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House Republicans Grill Google CEO Sundar Pichai Over Alleged Political Bias

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Photo of Google CEO Sundar Pichai (Drew Clark/Breakfast Media)

WASHINGTON, December 11, 2018 – The CEO of search engine Google came to Washington on Tuesday and politely rebutted all charges that the world’s largest search engine is biased against conservative viewpoints.

In the calm and controlled voice of an engineer, CEO Sundar Pichai said, “Our products are built without any bias,” responding to a question of the House Judiciary Committee Chairman.

“We don’t build partisan features,” he repeated later to another Republican member of the committee.

Indeed, Pichai had to contend with an almost-uninterrupted narrative – fed largely, but not completely, by members of the GOP – that Google’s search engine results were in some way systematically biased.

Moreover, as the head of one of the country’s leading information technology companies, Pichai was robustly challenged on issues ranging from the extent of Google’s surveillance-like data-collection to the existence of prototype search engine that returned restricted results – and is apparently designed to cater to the communist China market.

Pichai didn’t face as much overt hostility as was experienced by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg when he sat down for his grilling before the same committee after the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal earlier this year. But Pichai wasn’t welcomed very warmly, either.

On privacy, Pichai said that he, like Facebook CEO Zuckerberg, supported Congress considering data privacy legislation.

Does Google exhibit bias in its search engine results?

Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., set a confrontational tone, without being conspiratorial:

“While it is true that Google is not a government entity and so it does not have to comply with the First Amendment, the American people deserve to know what types of information they are not getting when they perform searches on the internet. The market works best when information about products and services is readily available, and so today – on behalf of this Committee and the American consumer – I hope to get answers from Mr. Pichai regarding who at Google makes the judgment calls on whether to filter or block objectionable content and what metrics Google uses to make those decisions.”

Pichai insisted that Google’s algorithms are designed to accurately reflect what people are talking about online at any given time. Google is not “the internet” so much as representing what is on the internet at any given time, he seemed to be saying.

“Any time you type in a keyword, we crawl copies of billions of web pages, and we take the keyword and match it against pages for relevance, freshness, popularity, how others are using the it, and we try to rank and find the best” pages for that particular keyword, he said.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., used this concept to explain why, when an individual conducts a search for the word “idiot” in Google, the image of Donald Trump comes up repeatedly.

Google doesn’t return these results because Google is making this commentary of the president, Lofgren said. Rather, Google is reflected what others internet users are saying.

Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., made the same point when noting that search results of most of his fellow colleagues were not overtly imbalanced – with the exception of Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa (not a member of the Judiciary Committee) – but has recently made controversial statements about figures linked with white supremacy movements.

“If you are getting bad search results on Google, don’t blame Google, blame yourself,” Lieu said to his Republican colleagues.

“This is the fourth hearing in a series of ridiculous hearings [because] the First Amendment protects private individuals and corporations’ rights to freedom of speech.”

Republican representatives pile on against Google

Still, Republican after Republican had a story to tell about a gripe they had regarding Google results. Many lobbed in questions about Google’s privacy and market power.

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, refused to believe that bias was not present in the curation of political content when more than 90 percent of the searches for Donald Trump produce negative stories on the president. He also referred to pro-Trump content being labelled, or “flagged,” as hate speech.

“This doesn’t happen by accident, but is baked into the algorithms,” said Smith.

Pichai disagreed, and referred to the company’s political neutrality in algorithm results as “sacrosanct.”

But Smith wasn’t buying it, and referred to the evidence of political bias on the Google platform as “irrefutable.”

Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, contended that virtually every reference to a health care bill that he had introduced was “an attack on our bill.” He had to go to the third or fourth page of the search engine’s results to find one that was “remotely positive.”

Replied Pichai: “We use a methodology about what is being said about a topic at any given time.

“It is in our interest to make sure we reflect what is happening out there in the most effective method possible. Our algorithms have no sense of politics.”

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., criticized an apparent divergence in the rates that are charged for the keywords being used by Republican candidates versus Democratic candidates.

Pichai said that prices for advertising were determined on the basis of automatic auctions, and that that was “why I am confident that we don’t approach our work with political bias.”

