Tuesday, January 17, 2017

DeVos & Mnuchin: A Peek Inside the (Republican) Cabinet

Trump's exclusive Bild interview [Photo - Getty Images]
With the uninformed and divisive rhetoric of the soon-to-be inaugurated PEOTUS now inspiring ripples of uncertainty and fear across the European continent in the wake of his Sunday interview published in the Times of London and Germany's Bild in which he described the 67 year-old NATO alliance of 28 countries as "obsolete", the world is finally grasping the sense of unease felt by millions of Americans.

Welcome to our world Europe.

Much of the political amd media establishment's attention was justifiably focused on the contentious confirmation hearings of Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos, a politically conservative billionaire with no actual education experience who has given large political donations to five of the same Republican Senators sitting on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee tasked with approving her nomination. (Drain that swamp!)

That's a pretty scary thought for advocates of public education as well as the bedrock Constitutional principle of the separation of church and state.

According to an extensively researched and well written article posted today on Mother Jones.com by Kristina Rizga, in a 2001 interview, when asked if Christian schools should continue to rely on the kinds of philanthropic donations ($50 million between 1999 - 2104) she and her husband give to Christian schools and organizations, DeVos famously said:

"Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God's kingdom."

As Forbes reported earlier this evening, during questioning Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders reminded DeVos that millions of Americans are troubled by the idea of a small handful of conservative billionaires forming an oligarchy that ostensibly controls the country.

He then asked DeVos how much her family has contributed to the Republican party.

She said it's "possible" her family has donated $200 million to various Republican politicians.

"Advance God's kingdom" indeed...

For those who may shudder at the idea of a crusading charter school advocate and Republican rainmaker whose father-in-law (Amway founder Richard DeVos) is worth over $5 billion being given the keys to the Department of Education, today the federal government only contributes about 10% of the funds for American public schools.

So the reality is that there is really only so much damage that she can actually do if she is nominated to the post.

More worrisome was her testimony that she wants to see more control over schools established at the local level.

I'm not an expert on education by any means, but I do believe strongly in the need for federal standards and guidelines for schools, curriculums, teachers, administrators and students.

Should administrators, teachers and parents have influence on the local level?

Absolutely, but when DeVos uses language like shifting control of schools to the local level, it reflects the growing disparity and segregation (both socio-economic and racial) in American schools that stems largely from the steady decline of federal funding for public schools that has taken place since the 1960's.

Back in June I touched on this subject in a blog post after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie advocated for a "Fairness Formula" that would cap per-pupil spending in New Jersey public schools regardless of the school district.

NJ Gov. Chris Christie
Like DeVos, Christie was in essence arguing for the kind of public school funding that we have here in NJ - for the most part wealthier school districts with higher tax bases are able to fund higher quality public school education than urban areas coping with trickier fiscal challenges, less concentration of higher paying jobs, less tax revenue and the steady drain of human capital to the suburbs.

I don't think DeVos is a bad person or anything.

I just don't think it's a good idea to put someone in charge of the Department of Education who never attended public schools, didn't educate her kids in public schools, has money invested in for-profit education and has no degree in education - or ever worked in education in a professional capacity.

Did I mention that she thinks that teachers are overpaid?

Yes, she whose family has given $200 million to the Republican party.

Speaking of controversial cabinet picks by the embattled PEOTUS, the nominee for Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin has certainly raised eyebrows.

Remember during the presidential campaign when Trump berated both Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton for their ties to Goldman-Sachs?

Steven Mnuchin
In addition to Mnuchin, Trump now has no less than four key advisors and cabinet picks who are former Goldman-Sachs employees; including his pick to head the Securities and Exchange Commission, Manhattan attorney Jay Clayton.

As has been widely reported, it's not just the fact that the 53-year-old Mnuchin is a former partner at Goldman-Sachs.

His fitness to be placed in charge of the U.S. Treasury has been called into question over his role as part of the management team that purchased the notoriously troubled lender IndyMac during the housing crisis in 2009.

As Kim Masters reported in an excellent article on Mnuchin's rise from Goldman-Sachs to film financier in a recent issue of the Hollywood Reporter, Mnuchin and his investors paid $1.5 billion for IndyMac, renamed it OneWest, then pocketed a tidy $1.9 billion profit after selling it to the CIT Group in 2014 for $3.4 billion.

As Max Kutner reported in an article for Newsweek back in December, some critics and former homeowners charge that Mnuchin ran OneWest when it was a "foreclosure machine" that systematically (and heartlessly) kicked thousands of California homeowners out of their homes in an effort to squeeze profits for investors via the mortgage crisis that almost wrecked the economy.

Mnuchin later became Trump's campaign finance chairman - and presto, is now possibly the man who will take over the Treasury Department.

Take a few minutes to click the link above and read Kim Master's THR article on Mnuchin and his move to Los Angeles, very interesting read.

Is he fit to be Secretary of the Treasury?

By the standards of the political and financial establishment, Yale graduate, Goldman-Sachs partner, he is - he's clearly a smart guy.

But his personal choices and his role in the sale of OneWest call into question what his priorities will be as head of the U.S. Treasury - like Betsy DeVos, I'm highly skeptical that it will be the interests of the American people who are not members of the 1%.

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