Joan Walsh / The Nation & George Zornick / The Democratic Underground & Tom Engelhardt and Nomi Prins / TomDispatch – 2016-12-10 00:50:47
Democrats Should Fight All of Trump’s Nominees. Yes, All of Them.
Joan Walsh / The Nation
(December 8, 2016) — As Donald Trump unveils his cabinet of deplorables, it’s getting hard to imagine how Democrats are going to “pick their battles” — the warning that’s become a cliche of Trump transition coverage (just Google it). The Wall Street Journal reported that even incoming Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer says, “Democrats will pick their battles,” as he singled out Trump’s selection for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, as someone who would be subject to tough Democratic scrutiny at confirmation hearings.
And he should be; Sessions was rejected for a federal judgeship 30 years ago for his blinkered racial views and his persecution of black voting-rights advocates in Alabama while he was a federal prosecutor. But Democrats should be fighting virtually all of Trump’s picks.
The president-elect is presenting Democrats with a political opportunity even before he takes the oath of office. The so-called champion of the working class is assembling a gilded cabinet. Not only will it be the richest, ever; it features plutocrats who’ve presided over the hollowing out of the working class Trump pretended to care about. Party leaders should be shouting about this from every imaginable platform.
* The Treasury secretary appointed after a campaign spent demonizing Wall Street and “hedge-fund guys” is a former Goldman Sachs banker and hedge-fund guy, Steve Mnuchin, whose bank foreclosed on 37,000 homeowners after the housing crash.
* Trump’s reported choice for labor secretary is the minimum wageâ€“opposing, job-killing fast-food mogul Andrew Pudzer, who talks fondly about the day robots will replace workers at his restaurants. Pudzer has been a leader of the corporate fight against the Fight for $15, and he was a passionate supporter of the immigration-reform bill that failed in 2013 — and he’ll be in charge of enforcing labor laws.
* Then there’s the billionaire nominee for Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, who owned the deadly Sago Mine in West Virginia when 12 workers were killed in a 2006 explosion. Three years later, he closed the mine. Trump, you’ll recall, has promised to “bring back coal” and “bring back miners.” How will coal country feel about Secretary Ross?
* Meanwhile, Trump’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, is a climate-change denier who has sued the EPA as Oklahoma attorney general.
* His Health and Human Services nominee, Representative Tom Price, opposes the Affordable Care Act and wants to privatize Medicare. Price once claimed it was impossible that any woman would be unable to pay for her own birth control. “Bring me one woman who has been left behind,” he told the Conservative Political Action Conference. “Bring me one. There’s not one.”
* Then there’s Housing and Urban Development nominee Ben Carson, who has zero experience in housing or urban development and appears to oppose Fair Housing laws.
* Betsy DeVos, the pick for education secretary, is yet another billionaire. She sent her children to private schools and has crusaded to privatize public education.
I could go on, but I’ll stop there. (There’s also his troika of retired generals — Mike Flynn as national security adviser, James Mattis as secretary of defense, and Jim Kelly as homeland security director — who raise separate questions about military influence in the cabinet.)
But so far, presented with these political gifts, Democrats have been fairly silent. They’ve pledged to fight Sessions, and they should, but no one else has come in for much attack, although today Senator Ed Markey said he would oppose Pruitt’s nomination to head the EPA, and Schumer had some tough words for Pudzer as labor secretary. That’s good news, but it’s not enough.
On one level, I understand the need for Democrats to “pick their battles.” They may be more likely to win GOP support to actually block a nominee or two by being selective. But no one has yet marshaled an argument to Trump voters that they’ve been hoodwinked: that the outsider candidate has picked a cabinet of insiders, who make an utter mockery of his promises to look out for the “forgotten man.”
Democrats should be making the case, as Ben Adler argues in The Guardian, that Trump is “a self-dealing political profiteer and a tool of the business and political elite.”