Nonethless, Pichai committed to following up with Issa to looking at the reasons for the divergent pricing of keywords for Republican versus Democratic candidates.

Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, pressed for details on the information collection capacities of an Android phone. Then, acknowledging that Google had a First Amendment right to present the search results it wanted, added: “I hope we don’t get to the point where government comes in and regulates what is biased, because [Google] is an independent and free company.”

Privacy and China also play a role in the hearing

Pichai was also criticized repeatedly – by representatives of both parties – for its sweeping data-collection practices, and for a reported prototype of a search engine for the Chinese market.

Pichai wiggled on the question of a Chinese search engine: “We have no plans to launch in China,” he said, adding, “Right now, we have no plans to launch search in China.”

Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Penn., finally got the most information out of him, when he acknowledged the existence of a prototype products for “what search would look like” in a country that require mandatory content filtering.

At one point, he said, more than 100 Google engineers were working on the project.

 

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Congress

Trump Reveals Details of Pelosi’s Afghanistan Troop Visit and Suggests She Violate Security by Flying Commercial

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Image by activistpost.com

WASHINGTON, January 17, 2009 — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday got an answer to the question of how President Donald Trump would respond to her decision to postpone inviting him to deliver his annual message to Congress: Tit for tat.

In retaliation for her denying him a nationally-televised “State of the Union” address, Trump informed Pelosi that she and a number of her colleagues would not have access to the military aircraft they’d planned to use for an official trip to visit NATO allies and American troops in Brussels, Egypt, and Afghanistan.

“Due to the Shutdown, I am sorry to inform you that your trip to Brussels, Egypt, and Afghanistan has been postponed. We will schedule this seven-day excursion when the Shutdown is over. In light of the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay, I am sure you would agree that postponing this public relations event is totally appropriate,” Trump said Thursday in a letter to Pelosi’s office.

“I also feel that, during this period, it would be better if you were in Washington negotiating with me and joining the Strong Border Security movement to end the Shutdown. Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative.”

Trump’s decision was so sudden and last-minute that lawmakers found out about it while on a bus headed to Joint Base Andrews, where they’d been scheduled to board a flight for the Brussels-bound leg of the trip.

White House officials said the decision was not aimed solely at Pelosi or her colleagues, as any other Congressional travel will be canceled until the government re-opens.

While Pelosi’s rationale for disinviting Trump from the Capitol stemmed from a desire to avoid more strain on the Department of Homeland Security employees – including Secret Service agents – who’ve been working without pay for nearly a month, Trump’s actions won’t have the same effect.

The trip’s use of a military aircraft meant it would not have involved any federal workers who are currently going without pay, as the Defense Department is fully funded for fiscal year 2019.

Still, a president who owns his own Boeing 757 might see the idea of forcing the Speaker of the House to fly commercial as a fun bit of revenge.

However, Trump’s revelation of her destination and suggestion that she travel commercially might not be a laughing matter.

Because Afghanistan is considered an active combat zone, the details of Pelosi’s trip had been a closely-guarded secret, with her staff asking news organizations to hold off on reporting that the trip would take place for national security reasons.

A Christmastime trip to Iraq by President Trump also took place under similar conditions, with the pool of reporters who travel with him kept from reporting on the trip until he had left Iraqi airspace.

But it’s not just Trump’s reveal of Pelosi’s destination that goes against established protocol. By suggesting that Pelosi fly commercial, he encouraged her to violate important protocols established after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks to reporters during her weekly press conference on January 17, 2019 Breakfast Media / Andrew Feinberg

Because the Presidential Succession Act puts the Speaker of the House second in the presidential line of succession — after Vice President Mike Pence but before the Senate President Pro Tempore, Charles Grassley, R-Iowa — her security needs are more complex than the rest of her leadership.

While Pelosi doesn’t have a Secret Service detail, as Speaker she is guarded round-the-clock by a group of Special Agents from the U.S. Capitol Police Dignitary Protection Division.

