Tackling Corporate Crime In And Outside The White House
The 46th president going full Haymarket Hulk is not something anyone anticipated over a year ago, when Biden told America that if elected he’d be the “most pro-union president” ever. In the past, he’s gone off script during speeches to support the reawakened labor movement, only to have his words walked back by cautious press secretaries and the peanut gallery of advisors whispering “triangulation” in his ear. But in the past week Biden now seems to have decisively broke with the third way approach, hewing to the corporate crack down agenda–which RDP has long advocated–through a series of high profile union endorsements and their ensuing fallout. Biden invited Starbucks workers to meet with him in the Oval Office, drawing fire from Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz, who took a break from jet setting across the country in a game of anti-union whack-a-mole to order the condemnation of Biden’s support.
The president also invited Amazon labor union president Chris Smalls to the White House for a meeting, only to find the rising star sporting a jacket emblazoned with “eat the rich.” This awakened the slumbering Twitter presence of Jeff Bezos, who has spent the last week tweeting hosannas for Joe Manchin and condemning vast swaths of the presidential agenda–in turn setting off a fiery tit-for-tat with the Biden administration. In response, the White House pulled no punches: “It doesn’t require a huge leap to figure out why one of the wealthiest individuals on Earth opposes an economic agenda for the middle class that cuts some of the biggest costs families face, fights inflation for the long haul, and adds to the historic deficit reduction the President is achieving by asking the richest taxpayers and corporations to pay their fair share,” the White House wrote.
The willingness to finally confront ultra-rich corporations and their billionaire leaders shows that a framing clearly popular with vast swaths of middle and working class America is now starting to make sense to the White House as well. Since the start of the Biden administration RDP has detailed time and time again why corporations and their highly visible figure heads should pay the price for needlessly price gouging Americans and refusing to strengthen the feeble supply chain that in many cases are the precise cause of their outsized market power.
While Bezos and Shultz are a good start, Biden can’t and mustn’t stop there. From baby formula to gasoline, Americans are unable to afford or even find the essential goods they need to survive. The distress of so many Americans is all the more reason for Biden to extend his crusade against the barons of E-commerce and Ecuadorian light roast to the hundreds of industries similarly abusing their workers and straining pocket books on main street.
While Biden has made a show in the past weeks of attacking corporate villains disrupting his administration’s agenda, he’s proven far less adept at silencing the call coming from inside the house. Last week I reported for The American Prospect that Susan Rice, one of the main opponents of total student debt cancellation (and the blow it would deal to parasitic loan servicing corporations) has not only created a “dehumanizing” work environment, but also worked to streamline Title 42, the Trump era immigration policy universally decried as inhuman and ineffective by both mainstream and left wing immigration advocates.
While Rice continues to rankle the Domestic Policy Council, Ali Zaidi, currently serving as a deputy climate advisor under Gina McCarthy has emerged as the frontrunner to replace his boss as Biden’s top climate advisor. As The Nation reported this week, incorporating research and insights from RDP’s Dorothy Slater, Zaidi’s resume is studded with an allstar cast of oil industry insiders.
“Zaidi, who could soon take over the country’s top climate policy job, spent the Trump years working for Big Law firms where he represented and provided legal services to dozens of fossil fuel companies and the private equity giants quietly profiteering from the climate crisis and financing fossil fuel expansion. Previously, Zaidi served in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2017, holding several climate-focused jobs in the White House before swinging through the revolving door. He landed at big corporate law firms like Kirkland & Ellis, a right-wing firm that acts as a “holding pen” between Republican administrations, and Morrison & Foerster, where he used his expertise to advance the interests of oil and gas giants and private equity tycoons.”
Finally, Biden has also failed to prevent the influence of fintech companies tied to crypto and debt collection seeping into the federal reserve. Michael Barr, Joe Biden’s nominee for the Federal Reserve’s Vice Chair for Supervision holds investments in over 80 fintech investments, meaning that one of the most powerful regulators overseeing the Fed is also overseeing a portfolio of companies directly engaged in destabilizing the economy and the strength of the dollar. As RDP’s Max Moran detailed this week, “The Jerome Powell Fed has been notoriously lax on ethics concerns. Senators and the press must find out the extent of Barr’s financial and personal interests in fintech and cryptocurrency, how he views these digital ‘innovations’ in finance (always a risky prospect at best), and why they should trust him to act in the public’s best interest.”
Despite the corporate infiltration of White House and Fed personnel, the independent Surface Transportation Board has continued its long overdue pummeling of the consolidated American railroad industry, holding hearings targeting Big Rail’s capital strike and the dangerous and damming failures to prevent layoffs and maintain a strong workforce. While STB Chair Oberman stopped short of flexing his agency’s muscles to crack down on Big Rail’s wall street backers, he did hint it’s something Congress, and maybe even the White House, should consider.
Meanwhile, the Tennessee Valley Authority has failed to match the STB’s enthusiasm for oversight of companies standing in the way of Biden’s climate agenda. RDP’s Dorothy Slater and Mekedas Belayneh analyzed how the Biden administration could prevent the TVA’s construction of new gas fired plants, but probably won’t. Joe surprised us by making good on his street fighting credentials going after Bezos and Schultz; comparatively, the Trump-appointees mismanaging the TVA, including the $10 million dollar CEO, should be a lay up.
Want more? Check out some of the pieces that we have published or contributed research or thoughts to in the last week: