The Trump era has brought a change of fortune for a Silicon Valley software company founded by presidential adviser Peter Thiel — turning it from a Pentagon outcast to a player with three allies in Defense Secretary James Mattis’ inner circle.
At least three Pentagon officials close to Mattis, including his deputy chief of staff and a longtime confidante, either worked, lobbied or consulted for Palantir Technologies, according to ethics disclosures obtained by POLITICO. That’s an unusually high number of people from one company to have such daily contact with the Pentagon leader, some analysts say.
It also represents a sharp rise in prominence for the company, which just months ago could barely get a meeting in the Pentagon. Last year, Palantir even had to go to court to force its way into a competition for a lucrative Army contract.
Thiel was one of the few Silicon Valley titans to openly support Donald Trumpduring the campaign, a role that gave him a prime speaking slot at last summer’s Republican convention. He has since acted as a key adviser arranging meetings among the president and other tech executives. While there’s no evidence he had a direct hand in these specific Pentagon hires, analysts say they absolutely show his growing influence in the administration, where he holds no formal role.
“It is unusual to have several people with close ties to a particular contractor working in close proximity to the Defense secretary,” said Loren Thompson, a leading defense consultant. “It’s probably just a coincidence that several people with Palantir ties are around Mattis, but it certainly doesn’t look good.”
Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez speak with journalist and author Naomi Klein about her book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. (Democracy Now!)
[…] To the heads of Ryanair, Bayer, AXA, Fiat Chrysler, Airbus, Lazard and Google, “useful” is not a vague or fuzzy term. It means “financially worthwhile”. Something they value enough to clear time in their diaries, to get on a long-haul flight, to risk having to make small talk with George Osborne over cocktails.
If you want to know why Michael O’Leary would want to join the steering committee of this annual, under-the-radar political summit, the answer lies in the nature of the beast. Bilderberg is plugged into the very highest levels of high finance and intelligence. There were two ex-CIA chiefs at this year’s conference: Gen David Petraeus and John Brennan, both of whom now work in the private sector. There was the current US national security adviser, HR McMaster, and a former director of MI6, Sir John Sawers, who now sits on the board of BP.
At its deepest level, the group is dominated by transnational finance and big business. The conference chairman is a director of HSBC, the newly appointed treasurer is the head of Deutsche Bank, and the administrative body is run by a senior adviser to Goldman Sachs.
The relationship between Bilderberg and Goldman Sachs runs deep. This year’s conference featured senior figures from the bank; the annual returns of American Friends of Bilderberg, a tax-exempt group, show it registered to the address of a Goldman Sachs board member, James A Johnson. Its sister organisation, the UK-based Bilderberg Association, is heavily funded by Goldman Sachs and registered to the business address of Simon Robertson, former managing director of the bank’s London operation, Goldman Sachs International.
The current chairman of Goldman Sachs International, José Manuel Barroso, sits on the Bilderberg steering committee, alongside the chairman of the bank’s International Advisory Board, Robert Zoellick. In other words, if Goldman Sachs is the “vampire squid” that Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi said it was, Bilderberg is its brain: doing the deep thinking, inviting historians and futurists’ perspectives, trying to work out where the world is going, doing its best to make sure everything stays more or less on course.
One persistent criticism of Silicon Valley is that it no longer works on big, world-changing ideas. Every few months, a dumb start-up will make the news — most recently the one selling a $700 juicer — and folks outside the tech industry will begin singing I-told-you-sos.
But don’t be fooled by expensive juice. The idea that Silicon Valley no longer funds big things isn’t just wrong, but also obtuse and fairly dangerous. Look at the cars, the rockets, the internet-beaming balloons and gliders, the voice assistants, drones, augmented and virtual reality devices, and every permutation of artificial intelligence you’ve ever encountered in sci-fi. Technology companies aren’t just funding big things — they are funding the biggest, most world-changing things. They are spending on ideas that, years from now, we may come to see as having altered life for much of the planet.
At the same time, the American government’s appetite for funding big things — for scientific research and out-of-this-world technology and infrastructure programs — keeps falling, and it may decline further under President Trump.
This sets up a looming complication: Technology giants, not the government, are building the artificially intelligent future. And unless the government vastly increases how much it spends on research into such technologies, it is the corporations that will decide how to deploy them.
In June 2013, a young American postgraduate called Sophie was passing through London when she called up the boss of a firm where she’d previously interned. The company, SCL Elections, went on to be bought by Robert Mercer, a secretive hedge fund billionaire, renamed Cambridge Analytica, and achieved a certain notoriety as the data analytics firm that played a role in both Trump and Brexit campaigns. But all of this was still to come. London in 2013 was still basking in the afterglow of the Olympics. Britain had not yet Brexited. The world had not yet turned.
“That was before we became this dark, dystopian data company that gave the world Trump,” a former Cambridge Analytica employee who I’ll call Paul tells me. “It was back when we were still just a psychological warfare firm.”
Was that really what you called it, I ask him. Psychological warfare? “Totally. That’s what it is. Psyops. Psychological operations – the same methods the military use to effect mass sentiment change. It’s what they mean by winning ‘hearts and minds’. We were just doing it to win elections in the kind of developing countries that don’t have many rules.”
Why would anyone want to intern with a psychological warfare firm, I ask him. And he looks at me like I am mad. “It was like working for MI6. Only it’s MI6 for hire. It was very posh, very English, run by an old Etonian and you got to do some really cool things. Fly all over the world. You were working with the president of Kenya or Ghana or wherever. It’s not like election campaigns in the west. You got to do all sorts of crazy shit.”
On that day in June 2013, Sophie met up with SCL’s chief executive, Alexander Nix, and gave him the germ of an idea. “She said, ‘You really need to get into data.’ She really drummed it home to Alexander. And she suggested he meet this firm that belonged to someone she knew about through her father.”
Who’s her father?
Eric Schmidt – the chairman of Google?
“Yes. And she suggested Alexander should meet this company called Palantir.”
President Trump, his children and their spouses, aren’t just using the Oval Office to augment their political legacy or secure future riches. Okay, they certainly are doing that, but that’s not the most useful way to think about what’s happening at the moment. Everything will make more sense if you reimagine the White House as simply the newest branch of the Trump family business empire, its latest outpost.
It turns out that the voters who cast their ballots for Donald Trump, the patriarch, got a package deal for his whole clan. That would include, of course, first daughter Ivanka who, along with her husband, Jared Kushner, is now a key political adviser to the president of the United States. Both now have offices in the White House close to him. They have multiple security clearances, access to high-level leaders whenever they visit the Oval Office or Mar-a-Lago, and the perfect formula for the sort of brand-enhancement that now seems to come with such eminence. President Trump may have an exceedingly “flexible” attitude toward policymaking generally, but in one area count on him to be stalwart and immobile: his urge to run the White House like a business, a family business.
The ways that Jared, “senior adviser to the president,” and Ivanka, “assistant to the president,” have already benefited from their links to “Dad” in the first 100 days of his presidency stagger the imagination. Ivanka’s company, for instance, won three new trademarks for its products from China on the very day she dined with President Xi Jinping at her father’s Palm Beach club.
President Trump’s tax plan gives those of us with long memories a strong sense of déjà vu. We’ve seen this play before, and the ending is inevitably modest: a few of the pieces of a horrendously complex, unfair tax system are moved around, victory is declared, and the creatures of the Swamp—those self-serving elites that benefit from the complex, unfair monstrosity—continue raking in their billions of dollars in fees while the rest of us are burdened with billions of dollars in tax-preparation costs.
The opening act of this tax-reform play always starts with a claim that by golly, this time we’re really going to simplify the tax code. Trump’s plan calls for reducing the number of tax brackets and eliminating all deductions other than those for charity and mortgage interest; by way of compensation, the standard deduction will be doubled.