Jeff Hauser of the Revolving Door Project has suggested that Democrats refuse to consider any appointments until Trump discloses and then divests himself of his global and largely secret financial empire — especially since we can’t trust Trump’s picks to monitor his self-dealing.
Part of the problem is the Democrats have a leadership vacuum right now. President Obama has said he doesn’t see anti-Trump agitation as his role. Hillary Clinton doesn’t seem temperamentally inclined to do that, and at any rate, she’d be dismissed as a sore loser (though she won the popular vote by at least 2.7 million, let’s always remember).
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi is formidable on legislative strategy, but rarely stands as the public face of the party. Senate minority leader Harry Reid, a reliable fighter, is retiring. Schumer loves attention, but it seems as though he hasn’t yet decided how hard he wants to fight.
There’s no permanent Democratic National Committee chair. Senator Bernie Sanders has been reliably vocal, and while he’s still not a Democrat, he’s been given a leadership role. Here’s hoping he uses it to stiffen his colleagues’ spines for these battles.
Maybe this will start to change after the holidays, when senators begin planning hearings for these nominees. There will be plenty of opportunity for rising stars to shine, by grilling nominees with strong research into their careers, their potential conflicts of interest, and their policy beliefs. But right now Democrats are missing an opportunity to brand the president-elect as a man who’s betraying his base, right out of the gate. They should certainly pick their battles — a lot of them.
Joan Walsh, The Nation’s national-affairs correspondent, is the author of What’s the Matter With White People? Finding Our Way in the Next America.
Trump’s Transition Team Is Dirty, and It’s Dark
George Zornick / The Nation & The Democratic Underground
(December 5, 2016) — Robert MacKichan has built a living lobbying on behalf of large special interests that want to make real-estate deals with the federal government. As a partner at Holland & Knight and leader of the firm’s General Services Administration Leasing and Federal Real Estate Team, he works on behalf of clients who want to lease building to the federal government, or who are having a dispute over their federal contract, all of which is run through the GSA. It makes sense, since MacKichan used to be the GSA’s general counsel.
MacKichan represents the quintessential insider who used his public service to later benefit large special interests. And now he has swung back through the revolving door again, serving as a member of Donald Trump’s transition landing team at — where else? — the GSA.
He isn’t alone. Seventy percent of Trump’s landing team members have some corporate affiliation, according to an analysis by Public Citizen. There is a former lobbyist for Pepsi and agro-giant DuPont on the landing team for the Department of Agriculture.
The Department of Justice (DoJ) landing teams are stocked with white-collar lawyers who work primarily to defend corporate clients from DoJ actions. A former vice president for defense contractor Boeing is on the Department of Defense landing team, along with several other people who work in defense contracting or other private military companies.
Trump has an ostensible ban on lobbyists on his transition team, but it applies only to people who have had relevant lobbying activities in the past 12 months. Even that thin prohibition — which doesn’t stop company executives or lobbyists masked as “consultants” from joining — is being brazenly flouted. Several lobbyists are simply de-registering as lobbyists in order to join the transition team.
Take Shawn Krause, who as recently as September was registered as a lobbyist for Quicken Loans, which underwrites a majority of the mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration, which is part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In any reading of Trump’s own rules, she shouldn’t be allowed to work on the transition team in that area.
Instead, she’s leading the transition at HUD. Her only motion towards lowering this conflict was de-registering as a lobbyist, which still doesn’t satisfy the prohibition against working on a transition area you have lobbied over in the last 12 months.
Trump is flouting not only his self-imposed rules against conflicts of interests but also one of the cruxes of his presidential campaign.
“There is a fundamental conflict in the transition team between the promises that the president-elect made on the campaign trail, and the excitement that he generated among ordinary voters who felt very strongly that Washington was no longer answering to them, but was instead answering to big special interests,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse told reporters Friday. “This array of big special-interest operatives and lobbyists who are now engaged in this transition in these exact places where their conflict of interest is most acute.”
