November 27, 2007

The Spirit of The Age

A few months back, one of my myspace friends brought to my attention a pair of online feature length films - "America: Freedom to Fascism" and "Zeitgeist".

Now, as some of you know, I've pulled back a lot from my "Dean for America" days, in terms of my political activism and such, but I'm a sucker for a good documentary and I always obey instructions from beautiful women (ladies, take note, but don't abuse! :-)), so I checked them out.

Now, "America: Freedom to Fascism" is, for the most part, a tax protest film. Again, for long time readers of my other blog, you all know that tax policy is a pet peeve of mine, and not the way that you might expect. Even as someone who's had my own run-ins with the IRS over the years (and thank God THAT'S finally cleared up), I firmly believe that paying fair taxes is, in principle, a fundamentally patriotic act. Citizenship is a privilege, blessing us with all of the things contained in the Bill of Rights and, for those of us fortunate enough to make it, the promise of prosperity in a free market economy. Of course, free markets only work if certain people don't succeed, so it is the responsiblity of those who do succeed, largely at the expense of others, to return a portion of that prosperity to promote, as they say, "the general welfare" - which largely includes things that are in the best interests of everyone in the society, but, more often than not, there's no profit to be gained by doing it so no private entity would ever try to make a business out of it. Things like public assistance, infrastructure maintenance, etc.

In short, America is a club, and your income taxes are your membership fees. And, the higher your club status is, the higher your fees.

And, let's be honest, compared to the rest of the industrialized world, our tax rates are extremely low.

Is the system perfect? Clearly not. There is tremendous inequity in the tax code right now, where labor & wages are taxed at a higher rate than accumulated wealth. And don't even get me started on corporate or farm subsidies. And government funds are perpetually misappropriated by lawmakers for pork barrel spending and the seemingly generational cycle of frivolous wars.

But, the fact of the matter is, all of those issues could be largely corrected by a more informed and engaged electorate who made their representatives act in a more responsible manner with their money.

So, the minute that film opens with a guy actively looking for the law that requires him to pay taxes... well, clearly he and I are coming from different perspectives.

(incidentally, the law he's looking for is The Internal Revenue Code of 1939).

Did I mention that the filmmaker in question, Aaron Russo, had about $2 million in tax liens he owed to the IRS, prior to making this movie?

"Me thinks he doth protest too much"

But I'll get back to Mr. Russo in a minute.

Point being, I kind of slammed that first film, and since I could never seem to find any information about what exactly the other film, "Zeitgeist", was about without actually watching the entire freakin' movie, I kind of let that one go.

Until about three weeks ago, when, as a result of a chance meeting during AFI FEST, I got to go to the closing night gala of the Artivist Film Festival - basically, a festival for films focusing on social & political activism. It was a rockin' good time (especially the reception afterwards, where I was deliberately trying to get a cute girl to give up her dirty secrets in front of her boyfriend during a game of "I Never" - like I said, I'm naughty sometimes. ) - but the big winner of the festival was, you guessed it, "Zeitgeist".

My new friend who helped organize the event said he'd gone to AFI FEST to avoid the protests outside of his own festival, especially since the director of Zeitgeist was allegedly getting death threats.


Since they had some free copies, I got a DVD and finally camped out to watch it this weekend.

The 2nd & 3rd sections of Zeitgeist are kissing cousins to "America: Freedom to Fascism" - it's all about 9/11 conspiracy theories and how the Federal Reserve and the Income Tax Code are all a massive scam intended to extract wealth from the population at large to finance the construction of a one-world government that controls the population with implanted electronic trackers.

So, first a comment about 9/11 conspiracy theories: I remember when the whole thing first happened, and one of my friends immediately said that he thought the Federal government had something to do with it. And, at the time, I just rolled my eyes and said, "Come ON, man! Even if you think Bush is a bad president, do you really think he would actively allow the murder of THREE THOUSAND AMERICAN CITIZENS?!?!?"

That was 2001.

