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Biggest Lobbying Cash Flow Since 2010 Floods Trump’s Swamp

Reprinted with permission from Shareblue.

Lobbyists are flocking to Washington, D.C., and flooding the city with more money seeking to buy influence than has been spent in seven years. The dynamic where businesses are spending more to pay off politicians and other public figure coincides with a parade of unethical action and behavior from Donald Trump.

Lobbyists spent $3.34 billion in Washington in 2017, the most they have spent since 2010, the second year of Barack Obama’s presidency.

Trump’s campaign rhetoric about “draining the swamp” had an extremely limited shelf life. Not long after he was inaugurated, Trump showed the country that he was dead-set on doing what it took to count his administration among the most corrupt in history.

Instead of a break from his private businesses, where his properties were used to hide international mafia money while he groped women and leered at half-undressed teenage girls at the pageants he owned, Trump kept up the underhanded behavior in the presidency.

Trump’s hotels have become towers of influence, with businesses and foreign powers booking rooms at the Trump International Hotel, putting money in Trump’s pocket as he makes decisions about those same interests from the presidency.

His cabinet is the wealthiest in modern history, loaded with executives from companies he had excoriated on the campaign trail, like Goldman Sachs.

These were the same figures working behind closed doors with Congressional Republicans to craft the tax bill, excluding Democrats from the process as lobbyists inserted sweetheart deals they could profit from while the general public languished.

Despite his campaign rhetoric, Trump has violated ethical standards of the presidency and used his office to enrich himself and his family with no regard for the public good. His behavior, far more than his empty promises, demonstrates the priorities of his administration, and the lobbyists he vowed to banish have instead figured out just how welcome they are in Trump’s swamp.

Oliver Willis is a former research fellow at Media Matters for America who has been blogging about politics since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @owillis.

PHOTO: Flags fly above the entrance to the new Trump International Hotel on its opening day in Washington, DC, September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

 

 

What Isn’t Donald Trump Hiding?

Given all that he’s hiding — including his tax returns, the reasoning behind his campaign’s contacts and possible coordination with Russia, the visitor logs for the White House, and his private lobbying theme park Mar-A-Lago as well as the details of nearly all his economic proposals — it’s amazing what Donald Trump isn’t hiding.

Let’s start with his impressive ignorance.

After years of insisting at every chance he got that China is ripping off the United States, Trump informed the Wall St. Journal that Xi Jinping, the president of the world’s most populous nation, had schooled him — on North Korea.

“After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy,” Trump said. “I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power [over] North Korea. … But it’s not what you would think.”

If by “you” he means “Donald Trump,” that’s true.

No one — except people who only learn about politics by watching themselves on Fox News — thought resolving our conflicts with North Korea would ever be simple, especially after it became a nuclear power during the George W. Bush administration. But this is still a remarkable admission — like Trump’s admission that he had no idea how complex health care reform would be.

It’s also the kind of revelation that illustrates the divide in American politics. To Trump voters, this might make him more relatable, while indicating he has the strength to be flexible. To the majority of Americans who didn’t vote for Trump, it might confirm their worst fears about electing a self-satisfied and self-obsessed doofus to become the most powerful person alive.

But even more remarkable than the admission that Trump had listened to someone else speak for ten minutes was for him to then shake off his campaign promise to label China a currency manipulator — a Trump fixation  that many experts believe is rooted in the past. And the president says he is doing this because China is helping us with North Korea.

Why he suddenly trusts a country he was sure was ripping us off is something he has not explained. But sometimes a con man is the easiest mark.

Then there’s his obsession with sucking up to the elite.

In a interview this month with the New York Times, Trump bragged about his tax reform plan by dropping a name that once represented, in his own rhetoric, the swampiest of the elite swamp zombies, slowly dining on our sweet America First brains.

“We have some very, very good people,” he said. “This man was the president of Goldman Sachs. I mean, he was, like, the president of Goldman Sachs.”