These transition landing teams are not ceremonial positions, either. These operators are serving vitally important roles. “All this matters because these people will be selecting people to staff the new agencies, and set[ting] the early trajectory,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.
If he’s going to pack his transition team with corporate interests, Trump could at least provide some transparency into what they are doing. In 2008, Barack Obama created a website that disclosed every meeting his transition team had with three or more nonâ€“transition team members, regardless of the topic of the meeting, provided it didn’t deal with national security or sensitive personnel decisions.
The website also posted every document it received from an outside interest, and Obama voluntarily exposed the transition team’s internal documents to the Freedom of Information Act, even though transition teams are essentially non-governmental outfits and not subject to FOIA by law.
Trump’s team appears to be doing none of that. (Transition officials did not respond to several requests for comment.) He is deliberately keeping the public in the dark about his transition activities, which are made all the more glaring because the Trump children are both serving in key transition roles while also preparing to run the Trump Corporation come January. It’s critical to know who they are meeting with, and why.
Politico did report last week that transition team leaders have asked transition members to “avoid” meetings with outsiders, though, thanks to Trump’s step backwards on transparency, the public won’t know if that guideline is being broken.
In some sense, because the conflicts are so enormous — since the transition team is packed with lobbyists and corporate executives — transparency does almost become a side issue.
“They don’t need to have the meeting with the outsider, because they are the outsider,” said Taylor Lincoln, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “The dual roles that appear to be shaping up for his children raise enormous red flags that no transition transparency policy is going to fix. But they ought to have the transparency policy if for no other reason than to give a scintilla of credibility that this notion of ‘draining the swamp’ is anything that Trump actually meant.”
With Trump running a dark and dirty transition, members of his party are one of the few pressure points left. And Republicans do stand to lose quite a bit if Trump’s nascent presidency is engulfed in some yet-unseen scandal.
Senator Whitehouse thinks the day when Republicans actually call Trump out may be approaching.
“I have not had any conversations that I am at liberty to divulge, but I would say that there is an undercurrent of anxiety among the Senate Republicans, not all of them but many of them, about how this all ends,” Whitehouse said. “But I think the folks who are feeling that way are going to take their time and let problems develop into something more public and more acute before they take their steps.”
The March of the Billionaires
Tom Engelhardt / TomDispatch
(December 8, 2016) â€“ Just whom Donald Trump will appoint to various key posts in his future administration has an unbearably enticing set of moving targets for the media (until, as at a recent rally in Cincinnati, dramatic announcements are made at unexpected moments, or released in other ways).
And give The Donald credit: if he has a genius for anything, it’s for dominating the news cycle in ways — from his pre-crack-o’-dawn tweets to those rallies — that simply haven’t been seen here before. And be suitably amazed that, as during the election campaign, he continues to have an uncanny knack for flooding the screens of our world with that larger-than-life figure of his dreams, Donald Trump, nearly 24/7. He’s the media-made man of our — and his — (endless) moment.
Until each appointment is announced, the speculation goes on endlessly about which billionaire or multimillionaire will be included in the latest round of The Chosen. In some ways, those officially or unofficially being considered, whether appointed or not, offer us a strange window into the future Washington world of Donald Trump.
Take, for instance, two oily selections touted recently as possibilities for the man who has committed himself to elevating fossil fuel extraction to a high art. Trump has, after all, already promised to make a future Saudi America independent of oil imports from the actual Saudi Arabia or any other “foe” or member of the “oil cartel,” come — if you’ll excuse a phrase that, in the context of climate change, is all too apt — hell or high water.
In such situations, it undoubtedly makes a certain sense to think about going directly to the trough. If you want someone to oversee the Department of Energy, why not, for example, consider Harold Hamm, the Oklahoma oil tycoon and 60th richest person on the planet, whose fortune, according to Forbes, rose by $1.7 billion to $14.7 billion in the wake of Trump’s election victory? (On the subject of such a possible appointment, Hamm himself has been diffident.)
