Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Occupy "The Scream"

The huge turnouts for Occupy May Day seem to have stunned the corporate media, which had assumed the movement was dead because they had stopped paying attention to it. Now, they are trying to marginalize OWS even further by calling the day's events a one-off piece of national street theater. Nothing to see here, move along, let's get back to the Rombama Death Match and the Osama Assassination retrospective.

Well, not so fast! Occupy is alive and well and living in the rarefied world of obscenely overpriced art and the obscenely wealthy oligarchs who have nothing else to do with their money than invest it in priceless masterworks, only to hide them away from public view. Today is "Shut Down Sotheby's" Day in New York City to protest against the auction of one of Edvard Munch's "The Scream" paintings. (he painted more than one version.) From the OWS website:

Tonight, at an exclusive 7pm auction, Sotheby's is expected to sell Edvard Munch's iconic painting "The Scream" for $80 million dollars*. Outside, Occupy and labor allies will protest the Upper East Side art auction house in solidarity with 43 locked-out art handlers who have been replaced by Sotheby's with low wage temporary workers with no benefits.
Catering exclusively to the mega-rich (by providing a service that makes them richer and more exclusive,) Sotheby's is perhaps the most quintessentially 1% institution there is. Founded before the industrial era, it was the first company ever listed on the NY Stock Exchange, and today (despite the current "recession") is more profitable than at any other time in its 260-year history. Meanwhile, the Sotheby's workers who make those profits possible are given the shaft. Enough is enough. The 99% will not stand silent as union-busting companies like Sotheby's wage class war against us.

Making it even more interesting is the fact that Shrillionaire Mayor Mike Bloomberg's girlfriend, former NY Banking Commissioner Diana Taylor, is on the board of Sotheby's. She has actually threatened to quit should Sotheby's CEO accede to the demands of the shut-out Teamsters. "MiDi" has got to be a match made in heaven, given Bloomberg's own disdain for the working class and poor. With a net worth of almost $20 billion, he is adamantly against raising the minimum wage, and insists that food stamp applicants in his fair city get fingerprinted lest they steal crumbs from the maws of the plutocrats. And when it comes to the unemployed and underemployed Occupiers, he is Marie Antoinette in smirky billionaire drag: instead of eating cake, says Hizzoner, they should just go out and become entrepreneurs.

You can see video here of locked-out Sotheby's workers asking Diana Taylor to stand up for them and their families. Her response has all the passion of a bored, pre-guillotine Louis XVI in drag.

<><> <><> <><>
Odd Couples, Then and Now 

And it's not just the Teamsters giving Diana Taylor some righteous indignation. Investors are planning to demand that she and others resign from the Board at the annual shareholder meeting on May 8, for "gross mismanagement" in wasting money to punish middle class workers, and also for the mishandling of James Murdoch's embarrassing position on the Sotheby's board. The auction company has had its share of scandals over the years, and if there's one thing fabulously wealthy oligarchs don't want now, it's even more bad press and class resentment. This is one thin-skinned crowd. They have not had an equal opportunity to develop life's little calluses.

Even the Ivy League has had it with Taylor and her cadre of plutocrats. Dartmouth students have teamed up with the Teamsters, and are demanding their own college board of trustees cut all ties with the auction house, given its blatant class warfare against working families:

Despite grossing over $700 million in 2010, Sotheby's hired the notorious union-busting law firm Jackson Lewis to attack its workers. More than seven months ago, Sotheby's locked the art handlers out of their jobs, depriving them of their paychecks. On Jan. 1, the art handlers and their families were stripped of their health care coverage. Sotheby's continues to demand that all union positions be phased out and replaced with low wage non-union temporary positions with no benefits.
"Taylor's open hostility to the bargaining process, and refusal to end this awful lockout is an affront to my College's values," said Janet Kim, a Dartmouth junior who participated in Saturday's action. "Dartmouth has always been committed to being a socially responsible institution, but Taylor's actions totally fly in the face of that."
Sotheby's reckless behavior has harmed its shareholders. In a recent filing with financial regulators, the auction house disclosed that it had spent $2.4 million in "extra expenses" associated with the first three months of the lockout. (The entire cost of the art handler's contract is $3.2 million.) The lockout has also caused several organizations, including a group affiliated with Oberlin College, to cancel events originally scheduled to be held at Sotheby's.

