Disappointing Sale of Freud Painting Signals Deepening Crisis

October 19, 2008

Lucian Freud’s unfinished portrait (1956-7) of his friend Francis Bacon had many in the global art market holding their breaths. Up for auction tonight at Christie’s in London, the painting was expected to fetch £7 million. Bloomberg reports that it sold for much less: £5.4 million.

After lower-than-expected contemporary art sales at Sotheby’s, Frieze, and now Christie’s, dealers consider the Freud sale to be a sign of a stalling global market and a deepening financial crisis.

The Independent on Sunday reports great apprehension:

The global art market is all but dead already, except for buyers of ‘trophy art’ whose fortunes have previously seemed unassailable. If they stop bidding, prices will plummet.

Freud’s portrait was considered a harbinger for super-rich spending. The fact that it sold for less than expected (although still above the presale low estimate of £5 million) indicates that even trophy buyers are cutting back.

Fasten your seatbelts. Turbulence ahead.


Panic in America

October 6, 2008

Last week’s bailout, aka America-rescues-Main-Street-package, seems to have ignited some bad-ass bad-energy—contrary to expectations. The house WAS on fire. Now it seems the entire street, neighborhood, zip code IS on fire.

OOOPS! America’s surge against the recession is NOT working! Oh-kay.

I can only count the days till this vacationing-in-TX-president—with the help of big media and two glaringly unqualified presidential hopefuls—announces the next rescue plan for the current didn’t-quite-rescue-the-economy plan.

Sort of like the next surge in Iraq to fix the last surge, which I think was intended to help the last last surge, and the last last last one, and so on and so on, ummm, five years ago. Same (strategy or tactic). Whichever. Whatever. Same old, same old: we’re screwed. Good thing we’ve got tax breaks for wooden arrows for children. Nothing like training them young.

We fell for this after the attacks on the World Trade Center. Bush declared an endless war and a state of exception that has now become the rule of (non)law. Last week, we seem to have fallen for it again. We’ve now got a multi-billion dollar bailout/rescue plan that’s resulted in a market nose-dive. This sucks—globally.

Bush sure knows how to hit that panic button. And America jumps, with increasingly grave consequences. Fight or flight. That’s all we seem to know. We seem to have forgotten how to take the time to consider our options, to debate strategies and formulate comprehensive tactics, to work towards a short-, mid-, and long-term. It’s all about the here and now, isn’t it?

We’ve got to get a grip, collectively. Time to hit the pause button. Hell can wait.

Photo: Niffty/Neal on flickr

America’s Collective Anxiety Attack: We Need Group Therapy

July 2, 2008

A wise man at NYT’s Op-Eds, Thomas Friedman, wrote last Sunday about the urgent need to build/rebuild this nation from within. Titled “Anxious in America“, his column stresses:

It’s the state of America now that is the most gripping source of anxiety for Americans, not Al Qaeda or Iraq.

…My fellow Americans: We are a country in debt and in decline — not terminal, not irreversible, but in decline… We are the ones who need a better-functioning democracy — more than the Iraqis and Afghans. We are the ones in need of nation-building. It is our political system that is not working.

I remember Bush’s challenge to the world shortly after the maniacal attacks on the WTC towers 7 years ago: “you are with us or you are with the terrorists”. Somehow, these past 7 years have focused so much on “you” or “them”, that our government seems to have lost track of “us”. If there’s no us, then what are we fighting for?

Friedman urges us to dig ourselves out of this hole (aka gigantic crater) by voting for the candidate who will place nation-building as his top priority.

This year, America needs to make a critical political choice, examine its own problems, and buckle down with some hard-working, long-term solutions to rebuild and rebalance. We don’t need any more “American Idol” or “America’s Got Talent” or dancing ex-stars. We need an American President! And we definitely need group therapy! Are we ready to snap out of this collective depression?

LA Times Poll: Bush To Blame for Bad Economy

June 26, 2008

An LA Times/Bloomberg poll reports that a whopping 75% of Americans blame Bush for the economic downturn:

Three out of four Americans, including large numbers of Republicans, blame President Bush’s economic policies for making the country worse off during the last eight years… reflecting a sharp increase in public pessimism during the last year.

The poll shows a significant disconnect: 75% of respondents overall say economic conditions have worsened. Among Republican respondents, that figure is at a much lower 42%. On the other hands, 9% of respondents overall say economic conditions have improved. Among Republicans, 22% of respondents say conditions are better. (They may also be living in caves without any link to reality.)

The LA Times also reports that Bush’s approval ratings are currently at “just 23%” — an all-time low. We find it shocking actually that nearly 1 out of 4 Americans STILL approve. Shouldn’t this rating be a low single digit after 8 years of shockingly awesome mechanisms of fear and greed?

Just 5 more months of this dynasty.