Or if it’s the State Department you’re thinking about and global energy policy is on your mind, why not put aside the thought of frog legs and Mitt Romney for a second and at least consider — as Donald Trump reputedly is doing — Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil, a man who made a salary of $27.3 million last year alone?
After all, it would ensure transparency if the global energy policy you were going to pursue was directed by the man who had steered one of the top fossil-fuel extractors on the planet through years of choppy waters, right?
If you’re a normal human being and not a billionaire, this ongoing spectacle has to have a phantasmagoric feel to it. After all, we’re now in a world in which — I’m not kidding you — Sarah Palin has denounced Trump’s deal with Carrier to keep 1,000 jobs in Indiana as “crony capitalism”!
And if you’re feeling that way now, just wait until you take the initial tour of his onrushing world that TomDispatch regular (and author of All the Presidents’ Bankers) Nomi Prins offers today, billionaire by billionaire. My suggestion: buckle your seatbelt; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Trump’s Bait and Switch
How to Swamp Washington and Double-cross Your Supporters Big Time
Nomi Prins / TomDispatch
(December 5, 2016) — Given his cabinet picks so far, it’s reasonable to assume that The Donald finds hanging out with anyone who isn’t a billionaire (or at least a multimillionaire) a drag. What would there be to talk about if you left the Machiavellian class and its exploits for the company of the sort of normal folk you can rouse at a rally?
It’s been a month since the election and here’s what’s clear: crony capitalism, the kind that festers and grows when offered public support in its search for private profits, is the order of the day among Donald Trump’s cabinet picks. Forget his own “conflicts of interest.”
Whatever financial, tax, and other policies his administration puts in place, most of his appointees are going to profit like mad from them and, in the end, Trump might not even wind up being the richest member of the crew.
Only a month has passed since November 8th, but it’s already clear (not that it wasn’t before) that Trump’s anti-establishment campaign rhetoric was the biggest scam of his career, one he pulled off perfectly. As president-elect and the country’s next CEO-in-chief, he’s now doing what many presidents have done: doling out power to like-minded friends and associates, loyalists, and — think John F. Kennedy, for instance — possibly family.
Here, however, is a major historical difference: the magnitude of Trump’s cronyism is off the charts, even for Washington. Of course, he’s never been a man known for doing small and humble. So his cabinet, as yet incomplete, is already the richest one ever. Estimates of how loaded it will be are almost meaningless at this point, given that we don’t even know Trump’s true wealth (and will likely never see his tax returns).
Still, with more billionaires at the doorstep, estimates of the wealth of his new cabinet members and of the president-elect range from my own guesstimate of about $12 billion up to $35 billion. Though the process is as yet incomplete, this already reflects at least a quadrupling of the wealth represented by Barack Obama’s cabinet.
Trump’s version of a political and financial establishment, just forming, will be bound together by certain behavioral patterns born of relationships among those of similar status, background, social position, legacy connections, and an assumed allegiance to a dogma of self-aggrandizement that overshadows everything else. In the realm of politico-financial power and in Trump’s experience and ideology, the one with the most toys always wins.
So it’s hardly a surprise that his money- and power-centric cabinet won’t be focused on public service or patriotism or civic duty, but on the consolidation of corporate and private gain at the expense of the citizenry.
It’s already obvious that, to Trump, “draining the swamp” means filling it with new layers of golden sludge, similar in color to the decorations that adorn buildings with his name, including the new Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House where foreign diplomats are already flocking to curry favor and even the toilet paper holders in the lobby bathrooms are faux-gold-plated.
The rarified world of his cabinet choices is certainly a universe away from the struggling working class folks he bamboozled with promises of bringing back American “greatness.” And yet the soaring value of his cabinet should be seen as merely a departure point for our four-year (or more) leap into what is guaranteed to be an abyss of inequality and instability.