The investment bank is now basically Trump’s farm team, but during the campaign Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein served as his whipping boy, a personification of globalist — cough, Jewish, cough — bankers.  And Trump used the bank to tar Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton as corrupt.

Why would he brag about becoming the Goldman Sachs Bannon Trump Kushner administration?

Yes, Trump campaigned on draining a swamp full of elites. But we shouldn’t be so naive as to believe that he we speaking about all the elites. He meant just the elitists who want to help minorities at the expense of you — meaning, the good people who are sick of not being wished “Merry Christmas” by everyone you meet.

Trump’s right-wing version of populism, as The Nation‘s Jedediah Purdy explains, “often punches both up and down: It attacks those at the top of the economic and political ladder, but it also targets the disenfranchised, whether racial minorities, the poor, or immigrant groups.”

If Trump supporters assume the is using the power of the elites — co-opting them, as his supporters often say — to help you and not them, everything will be fine in Trumpland.

And Trump is giving his supporters plenty of reason to believe that he is still obsessed with going after them, even if it doesn’t help you economically.

There’s been wishful bleating, fed by that the blasts of war that cable news loves, insisting that Trump is somehow becoming more centrist, because he doesn’t want to immediately break up NATO and put tariffs on everything except the products he and his daughter import. But if reality is forcing him to drop some his more disruptive pledges, he is still pursuing sickening nativism while nurturing some of the most bigoted policies in recent American history.

Trump is learning, as The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent notes, that if he pleases the plutocrats with more predictable approaches to existing international alliances and trade agreements, he can keep feeding his followers super-sized nativism.

“The administration continues to defend the travel ban in court and remains fully committed to building the Mexican wall. On deportations, the reign of fear is kicking in,” Sargent wrote. “Parents are yanking kids from day care out of fear of removal; longtime residents with no other offenses are getting deported; the administration continues to try to strong-arm sanctuary cities into enforcing the federal immigration crackdown. As ABC News reports this morning: “The deportation force looks like it’s coming together – just more quietly than anticipated.”

Trump definitely isn’t hiding his Attorney General Jeff Sessions — who is doing his best to reverse nearly every effort the government makes to help minorities vote, settle in America, or stay out of prison.

This includes reviving the War on Drugs to its fullest, most destructive vaience, which means destroying lives of people — disproportionately black and brown people, if history is any guide — for smoking pot.

Trump feels no need to hide his comical ignorance and his even more comical admiration for the “globalist” elites. This could be because he and Jeff Sessions have a unique sense of what his voters want.

Perhaps that’s an America where only they feel welcome. It seems that antipathy for a nation that seeks to accommodate an increasingly diverse population is something they’re sick of hiding, too.

Why We Could Be On The Verge Of A Constitutional Apocalypse

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

As Donald Trump vilifies the press, the courts, immigrants, Muslims, Democrats, protesters, and anyone who disagrees with him, it isn’t hard to imagine a modern-day Mussolini—or worse. But an even greater threat lies in Republicans’ march toward full control of state government. If they get there, they will have the frightening power to amend the Constitution into their own authoritarian image — or Ayn Rand’s.

Republicans now control 32 state legislatures and 33 governorships. They have majorities in both state legislative chambers as well as the governorships in 25 states. The Democrats have total control in only six states and legislative control in two more.

If Republicans achieve veto-proof control in 38 states, they can do something that has never been done before—hold a constitutional convention, and then ratify new amendments that are put forth. To date, all amendments have been initiated from Congress where two-thirds of both houses are required. In either case, 38 states would be needed to ratify the amendments. The Republicans are well on their way.

We know what they are likely to do: end collective bargaining, outlaw abortion, forbid progressive income, estate and Wall Street taxes; prohibit class action law suits, privatize Social Security, guarantee “free choice” in all school systems, and so on. They would do what they’ve always wanted to do: outlaw the New Deal and its social democratic programs. And if they get crazy enough, they could end separation of church and state and undo other portions of the Bill of Rights.

A paranoid fantasy? Just say “President Trump.”

