If you or I or one of our kids throws a large stone at a big red ant hill, it goes thud, and then all the red ants come streaming out and running around all over the ant hill, hurrying this way and that, bumping into each other, mad with fury, looking for the attacker, racing up to the offending stone, racing away back down their hole into the ground, etc. This is an image that could be a metaphor for most of us political activists.
One week we talk about Republicans and the filibuster; the next we talk about the Voting Rights Act; the next week it is Citizen’s United; the next it is water and water conservation; the next week it is media concentration. Every issue seems more important than the last and every issue demands immediate attention. All together we are concerned about the takeover of American democracy by empires of money, but we find ourselves so scattered over so many issues that we have not created a focused target. Especially, we have not focused on empires of money. Instead, we look a little like that anthill, teeming with energy, bumping into each other, chasing a multitude of dangers, but not all pulling together.
In some ways it is important that we all do as much as we can in as many areas as we can. And of course, we must all continue driving better and fewer cars, introducing solar, using less plastic, conserving water, reducing our consumption. All that. Of course.
In another way, however, marginal gains in any one of these multiple efforts will not be enough to change the course of American history because right now the course of American history is being guided by empires of billionaires. I use the word “empire” advisedly, meaning to recall centuries of European colonialism. The apparatus of, for example, British Empire, was to superimpose on top of an existing native government a new colonial regime that would exploit the local cheap labor while holding them captive in debt, and ultimately drain the product and income of that country to the benefit of the very rich lords of privilege at home.
I mean to advance the idea here today that any industry that can control the government of a country, can exploit the labor of that country, hold its population captive in debt, and ultimately drain the disposable income of that country to the benefit of super rich lords of privilege, is doing exactly what the 19th century colonists did and is a colonizing enterprise.
I mean to advance the idea, further, that when there are billionaire networks within such industry that control both the politics of the country and the economy of the country, but do not participate in providing for the welfare of the citizens of that country, then this industry has created a classic, extractive, inhumane, empire.
I mean, finally, to advance the case that in our country today the financial industry occupies just that classic, extractive, inhumane, position, and that the leaders in that industry are the banks, and the leaders among the leaders are the five largest global banks, Wells Fargo, Citibank, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, and Goldman Sachs.
Let us begin with our political situation: In the United States today, billionaires control the media in substantial part, the federal congress and the legislatures in large part, and, by skillful propaganda, they have taken possession of the five minds that make up the majority on the Supreme Court.
While, therefore, we all are trying to do our best in a multitude of areas every one of the causes we believe in and fight for is resisted by a media, a Congress, and a high court that have been taken over by, or subverted by, an empire of great wealth.
We must therefore ask ourselves, can we, in some way, through some issue, create a single, focused movement that has power sufficient to combat the billionaire political empire? Can we find the Achilles heel of the whole façade of plutocracy? Is there an Achilles heel? Or, better yet, can we find a point of leverage that if we create movement at that point will create cracks in the foundations of empire?
The empire has its control of congress through campaign contributions and lobbying. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, commercial banks alone spent more than $61 million lobbying Congress in 2012. To get our minds around that figure, imagine what we could do, we here in this room, if we had $61 million to lobby congress. Imagine that one of the little non-profits that you or I work for, or support, got a grant of $61 million. We could, as Shakespeare says, “drown the stage in tears, and cleave the general ear with horrid speech, make mad the guilty and appall the free.”
We could win a few battles, is what we could do. Imagine then the power of $61 million in lobbying money, for just one financial industry, and you can see why it is fair to say that our congress has been colonized. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that the financial industry had over 12,000 lobbyists working the Congress in 2012. That would leave no hand unshaken, no congressional lunch eaten alone, no congressman or woman in search of tickets, for anything, and finally, no question concerning any piece of legislation left unanswered. All that attention from 12,000 lobbyists ought to get the answers supplied, in amazing detail. And, just by the way, Wall Street in 2005 did write the law to give so-called their derivatives priority status in bankruptcy, ahead of all other creditors, public or private. In bankruptcy, derivative gambling is the first to get reimbursed. The casino gamblers of Wall Street come before homeowners or your government.