Such changes make for catchy headlines, but the reality is the tax code will still run to thousands of pages.
Amy Goodman speaks with economist James Henry of the Tax Justice Network about the Trump White House plan to give the nation’s millionaires and billionaires a massive tax break. (Democracy Now!)
[…] The Rinkuses are the gatekeepers to the Winter White House — or at least Ari wants people to think so. Before she landed her job at Mar-a-Lago, Heather worked for one of the companies owned by the family of Betsy DeVos, the wealthy former chair of the Michigan Republican Party who is now Trump’s education secretary. Ari, a stocky former used car salesman, frequently holds court over a vodka soda at a local bar, bragging about his and his wife’s connection to Trump and his team while trolling for investors for business deals he’s peddling.
The tale of the Rinkus couple — one a repeat felon and the other a Trump employee who interacts regularly with top government officials — raises the curtain on the way Trump’s sprawling business holdings can sweep minor figures into his political orbit. For a man with a serious criminal record, Ari Rinkus has been in remarkably close proximity to the president. He has parlayed that access — and the perception of access — to his own advantage, sources said, while pursuing potentially lucrative government contracts on behalf of a foreign company.
Reached this week, Heather Rinkus had no comment, and Ari, told what this story would contain, changed his account. He said that in previous exchanges with BuzzFeed News, he had exaggerated his access to the president and his family. He told similarly inflated tales to other people, he said, but insisted that he had not done so to gain government contracts or seek investments. Raising money, he acknowledged, would violate the terms of his ongoing probation for the Ponzi scheme.
The White House declined to comment, referring questions to the Trump Organization. The Trump Organization said it had no business relationship with either Heather or Ari Rinkus. Mar-a-Lago did not respond to emails and a phone message.
It’s a great time to be a cigarette company again.
Far fewer Americans are smoking, and yet U.S. tobacco revenue is soaring, thanks to years of steady price hikes. Americans spent more at retail stores on cigarettes in 2016 than they did on soda and beer combined, according to independent market-research firm Euromonitor International. Consolidation and cost cutting are boosting profit. Big Tobacco shares are on a roll.
Two decades ago, such a boom didn’t seem possible. The industry faced a future of increasing regulation and declining sales, as older smokers quit and fewer young people picked up the habit. States were suing for billions of dollars. Bankruptcies for some players seemed just around the corner.
Things didn’t turn out so badly, though. Costs from an avalanche of legal settlements and regulatory requirements have been heavy, but they haven’t put any big players out of business. Cigarette makers found they could more than make up for falling volumes with higher prices.
After The New York Times wrote about the sexual harassment claims leveled at Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly and the settlements made by the company and O’Reilly himself, James Murdoch, according to 21st Century Fox sources, kept repeating with horror to his friends and executives: “This is on the front page of The New York Times!”
These sources say James Murdoch’s longtime annoyance if not disgust with Fox News became cold fury after the Times‘ April 1 story — even though several of the O’Reilly settlements had happened when James was CEO of the parent company. This was a similar reaction to what had followed the harassment suit by former anchor Gretchen Carlson against Fox News chief Roger Ailes in July. Every time Fox controversies spilled over into the wider world, James took it personally. “It was somehow against him,” says one person close to the Murdochs.
Fox News is a business he should not be in, he had told people before, despite its major contribution to 21st Century Fox’s bottom line — 20 percent of its profits came from Fox News last year, the biggest-earning division in the company. Presumably, he meant the in-your-face world of conservative cable news with its mega personalities. Indeed, James regarded many of the people at Fox News as thuggish Neanderthals and said he was embarrassed to be in the same company with them.
Gregory Wilpert speaks with Antony Loewenstein, author of Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing Out of Catastrophe, who says companies that make profits from disasters around the world also have a vested interest in maintaining these disasters. (The Real News)
Amy Goodman and Nermeen Sheikh speak with Vicky Ward, New York Times best-selling author, investigative journalist and contributor to Esquire and Huffington Post Highline magazine, about whether Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are personally profiting from their official roles in the White House. (Democracy Now!)