Ask the corporate Democrats who have turned losing into an art form. Since 2008, they have lost 917 state legislative seats. Explanations range from Koch brothers funding to gerrymandering to voter suppression to the rise of the Tea Party. All partially true.

The Democrats also shoulder a good deal of the blame. Ever since Bill Clinton triangulated into NAFTA and away from working people, the Democratic Party’s embrace of financial and corporate elites has become the norm.

Hillary Clinton took $225,000 per speech from Goldman Sachs not because she was corrupt, but because this is simply the way the political game is played. You raise money from rich people, and then you back away from attacking their prerogatives while still trying to placate your liberal/worker base.

But as economist Jamie Galbraith put it, ultimately it is not possible for the Democrats to be both the party of the predators and the prey.

The amazing acts of resistance popping up all over prove that the progressive spark is alive and well. Even seniors at the Progressive Forum in Deerfield Beach, Florida, are planning to put their bodies on the line to stop ICE raids.

While raising hell all over the country, we also should re-examine how our strategies and structures may have contributed to the rise of the right. After all, this electoral coup happened on our watch.

Here’s our working hypothesis for how progressives contributed to the rise of the right: We have failed to come out of our issue silos to build a national movement that directly confronts runaway inequality.

For more than a generation, progressive organizations have shied away from big-picture organizing around economic inequality. Instead we’ve constructed a dizzying array of issue silos: environment, LGBQ, labor, immigration, women, people of color, criminal justice, and so on. We are fractured into thousands of discrete issues, enabled by philanthropic foundations that are similarly siloed.

Few of our groups focused on the way Wall Street and corporate elites strip-mined the economy. Very few of us mobilized around the great crash. Few of us noticed as the CEO/worker income gap jumped from 45 to 1 in 1970 to an incredible 844 to 1 by 2015. We collectively missed how this growing economic inequality was causing and exacerbating nearly all of our silo issues. We didn’t connect the dots.

Most importantly, we failed to grasp how runaway inequality was alienating millions of working people who saw their incomes decline, their communities whither and their young unable to find decent jobs.

While the Tea Party and the right had a clear message—big government is bad—progressives had little to say collectively about runaway inequality.

Enter Occupy Wall Street

By the summer of 2010, the progressive failure was painfully obvious. After Wall Street had robbed us blind and crashed the economy, and a Democratic president was about to enter a “grand bargain” with the Republicans to promote austerity. Think about this: While Wall Street got bailed out in full, Obama and the Democrats were about to cut Social Security. Amazing.

Then out of nowhere came Occupy Wall Street. (Out of nowhere is correct because the actions did not originate from any of our progressive silos.) In six months there were 900 encampments around the world. “We are the 99%” shifted the debate from austerity to inequality.

Unfortunately, Occupy believed in spontaneous political combustion and shunned any and all organizational structures and agendas. Social media, consensus decision-making, horizontal anti-organizing, and anti-leadership were to carry the day. In six months, they were gone.

Meanwhile the traditional progressive groups watched it rise and fall from the outside. We were spectators as we continued to press forward in our issue silos.

Enter Bernie Sanders

We got a second chance. Bernie Sanders, an independent socialist with a clear social democratic agenda, decided to challenge Hillary Clinton, the presumptive nominee. At first, few of us took him seriously. After all, he’d been around for 40 years, saying the same things but never gaining any traction outside of Vermont.

But like Occupy, he and his message hit a nerve, especially among the young and among disaffected working people who were fed up with the corporate Democrats.

In a flash, Sanders did the impossible. He beat Hillary in several primaries. He drew much larger crowds. He even raised more money from small donors than the Clinton machine could raise from the rich. Progressive unions like the Communications Workers of America and National Nurses United went all in. For a few months the dream looked possible.

But too many other large unions and liberal issue groups committed early to Clinton, thinking she would win easily. That would allow them to gain more access for their issues and for themselves. Didn’t happen.

Trump toppled the Clinton machine in the Rust Belt. Some say he did so with a toxic combination of racism, sexism and xenophobia and that certainly was the case for a good portion of his vote. Others are certain that Comey and Putin made the difference.

