Wednesday, December 10, 2014

I've given up on world peace. But is a just country too much to ask for?


DEAR SANTA...
by Nick Paleologos


Dear Santa,
The last time I saw you—or thought I did—was back in 1962 on Christmas Eve when I scurried to our back door only to be told by my mother that you had just ducked into a cab and dashed off. That’s right, she said you took a cab. I now know that was baloney. You were actually in a sleigh on our roof at the time. But mom was feeding me a line of misdirection to cover your tracks. I get that. Mom doesn’t remember the incident. Actually, she doesn’t remember much of anything anymore. Which is probably for the best because it seems that her cab story was merely the tip of a Titanic-sized iceberg of lies I’ve been fed ever since.

Mom was doing her best. She meant no harm. Neither did my teachers when, each and every school day, they had us all stand up straight and tall, beside our desks—hands over hearts--and pledge allegiance to “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Let me tell you Santa, the way things are going, God may soon be demanding a retraction.

Last month, the Registrar of Deeds for Southern Essex County in Massachusetts—a guy named John O’Brien—said that his office has been a “crime scene” ever since 2008. He said that 75% of the foreclosures sought by Bank of America, Wells Fargo & JP Morgan Chase (among others) were completely fraudulent. That’s 40,000 families being kicked out of their homes illegally in just one half of one county in one state in the country. Which means, Santa, if you’re delivering presents to any of those addresses (or millions of others like them), the families may not live there anymore.

Since nobody from any of the crooked banks will be going to jail for their crimes against America, can you please put them on your “naughty” list? While a piece of coal in their stockings is a small price to pay for what they did, at least it’s a start.

Also Santa, please be especially sensitive when you visit Staten Island New York, Cleveland Ohio, and Ferguson Missouri this Christmas Eve.

In Ferguson, there’s a lady named Lesley. She had a son named Mike Brown. He was a big, burly 18 year old kid who had just graduated from high school and—like a lot of teenage boys—got into trouble occasionally as he tried to find his way in this crazy world. He liked to play Call of Duty—Zombies and he never had a criminal record. Mike was killed by a police officer. The cop, who fired 12 shots—two directly into Mike’s head, said he had no other choice. Mike was unarmed. I don’t know what that policeman is doing this Christmas Eve. But I’m pretty sure Lesley will be crying.

Also Santa, there are six kids on Staten Island who will never see their father again. Their dad’s name was Eric Garner. He was jumped by a bunch of policeman while he stood on the sidewalk with both arms raised. They wrestled him to the ground and choked him to death. I know because I saw the video. It’s very tough to watch. While being choked, he pleaded with the cops. “I can’t breathe,” he kept saying. He said it eleven times.

When you finally get to Cleveland, Santa, I know you were planning to leave a little something under the tree for twelve-year old Tamir Rice and his fourteen year-old sister. But now he’s gone too. You see, a few weeks ago he was at the park across the street from where they lived, playing with his toy airsoft gun, when a Cleveland cop pulled up in a squad car and shot him dead—no questions asked. The boy’s gut-wrenching murder—which was also captured on video—happened in less than three seconds.


Santa, do you remember when my son was a teenager and you brought him a toy airsoft gun and a zombie video game? In those days, he too was a big burly kid, who occasionally found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time when the local police in our tony Boston suburb showed up. But everything worked out fine and he’s graduating from college next year.

Then again, he’s white.


I’m an adult now Santa, and I know you have your limits. You can’t bring that Cleveland boy (or any of those other victims) back to life, or fill the heartbreaking void their families will endure from now on. I’m also pretty sure that even you can’t make the words “justice for all” ring true for me again—the way they used to when I was nine. And I’m kind of sad about that.