Photo: I-1326 on flickr

South African Court: Chinese Population to be Reclassified as “Black”

June 19, 2008

There are about 200,000 ethnic Chinese in South Africa. During apartheid, they were discriminated against because they were classified as people of mixed race. Today, the Chinese are generally considered white — a misclassification that is, ironically, disqualifying them from benefits and protections guaranteed by ANTI-apartheid laws.

So, how should South Africa rebalance this inequality? BBC reports that the Chinese Association of South Africa took the government to court, charging it with discrimination.

The High Court then ruled that Chinese South Africans are to be reclassified as: Black People. Yes, Black People. This (apparently well-intended) correction — not a joke — will now allow Chinese to benefit from anti-apartheid policies.

Before the Chinese over-rejoice, BBC notes that White People in South Africa still earn about 450% more than their Black counterparts. I guess the gap is so huge that White People can barely tell Non-Whites apart. Who needs multiple classifications?

14 years after apartheid, the racial violence continues.

xinTricky Pop Quiz:
Here’s an AFP photo of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and South African President Thabo Mbeki signing an agreement in Cape Town a couple years ago.
Should they both be classified as “Black”?

Bush Calls on Congress to Lift Ban on Offshore Oil Drilling

June 18, 2008


On Tuesday, Republican nominee John McCain said he favors offshore oil drilling in the U.S. to alleviate rising oil and gas prices. Echoing McCain, President Bush is calling on Congress today to end the federal ban on offshore drilling. Ironically, Bush’s father signed the executive order for the ban in 1990 and brother Jeb opposes the drilling. Bush’s move would effectively go against family sentiment.

While the Democratic nominee Barack Obama is against lifting the ban, the McCain-Bush legacy may not be too far off from America’s public sentiment. Surprising for a seemingly eco-obsessed nation: more than three out of five Americans want to lift the ban and resume drilling. According to Rasmussen Reports on 6/17:

…67% of voters believe that drilling should be allowed off the coasts of California, Florida and other states. Only 18% disagree and 15% are undecided. Conservative and moderate voters strongly support this approach, while liberals are more evenly divided (46% of liberals favor drilling, 37% oppose.)

…64% of voters believe it is at least somewhat likely that gas prices will go down if offshore oil drilling is allowed, although 27% don’t believe it. 78% of conservatives say offshore drilling is at least somewhat likely to drive prices down. That view is shared by 57% of moderates and 50% of liberal voters.

The day before, Rasmussen Reports wrote that 29% favor nationalizing the oil industry, while 47% are opposed. 24% are not sure.

37% of Democrats believe the oil industry should be nationalized. In contrast, Republicans oppose nationalizing the oil industry by a 66% to 16% margin. Unaffiliated voters are opposed by a 47% to 33% margin.

Photo of oil drilling in Texas by swisscan on flickr.

Belgian-Brasilian Brewer InBev Moves To Buy America’s Budweiser

June 12, 2008

InBev, the world’s top brewer and maker of Stella Artois and Becks beer brands, has submitted an unsolicited bid of $46 billion to buy Anheuser-Busch, America’s leading brewer and maker of “The Great American Lager”: Budweiser.

budWhile reports say that InBev’s offer of $65 per share is extremely competitive (considering that before InBev made its move, A-B’s price per share was at $58), many Americans are opposing the takeover. Matt Blunt, governor of Missouri where A-B is headquartered, is strongly opposed and has reportedly ordered the state’s Department of Economic Development “to explore every option and any opportunity we may have at the state level to help keep A-B where it belongs — in St. Louis, Missouri.”

Two websites are already collecting signatures to oppose the sale: SaveBudweiser.com, which now has 34,000 signatures, and SaveAB.com, now with more than 12,000. They are looking at the InBev takeover as a “foreign invasion” and vow to “fight to protect this American treasure.”

Another American icon, the Chrysler Building, may also end up in foreign hands. On the same day A-B confirmed its receipt of InBev’s bid, msnbc reported that The Abu Dhabi Investment Council, a sovereign wealth fund, is negotiating to buy a 75% stake in the Chrysler for $800 million. (This also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, itself now owned by Australian-born Rupert Murdoch.)

Globalization has come full circle. In the mid-1970s, the term “globalization” achieved prominence when American Express advertised the global reach of its credit card. American capital needed new global markets and the term implied a unidirectional move abroad.

30 years later, the flows of capital are moving in multiple directions as economic power decenters. While the world’s wealthiest individual is still an American (Warren Buffett), Forbes reports the “dawning of a new era”. Two years ago, half of the world’s 20 richest billionaires were from the U.S. In March 2008, only four are.

America is beginning to feel firsthand the tangible and often devastating effects of globalized capitalism and neoliberalism, largely its own creation. These are effects that other nations have been trying to manage for at least the past couple decades since Ronald Reagan rose to power.

We’re going to have to learn to play nice in the global playground. We no longer own it.

And soon, we might have to switch to: Cette Bud est pour vous!