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Feb 05 2020

The Real Conspiracy

I hope my generally dyspeptic nature doesn’t bleed through too much on the page because for me it’s policy, not personality or group identity. I thought Obama was a nice guy (except for the War Crimes stuff), just horribly wrong on the issues, same goes for Bill and Hill. Biden is a closeted Racist (Anita Hill? School Bussing? Crime Bill?) and also deeply misguided about most things in addition to being one of the sleeziest Pols around, so I like him less. Reminds me of LIEberman (a close friend of Joe’s, they share a name) because every time I see him I want to wash up after with Brillo and Bleach.

I can hardly think of a clearer example of the Crony Capitalist Neo Liberal Rot at the center of the Establishment Democratic Party than the Iowa App.

I’ll let our old friend dday explain.

Welcome to the Bullshit Economy
by David Dayen, American Prospect
February 4, 2020

The Iowa caucus disaster is a function of a broken economic structure that rewards con artistry over competence.

In one sense, the Iowa caucus debacle will last just a couple news cycles. We have the data on paper, tabulated in front of tens of thousands of witnesses, and it merely needs to be collated. Eventually it will, and though the damage to the news cycle is irreparable—Joe Biden’s disappointing outcome has been diluted in particular—the process will go on with an accurate count. Caucuses are horrible and probably a dead letter, but for different reasons than the delayed count; the real problems arise from the electoral college-style distortions between the initial percentages and the final delegates, and the tacit vote suppression from forcing people to attend a two-hour meeting on a weeknight when they might be working.

But the spectacle has highlighted a much more consequential problem in America, something I have coined the bullshit economy. We’ve seen elements of it all over the place. When MoviePass offered unlimited screenings for ten bucks a month, when Uber gets an $82 billion valuation for a low-margin taxi business it has never made a dime on, when WeWork implodes after the slightest scrutiny into its numbers, that’s the bullshit economy at work. We have seen the farcical bullshit of Juicero and the consequential bullshit of Theranos.

We have endured the more comprehensive bullshit of the financial industry marking corporate progress by manipulated stock prices and air rather than productive advances for society. We had a financial crisis based on bullshitters telling us housing prices would endlessly rise. We have the bullshit of the private equity industry extracting value from companies through the skillful use of debt and other financial engineering, without regard for whether the companies succeed or fail.

The story of Shadow, makers of the app that utterly failed to deliver in Iowa, is a perfect example of the bullshit economy. It starts by being a tech solution to a non-existent problem. Iowa counties are compact; the largest one has a landmass of 973 square miles, and it’s close to twice the size of the average county in the state. Even there, no major city is more than a 30-minute drive from the county seat, Algona. Even with that ancient technology of the car, you could have each of the 99 counties report final results within a couple hours of the end of the caucuses.

Somehow, the Iowa Democratic Party got sold that they needed to improve upon this, to “disrupt” the caucus reporting. Already, the party had to increase what they would keep track of and tabulate, reporting the first set of results before the 15 percent viability threshold, the second set afterwards, and how that translated into delegate counts. It wasn’t clear why anyone needed to adding another layer of complexity into this with the app. But the app’s backers must have been persistent, getting $60,000—really nothing for the purposes of app development—to design a tool to forward the results to a central repository.

I’ll highlight this because it’s important.

Shadow is a subsidiary of ACRONYM, a non-profit with lots of connections to the Democratic consultancy, including veterans of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and David Plouffe, the Obama campaign manager who sits on the ACRONYM board. MSNBC’s Chris Hayes asked Plouffe on a late-night panel about his participation, and as he swiveled in his chair uncomfortably he disclaimed any knowledge of Shadow or the app.

Similarly, ACRONYM issued a statement positioning themselves as a mere investor in Shadow, without knowledge of their inner workings. But last year, ACRONYM announced they were “launching” Shadow, as part of an effort to help Democrats “win” the Internet and run better campaigns. The head of ACRONYM, Tara McGowan, is married to a Pete Buttigieg strategist.

Ok. Did you get that? And the funding for the Iowa App came from the Biden and Buttigieg campaigns.

I’m sure they had our best interests at heart and no intention of hacking the Primaries.

To continue-

All this doublespeak is a hallmark of the bullshit economy. Your mind doesn’t have to travel to the nether regions of conspiracy, but you can hardly blame people for doing so. This is reflective of the rolling incompetence covered by confidence within the modern economy, especially when you sprinkle on the labor-saving promise of techtopia. When the bullshit economy fails, it robs people’s belief in the basic bargain of commerce, the idea that you get what you pay for, that companies operate in good faith to provide quality service. But when placed in contact with politics, it just demolishes faith in the system. The bullshit economy spurs distrust.

So there we have it: an unnecessary app that narrows the supply chain of votes to the central tabulator, and when the supply chain fails it creates chaos. We see this all over our economy; useless services, narrow supply chains, magnified fiascos. As long as confidence men lie to the right people, they can gain entry and take on enormous responsibility, until it all falls apart. We live in a country where you can spout New Age consultant speak, charm a large foreign investor, and make off to your guitar-shaped living room with over a billion dollars, paid effectively to go away. That’s WeWork guru Adam Neumann’s story, and increasingly it’s our story.