Still Santa, I do have one small request this year--which is definitely doable. If there’s any coal left after you finish with those weasel-y Wall Street bankers, please put the rest of it inside the stockings of a few select police union chiefs. You know the ones I mean. Just maybe, coming from you, the message will finally sink in: that they disgrace the uniforms of the vast majority of decent American cops by standing in front of TV cameras making excuses for the murderers in their midst.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Movie $$ Boosts Biz In Hard Times



Suburban businesses cash in when Hollywood comes to town


PHOTO BY WENDY MAEDA/GLOBE STAFF /FILE: Cast and crew from “Tumbledown” took over a street in downtown Concord while filming an outdoor scene in April.
GLOBE STAFF  NOVEMBER 30, 2014

Losing the lease to the family bakery’s landmark location of 61 years in a central part of Quincy and moving to a less traveled part of town four years ago has been difficult on Brian Jackle .
Foot traffic once attracted to O’Brien’s Bakery by Jackle’s concoctions, like the doughy fusion of peanut butter, banana, and chocolate he dubbed Elvis Bread, is much harder to come by at its new location on Vernon Street.

But like a Hollywood fairy tale, Jackle got a break a few months ago when a baker friend of his in Somerville recommended O’Brien’s to the craft service team in charge of feeding the crew on the set of “The Finest Hours,” a multimillion-dollar Disney production filming in Quincy and Duxbury.
“They were looking for six-foot subs,” Jackle said. “The guys from the movie called me and asked me, and I said I can make them.”
Four hours of giant sandwich-making helped establish a relationship between Jackle’s family-run business and the film’s food and beverage contractors, who have continued to place orders with the bakery, including a recent request for 100 bread bowls to go with 4 gallons of steak chili and 2 gallons of broccoli-cheddar soup made by Jackle’s mother, Muriel.
While the latest report from the state Department of Revenue indicated that most of the spending attributed to the Massachusetts film tax credit in 2012 went out of state, proponents of the initiative say that an increasing number of locally filmed productions have spread out beyond Boston, helping small businesses and tourism in the suburbs from Lincoln to Quincy to Saugus.
The number of major productions — those with budgets over $250,000 — filmed in the state annually has more than tripled since 2011, going from nine to 30 this year, according to the Massachusetts Film Office. And from 2011 to 2013, film production took place in 108 Massachusetts communities, boosting local businesses from restaurants to hardware stores, said Lisa Strout, director of the film agency.
“Non-film-specific businesses are so surprised when [film crews] are in a town for a week and they’re buying 300 bagels every single day, or pizzas,” Strout said. “It goes across all economic sectors. Car rental folks are very cognizant of the movie industry, [as are] our lumber yards.”
One indicator that Massachusetts is coming into its own as a filming destination is the construction of the $41 million New England Studios, led by Chris Byers and a group of investors.
The complex, which opened last year and now is on its second movie, features four sound stages totaling 72,000 square feet in the former Fort Devens Army base, which straddles Ayer, Harvard, and Shirley.
“We were losing parts of movies to California or to other states to do their sound-stage work because we didn’t have anything that high caliber,” Strout said. “We’re really excited to see how this affects the movie industry here.”
For Jackle, getting the call from craft service for “The Finest Hours,” which is scheduled to continue filming locally until January, has turned into an unexpected lifeline. Any time an order comes in from the set, it’s in the hundreds of dollars, he said.
“It’s helping a lot,” he said. “It’s been tough.’’
If film productions “do more business from people like me and small businesses, it’s great.”
The mobile, unpredictable nature of the movie-making industry makes it difficult for the state film office, local chambers of commerce, and visitors bureaus to measure a production’s full economic reach in the communities where they film, Strout said. But one indicator, she said, is the growth in membership in local film and television unions, among them the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees Local 481 , headquartered in Woburn.
In 2006, when the state’s film tax credit went into effect, the union, representing behind-the-scenes workers such as set builders and electricians, had 325 members. It now boasts about 900, said business manager Chris O’Donnell.