As of today, three thousand, eight hundred, and seventy-six American citizens have been killed in Iraq.


I don't know the details of the physics and the arguments about airplanes and NORAD and missiles and controlled demolitions. Frankly, I don't care.

All I know is, the president has demonstrated that he is a man who will do just about anything that will advance his own agenda.

And a man who will do anything, by definition, is a man who cannot be trusted.

Section 3 of Zeitgeist is interesting, because, in one instance, they site someone who interviewed this guy Nicholas Rockefeller, who's supposed to be part of this international banking cabal, where he basically admits that, yes, we want to enslave the world. And, who was the interviewer? AARON RUSSO, the director of "America: Freedom to Fascism"!

Having said all of that, the idea that the US Treasury actually outsources the creation of our currency to a gi-normous private bank is, to put it mildly, unsettling.

But, the section of Zeitgeist that was far and away more interesting to me was the first, which compares the gospels about Jesus' life to other mythological saviors in other, earlier cultures around the world, all of which seem to draw their essential features from various elements, symbols, and positions in astrology.

Of course, he ends by saying that Jesus is, in fact, yet another hoax constructed by the church and the powers that be to control the masses.

I'm reminded of a time, years ago, when my brother and many of my cousins had a real mad-on about the Book of Revelations and the Anti-Christ and the end of days. It seemed like every time I came home, there was new evidence that some new person was really the Anti-Christ. One time, it was The Pope. Another time, it was Prince Charles. Before that, I think it was Ronald Reagan.

Until, I finally asked my brother, let's pretend that someone could give you irrefutable proof that a given person was the Anti-Christ, and you had an exact date and time for The Rapture. Assuming that you know all of this.

How would your life be different?

You're expending all of this energy trying to uncover this hidden knowledge (or, more specifically, to uncover substantive proof to verify something that you're already convinced is true). How would obtaining this proof change your life?

He didn't have an answer.

And it occurred to me that, for conspiracy theorists, the proof isn't for them. It's for everybody else. They already know the answer, but no one else believes them. So they're trying to find the proof that will make everyone else say "OMG! You were right all along! How could I have been so blind, when you saw it all so clearly?!?!"

In short, they're evangelists.

And, like so many evangelists, they're own faith is completely dependent upon everyone else believing what they believe. Because, of course, they're right.

But, in the end, it's an empty pursuit.

Whether Jesus was an actual, flesh & blood historical figure or not (and, in the end, does it really matter? Just like those brothers who are trying to argue that Jesus had to be of African descent because Revelations 1:16 said he had "feet like unto fine brass".... while ignoring the rest of the description in verses that said he had "eyes as a flame of fire" and "His voice as the sound of many waters And He had in His right hand seven stars: and out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword" - sometimes, I wonder how much religious intolerance and argument could be eliminated if we just made a class called "Reading and Interpreting Poetry" a graduation requirement in every school in America so people can recognize a fucking figure of speech when they see it? But I digress....)

Whether he was historical or not, one of my favorite quotes from Jesus is (and I'm seriously paraphrasing) "The Word is intended for those who can hear it. And those who cannot, it was never intended for them in the first place".

So many of us spend so much time trying to convince everyone else that we're right. We advocate and plead and build flowcharts and make 2 hour movies that we give away for free on the internet or blow an entire day writing incredibly elaborate blog postings on the desperate hope that someone, ANYONE, will listen to us and believe.

Imagine what our lives would be like if we redirected all of that effort back into ourselves. How much more powerful we could be. How transformed we would be. How inspirational our very presence would be.

Our very lives could say more, and move more people, than any film ever could.

I told my brother, as far as you're concerned, irrespective of the signs, for you, the end times are the day you die. So, rather than expending all of this energy, like Prince said:
Instead of asking him how much of your time is left
Ask him how much of your mind, baby!

And, at that point, when you REALLY know who you are, and what you're capable of, who gives a fuck about the fucking Illuminati or the Tax Code or Building 7?