President Donald Trump promoted his “buy American, hire American” policy again Tuesday — but his family’s companies haven’t always followed that pledge themselves.
After touring a Snap-on tools plant in Wisconsin on Tuesday afternoon, Trump signed an executive order pushing the hiring of domestic workers by American companies.
The measure will aim to make it more difficult for businesses to hire lower-wage foreign workers, particularly through changes to the H-1B program favored by technology companies, The New York Times reported. The order will also direct a review of government rules related to the use of American companies for federal contracts.
“We are sending a powerful signal to the world. We are going to protect our workers, defend our jobs and finally put America first,” Trump said Tuesday.
But businesses owned by Trump and his family members don’t always favor American workers.
As Donald Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping dined on Dover sole and New York strip steak earlier this month, thousands of miles away in China a government office quietly approved trademarks that could benefit the US president’s family.
On the day the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump met the Chinese leader, China granted preliminary approval for three new trademarks for her namesake brand, covering jewellery, bags and spa service, according to official documents.
Her company, Ivanka Trump Marks LLC, has been granted four additional trademarks since her father’s inauguration and has 32 pending, according to the Associated Press, which first reported the new approvals.
Donald Trump’s White House has created a minefield of ethics concerns, according to critics, and the president and his top officials represent one of the wealthiest cabinets in history, with business empires spanning the globe. Ivanka Trump was appointed assistant to the president last month, after previously saying she would not join her father’s administration.
Ivanka Trump no longer manages her clothing, jewellery and accessories brand, but still owns the business and is frequently seen wearing clothes from her own collection. She has put her business in a trust, run by family members.
The mood was jubilant two days after the November 2016 election at a Washington, D.C., panel co-hosted by two powerhouse conservative thinktanks—the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation.
In his opening remarks, Heritage president Jim DeMint rejoiced that Donald Trump’s election had “preserved our constitutional republic.” Panelist John Yoo, a Berkeley law professor best known as the architect of George W. Bush’s justification for torture, drew laughs with feigned surprise at the audience size. “I thought everyone at Heritage was working over at transition head quarters,” Yoo quipped. “I asked the taxi cab driver to take me to Trump transition headquarters, and he dropped me off here.”
Indeed, Politico reported in November that Heritage, based in D.C., had become “a crucial conduit between Trump’s orbit and the once-skeptical conservative leaders who ultimately helped get him elected.” By Heritage’s own account, “several dozen” of its staff members worked on the transition team, and Trump used its recommendations for his list of potential Supreme Court picks.
Vice President Mike Pence, the head of that transition team, has deep ties to the foundation. In 2006, Heritage co-founder Paul Weyrich, a mentor of Pence’s, said of him, “Nobody is perfect, but he comes pretty close.” In early December, Pence gave the keynote speech at a Heritage event (held at Trump’s D.C. hotel) to honor its biggest donors. He promised that the Trump administration “is now and will continue to draw on” the institution’s work.
Sharmini Peries speaks to Theo Anderson, staff writer for In These Times, about how the Heritage Foundation’s ties to the Trump administration are very extensive and his budget proposal shows it. (The Real News)
An urgent review of “weak and helpless” electoral laws is being demanded by a group of leading academics who say that uncontrolled “dark money” poses a threat to the fundamental principles of British democracy.
A working group set up by the London School of Economics warns that new technology has disrupted British politics to such an extent that current laws are unable to ensure a free and fair election or control the influence of money in politics.
Damian Tambini, director of the media policy project at the LSE, who heads the group made up of leading experts in the field, said that new forms of online campaigning had not only changed the ways that political parties target voters but, crucially, had also altered the ability of big money interests to manipulate political debate. “There is a real danger we are heading down the US route where whoever spends the most money is most likely to win. That’s why we’ve always controlled spending in this country. But these controls are no longer working.”
