The Company He (and She) Keep

The Company He (and She) Keep

“A man is known by the company he keeps”

—Aesop

Particularly if He and She keep the same company. Take the strange case of the Obama-Clinton-Clinton’s (Bill was the launching pad where many serial offenders first dipped into the golden money pot) bewildering maze of interconnected “heavies”— cheerleaders, campaign insiders, paid shills, unpaid shills (looking to cash in later) and present and potential office holders. While they come in a variety of styles and sizes, there are certain sine qua nons that are their ticket of admission to the elite ranks of the Obama campaigns and subsequent administration and Hillary’s campaign and potential administration. The big guns, Tim Kaine, John Podesta, Ken Salazar, Nora Tanden, and Jennifer Granholm, whose heavy lifting in past campaigns and past administrations puts them head and shoulders above the lesser nobility are all lawyers — three from Yale or Harvard, one from Georgetown, and the journeyman among them, whose skill set overrides his lack of a vanity-plate education pedigree, from the University of Michigan law school.

You Can’t Hide Your Lying Eyes

Take the TPP —The Trans Pacific Partnership — the neo-liberal wet dream further advancing the corporate coup d’etat (shout out Chris Hedges) in America, driving out what remains of good American jobs (all those that NAFTA somehow missed) and placing corporations outside the reach of America’s justice system particularly in the area of basic safeguards to our environment and health care system. In a classic example of the bait and switch con, in 2012 Secretary of State Clinton gave her unqualified support: The TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade…this agreement will cover 40% of the world’s total trade and build in strong protections for workers and the environment.”

Low and behold in 2015 (after a few sharp elbows from Bernie), we learn that the benefits she touted in 2012 were really wishful thinking and now, to hear her tell it, she has seen the error of her ways: “I did say…three years ago that I hoped [hope was not part of her 2012 TPP commercial] it would be the gold standard…In looking at it, it didn’t meet my standards. My standards for more new good jobs for Americans, for raising wages for Americans. And I want to make sure that I can look into the eyes of any middle-class American and say, ‘this will help raise your wages.’ And I concluded I could not.”

Wait there’s more. For those of you who get the idea that she’s definitely, positively, absolutely going to trash the TPP after her inauguration (provided sneaky Obama doesn’t negotiate another Faustian deal with the Republicans and right leaning–democrats and get it passed in the lame duck session), pay close attention to what the Clintons’ chief fundraiser and enabler, Governor Terry McAuliffe, told Politico: Once the election’s over… people understand a couple things we want to fix on it but going forward we got to build a global economy.” As to whether a President Clinton would break her pre-election promise to the electorate and support the TPP, here’s McAuliffe —“Yes. Listen, she was in support of it. There were specific things in it she wants fixed.”

Although her campaign chairman jumped in to say McAuliffe didn’t know what he was talking about, a glance at the language she used on August 25th of this year to repudiate her past support of the TPP is another version of the Clinton two-step around the truth: “I will stop any trade deal that kills jobs or holds down wages, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”  Lots of wiggle room there. 

A Cast of Deplorables

If you believe that personnel is policy, a look at the “company she keeps” is instructive. Tim Kaine, her vice-presidential pick, has trod the same devious path immortalized by both Clintons and Obama. Specific examples — he touts his Catholic faith ( i.e. “life is sacred”) to explain his “personal” opposition to execution As Virginia governor his blood-thirsty tenure included 11 executions and —oh yes —one clemency grant. He has said he is personally opposed to abortion, once again trotting out his Catholicism as the reason. Turn about being fair play, while running for the Senate in 2012, he campaigned against overturning the Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion. Since no serious movement to overturn that decision existed in 2012, that was pretty much a hot air balloon. Reality bit when he was Virginia governor campaigning to require parental notification and consent for abortions and signed a bill outlawing late term abortions. He hunkered down on his anti-abortion crusade by allowing “choose life” to appear as one of Virginia’s vanity plates.

The old flim-flam may do for some issues, but the TPP is a straight-up Yes. No rhetorical posturing on this issue. He flat out supports it. Doubling down, he was one of only 13 senate dems (the rest of the affirmative votes were republicans, 5 republicans voted against fast track) who voted to give Obama “fast track” authority (shutting down debate) to pass the TPP.