O’Donnell contends it wouldn’t have happened if not for the tax incentive, which critics have said doesn’t benefit the economy enough. Under the incentive, filmmakers who spend more than $50,000 locally qualify for a 25 percent payroll tax credit; spending more than 50 percent of a project’s total budget or filming at least 50 percent of principal photography in Massachusetts qualifies projects for a 25 percent production tax credit and a sales tax exemption.
In 2012, the most recent year with data from the Department of Revenue, the film tax credit cost the state $78.9 million in revenue, while only a third of the $304.4 million in spending driven by the credit occurred in Massachusetts. But O’Donnell said agency’s report “is a very small slice of what impact the film industry has had in Massachusetts.”
One example, he said, is “The Equalizer,” a thriller starring Denzel Washington that opened in theaters in September. It was filmed last year, with locations including a former Lowe’s store in Haverhill. Members of Local 481 were in charge of the vendor lists for everything from set construction materials to props and food, he said.
“For ‘The Equalizer’ alone, there were vendors and businesses in 45 different communities that came off that list,” O’Donnell said.
Since 2008, members of Local 481 have made production-related purchases in more than 3,000 local businesses, many outside of Boston, O’Donnell said. Among those members is the duo behind Team Crafty , a Lincoln-based craft service business started by David Steinwachs in response to the growing local film industry, said co-owner Cam Goodrich.
Over the past four years, the men have been working nonstop on approximately 16 movie and TV productions filmed throughout Massachusetts, including the Whitey Bulger biopic “Black Mass,” “The Judge,” starring Robert Downey Jr., and “Grown Ups 2.”
A lot of the food and drink on set is purchased at warehouse clubs and local supermarkets, but Steinwachs and Goodrich try to get as much as possible from small businesses and restaurants, Goodrich said. On average, their food budget is $950 to $1,900 a day to feed 100 to 200 people on a set, he said.
“It’s a fat wad of cash usually. . . We’ve been given the golden ticket to help people out,” Goodrich said. “On a movie like ‘Grown Ups 2,’ we would have to get a second meal every day of the week, and that was a different vendor every night. . . We really try to spread the wealth because they give us the wealth to spread.”
Paul Delios, president of the 60-year-old family-run Kane’s Donuts in Saugus, said he has delivered orders for 300 doughnuts on a weekly basis for the past three years to many of the sets where Team Crafty has worked, including current productions. Each dozen costs $16.
“It’s not a huge part of our business, but it’s a nice extra,” Delios said.
Even long after productions have wrapped, the local economy still benefits, said Taunya Wolfe Finn, owner of Wolfe Adventures and Tours in Newburyport. Since a movie-themed component was added about two years ago, Wolfe said, it now makes up 10 percent of her group tour business.
Wolfe Finn said she makes it a point to bring visitors to places where they can spend money, such as Woodman’s of Essex , a seafood restaurant where parts of the movie “Grown Ups” were filmed in 2009. If a 45-person tour group, for instance, has lunch there or at any local restaurant, it can easily add up to more than $1,000 for the business, Wolfe said.
“It’s amazing how far of a reach the filming industry has going into the local economy,” she said. “People want to see where things happened, where history happened, and where the movies were filmed.”
Once the state’s film tax incentive was enacted, Farshad Sayan, owner of Clevergreen Cleaners in Medford, and his wife tapped an industry-connected friend in Los Angeles to recommend their eco-friendly dry-cleaning business to anyone planning to film in Massachusetts. They got their first contract in 2007 with the movie “The Women.”
“We knew Hollywood was coming to Boston,” said Sayan, now working on his 45th or 46th production, including the recently filmed “Ted 2 .” “Ever since then, it’s just been one after another,’’ he said, noting that costume supervisors “have me on their contact list or I have them on my phone.”
Though movie contracts are only 3 to 5 percent of Sayan’s business, it can be a big help.
“This past summer having a movie like ‘Black Mass’ really made a huge difference for us during our slow time of the year — $35,000 to $40,000 for the total dry-cleaning bill,” he said. “Sometimes the movie industry is like an umbrella that you sometimes have to hold on to when it’s shiny, and you kind of wonder why you even carried it along, but when it rains you’re glad you carried your umbrella with you.
Katheleen Conti can be reached at kconti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKConti.


