Why Occupy?

There is a sickness in our country. A binding and far-reaching disease that has decimated our economy, corrupted our leaders, and left Americans holding the bag. It has been said that the top 1% of people in the country control 99% of the wealth, power, and government; it has also been said that we must indeed all hang together, or, most assuredly we shall all hang separately.

Over the past few years we’ve seen the divide between the haves and the have-nots widen astronomically. While investment bankers made billions off the backs of stretched-thin Americans who believed it was their time to prosper as well, corporations were given the go-ahead to channel unlimited amounts of money into political contributions by the Supreme Court. Millions of hard-working citizens lost their jobs, their homes, and their livelihoods while tax money went to bail out the investment banks and the insurance companies that made it all possible.

Always follow the money.

There is one reason our government does not work. There is one reason “our representatives” play politics instead of doing their jobs. There is one reason why even the media we rely on to get our facts and become informed citizens is slanted and processed and mainly just plain hype. It is money. It is greed.

-Corporations and people with money are able to exert influence and control over the American political system through campaign contributions and funneling cash into campaigns and lobbyists.

-Major corporations such as Apple, Microsoft, and Google are pushing for a “tax holiday” in which the TRILLIONS$$ they hold in US BANKS as “overseas profits” (ie what they claim are profits made in business abroad, and thus avoiding having to pay US Taxes) will be transferred into the “US economy” without the appropriate taxes paid. These corporations claim this money will then boost the economy by allowing them to spend it on hiring, creating jobs, etc. However Congress has done this before. In 2004’s “the American Jobs Creation Act,” Congress allowed major corporations to bring home offshore profits at a tax rate of 5.25% – a fraction of the top corporate tax rate of 35 percent.  A two-year study by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations found that companies involved in the tax break failed to create new jobs and instead boosted executive paychecks.

-Despite bringing in $150 billion at a reduced tax rate, the top 15 corporations actually eliminated more than 20,000 U.S. jobs. They also reduced their research and development spending, despite arguments that the tax break would help companies spend more money on innovation.

-While those corporations whittled away their payrolls, they also spent more money on repurchasing their own stock (to increase its value) and on increasing executive pay. These stock repurchases went up by “16 percent the first year after the tax break and 38 percent the second year. Executive pay went up 27 percent the first year after the tax break and 30 percent the next.” (Carl Levin, US Senator, Argus Press)

-Since 2004, the corporations have dramatically increased the amount of money they keep offshore to avoid paying American taxes.

-At the height of the mortgage crisis in 2008, TARP and the American Taxpayer bailed out the very banks that created the crisis in the first place in order to save the economy from certain collapse. Original criteria and regulation for TARP was rejected by said banks in lieu of a loosely defined executive pay cap instead. Basically the banks that created the economic crisis told Washington that they wouldn’t take the TARP money if there were strict regulations on how they could spend it. That money should have been a solid stimulus for the failing economy, yet here we sit three years later in the midst of the same recession.

We were told we had a chance at the American dream… but came to realize that it was truly, only a dream. We went to college to better ourselves and make something with our lives, only to find the jobs we studied for disappear before our very eyes. We pulled ourselves up by our boot straps only to find ourselves in a race that needed nicer, fancier foot wear in order to compete. In America it is fairly easy to make money if you have it to begin with, but the simple truth is- the poor are staying poor, and the rich are still getting richer.

If you’ve seen the news lately you’ve seen the Occupy Wall Street movement. It started a month ago with a call to action from Anonymous, urging New Yorkers to peacefully, calmly, and democratically camp out in Zuccotti Park. Since that day the movement has not only gained press, but momentum as well. Joining the streaming/blogging/YouTubing protesters we’ve seen US Marines in dress uniform, heads of major labor unions, and celebrities alike… They’ve been corralled, arrested, pepper-sprayed, and yet almost a month later, the movement is spreading… All the while it is being laughed at by the mainstream media who view them as leaderless, left-wing, anarchist burn-outs, who should be looking for work.

Conservatives blast the movement for it’s lack of cohesiveness and singular vision, however is another mission statement what this country really needs? It is time to throw out the buzz words and the paradigms, the press releases and the sound bytes. Occupy has become larger than anyone could’ve imagined a month ago. What started with a protest in Lower Manhattan has steamrolled across the country, gaining momentum and support.