A second colonizing mechanic we all know is the influence that comes through campaign contributions.
Goldman Sachs spent almost $8 million dollars on campaigns in 2011-2012. Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase each spent more than $4.5 million. All three gave these contributions more or less equally to democrats and republicans and to so-called independent groups; the banks made sure that when the time came to review legislation they were everyone’s essential ally.
An additional one-third of their total contributions went to so-called 527 non-profits that get a tax deduction. We subsidized them. These independent non-profits include some names that you will recognize: American Crossroads, GOPAC, Progress for America, and Club for Growth. None of these is apt to campaign for democrats. This control of the tax code to allow the very wealthy to dominate election advertising, is another indicator of empire. It allows the very wealthy to sit atop government, directing it, but not taking responsibility for the welfare of its population.
When you consider the citizenship of the great banks and ask whether they are loyal citizens of this country, remember this: The great banks are the ones who declare their income is made in the Cayman Islands, or—in case of Bank of America—another of their 116 off-shore tax havens, and, sadly for them and for us, little income is made in the United States. So little of this bank’s income is made in the U.S. that, unfortunately, they are sorry to report, their U.S. losses actually require from us a tax refund. In 2010, Bank of America had such a hard year that they were awarded nearly one billion dollars in tax refunds.
This is colonial power: the country’s largest bank, the Bank of America, willing to accept the benefits of American citizenship—law and order, stability, education and financial freedom—but accept none of our burdens. They overlay their system, like the British Raj, atop our democracy, but are not one of us. They use our name America in their title, but do not accept the duties of American citizenship. This is 19th century colonialism brought forward into the 21st century. It is classic, extractive, and inhumane.
A third mechanic of the colonizers is to take de-regulation global and to create an interlocking system of global treaties that literally destroys the sovereignty of countries. This financial network is run out of Basel, Switzerland. Suffice to explain that it is here that the global banks created the “bail in” provisions, the Cyprus extraction provisions, that make bank deposits, yours and mine, subject to call by global banks. That is another reason why it is proper to call the new empire “extractive. “ Goldman Sachs was able through these Basel rules, passed by neither Congress nor parliament in any country, to sell bad derivatives to Greece, to demand payment for those bad derivatives when the failed, and bring Greece to its knees, a subject nation. Greece is a nation that lost its sovereignty to a bank.
We are therefore now experiencing, in the 21st century, a form of colonialism, not to kings or princes, dukes or marching armies, but to multinational organizations, following carefully orchestrated, highly coordinated, extractive policies, to create an empire of banks.
Those who resist the new empire are countries with public banks. They are largely the BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India and China. But many others are Islamic countries because usury is forbidden by Islamic teaching. From the point of view of the private banking empire, it is better to make the world safe for usury and the Islamic countries are by definition, therefore, hostile. The lesson: It is not safe to reject usury. Having failed to succumb to economic coercion, many of these non-usury states have wound up in the crosshairs of the US military.
How can a somnolent American public get hold of the idea that it has been colonized? What would be the canary in the mine that might awaken the public? What is a recognizable indicator of the global financial empire’s strangle hold?
One red flag, one screaming fact crying out that is easily seen, is the measure of inequality. Inequality is a regular feature of empire. Some inequality will always exist, but giant inequality, inequality that leads the industrialized world, inequality that defies imagination; that is inequality that signals empire.
We in this room are probably familiar with the numbers that reflect America’s inequality. According to Forbes Magazine, the chairman of just one bank, JP Morgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, was paid $41 million salary in 2010. The bank has been covered in scandal but Dimon still got his $41 million. Lloyd Blankfein at Goldman Sachs was paid 21.7 million. Goldman has admitted to, and been fined for, federal fraud, intentional deception, but Blankfein still got his $21 million. These numbers do not include stock options. Neither scandal nor fraud will deter those who have so much money that they view themselves as above the rule of law.