A Trump campaign aide who argues that Democrats committed “ethnic cleansing” in a plot to “liquidate” the white working class. A former reality show contestant whose study of societal collapse inspired him to invent a bow-and-arrow-cum-survivalist multi-tool. A pair of healthcare industry lobbyists. A lobbyist for defense contractors. An “evangelist” and lobbyist for Palantir, the Silicon Valley company with close ties to intelligence agencies. And a New Hampshire Trump supporter who has only recently graduated from high school.
These are some of the people the Trump administration has hired for positions across the federal government, according to documents received by ProPublica through public-records requests.
While President Trump has not moved to fill many jobs that require Senate confirmation, he has quietly installed hundreds of officials to serve as his eyes and ears at every major federal agency, from the Pentagon to the Department of Interior.
Unlike appointees exposed to the scrutiny of the Senate, members of these so-called “beachhead teams” have operated largely in the shadows, with the White House declining to publicly reveal their identities.
While some names have previously dribbled out in the press, we are publishing a list of more than 400 hires, providing the most complete accounting so far of who Trump has brought into the federal government.
Amy Goodman speaks to journalist Justin Elliott who has been looking into the hundreds of officials Trump has quietly installed across the government. He describes the backgrounds of these officials in a recent piece for ProPublica. (Democracy Now!)
When WikiLeaks released more than 8,000 files about the CIA’s global hacking programs this month, it dropped a tantalizing clue: The leak came from private contractors. Federal investigators quickly confirmed this, calling contractors the likeliest sources. As a result of the breach, WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange said, the CIA had “lost control of its entire cyberweapons arsenal.”
Intelligence insiders were dismayed. Agencies “take a chance with contractors” because “they may not have the same loyalty” as officers employed by the government, former CIA director Leon Panetta lamented to NBC.
But this is a liability built into our system that intelligence officials have long known about and done nothing to correct. As I first reported in 2007, some 70 cents of every intelligence dollar is allocated to the private sector. And the relentless pace of mergers and acquisitions in the spies-for-hire business has left five corporations in control of about 80 percent of the 45,000 contractors employed in U.S. intelligence. The threat from unreliable employees in this multibillion-dollar industry is only getting worse.
[…] “Once Election Day came and went, Peter Thiel was a major force in the transition,” said a senior Trump campaign aide. “When you have offices and you bring staff with you and you attend all the meetings, then you have a lot of power.” At the Presidio, the old Army fort in San Francisco where Thiel’s investment firms are housed, many of his employees have taken to calling him “the shadow president.”
The notion is not entirely absurd. If Steve Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, is one ideological pillar of the Trump White House, Thiel, operating from outside the administration, is the other. Bannon’s ideology is a sort of populist nationalism, while Thiel’s is tech-centric: He believes progress is dependent on a revolution in technology that has been largely stymied by government regulation.
Thiel is a contrarian by nature, and his support for Trump was a signature long-shot bet that is paying big dividends in terms of access to and influence on the new administration.
Trump’s surprise victory in November also gave Thiel a renewed faith in the possibilities of politics, and he has worked around the clock to push friends and associates into positions that will give them sway over science and technology policy, an area he believes has been routinely neglected under previous administrations.
Uber has for years engaged in a worldwide program to deceive the authorities in markets where its low-cost ride-hailing service was resisted by law enforcement or, in some instances, had been banned.
The program, involving a tool called Greyball, uses data collected from the Uber app and other techniques to identify and circumvent officials who were trying to clamp down on the ride-hailing service. Uber used these methods to evade the authorities in cities like Boston, Paris and Las Vegas, and in countries like Australia, China and South Korea.
Greyball was part of a program called VTOS, short for “violation of terms of service,” which Uber created to root out people it thought were using or targeting its service improperly. The program, including Greyball, began as early as 2014 and remains in use, predominantly outside the United States. Greyball was approved by Uber’s legal team.
Greyball and the VTOS program were described to The New York Times by four current and former Uber employees, who also provided documents. The four spoke on the condition of anonymity because the tools and their use are confidential and because of fear of retaliation by Uber.