The time has come. The movement is here. They can not ignore it any longer. Use your voice. Use your internet. Use your hands. Do something. The revolution will not be televised.

“Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of a day; but a series of oppressions, begun at a distinguished period and pursued unalterably through every change of ministers, too plainly prove a deliberate, systematic plan of reducing a people to slavery.”

-Thomas Jefferson

Really, PG-13?

Note: This article is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America.

So we’re watching Fast5, right? Like any normal mid-30s couple should do on a beautiful, 80-degree Saturday morning in August. Don’t get me wrong, I love the sun and frolicking in summer as much as the next Oregonian, but sometimes I need me some fast cars, big explosions, and skin… lots of skin (you know, the whole reason Michael Bay is making movies that rake in billions). Anyway, it’s two-thirds of the way through this cinematic pièce de résistance when I blurt out the following:

“You know honey,” as I so often state, “It seems like they can get away with killing as many people as they want in a PG-13 movie, as long as there’s no wounds.”

Flashes of all the R-Rated movies I was raised jogged through my mind. Movies like Robocop, Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, anything with Arnold Schwarzenegger, all movies with one thing in common- the squib.

A squib is a very specific piece of equipment that’s used by special effects guys to simulate one thing, and that’s a gunshot wound. It’s usually a tube, or a miniature explosive attached to the outside of a vest, or anything that can create a nice spray of red mist from a person’s body. You’ve seen them a million times… Ever catch Die Hard on cable? Like, the real cable, the kind that doesn’t censor Bruce Willis shouting “Yippie-Kay-Yay-Motherfucker!” It’s the fine art of action movies from an era that has now quickly faded out. In fact the only action movies that use anything close to Robocop-gore are zombie flicks these days… and then? It’s not even real effects. It’s CGI. I don’t think they even use squibs anymore. Somewhere on a mountaintop, Renny Harlin is crying.

I digress. Fast5. So there’s this big shoot-out toward the end of the movie where literally dozens of men are violently gunned-down, grenaded (a new word?), or blown apart by rocket launchers, and all the while not a drop of blood is spilled. There are no squibs, no CGI sprays, just a shitload of guns blazing, and dudes falling down. That’s when my inner child started crying as well (I’m just saying, Cliffhanger is a great movie alright?).

I remember when action movies weren’t safe. I remember when movie studios made movies that didn’t have to be dumbed-down (intentionally) in order to attract a younger audience… but more and more it seems like anything goes in a PG-13 movie as long as there’s no blood, nudity, or sexual dialogue. You can have truly terrifying images, things that would scar a child for many sleepless nights, in movies like Insidious, The Grudge, or even the Harry Potter finale, and still net a wider audience with a PG-13 rating… but if you talk about sex or even say a certain phrase? You get an R. I guess the movie studios are just like every other corporation out there now- obsessed with the bottom line. Maybe that’s the way it’s always been… What do I know, I’m just a mid-30s gangsta from the streets of South Central Salem.

It made me think of our old friend John McClane, from Die Hard, and how this whole thing started with him. The very R-Rated franchise put out three profanity-laced, bullet-riddled, bloody-good action classics (another nod to our sobbing Finnish director) in the 80s and 90s, and then the fourth one was announced in 2005. In 2007, when the movie came out, it was rated PG-13 , for demographic reasons. So despite the fact that Live Free or Die Hard is a completely badass action flick that is just as good as any of the other sequels, it still felt sanitized. They even cut the signature line, “Yippie-Kay-Yay-Mother-Fu-“GUNSHOT.

Other than the pervasive profanity that is missing, this movie still racks up a body count and blows up more parts of Washington DC than I could count. I mean, Bruce Willis kills a helicopter with a damn police car. So when the DVD came out in two versions, the theatrical PG-13, or the “unrated” cut, I of course bought the unrated one. It was exactly the same movie, just with all of the original, unedited dialogue, and all of the digital blood-sprays. It was the first time I remembered seeing such a fine line of difference between what was acceptable for a PG-13 movie nowadays.