But in the Rust Belt, Trump won because he picked up millions who previously had voted for Obama and Sanders. It is highly likely that runaway inequality, and the trade deals that exacerbated it, defeated Clinton in the Democratic strongholds of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. In Michigan alone, Hillary received 500,000 fewer votes than Obama.

What now?

We need to turn the marvelous anti-Trump resistance into a common national movement that binds us together and directly confronts runaway inequality. We need to come out of our silos because nearly every issue we work on is connected by growing inequality.

Such a movement requires the following:

1. A common analysis and agenda: As we’ve written elsewhere, resisting Trump is not enough. We need a proactive agenda about what we want that goes beyond halting the Trump lunacy.

The Sanders campaign offered a bold social democratic agenda to young people in particular. Progressive should be able to build broad support around a Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street, free higher education, criminal justice reform, humane immigration policies, Medicare for All, fair trade, real action on climate change, and a guaranteed job at a living wage for all those willing and able.

2. A common national organization: A big problem. We have no equivalent to the Tea Party. We have no grand alliance that links unions, community, groups, churches, and our issue silos. There are excellent websites like Indivisible that are successfully encouraging widespread resistance on the congressional level. But they consider themselves to be purely defensive against Trump.

There are hundreds of demonstrations popping up all over but no organizational glue to hold them together. There’s Our Revolution, an outgrowth of the Sanders campaign that is still getting its sea legs. But to date we have no common center of gravity that is moving us forward organizationally.

Ideally we should all be able to become dues-paying members of a national progressive alliance. We should be able to go from Paterson to Pensacola to Pomona and walk into similar meetings dedicated to fighting for our common agenda to reverse runaway inequality. Perhaps the hundreds of town hall meetings will head that way? It’s too early to tell.

3. An education infrastructure: The Populist movement of the late 19th century waged a fierce battle against Wall Street. It wanted public ownership of banks and railroads. It wanted livestock and grain cooperatives. It wanted a progressive income tax on the rich and public banks. The organization grew by fielding 6,000 educators to explain to small farmers, black and white, how the system was rigged against them and what they could do about it.

We need about 30,000 educators to hold similar discussions with our neighbors about runaway inequality, how it binds us together and what we can do about. (If you’re interested in getting involved, see here.)

4. A new identity: Our toughest challenge. For 40 years we’ve been conditioned to the idea that runaway inequality is an immutable fact of life—the inevitable result of automation, technology, and competitive globalization. Along the way, neoliberal (free market) values shaped our awareness.

  • We accepted the idea that going to college meant massive debts for ourselves and our families
  • That there was nothing abnormal about having the largest prison population in the entire world
  • That it was part of the game to pay high deductibles, co-pays and premiums for health insurance
  • That it was OK for the super-rich to hide their money offshore
  • That there was nothing to be done about chronic youth unemployment, both rural and urban, other than to try harder to pull themselves up
  • That it was perfectly natural for factories to pick up and flee to low-wage areas with no environmental enforcement
  • And that somehow private sector jobs, by definition, were more valuable to society than public ones

These mental constraints have got to go. We got here as the result of deliberative policy choices, not by acts of God. We need to reclaim a basic truth: the economy should work for its people, not the other way around.

Most importantly, we have to relearn the art of movement building that starts in our own minds—we have to believe it is both necessary and possible, and that each and every one of us can contribute to it.

We desperately need a new identity—that of movement builder.

Is this so difficult to imagine?

Les Leopold, the director of the Labor Institute, is currently working with unions and community organizations to build the educational infrastructure for a new anti-Wall Street movement.

IMAGE: Protesters shout outside the Republican National Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington May 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Ex-Goldman Banker Mnuchin Installed As Treasury Secretary

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump swore in former Goldman Sachs banker and Hollywood financier, Steven Mnuchin, as Treasury secretary on Monday, putting him to work on tax reform, financial de-regulation, and economic diplomacy efforts.