America suffers, today, quite simply, from a concentration of wealth greater than any other advanced nation, a concentration that rivals that of kings and popes, sultans and Caesars, in ages past. In the first century BCE, Rome moved from a republic to an empire; it could all be explained by the concentration of wealth. The same thing happened in 15th century Florence, Italy. This republic was subverted by bankers’ money. The Medicis were bankers, and they did not work to preserve the republic. They worked to preserve the Medicis. Now a similar concentration of power and wealth, on a much bigger scale, threatens to move this nation from a republic to a modern aristocratic empire. And once again the arrow aimed at the heart of this democratic republic is being shot by bankers.
Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Citibank, and Goldman Sachs alone own assets and wealth greater in amount than 58% of the total American GDP. That means that the banks own more than half as much value as all the value that America produces in a year. That is not just inequality; that is the power to dominate. That is not dominance by a rich class. That is dominance by only five organizations. This is not class war; there are too few of them. These five global banks and their CEOs now occupy positions of power that emperors from Caesar to Genghis Khan, Louis XIV of France, would envy.
But it is not just dominance that characterizes empire. It is also control of the money supply.
Nathan Rothschild in 1820 controlled the Bank of England. He is reported to have said:
I care not what puppet is placed upon the throne of England to rule the Empire on which the sun never sets. The man who controls Britain’s money supply controls the British Empire, and I control the British money supply.
According to a website titled 24/7 Wall Street, in 2012, Wells Fargo, one bank, issued 28% of all mortgages in the country. JP Morgan Chase issued 10%. That is, together, over 1/3 of all mortgages were controlled by—over 1/3 of all money lent for homes—was lent by just two banks. Add to that what you know of the three other largest banks and you will have a feel for pervasive control of the mortgage market. In Rothschild’s terms, the big banks control the money supply.
How do they do it? They are on street corners all over this town, creating magnets for your money, then collecting interest.
When I first began my career, years ago, banks used our deposit money to make loans. Our deposits could be lent to others in town and money would always be put to work. Now the law has drastically changed. The banks are allowed to limit their loans and by not loaning they create an excess of deposits over loans. This excess they can then use to leverage huge borrowing. This borrowing is very significant. It is this borrowing, using our deposits as security, through which they are buying up America’s infrastructure.
Yes, the banks are buying up America’s infrastructure. Now the empire moves from finance to general possession of the wealth and production of America.
According to Ellen Brown in an article just last week, “Giant bank holding companies now own airports, toll roads, and ports; control power plants; and store and hoard vast quantities of commodities of all sorts. They are systematically buying up or gaining control of the essential lifelines of the economy.”
So that is where we are. The banks are extending their empire from our politics to our economic lifelines, buying up everything from electric power, to oil tankers, to airports, to commodities, and selling at a profit, gasoline, electric power and municipal bonds. This is what a financial empire looks like. Corner stores with patriotic names or galloping horses and stage coaches to lure in your money, claims to benefit the locals, but systematic draining of these monies out to Wall Street, or Beijing, or the Cayman Islands. And, again, this fits the definition of empire: Classic, extractive, inhumane.
Archimedes is supposed to have said that if you knew where to put the lever you could move the world. So where do activists who still believe in community and democracy put the lever today to move this world beset by a huge, global, financial empire?
We could begin with this question: What does the billionaire empire not currently control?
Here is the good news. The answer is right before our eyes.
Billionaires do not yet control the city councils or county commissions. There is more democracy in Santa Fe, and in Las Vegas, and in Mora County, than there is in Congress, or our state legislature, because these smaller jurisdictions are still under the radar of the empire.