There’s no guidelines for any of this rating stuff by the way. Anything you’ve heard about how a movie can only say “fuck” twice or it’ll get an automatic R… yeah’s that’s all bullshit. Well, except when it comes to nudity. If you have nudity, basically of any kind, there’s your R. Maybe you can get away with a boob-shot if you don’t have any violence in your film… but if you spend an hour shooting bad guys by the truck-full and then try to sneak in a bare chest, well there’s your R. It all comes down to a group of men and women who call themselves the Motion Picture Association of America. They got the movie studios to agree to submit every movie they made to them, where they watch it in secret, discuss it, and vote on it. Studios and directors can re-cut movies to get a lower rating, or they can argue their case… which one do you think works?

Seriously, this group is so creepily affected by sex, and at the same time, have a blind eye to the endless slaughter of minions. Millions of minions have died in the name of action-movie glory, only the kid-movies used to get PG-13… and now that’s all gone.

I blame Peter Jackson. He must have killed a hundred thousand disgusting, blood-covered “orcs” in the Lord of the Rings movies… and you know how he got away with it? Well orc blood is black of course. It fit seamlessly into the fantasy aspect of the films, and allowed him to brutally kill by arrow, sword, impaling, stomping, biting, lava-ing, hundreds of digital bad-guys… and get a PG-13 rating. You know how else he did it? No elf boobies.

Lastly Michael Bay. Bless his blonde little heart. I’ve been a Bay-addict since Bad Boys I, since The Rock (one of the best action movies ever put on film by the way), since Playboy Video Centerfold: Kerri Kendall… I’m talkin’ way back. Michael Bay gets a lot of crap, and whatever, I’m sick of it. Bay, I’m in your corner buddy. The man squeezes more style into every single frame of a movie than most movies have in the whole 90 minutes. Yes, his movies are cartoons, that’s what they’re supposed to be. It’s not like he’s doing this shit accidentally… but I have an issue.

My 4-year-old son is obsessed with Transformers. The robots in disguise are all he talks about, morning, noon, and night. Now, I’ve let him watch parts of the first two Michael Bay Transformers movies, and in retrospect… probably a bad decision. Either I’m getting older and fuddy-duddier, or these aren’t the kid-friendly die-cast toys I used to play with for hours on end. Michael Bay does the same thing with giant, transforming robots as Peter Jackson did with orcs. He gets away with suspenseful, violent, and awe-inspiring fight scenes and shoot-outs where, again, literally hundreds of innocent people are vaporized. Or he gets away with ripping your kids’ favorite Transformer to pieces, oil, hydraulic fluid, and parts flying everywhere like blood-splatter… Try explaining what just happened to Jazz to a 4-year-old (disregarding the deeper, more philosophical music question that comes to mind). Perfect exploitation of the rating system. Damn it Bay.

So I’m sitting there, growing bored and fascinated by the Fast and the Furious, and what it means for America. Because the simple fact is, even when movies were rated R, as 11 year old kids we got to see them all the time. Either we had horrible parents, or theaters and video stores were way more lax with their enforcement… However there was still a feeling of getting away with something. Now we’re straight up telling youngsters it’s ok to watch this stuff. Impressionable minds who think “Wow, that’s so cool!” and don’t think there’s anything wrong with what they’re seeing. When Steven Spielberg suggested to the MPAA they should implement an “in-between” rating to bridge PG and R, do you think he had these two in mind?

(Fast5 Screen Shot)

Well thanks, MPAA, you weird, secret cult you. Thank you for making a cookie-cutter process for judging artistic expression that allows movies like Fast5 and Transformers: Dark of the Moon, both clearly R-Rated flicks, to sneak past with a few edits… And to let movies like The King’s Speech get slapped with an R because of the word fuck. I mean seriously. We will let our kids watch movies where dozens are violently killed, blown up, run-through, smashed by cars, blown up again (and then have some girls in tight-clothes run around of course)… but when it comes to hearing a word in the English language, or seeing something that they too have on their chest or between their legs and deal with every day… well that’s taboo.

I say, we, the people, need to get rid of these guys. They’re not a government body. They’re not associated with anyone but themselves. They are a secret gang of overlords who control what we see with their own values and opinions.

That’s fucked up.

Obama’s “Fuck Yeah!” Moment?

There’s a point in most action films when the geeky, soft-spoken protagonist (who has been pushed around, poked, and prodded the entire movie) finally rises up and becomes the hero. We’ve seen it a hundred times- from George McFly punching out Biff in Back to the Future, and Kurt Russel finally grabbing the gun and saving his wife in Breakdown; to Neo stopping a hail of bullets with his mind in The Matrix, or when the bat-shit crazy religious lady takes a cap to the dome in The Mist… or when Titus Pullo, condemned to die in the arena of Rome, raises his bloodied sword and screams “THIRTEEN!!” (In my opinion, one of the greatest moments in television history) Or perhaps you remember the most tear-jerking climax of all time when Daniel-San limped out of his corner, took the crane stance, and kicked Johnny square in the face?