Forget their wealth. What their business conflicts, relationships, and ideological stances indicate about what they’ll do to America is far more worrisome. And though Trump promised (and tweeted) that he’d be “completely out of business operations,” the possibility of such a full exit for him (or any of his crew) is about as likely as a full reveal of those tax returns.
There is, in fact, some historical precedent for a president surrounding himself with such a group of self-interested power-grabbers, but you’d have to return to Warren G. Harding’s administration in the early 1920s to find it.
The “Roaring Twenties” that ended explosively in a stock market collapse in 1929 began, ominously enough, with a presidency filled with similar figures, as well as policies remarkably similar to those now being promised under Trump, including major tax cuts and giveaways for corporations and the deregulation of Wall Street.
A notably weak figure, Harding liberally delegated policymaking to the group of senior Republicans he chose to oversee his administration who were dubbed “the Ohio gang” (though they were not all from Ohio).
Scandal soon followed, above all the notorious Teapot Dome incident in which Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall leased petroleum reserves owned by the Navy in Wyoming and California to two private oil companies without competitive bidding, receiving millions of dollars in kickbacks in return.
That scandal and the attention it received darkened Harding’s administration. Until the Enron scandal of 2001-2002, it would serve as the poster child for money (and oil) in politics gone bad. Given Donald Trump’s predisposition for green-lighting pipelines and promoting fossil fuel development, a modern reenactment of Teapot Dome is hardly beyond imagining.
Harding’s other main contributions to American history involved two choices he made. He offered businessman Herbert Hoover the job of secretary of commerce and so put him in play to become president in the years just preceding the Great Depression. And in a fashion that now looks Trumpian, he also appointed one of the richest men on Earth, billionaire Andrew Mellon, as his treasury secretary.
Mellon, a Pittsburgh industrialist-financier, was head of the Mellon National Bank; he founded both the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa), for which he’d be accused of unethical behavior while treasury secretary (as he still owned stock in the company and his brother was a close associate), and the Gulf Oil Company; and with Henry Clay Frick, he co-founded the Union Steel Company.
He promptly set to work — and this will sound familiar today — cutting taxes on the wealthy and corporations. At the same time, he essentially left Wall Street free to concoct the shadowy “trusts” that would use borrowed money to purchase collections of shares in companies and real estate, igniting the 1929 stock market crash. After Mellon, who had served three presidents, left Herbert Hoover’s administration, he fell under investigation for unpaid federal taxes and tax-related conflicts of interest.
Modernizing Warren G.
Within the political-financial establishment, the more things change, the more, it seems, they stay the same. As Trump moves ahead with his cabinet picks, several of them already stand out in a Mellon-esque fashion for their staggering wealth, their legal entanglements, and the policies they seem ready to support that sound like eerie throwbacks to the age of Harding. Of course, you can’t tell the players without a scorecard, so here are the top four of the moment (with more on the way).
Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross
(net worth $2.9 billion)
Shades of Andrew Mellon, Ross, a registered Democrat until Trump scooped him up, made his fortune as a corporate vulture (sporting the nickname “the king of bankruptcy”). He was notorious for devouring the carcasses of dying companies, spitting them out, and pocketing the profits.
He bought bankrupt steel companies, while moving $6.4 billion of their employee pension benefits to the rescue fund of the government’s Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation so he could make company financials look better. In the early 2000s, his steel industry deals bagged him an impressive $267 million. Stripped of health-care benefits, retired steelworkers at his companies didn’t fare as well.
Trump, of course, has promised the world to the sinking coal industry and out-of-work coal miners. His new commerce secretary, however, owned a coal mine in West Virginia, notoriously cited for hundreds of violations, where 12 miners subsequently died in an explosion.
Ross also made money running Rothschild Inc.’s bankruptcy-restructuring group for nearly two-and-a-half decades. A member (and once leader) of a secret Wall Street fraternity, Kappa Beta Phi, in 2014 he remarked that “the one percent is being picked on for political reasons.”