According to the National League of Cities, there are more than 39,000 municipal governments in the US. They are mostly under the billionaires’ radar. In New Mexico, there are 101, and we have only one municipality with a population above 250,000. There are only four above 50,000. There are 36 municipal governments with a population less than 1,000. All the rest are in between. Very interestingly, therefore, unlike New York City or Chicago or Los Angeles, where the empires of big money are focused and can exercise substantial control, New Mexico is a state where—precisely because of its small size—local democracy still is possible.
In the state legislature here in New Mexico and everywhere in the country, billionaire money is everywhere present. You all know about the American Legislative Exchange Council that invites our legislators to fancy resorts and wines and dines them while offering to them drafts of anti-government, anti-community, anti-health care legislation that they have drafted in their law factories in New York. We all know of the Koch Brothers money that has so materially affected state legislation restricting same day registration, requiring driver’s licenses to vote, reducing corporate taxes, providing for private prisons, funding the Tea Party, etc. They have a 19th century, sweat-shop, agenda and in every state they have the money to lobby for it, propagandize it, and dress it up in the American flag.
But at the city and county level billionaires are not so omni-present.
So the question then becomes, could the powerless actually organize at the local level with more effect than at the national level, or the state level? Could we challenge the financial industry right here in our own small towns? Could we organize the foreclosed and students who are paying loans, or former students still paying loans years after they have been in school? Could we create a Union of the Foreclosed and a Union of Students, and could we call for and pass city legislation to create right here our own city’s bank?
We could. And we can begin here at home; we don’t have to travel to Washington. We don’t have to battle the status quo in the legislature. We can begin in our county commission and in our city council where we know them and they know us.
To garner public support, the challenge will be to make the financial empire, the real power that governs the lives of millions of Americans, their fortunes, their property values, their education, and their health, visible.
How do we do make the invisible power of the empires of extreme wealth no longer invisible, but actually visible?
All across America, millions are in foreclosure, losing their homes. They are the visible results of banking empires. In America today, student debt exceeds credit card debt. Students are indentured to both government and to banks for life. So add students in debt to those who are the visible effects of the financial empire. Not only are these victims of the wealth empire visible, the causes, the sources, of their indebtedness are also visible. The cause of the immense suffering of these millions is interest owed to banks. Simple as that. And most often these are the giant banks. Both the giants and their victims, the ones who are suffering, are both visible. Both giants and victims of the moneyed empires are in small towns, like Santa Fe, and Espanola and Taos.
Here is the simple equation: plutocracy has taken over the politics of America, and the financial industry has taken over the funding of the plutocracy. But this is not a problem in the abstract in Washington, this is a problem right here. Not only do we have visible victims in every small town, we have visible evidence of the giants themselves. The five giant banks of the financial industry are the oligarchy that controls lending, and lending at interest is the mechanism that has caused the suffering of millions.
Now, break it down: The largest sector of the financial industry is the great banks: The five global banks: JP Morgan Chase, Citibank, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Bank of America. These five banks are in your pockets and in mine. They are in your town and in mine. They are in every town. They are on street corners all across this town. Those street corner operations are not there to promote the prosperity of Santa Fe, foster art, culture, education, or health in Santa Fe; they are sales offices to lure your deposits and offer loans to you at interest and at interest you shall ever remain. If you have an account at one of the five global banks you are a colonial as much as the Indians were colonized by the English, or the Indonesians by the Dutch. Your income is being siphoned off to the Caymen Islands global bank accounts where, because of the grace of God and the wisdom of the free market, no income taxes are ever paid.
And the great banks are visible. They solve the problem we have about organizing at the local level for democracy. Unlike plutocracy, the great banks hang out their signs from corner to corner and say, “Here we are!” But they are not just visible here; they are visible in Socorro and Las Vegas and Cruces and Raton. Everywhere they go they have money-seeking vacuum cleaners that suck up income from farmers and ranchers, homeowners, car buyers, and students and small business. Their signs should say, Wells Fargo money-seeking vacuum cleaners, and Bank of America money-seeking vacuum cleaners, and Citibank money-seeking vacuum cleaners; come deposit your weekly paycheck here and pay your farm loan interest here, your house loan interest here, and your credit card interest here! We have the best money-seeking vacuum cleaners in town!
