Perfectly Normal Paranoia

Life can be just cold and brutal. At least it was in the late seventies up in Rochester, New York, in the deep of winter, grading high school essays on Hamlet’s issues with his mother or whatever. At least the local public radio station was playing the new BBC absurdist radio serial, Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – and that made things a bit better. The whole tale hinged on a race of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings who built a computer named Deep Thought to calculate the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. The answer turned out to be forty-two.

That’s it? No one knew what to make of that. After ten million years of massive computer calculations no one remembered the question in the first place – but the kicker was that Deep Thought had built a giant separate computer to do those ten million years of massive calculations – Earth, the planet and everything on it. The computer operators were a number of tiny white mice – actually hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings which only looked like mice, because that was convenient. We thought we were experimenting on them. They were experimenting on us. We had no clue.

Of course this was playful nonsense, but Adams liked to use nonsense to make sense. When the everyman-hero of his tale, Arthur Dent, comes to realize that everything he thought about life, and what we do with it, and what it all means, was much more than completely wrong, he finally gets it:

“All through my life I’ve had this strange unaccountable feeling that something was going on in the world, something big, even sinister, and no one would tell me what it was.”

“No,” said the old man, “that’s just perfectly normal paranoia. Everyone in the Universe has that.”

What? You thought you were special? You thought that something was going on in the world, something big, even sinister, and no one would tell you what it was – but you were sure something was going on. Everyone feels that way – but there is no War on Christianity in America. Our military is not plotting to take over Texas and shoot all the gun owners and ban pick-up trucks and country music. All of the world’s scientists, except for three, and the Pope, are not lying about climate change in order destroy capitalism, and America, to bring about One World Government where each of us has to answer to the UN and all that. There are no hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional little white mice – Douglas Adams was messing with you – but a small group of billionaires is quietly taking over the American political system, and thus America, and thus the world.

Some see that. Perhaps that’s just perfectly normal paranoia, but there are the little things:

The Republican National Committee’s data arm last year called it a “historic” occasion when it struck a deal to share voter information with the Koch brothers’ rapidly expanding political empire.

It was an uneasy détente between the party committee, which views itself as the rightful standard-bearer for the GOP, and the behemoth funded by Charles and David Koch, which is free of the campaign finance restrictions that bind the RNC and plans to spend almost $900 million in the 2016 election cycle to elect a Republican to the White House.

Party leaders, including the current chief digital officer for the RNC, hailed the deal as an important step forward in the GOP’s attempt to modernize itself.

But after the fall midterm elections, the deal was allowed to expire without being renewed. Since then, relations between the two sides have soured, turning into what one Republican operative described as “all-out war.”

The Republicans want their party back:

Interviews with more than three dozen people, including top decision-makers in both camps, have revealed that the Kochs’ i360 platform for managing voter contacts – which is viewed by many as a superior, easier-to-use interface than what’s on offer from the RNC – is becoming increasingly popular among Republican campaigns.

The RNC is now openly arguing, however, that the Kochs’ political operation is trying to control the Republican Party’s master voter file, and to gain influence over – some even say control of – the GOP.

“I think it’s very dangerous and wrong to allow a group of very strong, well-financed individuals who have no accountability to anyone to have control over who gets access to the data when, why and how,” said Katie Walsh, the RNC’s chief of staff.

This is a sort of war:

Presiding over the RNC in this new era has been Reince Priebus, who by all accounts has had a successful run as chairman since 2011. … Priebus believes the RNC is the proper custodian of the Republican Party’s master file on the nation’s electorate, which is used as a starting point for campaigns, who then use that information to build lists – called voter universes – of the people in a state or district that they want to target for both turnout and persuasion. Volunteers and donors are also targeted for recruitment using such lists.

The core issue, from Priebus’ point of view, is one of loyalty and allegiance. The RNC is a permanent entity, committed to the Republican Party without question. The Koch network is too independent from the party to be trusted with possession of the GOP’s most valuable core assets. If the Kochs – whose political history is steeped more in libertarianism than it is in any loyalty to the Republican Party – decided next week to use their database to benefit only their massive multinational corporation, they could do so.

There is that, but some aren’t worried:

Some in the Republican Party agree with Priebus’ point of view, believing the issue of allegiance to be fundamental. Others in the GOP, even some in highly consequential positions, think Priebus and the RNC are crying wolf. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) have been reluctant to conclude that i360 represents a threat to the party.

And the problem for the RNC is that while it has political data going back roughly two decades, you need more than just data in order to be the data hub for a political party. And that is where the RNC has fallen short. Its data is good, and it has continued to enrich it and even to help campaigns and key battleground states build sophisticated voter universes through the work last year of a company called TargetPoint. But campaigns need to use data, not just have it on the shelf.

It seems they need the Koch brothers’ software. They’ll lose without. With it, the Koch brothers will own and operate the Republican Party. Something big and sinister is going on here, perhaps:

Among the GOP presidential primary candidates, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are using i360 data services exclusively, while former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) are building their own voter files. …

The RNC has signed data-sharing agreements with most of the 2016 candidates or likely candidates. And the RNC – as it did in 2014 – is trying to discourage campaigns and state parties from signing up with i360, according to numerous conversations with people who have knowledge of such conversations. This was a tactic that irritated many people in 2014.

Let them be irritated:

As long as i360 and the RNC worked together, both entities would receive the same data from operatives and volunteers in the field knocking on doors and making calls. But if i360 achieved dominance as the user platform of choice for Republican operatives, and if its relationship with the RNC ever went south and data-sharing ended, the Kochs would continue to get the bulk of ongoing fresh data collection, while the RNC would have to scramble and might find itself well behind i360.

The fear at the RNC is that this would give a private business empire the master voter file in Republican politics, and the party’s main committee would be reduced to that of playing a bit role.

Perhaps that’s just perfectly normal paranoia, and everyone in the universe has that, but Heather Parton isn’t so sure:

There has been a long running joke in political circles that we should just force politicians to wear the logos of their donors and favored lobbyists the way NASCAR drivers wears logos on their jumpsuit. It would make it much easier for voters to identify to whom our elected representatives really answer. Right now they just wear an American flag pin and that doesn’t really tell us much.

But there’s not much we can do about this:

Billionaires are perfectly happy to “own” politicians these days. If they ever had any shame about openly offering huge sums of money to anyone who will advance their agenda, paying lip service at best to the idea of democracy, they have managed to overcome it.

(Ironically, the group which filed the lawsuit challenging the democratic concept of “one person, one vote,” which was just accepted by the Supreme Court, is financed by right-wing millionaires through the old-fashioned tax-deductible “charitable trust” model, so perhaps these ostentatious billionaires aren’t quite ready to take full ownership of the franchise just yet.)

Since this insane income inequality is increasingly seen as almost supernatural, a condition ordained by the “invisible hand” of God, and to such a degree that many liberals have come to the conclusion that the only way to advance a liberal agenda is to find our own liberal billionaires.

That would be this:

Usually the news that a major Republican donor will be dropping hundreds of millions of dollars on a campaign to influence voters on energy and climate change would make environmentalists worried. But not when that donor is spending $175 million to get Republicans to talk about clean energy and the solutions to the climate crisis.

Entrepreneur Jay Faison founded the ClearPath Foundation in December of last year in part to restore Republicans’ environmental legacy. Tuesday he announced that he will be investing $175 million on a public education campaign that will include a social media and online advertising to get Republicans to talk about market-based solutions to climate change. That includes $40 million through the 2016 cycle, and another $10 million as a seed fund for a political advocacy group. The foundation invested between $1 and $9 million in a few solar energy projects.

Parton:

It is very hard to argue with that, and the environmental groups don’t even try. There is no greater challenge on the planet than the climate crisis and it would be foolhardy to turn away from any possible assistance in getting that done. The Sierra Club’s national campaign director Debbie Sease told ThinkProgress that “it may or may not be enough, but it’s a really good thing. If you look at the scale of what we need to do on climate, you can’t do it with one party, you need Republicans too. It would be naive of me to think it’s the one thing that’ll turn it around, but it’s a start.”

Unfortunately, the right is antediluvian on this issue, so his “starting point” is trying to get the Republican rank-and-file to admit that the problem even exists and that science isn’t trying to yank their Bibles from their cold, dead hands. This man has his work cut out for him. And, at the end of the day, he will be trying to bring Republicans over to the cause while at the same time promoting conservative “solutions,” to be named later. And, let’s just say those don’t have the greatest track record when it comes to dealing with massive global crises.

Still, climate activists are right to welcome any billionaires they can land.

Environmentalists do what they must:

This problem is so urgent that they cannot afford to be high minded about who they have in their corner, even Republicans who will likely be on the other side of any other issue they might care about. But you have to acknowledge the fundamentally unpleasant reality that it is distasteful for a supposedly democratic society to be chasing the super-rich around begging for what amounts to tip money to save the planet.

Something sinister is going on:

Sure, it’s a good cause, just as George Soros putting money into voting rights programs is a good cause. (Although unlike the other mega-rich donors, he’s abandoned any support for political parties or individuals.) But then Sheldon Adelson thinks backing candidates who promise to kill unions, take a hard line on Israel and keep him out of jail is in service of good causes too. And Foster Friess truly believes that abortion is akin to mass murder so when he spends millions on a Christian Conservative politician it’s done out of heartfelt belief. I don’t think we need to even discuss the fact that the Kochs are motivated as much by their libertarian ideology as they are by profits: to them it’s the same thing.

This is as bad as it seems:

At what point do we simply admit that our democracy has become a competition among billionaires with the citizens simply acting as spectators on the sidelines? And if that were to happen, let’s also admit that the outcome would be many, many players for the cause of low taxes and regulations and very few playing to help the poor or provide a first world safety net for all citizens. Let’s just say that the conservative billionaires would be the 1927 New York Yankees and the liberals would be the Chicago Cubs. We might win a few games but I think we know who will win the series.

But perhaps we don’t need a silly sports metaphor for any of this. What we are looking at is simply a return to a very old system. Sure, we’ll dress it up with a ritual we call “voting” and call it a democracy. But when the government is populated by individuals who’ve won an electoral joust representing various billionaires competing with one another you can’t really say that it’s the real thing. That’s what we call a feudal society and they tend to be very good for the nobles and not so good for the serfs.

Sometimes perfectly normal paranoia is actually justified, even if there are no hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional little white mice. There are those who are on the defensive. Parton had earlier explained that this way:

There may have once been a time when the wealthy only wanted their names on university libraries and hospital wings, but the 2008 economic earthquake brought a lot of attention and criticism down on the heads of the 1 percent. And the 1 percent doesn’t like it. In fact, they hate it.

For years America’s wealthiest have whined and kvetched and clutched their very expensive pearls every time someone made the slightest criticism. Perhaps the most embarrassing was the collective fainting spell they had when President Obama used the term “fat cat” in 2009. It’s possible that some of them, particularly the unreconstructed right-wingers (many of whom rely on Fox News just like the Tea Party) believe that they need to step up and defend their class. They want to exert their power and they want us to see them exert their power. It’s their electoral version of economic shock and awe.

Let’s get paranoid:

Sure, the wealthy have always had outsize influence and access. But now they are openly buying politicians, telling them what they expect in return for their money and daring the rest of the country to do something – anything – about it.

Unfortunately, while laws, reforms, regulations and oversight would all be welcome, it doesn’t look like any of that will fix this, even if the court were to radically shift direction. The problem is that these people have such obscene amounts of money. Until income inequality is adequately addressed, it is likely that our elections will be battles of the billionaires with the crowd (which is to say the voters) basically just cheering from the sidelines.

Ah, but they don’t like it:

Democrats and Republicans alike think money carries too much influence in American politics, according to a poll released Tuesday by The New York Times and CBS News. And a majority of Americans say there needs to be fundamental changes to the way political campaigns are funded or that the system needs to be rebuilt.

Money plays too big of a role in deciding winners and losers of political races, 84 percent responded. Just 5 percent said it is not influential enough, and 10 percent thought things are about where they should be.

At the same time, 58 percent said they were pessimistic that any changes would happen, compared to 39 percent who expressed optimism.

They know who is winning here, even if they don’t like the rules by which they won:

A majority – 54 percent – also said that it did not consider money given to political candidates a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment, as the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark 2010 Citizens United case that gave rise to super PACs.

That’s not to say it matters to them:

Groups calling for change said the poll “shows the toxic legacy” of the conservative Supreme Court (People for the American Way), asked “What now?” (Every Voice) and declared, “It’s time to take democracy back from wealthy special interests” (Common Cause).

But the deregulatory advocate Center for Competitive Politics found its own favorite statistic in the poll. The CCP press release is headed, “CBS/NYT Poll: ‘Less than one percent’ say Campaign Regulations Most Important Issue Facing the Country.”

Money carries too much influence in politics? That’s just perfectly normal paranoia. Everyone in the universe has that. And everyone should.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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