He has an art collection valued conservatively at $150 million, or 3,000 times the average American’s income of $51,000. In addition, he happens to own a Florida estate only miles down the road from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago private club.
While Trump has lambasted China for stealing American jobs, Ross (like Trump) has made money from China. In 2010, one of that country’s state-owned enterprises, China Investment Corporation, put $500 million in Ross’s private equity fund, WL Ross & Company.
Ross has not disclosed whether these investments remain in his fund, though he told the New York Post that if Trump believes there are conflicts of interest among any of his investments, he would divest himself of them.
In August 2016, his company had to pay a $2.3 million fine to the Securities and Exchange Commission to settle charges for not properly disclosing $10.4 million in management fees charged to his investors in the decade leading up to 2011.
In October, Ross assured Bloomberg that China will continue to be an investment opportunity. As secretary of commerce, the world will become his personal business venture and boardroom, while U.S. taxpayers will be his funders.
He is an ardent crusader for corporate tax cuts (wanting to slash them from 35% to 15%). As head of the commerce department, the man the Economist dubbed “Mr. Protectionism” in 2004 will be in charge of any protectionist policies the administration implements.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos
(family wealth $5.1 billion)
DeVos, the daughter of a billionaire and daughter-in-law of the cofounder of the multilevel marketing empire Amway, has had no actual experience with public schools. Unlike most of the rest of America (myself included), she never attended a public school, nor have any of her children. (Neither did Trump.) But she and her family have excelled at the arithmetic of campaign contributions. They are estimated to have contributed at least $200 million to shaping the conservative movement and various right-wing causes over the last half-century.
As she wrote in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call in 1997, “My family is the biggest contributor of soft money to the Republican National Committee.” That trend only continued in the years that followed. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, since 1989 she and her relatives have given at least $20.2 million to Republican candidates, party committees, PACs, and super PACs.
The center further noted that, “Betsy herself, along with her husband, Dick DeVos, Jr., has contributed more than $7.7 million to federal candidates, committees, and parties since 1990, including almost $4.8 million to super PACs.”
Her brother, ex-Navy SEAL Erik Prince, founded the controversial private security contractor Blackwater (now known as Academi). He also made two considerable donations to Make America Number 1, a super PAC that first backed Senator Ted Cruz and then Trump.
So whatever you do, don’t expect Betsy De Vos’s help in allocating additional federal funds to elevate the education of citizens who actually do attend public schools, or rather what Donald Trump now likes to call “failing government schools.”
Instead, she’s undoubtedly going to promote privatizing school voucher programs and charter schools across the country and let those failing government schools go down the tubes as part of a Republican war on public education.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao
(net worth $25 million)
As the daughter of a wealthy shipping magnate, a former labor secretary for George W. Bush, and the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Chao’s establishment connections are overwhelming. They include board positions at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and at Wells Fargo Bank.
While Chao was on its board, Wells Fargo scammed its customers to the tune of $2.4 million, and incurred billions of dollars of fines for other crimes. She was silent when its former CEO John Stumpf resigned in a blaze of contriteness.
In 2008, Chao ranked 8th in Bush’s executive branch in terms of net worth at $16.9 million. In 2009, Politico reported that, in memory of her mother who passed away in 2007, she and her husband received a “personal gift” from the Chao family worth between $5 million and $25 million.
In 2014, the Center for Responsive Politics ranked McConnell, with an estimated net worth somewhere around $22 million, as the 11th richest senator. As with all things wealth related, the truth is a moving target but the one thing Chao’s not (which may make her a rarity in this cabinet) is a billionaire.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin
(net worth between $46 million and $1 billion)
Hedge fund mogul and Hollywood producer Steven Mnuchin is the third installment on Goldman Sachs’s claim to own the position of Treasury secretary. In fact, when it comes to the stewardship of the country’s economy, Goldman continues to reign supreme.