With this track record, Senator Kaine seems to be an off-the-wall choice for a presidential candidate who claims to be opposed to the TPP (her latest stance), 100% behind abortion (although there too the glass is far from full as she was a dedicated supporter of Mother Theresa and her often vicious screeds against abortion and her founding of a global right-to-life organization). There is one issue on which both candidates agree — the death penalty. Although the 2016 democratic platform unequivocally calls for abolishing the death penalty (rhetorically at least), “We will abolish the death penalty, which has proven to be a cruel and unusual form of punishment. It has no place in the United States of America,” Clinton herself plays the old hedge game — trying to have it both ways: “I do not favor abolishing it, [the death penalty] however, because I do think there are certain egregious cases that still deserve the consideration of the death penalty, but I’d like to see those be very limited and rare, as opposed to what we’ve seen in most states…”

On two other issues, Tim Kaine should have flunked the vetting process to be Clinton’s vice-president. Clinton has inveighed against income inequality and supported leveling the playing field for hard-pressed middle class and poor Americans. Here she is a year ago: “We must raise incomes for hard-working Americans so they can afford a middle-class life. That will be my mission from the first day I’m president to the last.” Considering that two-thirds of Americans now think the distribution of money and wealth leaves them out in the cold, this is a pretty safe stance to take. Except that’s not a position her VP nominee shares—Governor Kaine displayed his indifference to those at the bottom of the inequality bucket by slashing the budgets of Virginia’s already threadbare social programs to balance the state budget. Throwing unions under the bus, he proclaimed “I strongly support” a right to work law which consigns workers to the “tender” care of their corporate masters. His progressive credentials took a further whack when he attacked democratic lawmakers angling for a millionaires’ tax. The Dodd-Frank financial reform bill also appears to have driven a wedge between the two candidates. Here’s Hillary in her interview with the New York Daily News: “I have been a strong supporter of Dodd-Frank because it is the most consequential financial reform since the Great Depression.” Not so fast. That’s far from a universal opinion. In fact the nominee she chose to stand beside her disagrees mightily joining 69 other senators (many of them republicans) signing two letters days before joining her on the podium urging federal regulators to go easy on banks ― one letter urged the feds to help big banks dodge risk management rules, and another to help small banks avoid consumer protection standards.  A prominent liberal democratic policy group, Democracy for America, characterized the letters Kaine signed as “lobbyist-driven effort [s] to help banks dodge consumer protection standards and regulations designed to prevent banks from destroying our economy.” Stupeyfingly oblivious to optics, he refused to sign a letter attacking payday loans (loans aimed at low wage workers with interest rates as high as 500+%)

Speaking of bad optics, Kaine’s acceptance of $160,000 worth of “gifts” (including $18,000 for an island vacation, $5,500 worth of clothes, tickets and transportation to jet out to the NCAA Final Four and $45,000 in travel expenses to sing the praises of candidate Obama in 2008), while not technically illegal under Virginia law, raised a fair number of liberal eyebrows. Even the paper of record, The New York Times, took a time-out from the Clinton cheerleading squad to review email and other records from Mr. Kaine’s tenure as governor and concluded  “he received gifts, in some cases, around the same time he and his staff were considering official government requests from these donors.”

Why would a nominee, Hillary Clinton, who is considered ethically compromised by more than half the voters, consider this man of equally dubious ethical propriety a perfect fit? Then again maybe he is. Her excuse for collecting $2 million from lobbyists for her 2008 campaign “Based on my thirty-five years of fighting for what I believe in, I don’t think anybody seriously believes I’m going to be influenced by a lobbyist.” For sheer chutzpah, the only utterance that comes close is the statement of the Nobel Peace Prize board announcing their 2009 recipient — Barack Obama for “[his] extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”.

