Green Center money was not donor’s to give
This article appeared recently in the Press Democrat. It is reprinted with Susan’s permission here.
Recently, The Press Democrat wrote of Joan and Sandy Weill’s $12 million gift for the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University. The editors noted that Weill is a former CEO of Citigroup but failed to say where the money came from. That money wasn’t Weill’s to give. He and Citigroup stole it from us. Instead of giving it to the Green Music Center, he should give it back.
Those are pretty harsh words, but when was the last time you were able to buy Congress so that the laws you were breaking would be undone? In the last 15 years of Weill’s tenure, Citigroup executives gave $23 million in contributions/bribes to their favorite, ready-to-be-bought candidates. And that doesn’t include money for lobbyists. And, surprise, the laws that governed the financial industry were loosened, resulting in a financial crisis long predicted by those who know where deregulation leads.
The Glass-Steagall Act, enacted after the Great Depression to protect us from a reckless financial industry, forbade the merging of insurance underwriters and banks. In 1998, Weill illegally merged Citicorp with Travelers Group. But he wasn’t worried, as we might be about breaking the law. He said “the legislation will change … we have had enough discussions to believe this will not be a problem.”
His office sported a huge plaque with his photo and the words “Shatterer of Glass-Steagall.”
An Internet check on Wikipedia will give you a clear history of Citigroup’s frauds, conflicts of interest and outright theft. Over the years, Citigroup (Weill’s “baby”) has paid many fines ($3 billion for its involvement in the Enron scandal), so why would it continue to commit these crimes? Because it makes more money than it is fined and no one goes to jail. You have to rob a corner store (not a country) to be sent to jail.
And Citigroup steals. Citigroup was fined for moving money from customer accounts into its own fund through improper computerized “sweeps.” When he was California attorney general, Jerry Brown wrote that Citigroup “knowingly stole from its customers, mostly poor people and the recently deceased, when it designed and implemented the sweeps.”
If someone swiped an old lady’s purse and gave the money to charity, would you call it “philanthropy”? So why is it philanthropy when Sandy Weill does it? His lawyers will say he did nothing illegal, but that word has no meaning where money buys legality and the lack of money can put you behind bars.
We’ve reached one of those points in history where the difference in wealth and power between us and them is so huge as to be obscene. How did it happen? They (and we’re in this predicament because we forgot there is a “they”) bought the government, drastically reducing their share of the tax burden while greatly increasing ours.
With very few exceptions, they do not work harder than you, aren’t smarter than you, don’t contribute more of value to the world than you. They move money around. We do the work.
In 2005, Weill and Citigroup released an investment advisory titled “Revisiting Plutonomy: The rich getting richer.” Here’s an excerpt:
“Asset booms, a rising profit share and favorable treatment from market-friendly governments have allowed the rich to prosper … \[and\] take an increasing share of income and wealth over the last 20 years … the top 10 percent, particularly the top 1 percent of the U.S. — the plutonomists in our parlance — have benefited disproportionately from … globalization and the productivity boom, at the relative expense of labor.”
It is time to say no to corporate control of government, time to stop voting for candidates who take contributions from corporations and the ultra-wealthy, time to send the true criminals in this country to jail and time to take to the streets in massive numbers, as they’re doing in other parts of the world. It’s time to take back the wealth.
Susan Lamont is office manager of the Peace and Justice Center and lives in Santa Rosa. She is also a founding member of Take Back the Wealth, a group sponsored by the Peace and Justice Center that is currently doing community organizing in the South Park neighborhood.
Separate Letter to the Editor
Editor: Many at Sonoma State are saying that graduation day is about students, not politics. So why aren’t they asking SSU to refrain from giving non-student, Sandy Weill, an honorary degree?
He’s the person who brought subprime mortgages into the mainstream, buying up small loanshark companies and making Citigroup the biggest loanshark of all. And when things went bad, “we” bailed Citigroup out. He is being given the degree by President Rubin Armiñana, who has pushed for the Green Music Center and the Student Union despite SSU’s $300 million debt and debt service of $7 million a year for 30 years, with new student fees going to wealthy bond-holders and Wall Street, not to education. And don’t get me started on student debt owed to big banks!
This country is so rife with immorality in high places that it is no wonder that people take an amoral stance to justify their disinterest in what is too horrifying to face.
Clarence Darrow said, “A criminal is a person with predatory instincts without sufficient capital to form a corporation.” It’s time to recognize the biggest criminals are corporate thieves and their government enablers.
It’s time for everyone at Sonoma State to say, “A degree for Weill shames our university.”