The USCP bodyguards – whose “Special Agent” status allows them to protect Pelosi anywhere in the United States – are drawn from the same elite group as the two USCP officers who gained acclaim two years ago, after defending a group of House Republicans when they were shot at on a Virginia baseball field.

But the security measure Trump suggested Pelosi cavalierly ignore originated to deal with an even more insidious threat than a mass shooter. Unlike most members of Congress, the Speaker of the House has generally not flown on commercial aircraft since the day Al Qaeda terrorists flew hijacked passenger planes into the Pentagon and the Twin Towers of New York City’s World Trade Center.

This precaution began in the wake of those terror attacks, when the Defense Department found that military transport aircraft should be provided for the use of then-Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.

Scott Palmer, who served as Hastert’s chief of staff, told BeltwayBreakfast that one major concern behind the decision was ensuring that the White House Situation Room be able to reach the Speaker at all times.

“When you’re sitting on a commercial plane, that’s not very easy,” said Palmer, who served as Hastert’s top aide from his election in 1986 through 2007, when the now-disgraced Illinoian retired after losing the gavel to none other than Pelosi.

“It was essentially a security measure and a presidential succession issue,” he explained.

Pelosi’s air transport also attracted attention during her first go-round in the Speaker’s chair when Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt, then the GOP Whip, suggested that Pelosi had demanded she be allocated an Air Force C-32 transport – the same model of plane frequently used by the Vice President – to travel between Washington and her San Francisco, California home.

Blunt suggested the C-32, which he called a “flying Lincoln bedroom,” was meant to be at Pelosi’s beck and call to transport her and whomever else she so desired.

Then-President George W. Bush’s White House stood behind Pelosi’s access to military aircraft.

Asked about Blunt’s comments, then-White House Press Secretary Tony Snow told reporters that her air travel needs had the support of the White House and Pentagon.

“After September 11th, the Department of Defense — with the consent of the White House — agreed that the Speaker of the House should have military transport,” said Snow, who passed away in 2008. “Speaker Hastert had access to military aircraft and Speaker Pelosi will, too,” he said at the time.

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Trump Entices ‘Problem Solvers’ to White House in Unsuccessful Attempt to Squeeze Pelosi on Shutdown

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Evan Vucci/AP/REX/Shutterstock; MICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON, January 16, 2019 — President Donald Trump’s second consecutive attempt to publicly drive a wedge between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s leadership team and rank-and-file Democrats was as ineffective as the first.

Although seven Democratic members of the House’s moderately-minded Problem Solver’s Caucus joined their Republican colleagues in a White House Situation Room meeting with the president, they made clear that their presence would in no way indicate a willingness to allow Donald Trump to dictate terms on border security funding while the longest-ever partial government shutdown in American history continues.

In a statement, the seven House Democrats — New York Reps. Anthony Brindisi, Thomas Suozzi and Max Rose, Freshman Reps. Dean Phillips, D-Minn. and Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., second-term Rep. Vincente Gonzales, D-Texas and caucus co-chair Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J. made clear that ending the nearly-month-long government shutdown is a necessary precondition for a successful negotiation on border security.

“Over the last weeks, we have been listening to our constituents and speaking with our fellow Members of Congress — in both parties and in both chambers. There is strong agreement across the aisle and around the country: We must reopen the government” they said in a statement.

“Our security, safety, and economy have been compromised, and millions of families are suffering.”

The Problem Solver’s Caucus members suggested that there is bipartisan agreement that reopening the government would provide the possibility of both parties coming together to fix some of the country’s toughest problems.

“But that conversation can only begin in earnest once the government is reopened. We accepted the White House’s invitation to meet today to convey that message.”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders had this to say about the meeting: “The President and his team had a constructive meeting with bipartisan members of the problem solvers caucus. They listened to one another and now both have a good understanding of what the other wants. We look forward to more conversations like this.”

The message those seven Democrats conveyed to the president also seemed to put an end to the tactic he’s employed in his quest to force Democrats to accept blame for the shutdown, which is almost 26 days old.

For the second time in as many days, moderate-minded members refused to put themselves between Trump and House Democrats. White House officials had been attempting to portray Pelosi and other Democratic leaders as out of touch with the rank-and-file of their caucus.