Donald Trump has inherited the most powerful machine for spying ever devised. How this petty, vengeful man might wield and expand the sprawling American spy apparatus, already vulnerable to abuse, is disturbing enough on its own. But the outlook is even worse considering Trump’s vast preference for private sector expertise and new strategic friendship with Silicon Valley billionaire investor Peter Thiel, whose controversial (and opaque) company Palantir has long sought to sell governments an unmatched power to sift and exploit information of any kind. Thiel represents a perfect nexus of government clout with the kind of corporate swagger Trump loves. The Intercept can now reveal that Palantir has worked for years to boost the global dragnet of the NSA and its international partners, and was in fact co-created with American spies.
Peter Thiel became one of the American political mainstream’s most notorious figures in 2016 (when it emerged he was bankrolling a lawsuit against Gawker Media, my former employer) even before he won a direct line to the White House. Now he brings to his role as presidential adviser decades of experience as kingly investor and token nonliberal on Facebook’s board of directors, a Rolodex of software luminaries, and a decidedly Trumpian devotion to controversy and contrarianism. But perhaps the most appealing asset Thiel can offer our bewildered new president will be Palantir Technologies, which Thiel founded with Alex Karp and Joe Lonsdale in 2004.
Palantir has never masked its ambitions, in particular the desire to sell its services to the U.S. government — the CIA itself was an early investor in the startup through In-Q-Tel, the agency’s venture capital branch. But Palantir refuses to discuss or even name its government clientele, despite landing “at least $1.2 billion” in federal contracts since 2009, according to an August 2016 report in Politico. The company was last valued at $20 billion and is expected to pursue an IPO in the near future. In a 2012 interview with TechCrunch, while boasting of ties to the intelligence community, Karp said nondisclosure contracts prevent him from speaking about Palantir’s government work.
In 2014 Bill Moyers was joined by Mike Lofgren, a congressional staff member for 28 years, to talk about what he calls Washington’s ‘Deep State’, in which elected and unelected figures collude to protect and serve powerful vested interests. “It is how we had deregulation, financialization of the economy, the Wall Street bust, the erosion or our civil liberties and perpetual war,” Lofgren tells Moyers. Lofgren also authored an essay titled: Anatomy of the Deep State. (Moyers & Company)
Think the ideas behind the Trans-Pacific Partnership or the so-called “free trade” regime are buried? Sadly, no. Definitely, no. Some of the countries involved in negotiating the TPP seeking to find ways to resurrect it in some new form — but that isn’t the most distressing news. What’s worse is the TPP remains alive in a new form with even worse rules. Meet the Trade In Services Agreement, even more secret than the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And more dangerous.
The Trade In Services Agreement (TISA), currently being negotiated among 50 countries, if passed would prohibit regulations on the financial industry, eliminate laws to safeguard online or digital privacy, render illegal any “buy local” rules at any level of government, effectively dismantle any public advantages to be derived from state-owned enterprises and eliminate net neutrality.
TISA negotiations began in April 2013 and have gone through 21 rounds. Silence has been the rule for these talks, and we only know what’s in it because of leaks, earlier ones published by WikiLeaks and now a new cache published by Bilaterals.org.
- Meet TISA, the ‘secret privatisation pact that poses a threat to democracy’
- The most important free trade agreement you’ve never heard of
- WikiLeaks releases secret TISA docs: The more evil sibling of TTIP and TPP
- WikiLeaks releases documents related to controversial US trade pact
- Troubled TTIP isn’t the only ‘trade’ takeover busting our sovereignty
[…] In my view the ruptures in British and American politics happened in the 1990s with the accession of Bill Clinton in 1993 and Tony Blair in 1997. These were men who inherited the Democratic Party of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Labour Party of Clement Attlee, but instead of pursuing the kind of prosperity yielding democratic socialism of their predecessors they adopted a “third way” strategy.