The U.S. Senate voted to confirm Mnuchin 53-47, with all but one Democrat opposing him over his handling of thousands of foreclosures as head of OneWest Bank after the 2007-2009 housing collapse.

At a White House swearing-in ceremony, Trump said Mnuchin would be a “great champion” for U.S. citizens.

“He will fight for middle-class tax reductions, financial reforms that open up lending and create millions of new jobs, and fiercely defend the American tax dollar and your financial security,” Trump said. “And he will also defend our manufacturing jobs from those who cheat and steal and rob us blind.”

Lawmakers, lobbyists, and business groups have been nervously waiting for Mnuchin to take office and fill in the many blanks on how he will pursue tax reform and handle delicate economic cooperation efforts with China, Mexico, and other trading partners worried that Trump’s “America First” strategy will upend decades-old trade rules and currency practices.

Mnuchin, 54, provided no details of his plans as he was sworn in.

“I am committed to using the full powers of this office to create more jobs, to combat terrorist activities and financing, and to make America great again,” Mnuchin said.

Trump has pledged to roll back the stricter financial regulation under the Dodd-Frank reform law enacted after the financial crisis, pursue tougher trade policies on China and Mexico to reduce U.S. trade deficits, and reduce business tax rates.

CHALLENGES COMING UP FAST

Mnuchin faces immediate challenges with the March 15 expiration of a U.S. debt ceiling suspension, ushering in the threat of a new default showdown, and a March 17 meeting of finance ministers from the Group of 20 major economies, where he will face tough questions about Trump’s plans to increase trade protections.

In April, Mnuchin will have to determine whether to declare China a currency manipulator as part of Treasury’s semi-annual currency report.

“There is a real open question as to whether this administration is going to cut itself off from international monetary cooperation, whether it’s exchange rate policies or attitudes towards multilateral institutions or international regulatory policy,” said Edwin Truman, a former Treasury and Federal Reserve official now with the Peterson Institute for International Economics

Among Mnuchin’s biggest jobs is managing a sprawling congressional tax reform effort that seeks to slash business tax rates and enact a new border tax adjustment system aimed at boosting U.S. exports.

Mnuchin will quickly need to build a core management team to handle such challenges.

Treasury and White House representatives did not respond to requests for comment on Monday on reports that Trump would soon nominate David Malpass, a former economist at failed Wall Street bank Bear Stearns, as Treasury undersecretary for international affairs, the agency’s top economic diplomacy job.

Malpass, a Trump campaign adviser who had been leading Treasury transition efforts, was seen as a leading candidate for the job, with experience from international economic posts in the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.

Other names that have been floated for senior posts include Goldman Sachs banker Jim Donovan for deputy Treasury secretary and Justin Muzinich, a former Morgan Stanley banker, for undersecretary of domestic finance.

“FORECLOSURE MACHINE”

Mnuchin, a second-generation Goldman Sachs banker who led the firm’s mortgage bond trading but left the bank in 2002, came under fire from Democrats over his investor group’s 2009 acquisition of another failed lender, IndyMac Bank, from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

The bank, rebranded as OneWest, subsequently foreclosed on more than 36,000 homeowners, drawing charges from housing advocates that it was a “foreclosure machine.”

Mnuchin grew OneWest into Southern California’s largest lender and sold it for $3.4 billion in 2015. He has also helped finance Hollywood blockbusters such as “Avatar,” “American Sniper” and this past weekend’s box office champion, “The Lego Batman Movie,” which took in $55.6 million.

The Senate on Monday also unanimously confirmed David Shulkin as secretary of veterans affairs, putting the only holdover from the Obama administration in charge of the second largest federal agency. Shulkin had been in charge of the VA’s sprawling health system for the past 18 months.

(Additional reporting by Emily Stephenson; Editing by Peter Cooney and Leslie Adler)

IMAGE: U.S. President Donald Trump (L) watches as Vice President Mike Pence (R) swears in Steve Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary next to his fiancée Louise Linton in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas