Saturday, April 02, 2016

"Dark Money"

This book by "The New Yorker" magazine writer Jane Mayer is subtitled "The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right".   It is primarily the story of the Koch brothers and their outsized contributions to the political right wing.  Published this year but written over the four previous years, it is especially riveting now as their obvious supported candidate is the hyper conservative and relentlessly manipulative Ted Cruz.

While the book also details the activities of other billionaires supporting far right wing causes, like the families of Scaife, Mellon, Coors, Bradley and others, the primary focus by far is the Kochs'.  As major players in the fossil fuel industry, this not too well known family has given more in contributions for anti-climate change issues than Exxon Mobil or any major corporate, by far. Beyond that, whether it's family values issues, or voting rights, or health care, any initiatives leading to any central government regulation have been opposed the Kochs.  At the time of the publication of this book, the Kochs and their network were expected to spend $889 million on this election cycle.  That's more than any political party and dwarfs what any industry plans to spend.

This is an extremely well written book.  It is, in fact, an extraordinary tale.  That said, it comes with a bias from the outset that everything Koch is, to be blunt, bad.  That is reminiscent of Tim Weiner's National Book Award winner "Legacy of Ashes" on the history of the CIA.  That took on the same slant on the CIA, and indeed much of that history was bad, often ridiculously laughable, as these young entitled preppies took on the world with almost unlimited resources but with limited personal intelligence.  Still there were things mentioned in the book that seemed valid.  As the book detailed the CIA funneling disguised money through the Marshall Plan to European political parties in France, Italy, and other countries as almost criminal, when one puts that against the backdrop of Stalin's funding of European communist parties, a Stalin who would starve his own people to get funds to spread his power, it seemed to be exactly what one would want an intelligence agency to do.

Mayer's book is important and it is correct that the Kochs' are playing an unprecedented role in national politics.  It is correct that there is no way that the Kochs', with their chronically high polluting industries,  are not doing all of this organizing and spending just for ideological or selfless reasons.  What they are doing should be known and should be counteracted to the best extent possible.  That said it is all not necessarily wrong, and mostly it is not illegal.  It is, however, terribly unfortunate what it is doing to our democracy.  Laws need to be changed, especially the campaign finance laws that were blessed by the Supreme Court.

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