Trump has allowed some 500+ positions to remain unfilled in his administration, in part I imagine because he is having a hard time finding people who are actually willing to become a part of the circus train and risk the ruination of their careers. However, there are still a few short-sighted clowns out there, driven mainly by greed and the promise of feathering their own nest. Two such have come onto my radar this morning, and as usual, Trump’s selections reflect the very antithesis of the departments they have been chosen to oversee.
The USDA’s Research, Economics and Education division studies everything from climate change to nutrition. Under the 2008 Farm Bill, its leader is supposed to serve as the agency’s “chief scientist” and be chosen “from among distinguished scientists with specialized or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics.” So who has Trump tagged to head this important division? A man who is neither distinguished nor a scientist, one Sam Clovis.
Who, you ask, is Sam Clovis? Until he joined Trump’s campaign in 2015, he was a tenured professor at Morningside College in his hometown of Sioux City, Iowa. He took leave from that position to work on the Trump campaign, however is not welcomed back by the college. After Clovis was quoted defending the Trump campaign’s proposal to bar Muslims from entering the United States, the link between Clovis and the college was broken. A statement from the college said, “We find the view that a particular religion should be discriminated against to be repugnant to the values held at Morningside College. When he was on campus, Dr. Clovis was a staunch defender of the Constitution and a strong advocate for religious freedom. His recent comments appear to be at odds with his earlier views. We find his recent position to be outrageous and disappointing.”
Clovis is a retired Air Force colonel who holds a doctorate in public administration, yet has never taken a graduate course in science and is openly skeptical of climate change. Clovis is better known for hosting a conservative talk radio show in his native Iowa and, after mounting an unsuccessful run for Senate. In 2014, he became a fiery pro-Trump advocate on television. Clovis was also responsible for recruiting Carter Page, whose ties to Russia have become the subject of intense speculation and scrutiny, as a Trump foreign policy advisor.
Catherine Woteki, who served as undersecretary for research, education and economics in the Obama administration, compared the move to appointing someone without a medical background to lead the National Institutes of Health. Let us not give him any ideas here!
Past undersecretaries have been biochemists, plant physiologists, food nutrition experts, and public health experts. Since Clovis has not a single qualification for the position, this is obviously another case of a political favour being returned, and I’m sure his stance against both climate change research and Muslims entering the United States didn’t hurt either. Clovis will yet have to be confirmed by the Senate, but as we have seen in past appointments that is more or less a rubber-stamp. What happened to ‘draining the swamp’?
Next up on the ol’ radar machine is financial services lawyer Keith Noreika who Trump has already placed as head of the Office of the Comptroller. Two things disturb me greatly: a) his appointment is a classic case of putting the fox in charge of the henhouse, and b) Trump placed him in the position in a devious manner, bypassing the need for Senate confirmation which might have been a tough sell. Let us look first at Mr. Noreika’s history.
I’m sure you remember the financial crisis of 2007-2008, right? The one republicans blamed President Obama for, even though he had not even been elected yet. Noreika played a role in causing that by representing big banks in the early 2000s in lawsuits designed to protect banks from states’ regulations that would protect consumers. Banks successfully sued to stop Iowa from limiting their ability to charge ATM fees to non-customers. They also fought off states’ attempts to stop them from charging non-customers to cash checks drawn on the banks’ accounts. In another case, they stopped California from forcing two banks to conduct audits of their own residential mortgages. And Noreika represented the banks in all these cases and more … cases whose results contributed to the financial crisis that began in 2007.
During President Obama’s first term, legislation was passed aimed at preventing a repeat of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, the most notable of which was the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act regulatory overhaul. Trump has called Dodd-Frank “a disaster”, even though it is doubtful he understands any part of it. In removing federal controls from the banking industry, an industry that has proven that greed outweighs all else, we would be setting the stage for a repeat of 2008. But that is exactly what Noreika seems prepared to do.
The second issue I have here is the way in which it was done, slyly and in an obvious attempt to circumvent the confirmation process and avoid certain ethics requirements. So how did this happen? First, he was hired as ‘first deputy’ in the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, a designation that ensured he would ascend to the top job once it opened. Then the administration ousted Thomas Curry, and just like that, Noreika became acting comptroller. Sneaky, huh? And having attained the position in this way means there is no requirement for public disclosure of an ethics agreement or his former clients.
Noreika’s position, attained in this manner, is limited by law to a term of no more than 130 days, but that is sufficient time for him to do significant damage. Donald Trump has promised his friends in the banking industry that he will gut financial regulations. Both Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchnin have pledged to “unshackle Wall Street” from financial-crisis-era regulations. It appears that with this shady move, they are well on their way to keeping their promises to their wealthy buddies. And I’m sure I do not need to remind you who will be picking up the tab.
So, once again Trump has selected two of the absolute worst possible choices for top-level positions. And the circus train rolls on … and on … and where it stops … nobody knows …