There’s a hole in the heart of Burlington, Vermont’s downtown. The result of a currently halted project to build a new shopping mall, it is currently a muddy hole that might well end up taking millions of dollars to fill. Many of those millions could well end up coming from the pockets of Burlington residents. Indeed, they’ve already committed ten million to the project that hole represents. Despite the hype from City Hall and its business associates, the reconstituted Town Center Shopping mall is not being done for the benefit of Burlington’s residents. Indeed, the only certain benefactors of the project whether it’s completed or not are the billion-dollar investment firms whose spokespeople convinced Burlington voters to cough up ten million dollars in the last election.
The front man for the investors is a man named Donald Sinex. He and his company Devonwood Investors LLC are the minority investors in this project. Their percentage is just under fifty percent (49 % to be exact). The majority investor, Brookfield Assets management, owns fifty-one percent of the project. Both companies pride themselves on their deal making. Indeed, Donald Sinex not only takes company pride in its ability to smell out a deal, he redundantly describes himself as an “opportunistic real estate investor” on his personal LinkedIn account. It is Sinex who has been the face of the deal that the hole in downtown Burlington represents.
The barely visible partner in the Burlington Town Center project is another even larger investment company called Brookfield Assets Management. This entity is also known simply as Brookfield. It has offices around the world, including its headquarters currently in Toronto, Canada. Its operations involve hundreds of employees and over three hundred billion dollars. Besides its real estate business, Brookfield also invests in infrastructure, private equity and “renewable energy.” Although the latter involves solar, hydro and wind energy projects, it is the company’s recent purchase of Westinghouse Electrics bankrupt nuclear energy division that demands the addition of the quotation marks around the phrase renewable energy. This recent purchase becomes even more interesting after discovering that Brookfield hopes to be involved in an ill-advised project being pushed by the Trump administration to build nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia.
Furthermore, the circumstances of Brookfield’s purchase of Westinghouse Electric raise other questions. These questions concern the Brookfield investment of $700 million dollars in a building in Manhattan owned by the family business of Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law. The investment was in the form of a niney-nine year lease. The building, located at 666 Fifth Avenue, has been a bit of a financial burden on Kushner and his family business. Kushner, whom Trump has appointed as the unofficial ambassador in his dealings with Saudi Arabia, is a friend of the faction of Saudi’s rulers that currently holds the most sway in the regime. Kushner is also a champion of the nuclear energy plan for the Saudis.
In order for any US company to build nuclear plants overseas, that company needs the approval of the US government. The fact of Brookfield’s 700 million dollar investment in Kushner’s Fifth Avenue skyscraper and the approval of Brookfield’s purchase of Westinghouse’s nuclear energy section seem more than coincidental. Indeed, the circumstances point to some kind of agreement, perhaps unwritten. One wonders if the investigations into Kushner and Trump will shed some light on the situation. After all, should the plan to build nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia make it through Congress and the White House, Brookfield’s year lease would seem to position the company perfectly to be the corporation that would build the plants.
Besides the obvious hypocrisy in supporting Saudi nuclear energy due to Washington’s preference for the Saudi sheikdom’s oil over the Iranian Republic’s, this connection to Brookfield’s activities proves again the essentially “dirty” nature of capitalism, especially finance capitalism. In other words, once one moves into the world of finance capital, they are never far removed from deals reeking of corruption, war and greed. Burlington discovered as much earlier this century when the city tried to make a deal with Lockheed, a corporation best known for its profiteering from the manufacture of the weapons of war. That deal, sold as a green energy enterprise, was shut down after months of lawsuits and protest. Granted, Brookfield Assets Management is not yet worthy of war criminal status like Lockheed, but its pursuit of Westinghouse Electric indicates it would not be against such a status if there is enough profit in it. Profit knows no morals. Those who pursue it should, but all too often eschew them in favor of the buck. Your town may be next, if it hasn’t already been hit by these predators.