By Jill Stein
Green Shadow Cabinet, March 7, 2013
In the last week, President Obama announced three important appointments. These appointments to Secretary of Commerce, International Trade Representative and Chair of the Federal Communications Commission are very important to the direction of the economy, communications and government. The appointments reenforce a big business dominated government and seem to be payoffs for big fundraising for the Obama campaign.
At Secretary of Commerce, Obama appointed Penny Pritzker. Pritzker has been a long-time funder of President Obama’s political career. Open Secrets reports that in 2012 she bundled at least $500,000 for Obama’s re-election campaign, and that in 2008, she raised $200,00 to $500,000. Pritzker is one of the wealthiest women in the United States with a fortune estimated at $1.85 billion, and she is listed among the 300 wealthiest Americans by Forbes magazine.
Her wealth comes from the Pritzker family’s ownership of Hyatt Hotels. They are not a model of the type of employer we need in the United States. They are part of the race to the bottom mistreatment of workers, while owners and executives get rich. Some examples:
- In Boston, Hyatt fired its entire housekeeping staff and replaced them with temporary workers earning minimum wage.
- Hyatt’s subcontracted workers in Indianapolis filed a lawsuit, alleging they were not getting paid for all the hours they worked. Hyatt responded by firing the subcontractor, putting in jeopardy the jobs of people who bravely stepped forward in the lawsuit.
- In Baltimore, for instance, only 9 of the 30-40 housekeepers working at the Hyatt Regency are full-time and directly employed by Hyatt. The rest are subcontracted temp workers earning minimum wage.
The United States needs a forward looking Secretary of Commerce who will work toward a new economy where employee ownership is emphasized so wealth is shared not sent to the top. See for example the work of members of the Green Shadow Cabinet, including our Secretary of Commerce, Marc Armstrong, our Secretary of the Treasury, Ellen Brown, our New Economy Advisor, Gar Alperovitz and our Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, Richard Wolff. Pritzker will do nothing to correct the imbalance in the economy between workers and owners and nothing to shrink the wealth divide. We need a new economic direction and a plutocrat with a history of banking and labor abuse is going to deepen the dysfunctional and corruption in the economy.
Michael Froman, a managing director Citigroup at 1999 to 2009, who was a bundler in Obama’s first campaign, raising $200,000 to $500,000, takes on the critically important job of U.S. Trade Representative. The job is particularly important right now as the administration is in the last phase of negotiating a global corporate coup, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which will greatly empower big banks like Citigroup. The TPP places no controls on the flow of capital into and out of countries, making it very hard for countries to have control over their economy. In addition to being a managing director, Froman was President and CEO of CitiInsurance and is credited with introducing Obama to Citi board member, Robert Rubin. Froman’s tenure was the time of the economic collapse caused by the subprime mortgage crisis and casino investing of the big banks in derivatives. As the economic collapse hit, Citigroup was insolvent and the federal government bailed it out with a $20 billion investment and $306 billion loan guarantee in November 2008, at that point Froman left to join Obama’s transition team. Citi remains in trouble; in 2012 it failed a stress test conducted by the federal government.
We need a trade representative like economist Richard McIntyre, who would put protection of the people and planet before profit; and recognize the dangers of the big banks, not empower them further. Froman is exactly the wrong choice for this position as his instincts continue the neo-liberal approach of unregulated big finance that puts privatization and profits for transnational corporations first.
The final appointment, Tom Wheeler to become the chair of the FCC was also an Obama bundler. Wheeler raised between $200,00-500,000 in 2008, and in 2012 raised $500,000. Wheeler lobbied for the communications industry serving for 13 years as president of the National Cable Television Association and as former CEO of Cellular Telecom and Internet Association where he served 12 years. Since 2005 he has been a venture capitalist with Core Capital Partners where he served as managing director when he was appointed.
As Reuters reports, “All of the senators in the Commerce Committee know Tom as a lobbyist who funnels funds to them, not as a stand-up guy from a regulatory agency who is able to take heat.” The FCC agenda should be making rural broadband a reality, providing broadband access throughout urban areas especially among low-income communities, lowering the costs of cable with fair billing and ensuring net neutrality. This is a time when competition, not consolidation and mergers are needed. A long-time industry lobbyist and venture capitalist will not provide the type of leadership the people need.
The concentration of the communications industry is a central problem in the U.S., we need an FCC that will break up the small number of big business interests that dominate communication. But Wheeler comes from the industry giants at a time when we need an FCC to act in the public interest that will challenge them. Wheeler, has supported more concentration, supporting the merger of AT&T with T-Mobile which was stopped by a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission which the DOJ found anti-consumer and anti-competitive. Essentially, Obama has put in place someone from the industry that the FCC is supposed to regulate, the Foxes are in charge of the Hen House.
In November, 2007 President Obama said: “I am in this race to tell the corporate lobbyists in Washington that their days of setting the agenda are over” but his most recent appointments, and appointments of big business interests to key cabinet posts throughout his presidency, have created one of the most big business centric administrations in history at the cost of consumers, small businesses and the overall economy where only the super-wealthy thrive. Obama has become the mirror image of presidential candidate who pledged never to allow lobbyists to “run my White House” in 2007, instead he entrenched big business deeply into his government.
At a time when corruption of the economy is more and more evident, as is the corruption of government by big business interests, President Obama has reenforced the corruption and dysfunction of the economy and government. There is no question a new government is necessary as the bipartisan in Washington continue to sell out the American people.