Clinton and Blair held onto power by slightly slowing down the radical and destructive right-wing neoliberalisation agenda rather than actively working to reverse the worst of the damage. Of course they seemed like an improvement after the chaotic crisis-ridden 1980s, but both men slowly continued the progress of the right-wing zealotry introduced by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.
One of Clinton’s most overt moves towards hard-right economic dogma was a piece of legislation called the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 which exempted all manner of derivatives trading from financial regulation. a move that unleashed the frenzy of speculative derivative trading that resulted in the 2007-08 global financial sector insolvency crisis.
Aside from the extraordinarily dodgy PFI privatisation scams and the commodification of the higher education system through the introduction of student fees (aspiration taxes), one of Tory Blair’s most blatant rightward lurches saw the de facto privatisation of the Bank of England and the establishment of what turned out to be an astoundingly weak tripartite system of financial sector regulation.
New analysis of UK government hospitality registers suggests executives from News Corp are more likely to visit Downing Street than any other company.
The Media Reform Coalition, a campaign group which objects to the the concentration of media powers in the hands of News Corp proprietor Rupert Murdoch, has compiled the data.
It has looked at the quarterly returns filed by government departments detailing meetings with outside organisations from April 2015 to September 2016. The time span covers two governments.
News Corp includes The Sun, Times and Sunday Times newspapersin the UK.
It took corporate America a while to warm to Donald Trump. Some of his positions, especially on trade, horrified business leaders. Many of them favoured Ted Cruz or Scott Walker. But once Trump had secured the nomination, the big money began to recognise an unprecedented opportunity.
Trump was prepared not only to promote the cause of corporations in government, but to turn government into a kind of corporation, staffed and run by executives and lobbyists. His incoherence was not a liability, but an opening: his agenda could be shaped. And the dark money network already developed by some American corporations was perfectly positioned to shape it. Dark money is the term used in the US for the funding of organisations involved in political advocacy that are not obliged to disclose where the money comes from. Few people would see a tobacco company as a credible source on public health, or a coal company as a neutral commentator on climate change. In order to advance their political interests, such companies must pay others to speak on their behalf.
Soon after the second world war, some of America’s richest people began setting up a network of thinktanks to promote their interests. These purport to offer dispassionate opinions on public affairs. But they are more like corporate lobbyists, working on behalf of those who fund them.
We have no hope of understanding what is coming until we understand how the dark money network operates.
On the same day the Senate confirmed Rex Tillerson as Donald Trump’s secretary of state, the House voted to kill a transparency rule for oil companies that Tillerson once lobbied against while CEO of Exxon Mobil.
So all in all, a good day for America’s largest oil and gas firm.
Using the little-known Congressional Review Act, the House GOP voted on Wednesday to kill an Obama-era regulation that would require publicly traded oil, gas, and mining companies to disclose any payments that they made to foreign governments, including taxes and royalties.
The rule itself dates back to the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act — when senators from both parties included a provision requiring greater disclosure from mining and drilling companies working abroad. The hope was to cut down on corruption in resource-rich developing countries by increasing transparency.
Exxon Mobil Corp. boasts that it drills for oil and gas on six continents and sells fuel and chemicals in almost every country on the planet. That global reach will pose a wealth of conflict-of-interest questions for former CEO Rex Tillerson now that he’s the U.S. secretary of state.
Tillerson, who spent his entire 41-year career at Exxon, cut his financial ties under an ethics agreement after Donald Trump nominated him, giving up deferred stock rights in return for a $180 million cash payout to an independently managed trust. Tillerson also must recuse himself from decisions “directly and substantially related to” his former employer for two years under the president’s ethics order for his appointees.
“He has severed himself in a pretty final and conclusive way, and I just don’t see him being influenced given the structure of his disengagement,” Stan Brand, an ethics lawyer at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, said in an interview.
Yet the $350 billion company is so big, and so deeply entrenched in countries around the world, that Tillerson’s past will inevitably shadow him, critics say. They say that no ethics agreement can protect against Tillerson viewing the world through “oil-coated glasses,” as Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said this week.