LA artist Alex Shaefer’s latest chalking activism brings the criminality and duplicity of the financial sector into sharp focus. Alex was arrested earlier this year for a chalking protest outside of Citibank; he was held for 12 hours, but the case was never pushed forward by the prosecutor and he was subsequently released from his bond. Of course this is a considerable victory and vindication for Alex and for freedom of speech and protest. However, one must also be suspicious that the reluctance of the authorities not to proceed is a calculation that it is better to allow these protests to continue, rather than making the actions of an artist/activist a cause célèbre, which would bring the criminality of a corrupt system under scrutiny and perhaps give considerable impetus to investigation and prosecution. Recently we have seen that contemporary banking practices include tax evasion, rate rigging, market manipulation and money laundering, but we’ve also seen the important report on Tax Haven activity, by James Henry, almost completely buried. Henry’s research shows that the wealthiest people and corporations on the planet are holding US$21-32trn in tax havens and secrecy domains. Further, even a casual look at the data shows a striking correlation between the amounts of sovereign debt and transfers to tax havens. I was quite saddened to see an apparent direct relationship between the amounts of new sovereign debt (created after the introduction of the Euro) and transfers to tax havens in the case of Greece. This is surely circumstantial evidence of a kleptocratic crony capitalist criminality and as such we must insist that it is investigated. But without protest and constant iteration, there will be no desire on the part of compromised parties (legislators, regulators etc) to essentially investigate and/or prosecute themselves and their friends.
If you haven’t seen Alex’s paintings, I recommend visiting his various sites. His images of protest and burning banks are outstanding. These images aren’t a call to violence, they are a poetic that give an insight into the internal decay and destruction of these institutions. Their sentiment somehow reminds me of one of the protest signs from last year : “YOU are the Crisis!” Hmm, let’s not be scared to point fingers.