"Diana Taylor's refusal to publicly use her influence to try to end this lockout not only speaks volumes about how she feels about America's working families, but it should raise serious questions about her stewardship as a board member," said Jason Ide, President of Teamsters Local 814, the union that represents the workers.

I guess it is also no coincidence that Diana Taylor lounges on the board of Brookfield Properties, the quasi-owners of Zuccotti Park, original camp of the Occupy movement. This is another one of those neo-liberal public private partnerships in which taxpayers foot the bills of the ruling class.

Of course, the ultimate irony is that Sotheby's will profit mightily from the sale of "The Scream", an iconic painting that captured the angst and despair and outrage of people buffeted by a cruel authoritarian system over which they have no control.

Munch and other painters in the Expressionist movement wanted to express a new internal, psychological form of reality. Art historian and psychoanalyst Laurie Wilson says the image touches on something primitive within all of us, because we were all once young and helpless like the hairless creature in the picture, wordless and afraid. She says Munch managed to convey something all human beings have felt at some time: "I am overwhelmed. I am helpless. There is nothing I can do and when I try to convey it, in some way, whether I am screaming or expressing some of what nature is screaming at me, other people ignore it."
Why would some master of the universe even want to own this painting, given that it symbolizes the pain of the downtrodden?  Hmm.... Sadism. Control. Evokes fond memories of crashing an entire economy and the hopes and dreams of  an entire generation. Or, alternately: wealthy new owner identifies with the painting because it symbolizes the fact that he is only a multimillionaire and not yet a member of the Forbes 400. It is so unfair that the 400 richest Americans own more wealth than the bottom 160 million combined. It's enough to make one Scream.

Update: The Scream has sold for a record-breaking $120 million, the highest ever price paid for a work of art at auction. The bid was done privately, by telephone. No word on the identity of the new owner, who may be in the Forbes 400, after all.  


Valerie said...

Wonderful post, Karen!

I think it is important for the apathetic Americans of the 99% to realise that the Middle Class is losing ground at an exponential rate. The 1% isn’t even trying to hide their greed anymore. No more Nobles Oblige where the fortunate acknowledge that they have been especially blessed and owe something to society as a whole - and therefore are obligated to give something back. Rich people like Taylor and Bloomberg are clearly working hard to widen the great divide between the 1% and the rest of us. More and more we are hearing of big corporations making record profits turning around and depriving their workforce of their small share of the spoils. The ultra privileged don’t see the people who work for them as family members and human beings; they see beasts of burden and human machines to be used up and thrown away. This is why they don’t want them to have any retirement benefits. Once their usefulness has come to an end, they are to be discarded like yesterday’s trash.

I was particularly impressed by the way the Sotheby union members spoke to Diana Taylor – the language they used to define themselves – It made her response sound even more heartless and Marie Antoinettish. I hope that universities like Dartmouth and Oberlin DO start pulling away from these vile corporations and that their erudite student bodies are made aware of the reasons. In talking to so many of my friends about the Occupy Movement, I really see that this movement is going to have to gain strength from the young people first before the tired, middle-aged members of our society get off their couches and turn off their TVs to join the battle. I don’t know if it is because people of my generation are so worn down, so content and selfish - in some cases - having gotten their piece of the pie, or if they have been so brainwashed by the media into believing the takeover of the plutocracy isn’t happening or is inevitable. But we aren’t out there in the numbers that we need to be, lending legitimacy to a movement that will save our standard of living along with that of our children and grandchildren.