How local businesses have profited from the filming industry
PHOTO BY JOHN TLUMACKI/ GLOBE STAFF
A pizza restaurant was made over into a Cuban cafe on Revere Beach Blvd. across the street from Revere Beach to transform the look of the beach into Miami Beach where a scene from the movie Black Mass will be filmed there for the next several days.

GLOBE STAFF  NOVEMBER 30, 2014

A sampling of how some local businesses and organizations have profited from the local filmmaking industry:

 Growth in membership of the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees Local 481: From 325 in 2006 to about 900 currently.

 Number of local vendors used for filming of “The Equalizer” by Local 481 members: More than 3,000 in 45 communities.
 Of the 40 film and television productions that Local 481 members worked on since 2011, 70 percent of shooting days were outside of Boston.
SOURCE: IATSE Local 481

Major productions (with budgets of over $250,000) filmed in Massachusetts:

2011: 9
2012: 15
2013: 23
2014: 30

From 2011 to 2013, 108 local communities hosted film productions.
SOURCE: Massachusetts Film Office

Financial benefits for Massachusetts:

 New state revenue generated by the film tax incentive program in 2012: $10.6 million
 Of $304.4 million in spending generated by the tax credit in 2012, $100.6 million was spent in Massachusetts.
 98 productions filming in Massachusetts in 2012 received $78.9 million in tax credits.
SOURCE: Massachusetts Department of Revenue

Katheleen Conti can be reached at kconti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKConti.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Rachel Rocks


By Nick Paleologos


OK, I admit it. When Rachel Maddow first cracked into a prime time slot on MSNBC, I watched for a little while and thought, geez Louise, are we going to devote every single show to The Gay? More than once in the early days I found myself changing channels while muttering, “I’m liberal. You’re gay. And there’s nothing wrong with either. I get it, already.”

Six years later, however, I swear this bookish newshound in a boyish do is a bona fide American national treasure. What exactly happened to me--an aging boomer--over these past six years? How is it that I now believe the phrase “must-see-tv” might as well have been coined to describe her show? When did 9pm EST become appointment viewing? Why--if I miss Rachel on any given weeknight—am I listening later to the broadcast’s podcast on Stitcher before drifting off to sleep?

Certainly not because I’m feeling that much more secure in my own sexuality. Definitely not because of her nerdy sense of humor--which still rarely lands with me (although I do get a kick out of how much she gets a kick out of her own goofy jokes). When interviewed by somebody else, she’s just ok—not great. As part of a round table discussion, again she’s nothing special. But somehow when that red light goes on at 9pm--and its just Rachel, me, and the news of the day--an incredible transformation happens.

First of all, she never begins in the present. When congress bailed out on the war powers vote, Rachel opened her show in the Gulf of Tonkin—50 years ago. When gun control was on the front burner, Rachel began with congress killing President Kennedy’s bill--which would have outlawed the very gun that ultimately killed him. She does this kind of thing all the time. Rachel Maddow knows how to tell the whole story—which is what true journalism is supposed to be about.

By doing something so basic, so seemingly obvious, as putting each story in its historical context, Rachel stands absolutely alone among network news anchors. No matter where else you go on television, stories are popping in and out of existence like sub-atomic particles. Now you see them. Now you don’t. Who knows where they came from? Or why? No wonder we understand less and less about more and more than we ever have before.

But that’s not all that sets her apart.

On the rare occasions when she does get something wrong, she practically flogs herself on her own show. It’s as if the degree of self-inflicted punishment must be more severe for her in order to preserve the sanctity of the accuracy standard to which she holds everybody else. Whenever she introduces an expert guest by summarizing an issue, she invariably asks, “Did I get that right? Did I leave out anything important?”

Who else does that? Nobody. That’s who.