The White House initially invited a number of House Democratic backbenchers to have lunch with a group of their Republican colleagues and the president on Tuesday

There appeared to be little rhyme or reason to who received invitations apart from some members of the Blue Dog Caucus, a group of moderate Democrats who mostly reside in so-called “red” states.

However, not one of those who were invited took the president up on his invitation.

One member of House Democratic leadership said the White House’s futile pursuit of Democratic allies reveals how badly the president has miscalculated.

“The president is definitely underestimating how unified Democrats are, but more importantly, he’s missing how completely isolated he is in the country right now” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a member of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee and a leadership liaison to the caucus’ junior members. “Nobody wants to be a pawn in Trump’s bizarre game.”

Raskin told BeltwayBreakfast he has “no idea” why Trump continues to focus on House Democrats when the Senate has yet to take up any of the GOP-authored appropriations bills the House has passed in recent days. Those pieces of legislation, which members of the upper chamber had approved unanimously, were authored as part of a compromise which the president upended after criticism from right-wing talk radio host Rush Limbaugh and anti-immigration commentator Ann Coulter.

“No one is going to budge in terms of demanding the reopening of the government. Either the president does not understand the political dynamics of the situation, or this is a comical effort to distract attention from [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell and the Republicans in the Senate who could reopen the government today” Raskin said.

The second-term Progressive Caucus member said that many of his GOP colleagues are dismayed over the president’s stubbornness, and are despairing of the political consequences yet to come if the shutdown continues.

“They want to see the whole thing go away,” Raskin said, predicting that if Senate Republicans begin to break away from McConnell and vote to reopen the government, enough of their House counterparts would join with Democrats that a veto of any funding bill could be easily overridden.

“The moment that any significant number of Senate Republicans blow the whistle, you’re going to see a cascade of Republicans joining the movement to reopen the government — I don’t think they can sustain the kind of political isolation that is Donald Trump’s calling card.”

 

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Pelosi Cancel’s Trump’s State of the Union Invitation During Shutdown

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WASHINGTON, January 16, 2019 — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has advised President Donald Trump that he shouldn’t plan to deliver his second State of the Union address until the longest partial government shutdown in American history has come to an end.

“Sadly, given the security concerns and unless government re-opens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after the government has re-opened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing to the Congress on January 29th,” said Pelosi, D-Calif., in a Wednesday letter addressed to the president.

The Speaker cited the “extraordinary demands” the president’s annual address would place on the United States Secret Service, thanks to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s decision to designate the president’s annual State of the Union address as a National Security Special Event.

Nielsen’s decision places the Secret Service in charge of coordinating the interlocking arrangements required to secure an event which will place the President, Vice President, and most of the presidential line of succession in the same room as Congress, the Supreme Court, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a Diplomatic Corps representing dozens of foreign nations.

The White House has so far declined to comment on Pelosi’s letter, but Nielsen addressed the matter in a tweet Wednesday afternoon.

“The Department of Homeland Security and the US Secret Service are fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union. We thank the Service for their mission focus and dedication and for all they do each day to secure our homeland,” Nielsen tweeted.

Pelosi’s suggestion of a written submission is a nod to both the history and constitutional underpinnings of the president’s annual message to Congress. More than an annual political manifesto, an annual message is required by the first clause of Article II, Section 3 of the constitution, which states that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

Although Trump is required by the Constitution to deliver an annual message, he can’t just show up whenever he wants. The rules of the House of Representatives require him to have an invitation before he can enter the House chamber, an American adaptation of the British tradition by which the House of Commons is off-limits to the sovereign.

The modern history of presidents addressing a joint session of Congress began in 1913 under President Woodrow Wilson, ending more than a century of presidents who fulfilled that obligation by submitting a written report to Congress.

While the next two presidents returned to written submissions, President Franklin Roosevelt revived Wilson’s innovation and turned it into the modern, nationally-broadcast event to which Americans have become accustomed.

Nancy Pelosi’s letter to Trump: Letter-to-President-Trump-SOTU.

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