Bill Clinton appointed the company’s former co-chairman Robert Rubin to Treasury in gratitude for his ability to bestow on him Wall Street cred and the contributions that went with it. George W. Bush appointed former Goldman Sachs Chairman and CEO Hank Paulson as his final Treasury secretary, just in time for the “too big to fail” economic meltdown of 2007-2008.
Now, Trump, who swore he’d drain “the swamp” in Washington, is carrying on the tradition. The difference? While Rubin and Paulson pushed for the deregulation of the financial industry that led to the Great Recession and then used federal funds to bail out their friends, Mnuchin, who spent 17 years with Goldman Sachs, eventually made an even bigger fortune by being on the predatory receiving end of federal support while scarfing up a failed bank.
In 2008, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), formed in 1934 to insure the deposits of citizens at commercial banks, closed 25 banks, including the Pasadena-based IndyMac Bank.
In early January 2009, the FDIC agreed to sell failed lender IndyMac to IMB HoldCo LLC, a company owned by a pack of private equity investors led by former Goldman Sachs partner Mnuchin of Dune Capital Management LP for about $13.9 billion. (They only had to put up $1.3 billion in cash for it, however.)
When the deal closed on March 19, 2009, IMB formed a new federally chartered savings bank, OneWest Bank (also run by Mnuchin), to complete the purchase. The FDIC took a $10.7 billion loss in the process.
OneWest then set about foreclosing on IndyMac’s properties, the cost of which was fronted by the FDIC, as was most of the loss that was incurred from hemorrhaging mortgages. In other words, the government backed Mnuchin’s private deal big time and so helped give him his nickname, the “foreclosure king,” as he became an even wealthier man.
By October 2011, protesters were marching outside Mnuchin’s Los Angeles mansion with “Stop taking our homes” signs. OneWest soon became mired in lawsuits and on multiple occasions settled for millions of dollars.
Nonetheless, Mnuchin sold the bank for a cool $3.4 billion in August 2015. Shades of the president-elect, he also left another beleaguered company, Relativity Media, where he had been co-chairman, two months before it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2015.
Mnuchin’s policy priorities include an overhaul of the federal tax code (aimed mainly at helping his elite buddies), financial deregulation (including making the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 significantly more lenient for hedge funds), and a review of existing trade agreements.
He has indicated no support for reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which separated commercial banks that held citizens’ deposits and loans from the speculative practices of investment banks until it was repealed in 1999 under the Clinton administration.
Hillary Clinton certainly cashed in big time on her Wall Street connections during her career and her presidential campaign. And yet her approach already seems modest compared to Trump’s new open-door policy to any billionaire willing to come on board his ship.
His new incarnation of the old establishment largely consists of billionaires and multimillionaires with less than appetizing nicknames from their previous predatory careers. They favor government support for their private gain as well as deregulation, several of them having already specialized in making money off the collateral damage from such policies.
Trump offered Americans this promise: “I’m going to surround myself only with the best and most serious people.” In his world, best means rich, and serious means seriously shielded from the way much of the rest of the country lives.
Once upon a time, I, too, worked for Goldman Sachs. I left in 2002, the same year that Steven Mnuchin did. I did not go on to construct deals that hurt citizens. He did. Public spirit is a choice.
Aspiring to run government as a business (something President Calvin Coolidge tried out in the 1920s with dismal results for America), Trump is now surrounding himself with a crew of crony capitalists who understand boardroom speak, but have nothing in common with most Americans.
So give him credit: his administration is already one of the great political bait-and-switch productions in our history and it hasn’t even begun. Count on one thing: in his presidency he’ll only double down on that “promise.”
Nomi Prins, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of six books. Her most recent is All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power (Nation Books). She is a former Wall Street executive. Special thanks go to researcher Craig Wilson for his superb work on this piece.
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Copyright 2016 Nomi Prins
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