And that's what I love about the very end of Zeitgeist - because, in the midst of all of this awful evidence, the filmmaker offers a moment of inspiration, to recognize our true selves, our true divinity, with a quote from Carl Sagan where he says that the concepts of division are fading away to a sense of a universal whole, and that a single organism at war with itself cannot survive.

I think the Zeitgeist guy is on to something bigger than even he may realize. And when he understands that, when he speaks to the Nicholas Rockefellers of the world, at that very instant, Rockefeller is listening to God, at the same time that the Zeitgeist guy is speaking to God....

...when he understands THAT fact...

Well, let's just say, I want to see THAT movie.

And, when I get to the point where I look at George W. Bush giving a speech, and I know that, in that instant, God is watching God talking to God....

Let's just say, I'll have a different kind of blog post to make that day. :-)

p.s. Thanks, songstress.

November 09, 2007

Strike Bullet Points

  • For those of you who don't live in Los Angeles, the skyscraper that has its top three floors vaporized at the end of the movie "Die Hard" is, in fact, the corporate headquarters for 20th Century Fox. Can I say it was more than a little surreal to take part in some direct action on the doorstep of Nakatomi Plaza. It's an interesting neighborhood, Century City: the bohemeth talent agency, CAA, and MGM are all on the same street as Fox Plaza, within about two blockf of each other. HBO and Comedy Central are in the skyscrapers around the corner, and I believe Endeavor (another big talent agency) is around the other corner. At the end of the block is the Fox Studio lot.
  • So, I parked at a nearby mall and hoofed it the rest of the way - Showrunner sighting 1: Carlton Cuse, co-executive producer for "Lost", had the right idea and brought his bicycle, zipping past the rest of the pedestrian scribes.
  • They say that 3,000 guild members have been walking the lines in front of every studio around town, but, today, they asked them all to come to Fox as a show of force.
  • Who knew a strike could be so entertaining? Tom Morello & Zach De La Rocha from Rage Against The Machine showed up, pledged their support, and did a little impromtu show, including an acoustic version of "Bulls on Parade". That rocked!
  • I think that was Jonathan Gries just over my shoulder. Saw Larry David & Dennis Haysbert in the crowd. SAG is also making their presence felt today, although I overheard one writer say that, because former SAG president Melissa Gilbert negotiated an interim agreement with the studios during the last contract renewal, she pushed the SAG negotiation period ahead by 9 months - effectively cutting our negotiating power in half. Thanks, Melissa. No wonder she didn't get re-elected.
  • More treats - I'm about 20 feet from the main stage, and the next speaker is Jesse Jackson! Now, y'all can say what you want about Jesse - the man is still a hero and a legend, if, for nothing else, his work during the civil rights and black power movements. And, just like the Rage guys, he made the point that this is just another chapter in a larger story about workers rights in the face of increasing corporate consolidation.
  • I clearly need to put a new camera on my Christmas List :-)
  • Showrunner sighting 2: Seth MacFarlane takes the stage and risks litigation by giving us the Stewie voice to proclaim victory is nearly at hand.
  • Lots of helicopters overhead. The last time I remember being with this many people out in the open for some overtly political rally, I think, was the Million Man March back in 1995. Although, I had much less fear that SkyCopter 5 was really an Apache assault chopper in disguise today than I did back in front of the Capitol Building with Farrakhan. Less, but not none. But, as Cornel West said, being Black in America requires a baseline level of constant paranoia.
  • Which leads me to another point - I think this is the first time I've ever participated in some direct action where the majority of the people were white. As a recovering Howard Dean activist, it was just a bit..... odd. But in a good way.
  • Ran into my man Alex Endeshaw (P'96 for you tigers out there) ( for the first time in, maybe 13 years in the middle of the strike. Turns out we basically lived around the corner from each other up in Hollywood for 3 years and had no idea. Go figure. Check him out on "My Name Is Earl". Also caught up with Big Shawn ( in full WGA regalia. As a result, it sounds like CBS Radford is my next strike target.
  • Showrunner sighting 3 - noon approaches, the permits expire, and there's Battlestar Galactica's head honcho, Ronald D. Moore, chilling on the curb. I resist the urge to genuflect. :-)
  • Apparently, if the studios just rolled over and gave not just the WGA, but SAG and the DGA everything they're asking for, with no concessions, the additional amount of money they would have to pay to every single writer, actor, and director in all three guilds combined is still less than the salary of just ONE of their CEOs. A lot less. Like I said, it's greed.
  • So, the studios are clearly in the wrong, but, as is often the case, swallowing their pride to even admit that my coming back to the table is a bitter pill. If we're all about getting back to work, someone on the WGA's side should be looking for an olive branch that let's the studios save a bit of face to entice them to come back to the table. Because greed is often coupled with pride.