My point being, in every truly epic finale, the bruised, broken, and bleeding hero shakes off the timidity of the past and reaches deep within to find that primordial strength we all believe we have buried away somewhere. It’s what we come to expect when the protagonist we’ve rooted for continually gets pushed around. In fact, it’s become a cultural icon in American storytelling. We’ve always had wise-cracking tough guys that save the day in a hail of bullets, but more recently the under-dog has become the action king.

Now should it seem strange that we’re expecting this from a President? Throughout the debt crisis I kept waiting for Obama to palm-strike John Boehner‘s nose into his brain and turn a gun on congress, forcing them to pass some legislation that would actually help save the country. I wanted to see him flip the desk in the oval office, rip open his suit-and-tie to reveal a yellow Enter the Dragon jumpsuit, smack Nancy Pelosi on the ass, and grab Michelle for a passionate kiss before stage-diving into an angry crowd of Tea Party-ers and smacking some American common sense into their thick skulls.

I honestly don’t think it’d be too hard to pull off. After all, we all know that if Obama can’t pull off a “Fuck Yeah!” moment in the next year, he’s headed out faster than Jimmy Carter in 1980… but, then again, maybe America doesn’t need a hero right now. Perhaps America’s First Black President is enough for Barack?

For the rest of us, the music is swelling, the conflict insurmountable, and the credits are only a year away… and me? Well I always root for the underdog.

For Mad Men

I don’t care what your excuse is, if you haven’t seen AMC’s iconic Sunday night show Mad Men, you are way behind. While it might not be the cup of tea for Two and a Half Men fans or Reality TV junkies, winning Best Dramatic series for three years might be a clue that you should be tuning in. In fact now is the best time to catch up on your Mad Men. Netflix has added every episode to it’s streaming service and AMC is preparing to rerun the entire show so far in lieu of the postponed March premiere of the next season. Normally those of us who define our Augusts by our Sunday night programming are euphoric due to new episodes of Mad Men, however due to the show’s producers wrangling with AMC over it’s future, filming is just now getting started for season 5.

In case you still haven’t seen it, Mad Men revolves around an old-school ad agency in the early 60s on Madison Ave in New York… and specifically it’s tormented, philandering, and extremely talented front man Don Draper. I could spend an entire post heaping rave upon rave for John Hamm‘s performance in this role (which has won him a Golden Globe and an Emmy Nom this year, by the way). Don Draper is the ultimate anti-hero, he’s handsome, smooth-talking, clever, and consistently makes every bad decision he can regarding his personal life. He is the ultimate American man of his time period- he drinks like a fish, smokes like a chimney, and screws everything that walks in front of him… and whose world, so intricately built and maintained, comes falling down around him as the show progresses.

What the show does so brilliantly is reflect the changing perceptions in America in the early 60s, from the changing role of women (at home and in the workplace), divorce, and political upheaval, war, and the rise of the youth movement and television. That may seem like a broad stroke, but the genius of Mad Men is it’s ability to handle these issues while not ever becoming preachy or over sentimental (no Wonder Years here).

What I believe to be one of the best episodes of the entire show comes at the end of the third season, and forgive my partial spoilers, but if you haven’t seen the show- you’ll forget anyway. Don Draper, whose marriage to Betty has been on the rocks for a season now, gets a double-dose of bad news in one day. First, his long-time employer Sterling Cooper, the hottest small ad agency in the business is about to be folded into the workings of a larger, overseas corporation- meaning the death bell for the careers of almost every talented character we’ve followed so far.

Secondly, his wife hits him with the “big D” as he comes home one night from the office. Sadly, their three children are also caught in the middle. In a brilliant scene that I imagine would spark total recall for millions of Americans, Don and Betty sit the two older kids down in the living room to explain the upcoming change in the family- to which they respond with painful, childhood honesty. When Don states, “I’m not going, I’ll just be living elsewhere…”

The oldest, Sally, responds with, “That’s GOING, you say things and you don’t mean them, you can’t just do that! You said you’d always come home…” before storming out of the room to leave the 6-year-old boy clutching his father’s leg and begging him not to go.