Our only hope is the Internet for communicating the REAL news to the public. Bill Moyers had a wonderful guest, Marty Kaplan, on his most recent show. They discussed the roll of the Mainstream Media and Hollywood in advancing the takeover by the 1%. While democracy burns –it isn’t even eroding anymore - the 99% is being entertained and misinformed by political theatre disguising itself as news shows. It has gotten to the point that American citizens, glued to their televisions, are confusing reality with “dramas” showing the police as always caring and honest, lawyers as always ethical, torture as sometimes legitimate and necessary and protesters as a bunch of dirty, irrational radicals.

I am grateful that the Occupy Movement has remained strong in its resolve to make its presence known – That it’s message of “We won’t go down quietly” remains constant. Our only hope is that the REAL news is spread through blogs like this one and that this idealism and appeal to fairness gains a foothold.

Karen Garcia said...

Thanks, Valerie! The One Percenters are being denied comfort to go along with their wealth, anyway!

Jay - Ottawa said...

The Writing on the Wall

masters and moneymen
look down from your towers
as you sniff and swirl the bordeaux
this time the writing
won’t come from on high
but from way way way down below
it’s the print on those placards
held high in the streets to tell you
the time has passed when you should go

the world turns
in troubled sleep through
a night that aches for dawn

Neil Gillespie said...

Re: "Catering exclusively to the mega-rich (by providing a service that makes them richer and more exclusive,) Sotheby's is perhaps the most quintessentially 1% institution there is."

According to Edward Conard, that is a good thing.

See this gem in the Times which appeared just in time for May Day. (or should it be Mayday - a distress signal?)

Edward Conard of Bain Capital as a book coming out next month, Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About the Economy Is Wrong.

Conrad "aggressively argues that the enormous and growing income inequality in the United States is not a sign that the system is rigged. On the contrary, Conard writes, it is a sign that our economy is working. And if we had a little more of it, then everyone, particularly the 99 percent, would be better off. This could be the most hated book of the year."

Conrad claims "Most citizens are consumers, not investors," "They don’t recognize the benefits to consumers that come from investment."

Conrad fails to understand that ordinary citizens invest their time, brains, and muscle on the job, and without that INVESTMENT Conrad and his ilk would be SOL.

If Romney is elected, will we see Conrad in the role of fed chief or treasury secretary?

Karen Garcia said...

Linda Greenhouse has an excellent post in The Times on how the Supreme Court arguments over Arizona immigration laws, and government immigration policies are so lacking in... humanity! My response:

Follow the money. Neither party has a real interest in immigration reform, because the corporations running this country have no interest in reforming immigration. Agribusiness relies on undocumented workers to harvest the crops. The low wages they are paid keep our grocery prices relatively low. The 1% rely on illegal immigrants to tend their estates, raise their children, wash their cars and clean their homes -- no Social Security withholding or income tax forms required.

Then there is the prison-industrial complex, with rounded-up undocumented people filling up private prisons for private profit -- at public expense. Politicians in both parties are happy recipients of donations from the booming incarceration industry. More detainees swept up by the draconian and inhumane Secure Communities program are always needed, because greed never sleeps.

The War on Drugs, too, is wrapped up in immigration policy. Brown-skinned folks are easy targets for yet another misguided government effort.

Meanwhile, people from south of the border are wising up and not sneaking into this country so much any more. There are drones in the skies and detention centers, and let's face it -- the American economy stinks and the jobs have become few.

With our whole country seeming to have lost its humanity, the Supreme Court is just another depressing reflection of the status quo. Human rights have taken a back seat to Big Money and winner-take-all politics.

Karen Garcia said...

Oh, and here is my comment on Gail Collins's column on the Senate races....

Lugar did buck his own party a few years ago when the GOP balked at ratifying the START treaty in an effort to punish President Obama.

And if you judge a senator's honesty by the amount of time spent in the Chamber factored in with his net worth, Lugar is squeaky clean. As one of the longest serving senators (36 years), he ranks but a dismal 79th in wealth. His net worth is "only" $2 million and change, and more than half of that is equity in his Virginia house. And he even repaid the Treasury $4500 in Indiana hotel bills he had erroneously charged the taxpayers over the years. He should have stayed in a Holiday Inn Express, with the complimentary croissants.