November 07, 2007

Strike Lessons

I was 15 years old and starting my 5th year in a private all boy's school when my father went on strike with the Amalgamated Transit Workers against Greyhound Bus Lines, his employers for the previous 20+ years. To this day, I don't know exactly what the issues were that led the bus drivers to walk off the job, but I vividly remember Dad's working conditions. For some time, he'd been on the so-called "extra board", which basically meant he was a driver on call to fill in whenever another driver was unable to complete his route at the given time. He would leave at all sorts of irregular hours, drive potentially hundreds of miles, and then be forced to sleep in a lounge with no bed for a few hours before driving all the way back and hoping he could get a full night's rest before the next call came in.

He'd been exhausted for, seemingly, years. He has back problems and repeat stress injuries in his forearm to this day, some 18 years after he last drove a big blue bus.

I can still see the orange placard with this black letters that he would wear around his chest as he and his fellow drivers walked the picket line. It was the first time I'd ever heard the term "scab". I was a gifted kid in a working class family going to one of the most expensive schools in the country on scholarships and loans floated directly on Mom and Dad. Losing one of the two incomes in the house was not a nice thing. But, Dad knew, if they didn't make a stand there, then the ownership would know they could just roll over the drivers and have even worse conditions.

Sadly, after nearly 18 months of walking the line, the union caved. Scab drivers were easy to find. They received no support from their fellow drivers at Trailways and the other unions, to my knowledge. And, if I remember correctly, Amalgamated Transit's headquarters was actually IN Greyhound's corporate offices. Dad never drove a bus again and found a new career in the local DMV, where he earned a reputation seemingly around the entire city as a model of fairness & decency within an otherwise heartless department.

Point being, collective action cannot survive in a vacuum.

I am not, as of yet, a member of the Writers Guild of America. I hope to be, one day. But I'm also a producer, and one of the reasons why some of my projects haven't shot yet is because it's important to me to make sure I can actually PAY my cast and crew. Filmmaking is a collaborative process, and, yes, producers take a measure of financial risk on projects and should be rewarded accordingly. But producers, as the ultimate owners of a title, have the capacity to resell the original creative work of artists in a million different ways. A finished film can literally keep making money for a producer for ever, as long as there is someone, somewhere, who'll broadcast or screen it for a paying audience. And if I'm reselling your story and your words and your ideas (as a writer), and your vision and presentation (as a director) or, even, in the case of an actor, images of YOUR FACE, it's only fair that you reap some of that benefit.

So tomorrow afternoon, I intend to put on my track shoes, head over to Paramount Pictures, pick up a sign, and walk the line for a few hours.

Because the reason that the studios don't want to give the writers an extra FOUR STINKING CENTS on the sale of a $10 DVD, and don't want to give them ANYTHING for the sale of a movie over the internet, which literally costs NOTHING, is the same reason Greyhound didn't want to buy a cot for Dad and all of the other drivers. It's less about who's rich and who isn't (and don't sleep - the studios are banks awash in cash - for every star that gets $20 million to star in a film, there's a producer somewhere who's cutting that 20 million dollar check), and more about what's just simply right.

Fairness. Decency.

See you at Paramount.