While this isn’t a strange or even original scene to see these days, however the way in which it is handled, the humanity of the children and the impossible explanation from their divorcing parents is so well portrayed that it stirs something in our collective memory. For most viewers, it hits us in the gut. The feeling that we’re not just seeing the Draper family fail, but our own childhood memories of divorce and separation are echoed across time- as it is easy to imagine these two small children as our own parents- compiles with our own adult experiences of going through divorce. How masterfully the writers handle the great tragedy of the late 20th century- the perceived crumbling of the American family. We know that the characters will go on as much as we are able to conjure up the post-divorce lives we or loved ones have lived in reality, and yet the tragedy of the Draper family is the tragedy of tens of millions of people across the country.

A tragedy that Don gives a perfect point to later in the episode while trying to convince his ex-secretary-turned-talented-artist/copy-writer Peggy to follow him as he decides to strike out on his own in the Ad game. “Do you know why I don’t want to go to McCann [the company attempting to buy out the agency]? Because there are people out there who buy things, people like you and me… and something happened. Something terrible… And the way that they saw themselves… is gone… and nobody understands that… but you do… and it’s very valuable. With you, or without you, I’m moving on… and I don’t know if I can do it alone. Will you help me?”

When Peggy asks him if she says no if he’ll hate her and never talk to her again, Don responds, “No, I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to hire you.”

Now if you haven’t seen the show, this might seem trivial… but in the context of the episode where Kennedy has just been shot and America has been turned on its ear… it is the perfect scene to highlight the truest of human tragedy- the loss of innocence and identity in the face of perseverance and the American dream… and it is this symbolism and nostalgia-laced loss that is the real genius behind Mad Men. That while we struggle to maintain the status quo, the world gives us curve balls impossible to avoid, and our fight against that change is the source of our greatest hope- and our most tragic loss.

Tune in, this show is a MUST SEE!

Why I Wanted Her to Be Guilty (Casey Anthony’s Verdict is in)

I grew up in the 80s and was a teenager in the 90s- so after watching OJ and Menendez and the like for the better part of a decade I swore on my life I wouldn’t get wrapped up in another damn trial/media circus… Well that all went out the window this morning when I heard the verdict was in for Casey Anthony- the mother who stood accused of killing her two-year-old daughter, Caylee.

Now I admit, I watch the Today show religiously, so I’ve watched the disappearance, arrest, and now trial progress over 3 years… and the entire time I never doubted for a second that this woman killed her child and buried her in the swamp with duct tape on her mouth and nose. From the 30-day period which Casey Anthony chose NOT to tell authorities that her daughter had been missing, to the pictures that surfaced of her partying and “living it up” while her daughter had been missing… it just added up. As a parent of two kids I have been haunted by the pictures of little Caylee for 3 years, and after watching the circus that was the trial on national television, I KNEW that after only a day and a half of deliberations that the jury had reached a guilty verdict.. and I was relieved.

Then the bombshell: Casey Anthony was found not guilty of all charges except lying to police… for which she will probably get time served and non-supervised probation… I, like millions of people around the world, am in shock.

My objectivity met head-on with my desire… no… my NEED for justice for that poor little girl… and it lost. I can’t say that the verdict has  changed anything in my outlook of the entire situation. I can’t lie, I believe she is guilty. What kind of monster does the things she did? She knew her daughter was missing and she went out and got tattooed, partied, and lived the care-free lifestyle of a 20-something-year-old kid. Not a single iota of parental instinct showed in those things she did do… so it’s an easy leap for me to assume that if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a damn duck, then she killed her kid.

Now I don’t know what to believe. After seeing her parents’ testify on the stand, and knowing the circumstances of the case… I turned to my honey yesterday and said there was just too much Reasonable Doubt, and that she was going to walk… now I’m extremely sad I was right.

Not because I think this woman is a monster, or because I hate her for what I still think she did… but because of little Caylee Anthony. I wanted that one thing that everyone else who has watched this debacle has come to need: Justice for that poor little girl.

Now that justice is gone. Whether it is because Casey Anthony really didn’t do it, or because the State of Florida dropped the ball in an epic way… the fact will still remain:

Justice was not served for Caylee today.