As far as Elizabeth Warren's ethnicity is concerned, Oklahoma colleges allow a student to prove only 1/32 native American heritage in order to qualify for financial aid. I went to school in Tulsa, and knew several students on partial scholarships based on having Cherokee great-great grandparents. It was all part of the government reparations policy, to atone for the Trail of Tears and subsequent concentration camps in the former Indian Territory.

So good for Elizabeth Warren for standing up for her heritage. If elected, she is sure to work hard to improve the harsh living conditions on America's Indian reservations -- now the subject of a human rights investigation of indigenous peoples by the United Nations.

Get In The Game said...

Thank you, Karen. Amazing information, and I don't know anywhere else we might have found it so thoroughly presented and complete.

All I can think is that these people are evil; I've exhausted all other rationalizations.

Prepare the guillotines!

Denis Neville said...

@ Neil - also read that gem on why the super rich are good for us serfs

One can assume that we serfs are also good for the super rich.

“The comfort of the rich depends upon an abundant supply of the poor.” – Voltaire

John in Lafayette said...

"Why would some master of the universe even want to own this painting, given that it symbolizes the pain of the downtrodden? Hmm.... Sadism. Control."

Great minds think a like, apparently. Lee Siegel wondered essentially the same thing in his NY Times column today regarding the revival of "Death of a Salesman" on Broadway, where the least expensive ticket is going for over $100.

Here's what he said:

"Mr. Miller’s outrage at a capitalist system he wanted to humanize has become our cynical adaptation to a capitalist system we pride ourselves on knowing how to manipulate. For Mr. Miller, Willy’s middle-class dreams put the system that betrayed them to shame. In our current context, Willy’s dreams of love, dignity and community through modest work make him a deluded loser.

"Perhaps there is a simple, unlovely reason “Death of a Salesman” has become such a beloved institution. Instead of humbling its audience through the shock of recognition, the play now confers upon the people who can afford to see it a feeling of superiority — itself a fragile illusion."

It's sad, but true, that people who value love, dignity, and hard work are derided as losers by the ruling elite. But let's hope that Siegel is right when he says the illusion of wealth's superiority is fragile. Thanks to all - like those in the Occupy movement - who labor to shatter that illusion.

John in Lafayette said...


Great comment. What the wealthiest fail to appreciate is that nobody is opposed to people acquiring wealth. Wealth, per se, isn't bad. What's bad is too much wealth in too few hands; wealth that is then turned toward acquiring ever-greater wealth at the expense of the middle class and poor.

What's worse is that the extremely wealthy have become so disconnected from reality that they have lost sight of your key point: Capital is not the only thing that is invested. People invest brains and labor and without those investments capital is meaningless. Capital and labor need each other.

The Romneys and Conards of the world are like the snakes eating their own tails. They do not understand that ultimately the incredibly unequal society they are creating will be the cause of its own demise.

James F Traynor said...

Think of tigers, grizzly bears (the whole group really,
including brown and polar). They are the politically active rich, neither good nor bad, just part of the system. But they can be dangerous and they don't want to share, which is easy to understand. We don't want to share with them either. Which is also easy to understand.The trouble with this analogy, of course, is that we're both of the same species, but different classes.

In this country most people of either class really don't want to officially recognize this. Perhaps because to think so implies class warfare. And as a result we've never formed a social contract, or even considered such. This is a very dangerous situation.The rich are very different - so would each of us be, were we in their class. Each class has to recognize that fact and in this country they don't. How can they, since they don't really want to accept class distinction - accept in practice?

We are in the middle of a class war. Bloomberg and his mistress understand this, as do most of the Wall Streeters. Very few of the rest of us do and the oligarchs are desperately afraid that we will become aware of it or that they, in the words of Warren Buffet, are winning.

Neil Gillespie said...

@ John in Lafayette, Denis Neville, everyone

This labor quote is attributed to Abraham Lincoln:

"Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration."

Conrad argues that "A small number of innovators and investors may have earned disproportionate billions as the I.T. industry grew, but they got that money by competing to constantly improve their products and simultaneously lower prices. Their work has helped everyone get a lot more value."

