common ground with Google.

And the think tank has benefited from the company’s investments, receiving $480,000 worth of in-kind “ad words” from Google last year, according to people familiar with the donation.


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New BHRRC Quarterly Report

The latest Quarterly Report from the Business & Human Rights Resources Centre is out.  These periodic BHRRC reports, together with BHRRC’s weekly newsletters, are the best and most comprehensive resources available on corporate accountability / business and human rights lawsuits and other developments.  The latest reports summary of developments with lawsuits in national jurisdictions is as follows (for links to more information on each, see the Report itself).  I hope to be able to provide further comment on some of these cases shortly. Continue reading

Donziger, Ecuadorians File Emergency Motion to Stay Judge Kaplan’s RICO Decision

Reprinted from ChevronToxico

New York, NY – Saying the decision in Chevron’s RICO case is without legal precedent, New York Attorney Steven Donziger and two Ecuadorian villagers today filed papers with Judge Lewis A. Kaplan seeking to stay his decision granting an injunction and other remedies to Chevron after it was hit with a $9.5 billion judgment in Ecuador for deliberately dumping toxic waste into the rainforest.

The papers, filed by Donziger’s lead appellate attorney Deepak Gupta, argue that Judge Kaplan’s decision is highly likely to be thrown out on appeal and will cause “irreparable harm” if not stayed pending the appeals process, which can sometimes take two years or more.

The papers, which can be read here, argue that Judge Kaplan’s RICO decision “seeks to preemptively undermine the judicial decree of a foreign sovereign nation and, in so doing, to let Chevron Corporation off the hook for decades of deliberate pollution in the Amazon rainforest.” The brief adds: “Along the way, it sidesteps jurisdictional hurdles, runs afoul of fundamental norms of international comity, and contravenes multiple decisions of the Second Circuit arising out of this same long-running controversy.” Continue reading

Second Circuit Response, Part I

Second Circuit Decision in Chevron Corp. v Donziger et al.:

PART I: Rubber-Stamping Biased Findings Designed to Intimidate Foreign Courts and Protect an “Important” U.S. Company

[W]e are dealing here with a company of considerable importance to our economy that employs thousands all over the world, that supplies a group of commodities, gasoline, heating oil, other fuels and lubricants on which every one of us depends every single day. I don’t think there is anybody in this courtroom who wants to pull his car into a gas station to fill up and finds that there isn’t any gas there because these folks [the Ecuadorians, as part of their efforts to enforce their environmental judgment] have attached it in Singapore or wherever else.

—U.S. federal judge Lewis A. Kaplan, Feb. 18, 2011

The Second Circuit opinion in the Chevron Corp. v Donziger et al. case has been a disappointment for those who (try to) think that U.S. federal courts are “above the fray” of ideological politics and corporate interests. The opinion is a blatant “hatchet job” on Steven Donziger, the New York-based human rights lawyer who for the last 20 years has teamed up with Ecuadorian indigenous nationalities and Amazon farmers to press an historic environmental lawsuit against Chevron, and who Chevron considered so dangerous that in 2009 its top strategists crafted “long-term strategy” to avoid the environmental liability, a strategy that they succinctly summarized, in internal emails, in two words: “demonize Donziger.” Continue reading