Personnel and Policy on the Down-Low

The disconnect between her public policy pronouncements and the people she surrounds herself with turns into a chasm when it comes to her choice of Senator Ken Salazar (formerly Obama’s Secretary of the Interior) as one of three co-chairs of her transition team. To the uninitiated, a brief explanation of what transition teams are and why they are critically important to the mindset and policies of an incoming administration. They are the ones who vet literally thousands of wannabe office holders for top spots in the administration, like Secretary of Defense, State, even Interior. They have to consider a lot of factors, chief among them being their support of the new president (translation: how much moolah the prospective office holder and his pals dredged up during the campaign). Of course, suitability, appropriate experience, stuff like that are all in the mix albeit pretty far down the food chain. Let’s take a closer look at the CV of former Interior Secretary Salazar. Vetted by former members of Obama’s 2008 transition team, headed by John Podesta, the Clintons’ long time Consigliere and Hillary’s 2016 campaign manager, Salazar (Senator Salazar at the time) was appointed Secretary of the Interior in spite of (or possibly because of) his reputation as a water carrier for the gas, ranching and mining conglomerates. He more than lived up to Obama’s faith in his love affair with big business, particularly the most egregious climate polluters, by managing to hit the trifecta of climate nihilism with his support of the TPP, the XL pipeline, and fracking. His reign as Interior Secretary was rife with ineptness and crony capitalism. Two examples will suffice: the feds’ botched response to the Gulf oil spill in 2010 and his decision, supported by the “environmental Prez” to open the Arctic to oil drilling. After such an inauspicious tenure in government, is it any wonder that shortly after leaving the Obama administration, fracking guru and climate misanthrope Salazar was spied soothing the ruffled feathers of oil and gas industry leaders as he asserted “…from everything we’ve seen, there’s not a single case when hydraulic fracking has created an environmental problem.” The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wasn’t so sure citing “specific instances” where fracking “led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells. Oops. His views on the TPP “the greenest trade deal ever” and on the XL pipeline “could be done in a way that creates a win-win for energy and the environment” are a sorry reflection on the business–friendly policies of the Obama administration and their deleterious effects on our lives. This is the guy Clinton has selected to start lining up the chess pieces that will become top brass in a presumptive Clinton administration.

“Something Wicked This Way Comes” (Ray Bradbury)

if the track record of this co-chair is any indication (and we’re betting it is), Clinton’s administration will undoubtedly be stuffed with the same gaggle of neo-cons, hawks, big business and finance conservatives and Zionist defenders that were the mainstay of Obama’s reign. Sprinkle in the right of center politics (straight out of the Democratic Leadership Council playbook) of the other co-chairs and what emerges is a blueprint for disaster. Forget the weak progressive gruel Clinton is dishing out on the campaign trail. When it comes to steering the ship of state, it’s business as usual. The inside baseball team she selected to put a face on her administration includes “veteran Clinton aides Maggie William and Neera Tanden…former national security advisor Tom Donilon and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm” (Politico).

In the opinion of William K. Black, former official at several major regulatory agencies who actually managed to prosecute and send to the slammer major banking and finance figures in the late eighties saving and loan scandal, “these aren’t just DNC [Democratic National Committee] regulars. [This] is complete domination [by a group] very, very, very right wing on foreign policy…muscular foreign policy, which was a euphemism for invading places…On the economic side, they were all in favor of austerity … privatization…tried to privatize social security and were all in favor of…NAFTA.” Once again judging by the company she keeps, this self-described “progressive who gets things done” is lying through her teeth.

“Abandon hope all ye who enter here” (Dante’s Divine Comedy)

A brief look at the CVs of the other transition team members doesn’t make the progressive heart beat faster. Besides Salazar, there is Obama’s former national security advisor Tom Donilon who buddies around with the divas of destruction Susan Rice (present national security advisor) and Samantha Power (US ambassador to the UN). This triumvirate of hard-fisted militarists couches its affinity for war with pious pronouncements of the “responsibility to protect” (R2P) doctrine that encourages humanitarian war usually resulting in humanitarian catastrophe (Libya, Syria). War is their preferred instrument of foreign policy and they never met a dictator, military strongman, or oligarch they couldn’t do business with. The remaining Clinton co-chair is Neera Tanden, head of CAP (Center for American Progress), the Clinton house organ, founded by John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman. Like everyone and everything else in the Clinton campaign, CAP never forgets which side their bread is buttered on. Former staff have revealed that under Tanden’s leadership “staffers were… instructed to check…with the development team (i.e. fundraisers) before writing anything that might upset contributors.” Who are those contributors? They read like a list of the FBI’s 10 most wanted: criminogenic corporations: Walmart; financial behemoths Bank of America, Goldman Sachs; weapons makers Raytheon, Lockheed Martin; and an assortment of other bad boys Big Pharma (drug lobbyists), the Broad, Bradley, Gates and other right of center foundations. CAP is also a neoliberal haven stuffed with a motley assortment of corporate education “reformers” waxing eloquent about a privatized market driven, charter and voucher based hustle where competition not equity is king, corporate educational profiteers are handsomely rewarded, teacher salaries are pegged to standardized student test scores and a generation of school children are transformed into robotic test-takers, while children requiring more nurturing (e.g. special needs, English as a second language) are “pushed out.”

Jumping the Shark

CAP’s staff of “experts” also includes a truckload of Israel firsters. Matching the Israel lobby AIPAC in its embrace of all things Israel, CAP is at once protective of and openly lobbies for the US “special relationship” with Israel —an Israeli moneymaker worth $3.8 billion of tax payer funds annually for the next ten years to the tenth most powerful country in the world. At a CAP-sponsored Q&A, Neera Tanden and Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu discussed “Ways to strengthen the partnership between Israel and the White House.” When she’s not shilling for Israel, Neera joins the rest of the transition team in beating the war drums. In fact, she has an ingenious solution to the growing public pushback on the empire’s perpetual wars. In her dim-witted estimation, US policy on invasion should include the US compensating itself by pirating an invaded country’s natural resources including its oil reserves. You heard it right — US demanding reparations from countries whose sovereignty it violates, people it kills and environment it trashes. Lets hear it in her own inimitable prose: [From a leaked email] “Subject: Should Libya Pay us Back? [Message] Most Americans would choose not to engage in the world (euphemism for waging perpetual war].  If we want to continue [waging war globally]…gestures like having oil rich countries pay us back doesn’t seem crazy to me.” [as it wouldn’t to other inmates of a mental institution]

The best that can be said about Jennifer Granholm is that she saw the error of her ways. Too late for Michigan families whose budgets she savaged, but hey the perk of being a really important person is never having to say you’re sorry.

On a 2011, Meet the Press show, shortly after leaving the governor’s office, she assured then-host David Gregory “I cut more as a percentage out of government than any state in the country this past decade, And where is Michigan in terms of its economic growth? Cutting did not result in economic growth.” Not willing to surrender her cred as a neo-liberal, austerity hawk, she was quick to add: “Clearly the entitlement question has to be addressed.”

 The Also-Rans

The other team members, Tom Donilon and Maggie Williams, are less flamboyant clones of the other three. Hawkish on perpetual war, neo-liberal to the core, Donilon headed the State Department transition team in 2008 becoming Obama’s national security advisor in his first term and generally conceded to be the “idea guy” behind Obama’s seven wars and the genius who removed the capture from the capture or kill meme of the empire’s war manual. Maggie Williams goes back a long way with the candidate herself. Beginning as Hillary’s chief of staff during her first lady days and morphing into her campaign manager in 2008. 

The real Impresario, the wizard behind the curtain, is the oft-mentioned John Podesta. As Bill Clinton’s chief of staff he steered the ship of state through the roiling waters of the Monica Lewinsky caper and the impeachment catastrophe. His reward? A short stint as an advisor to the 2008 Hillary Clinton campaign. When that didn’t pan out, he scurried over to the Obama campaign and in 2008 ran Obama’s transition team. One selection, Ken Salazar to be Interior Secretary (see above) is revealing and strikes a sharply discordant note when placed alongside the pietistic pronouncements in Obama’s first inauguration— “We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.”  So much for public window dressing to distract us from the realities of “pay-back time“— when big time campaign stalwarts get their ROI. After his heavy lifting on the Obama transition team, with a business-friendly, corporate-captured bunch on board, Podesta became a special advisor to the president overseeing – what else — climate change and energy policy. Perhaps the biggest reason climate change and energy policy will get short shrift in the Obama legacy.

The Business of This Administration is Business

Eight years passes and our man Podesta is the chair (actually co-chair) of another transition team —Hillary 2016. In his initial comments about the work of the transition team, gauzy campaign promises aside, this is the business as usual team “These individuals who bring a deep level of experience in the work of presidential transitions will help us build a team that is ready to govern after the general election.”

The company she keeps is the peoples’ yardstick to measure Hillary Clinton’s fitness for the presidency. Like dancers captured in a ghostly minuet, this company of friends, donors, insiders, and flunkies pays lip service to America the beautiful but constructs an administration in its own image at once business-friendly, war-sated, revolving door ready, with one goal — to rule the world. They are battle-scarred veterans of past neo-liberal administrations – Clinton’s and Obama’s. As John Podesta reminds us this is not a “team of rivals,” rather a bunch of vetted and certified has-beens ready to construct a future mirroring the present in an unbroken continuum with the past.

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