I would counter that in the case of Microsoft, it arguably began with a marginal product that dominated the market because its business deals in the early days stifled competition through monopolistic practices. (Bill Gates’ father was a successful lawyer and he no doubt advised his son on the fine points of product licensing and other such).

In comparison, the Firefox web browser is an example of a free, open-source project that is, in my view, a better product than Microsoft Internet Explorer. Another example of a free, open-source project is Wikipedia. Also, some of the profit earned by the I.T. industry is due to using cheap foreign labor, like oppressive production facilities in China that make Apple products. Conrad does not address social or environmental off-balance sheet costs, like environmental degradation outside the U.S. by the toxic computer manufacturing process.

James F Traynor said...


You're right about Lugar. One of the few decent politicians. And they really are rare. As I remember, he also bucked the Reagen administration from backing the Marcos regime when it was overthrown by a popular uprising.

Denis Neville said...

@ Neil - re: labor quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln

Yet, the man from the land of Lincoln, Obama, dumps on Lincoln and labor.

From Salon’s Josh Eidelson, “ Taxes for union busting - Government contractors are using taxpayer-bought space to crack down on labor -- and Obama's letting it slide”

“A 2010 report from the Government Accountability Office found that the federal government had awarded over $6 billion in contracts in fiscal 2009 to contractors that had been cited for violating federal labor laws, from wage and hour rules to organizing rights. Earlier in 2010, the New York Times reported that the White House was planning to implement a “high road” contracting policy that would direct more government contracts to companies with better labor and environmental records. But by 2011, Obama OMB nominee Heather Higginbottom told senators in a confirmation hearing that there were no such plans afoot.

“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. ... corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed. “ - President Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 21, 1864, letter to Col. William F. Elkins


“Now as through this world I ramble, I see lots of funny men, Some rob you with a six gun, And some with a fountain pen.”- Woody Guthrie, “Pretty Boy Floyd”

Mendoza to Tanner: "I am a brigand; I live by robbing the rich." Tanner to Mendoza: "I am a gentleman; I live by robbing the poor. Shake hands." George Bernard Shaw, “Man and Superman”

Elizabeth Adams said...

We had an awesome speaker at our local junior college yesterday. Dolores Huerta is the most amazing octagenarian I have ever met. She made numerous positive references to Occupy, none of which (no surprise) made it into the newspaper article.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Garcia, how did you become so filled with sheer hatred of so many people? And if you really believe half the things you blog about why do you continue to live in this country?

Neil Gillespie said...


$120 million for The Scream? The Royal Family of Qatar allegedly purchased The Scream according to this link, which has video of the Sotheby’s auction drama.

The hammer price was $107 million, with over $12 million in buyer’s premium added to bring the total to a record-setting $119,922,500.

Now maybe Sotheby’s can afford to keep the previously locked-out workers on the job? Maybe not. Pinching pennies is the way to great wealth, right?

There is something obscene in a world where a piece of pastel-colored cardboard sells for $120 million, even if the image is a great icon. Guess that is the value of an illusion. Paintings are just illusions, not real life.

Kinda reminds me of an illusion of mine in 2008 when I voted for hope and change. For me the illusion of Obama turned into a disappointing reality.

As for the last comment by Anonymous, I disagree, and see your work as a voice supporting people, and not "sheer hatred of so many people". While some may see value in a $120 million pastel-colored piece of cardboard, you see value in the injured, the forgotten, the damned, and ordinary people. You are a lover of humanity.

A Times commenter, Socrates, of Downtown Verona NJ, wrote this about the $120 million price for The Scream:

"How do you think we feel? Sick, disgusted and ashamed of the human race. An orgy of excess for the rich...and an orgy of suffering for the non-rich."

Commenter Jon Harris of San Francisco, CA said this, in part: "A painting sells for $120,000,000 because there are at least two guys with hundreds of millions of dollars to spare who want it. The story is not about the art. The story is about the oligarchy."

Keep up the good fight Karen.