These money-seeking vacuum cleaners are so efficient that interest debt is what makes the giant banks the owners of assets equal to at least 58% of the national GDP. That is why we say that at the heart of the plutocracy are the banks; they own the most; they have clutches on the most people; they have the ability to start the economy going, by lending, or stopping the economy by refusing to lend.
There is a remedy for all this. It is to form our own public banks. We can do this. Twenty states are considering it. Public banks already exist in Brazil and India, China and Russia, and in North Dakota. A public bank puts its income back to work for the public’s needs in that state. In North Dakota, the public bank finances roads and rehabilitation projects, health facilities and clinics. We could do that here. We do not need to ship our interest debt to be counted by computers pretending to be humans in the Cayman Islands. We can count our own money, thank you. We can put our lending to solid uses here at home, supporting local business, local education, local banks, even. In North Dakota the state bank backs up the community banks; shares difficult loans with them, makes them stronger. It could do the same in Santa Fe.
When the red ants form a line from their big anthill just south of my house, winding 50 feet up through the gramma grass, past 30 more feet of pinyons and junipers, circling around my derelict rose garden, across 20 feet of sandstone patio, they come to a place that is under the tree that holds the bird feeders. Here the column of ants spreads out. Here they gather hundreds and hundreds of seeds that birds have scattered. Then, seeds in their little jaws, they turn around and get back in line and head home. No more chaos. Ants know how to work together. And when they fall in line, they bring thousands of seeds home. If ants can work together, we can too.
Our solution to the banking empire is not to kill it, put a stake through its heart, defame or degrade the people in it. Our solution is just to exercise a little democracy here at home and take control of our own finances. Opt out of the empire, is what we can do. Our cause is just, our motives are pure, our method is democratic.
One condition here is different from classic empire. These imperialists cannot force us to play with them. They do not have that power. We can choose our own solutions still. The road will be long and difficult. It begins with education; with us all getting a hold of what it is we are up against and being willing to take action locally. We have access to our city council and county commission unlike any access we might have to congress or the state legislature. We do not have to go where the money is and pretend to overcome that money. We can do what we already know how to do: talk to our friends in community banks, in local business, in the city council and county commission.
Some of us here today have been through the endless re-submission processes of Wells Fargo or Bank of America, or one of the others. Some of us have tasted what it is like to submit our financial assets for the third or fourth time to a person who has no authority to help us, no matter what we provide. These among us know—and they are in our city by the hundreds and probably the thousands—that we would like to have our own public bank the purpose of which will be to help the home owner and the student, the small business and local government. We are not helpless. We do have a solution to the problem of plutocracy and empire.
In WeArePeopleHere! we have launched a campaign to educate, engage and legislate. On the 24th of September, this month, we will host a meeting at the Unitarian Church to specifically rally those in foreclosure, to show them that they are not alone; to offer them tactics and strategies to fight the fraudulent electronic recording system initiated by the banks for the purpose of evading 700 years of property law. We will gather into one place the visible human consequences of empire and make empire’s results alive and real.
That is not all. We are working, in addition, toward a major assembly to be held next spring here in Santa Fe, sponsored by the Public Banking Institute. At that assembly we will bring advocates of public banking from all over the country. We want to bring together hundreds of people in New Mexico who know that the time has come to not only talk about capitalism’s flaws, but to fundamentally alter the control of the money supply; to not only complain about the giant global banks, but to make them irrelevant; to not only propose in the abstract but to propose in the specific. During all this time between now and then we will be visiting with and informing public officials and local businesses about the benefits of a Santa Fe Bank and working, just as we are here today, to make the empire visible.
You can be a part of this. If the time has come for you to say “no” to empire and raise your head in dignity for an economy that serves all the people, then join us.