Even her loopy diversionary segments like “Best New Thing In The World Today,” “Debunction Junction,” and the occasional Friday closer, “How To Mix My Favorite Cocktails” have all managed to grow on me over the years--because what happens in between is unlike anything else available on television for citizens who flatter themselves into thinking they’re well informed.

Let’s clear up one more thing--once and for all. Rachel Maddow is not the Loony Left’s answer to Sean Hannity. She is much more important than that. Both have strongly held (and mostly opposing) worldviews. The difference—which is on stark display every weeknight—is that Maddow actually cares more about getting it right than about being right. She believes the facts should shape her opinion--not the other way around. And that, my friends, is what separates a journalist from a buffoon.

Watch this space.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

LABOR DAY: Record Profits Leave Workers With A Whole Lot Of Nothing.


Labor Today
Wages and Salaries Still Lag as Corporate Profits Surge

NY TIMES EDITORIAL
AUG. 31, 2014
        
In the months before Labor Day last year, job growth was so slow that economists said it would take until 2021 to replace the jobs that were lost or never created in the recession and its aftermath.
The pace has picked up since then; at the current rate, missing jobs will be recovered by 2018. Still, five years into an economic recovery that has been notable for resurging corporate profits, the number and quality of jobs are still lagging badly, as are wages and salaries.
In 2013, after-tax corporate profits as a share of the economy tied with their highest level on record (in 1965), while labor compensation as a share of the economy hit its lowest point since 1948. Wage growth since 1979 has not kept pace with productivity growth, resulting in falling or flat wages for most workers and big gains for corporate coffers, shareholders, executives and others at the top of the income ladder.
Worse, the recent upturn in growth, even if sustained, will not necessarily lead to markedly improved living standards for most workers.
That’s because the economy’s lopsidedness is not mainly the result of market forces, but of the lack of policies to ensure broader prosperity. The imbalance will not change without labor and economic reforms.
For instance, new research from the Economic Policy Institute shows that from the first half of 2013 to the first half of 2014, hourly wages, adjusted for inflation, fell for nearly everyone. An exception was a small gain for the bottom 10 percent of wage earners, which was because of minimum-wage increases in 13 states this year.
That’s clear evidence that raising the federal minimum wage, while only a first step toward better pay, would have a powerful effect. A lift from the current $7.25 an hour to the modest $10.10 called for by President Obama and Democrats in Congress would put an estimated additional $35 billion in the pockets of affected workers over a three-year phase-in period.
Unionization is also associated with higher wages and benefits, especially for low-wage workers, which argues for greater legal enforcement of the right to organize without retaliation.
Similarly, stronger enforcement of both labor laws and antitrust laws is needed to ensure against wage theft. Once assumed to be mainly an issue of unpaid overtime or other wage violations, wage theft became a white-collar issue this year, when it was revealed that collusion among the biggest companies in Silicon Valley had suppressed the pay of software engineers by an estimated $3 billion.
The pay of middle-income workers has also been diminished. Decades of outsourcing government jobs to the private sector has undercut public employment, once a mainstay of middle-class life, even as evidence has mounted that outsourcing often does not save money or improve services. What’s needed is a systematic review of government contracts with the private sector and a willingness to end those that are counterproductive.
Another threat to middle-class wages is rampant misclassification — of employees as independent contractors and of workers as supervisors — a tactic that employers use to deny pay and benefits that would otherwise be due. In a promising development, a federal appellate court recently ruled that drivers for FedEx in California are employees, not independent contractors, an example of the courts stepping in when the other branches of government have let an injustice persist.
There has been progress since last Labor Day. Mr. Obama has signed executive orders to improve the pay and working conditions of employees of federal contractors. The Labor Department is revising rules on overtime pay; simply updating them for inflation would make millions of additional workers eligible for time-and-a-half for overtime.
What is still lacking, however, is a full-employment agenda that regards labor, not corporations, as the center of the economy — a change that would be a reversal of the priorities of the last 35 years.