The Iowa disaster is a sign that our economic structures are breaking down, that private enterprise has become a shell game, where who you know matters more than what you can do. The bullshit economy has bled over into politics, with the perfect president but also the perfect amount of grifting and consultant corruption and unbridled tech optimism. This has long been part of politics—anything with that much money sloshing around will invite a little corruption—but the combination of political grift, the ardor for public-private partnerships, and the triumph of ambition over talent has created a fetid stew.

There is no need to attribute sinister motives to actions that can be explained by Greed and Stupidity.

New Details Show How Deeply Iowa Caucus App Developer Was Embedded in Democratic Establishment
Lee Fang, The Intercept
February 4 2020

Throughout the caucus yesterday, Democratic officials reported widespread problems downloading the app and inconsistencies uploading caucus results, leading to the Iowa Democratic Party’s decision to take the unusual step of delaying the release of the results. This is the first year the app was used, and ahead of the caucuses, the Iowa Democratic Party asked that the app’s name be kept secret. The New York Times reported that “its creators had repeatedly questioned the need to keep it secret.”

Kyle Tharp, a spokesperson for Acronym, released a statement on Monday night downplaying his company’s affiliation with Shadow.

“ACRONYM is an investor in several for-profit companies across the progressive media and technology sectors,” Tharp said. “One of those independent, for-profit companies is Shadow, Inc, which also has other private investors.”

David Plouffe, a former campaign manager to Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential bid who joined Acronym’s board, also distanced himself from the company during an MSNBC panel last night. “I have no knowledge of Shadow,” said Plouffe. “It was news to me.”

But previous statements and internal Acronym documents suggest that the two companies, which share office space in Denver, Colorado, are deeply intertwined.

Last year, McGowan, a co-founder of Acronym, wrote on Twitter that she was “so excited to announce @anotheracronym has acquired Groundbase,” a firm that included “their incredible team led by [Gerard Niemira] + are launching Shadow, a new tech company to build smarter infrastructure for campaigns.” McGowan also noted that “With Shadow, we’re building a new model incentivized by adoption over growth.” The acquisition was announced in mid-January of last year.

In an interview on a related podcast last month, McGowan described Niemira as “the CEO of Shadow, which is the technology company that Acronym is the sole investor in now.”

What’s more, internal documents from Acronym show a close relationship with Shadow. An internal organizational chart shows digital strategy firm Lockwood Strategy, FWIW Media, and Shadow as part of a unified structure, with Acronym staff involved in the trio’s operations.

In an all-staff email sent last Friday, an official with Lockwood Strategy reminded team members about “COOL THINGS HAPPENING AROUND ACRONYM.” The list included bullets points such as, “The Iowa caucus is on Monday, and the Shadow team is hard at work,” and “Shadow is working on scaling up VAN integration with Shadow Messaging for some Iowa caucus clients.” (VAN refers to the widely used Democratic voter file technology firm.) Acronym staffers also attended the Shadow staff retreat.

Federal campaign finance records show that the Iowa Democratic Party and the Nevada Democratic Party retained Shadow to develop its caucus app. Shadow has also been retained for digital services by Buttigieg’s campaign, which paid the company $42,500 for software-related services last July, and by Joe Biden’s campaign, which paid Shadow $1,225 for text messaging services, last July as well.

Shadow was launched by former staffers to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, including Niemira, Krista Davis, Ahna Rao, and James Hickey, according to professional biographies listed on LinkedIn. Shadow did not respond to a request for comment.

Acronym, which includes a hybrid model of a 501(c)4 entity that does not disclose donors and a Super PAC that does, has been a favorite for deep-pocketed Democratic donors. Donald Sussman, the founder of Paloma Partners, and Michael Moritz, a partner at Sequoia Capital, each donated $1 million to Acronym last year. Filmmaker Steven Spielberg gave $500,000. Investor Seth Klarman, once a major donor to Republican causes, gave $1.5 million to Acronym.

Acronym appears to have deleted portions of its website showcasing its involvement in Shadow. “ACRONYM is thrilled to announce the launch of Shadow, a new technology company that will exist under the ACRONYM umbrella and build accessible technological infrastructure and tools to enable campaigns to better harness, integrate and manage data across the platforms and technologies they all use,” wrote Niemira in a now-deleted blog post.

This morning, William McCurdy II, the chair of the Nevada Democratic Party, released a statement announcing that the party will not be using the Shadow app for its February caucus.

“NV Dems can confidently say that what happened in the Iowa caucus last night will not happen in Nevada on February 22nd. We will not be employing the same app or vendor used in the Iowa caucus,” said McCurdy. “We had already developed a series of backups and redundant reporting systems, and are currently evaluating the best path forward.”

Nothing to see here.