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Union Roundup

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So here we are, on Tinseltown’s first fully post-awards day since about October—amazing to think Hollywood spends about half the year in kudos mode—where the only remaining guessing game is to figure out why Crash won Best Picture instead of the expected Brokeback Mountain. Perhaps Hollywood just responded intuitively to a picture that posits everything is connected and every action affects every other, in foreseen, but mostly unforeseen, ways.So it is with some of the disparate news that we have to catch up on at UR, though one example came from the Oscar telecast itself when Academy president Sid Ganis—on an evening where Hollywood was congratulating itself on being a harbinger of social change—noted there were now “six major motion pictures shooting in or near New Orleans, employing 600 local workers.” (The New Orleans paper Times-Picayune found that aspect of the awards so unremarkable, even from a local angle, that it buried it numerous paragraphs below its discussion of whether host Jon Stewart was funny or not.) “Let the good times roll,” Ganis added.And to be sure, by virtue of housing those productions there, Hollywood has already done far more than the Federal government in helping post-Katrina recovery in the Pelican state. Indeed, the business agent for New Orleans’ umbrella IA local 478, hardworking Mike McHugh, has been sending out a tip sheet to scattered members of the local letting them know about productions, both rumored and actual, setting up shop in the area, and where they might find badly needed work.All well and good, to be sure, but on this same post-Oscar day comes a less remarked-upon piece in The Washington Post about the state of levee repairs: “Experts [from a Louisiana-based panel, and a National Science Foundation group] say the Army Corps of Engineers, racing to rebuild 169 miles of levees destroyed or damaged by Katrina, is taking shortcuts to compress what is usually a years-long construction process into a few weeks. They say that weak, substandard materials are being used in some levee walls, citing lab tests as evidence. And they say the Corps is deferring repairs to flood walls that survived Katrina but suffered structural damage that could cause them to topple in a future storm.”The Corps denies it, of course, and the pudding’s proof will come when those future storms hit. And hit they will. The next hurricane season begins June 1. Couple this to MIT Professor Kerry Emmanuel’s study—as cited by Japanese scientist David Suzuki—that “suggests that hurricanes have become markedly more powerful and longer-lasting since the 1970s” due to the effects of climate change, and one wonders—hoping against hope—how long meaningful recovery can actually continue in New Orleans, movie tax breaks or no.It’s just one of many examples how, in an increasingly interconnected world—as we’ve argued in this space before—Hollywood’s interests are no longer as insulated from the rest of the world’s as they used to be.Another case in point would be the recent endorsement by IATSE of California’s Democratic state treasurer, Phil Angelides, in his bid to become the next governor. According to Tom Short, speaking from the depths of an IA press release, Angelides, leading state controller Steve Westly in early polls for the nomination, “envisions a California with even more jobs in the entertainment industry, first-class schools, affordable health care for working families, and protections for our environment. The welfare of all Californians is his only special interest.”Short then goes on to note that “no one in organized labor will forget Phil Angelides’ spearheading the opposition to the union-busting Proposition 75,” at which point, we are right back in the world of unforeseen connections.California, of course, is notorious for its GOP-funded recall election against the last Democratic governor, all-too-gray Gray Davis. And everyone knows that our current incumbent left behind his SAG-based activities to spend some time in Sacramento, smoking cigars with lobbyists and politicians. But the Governor also took advantage of the departure of another Democratic incumbent: the last elected secretary of state, Kevin Shelley, was forced to resign after the usual endemic charges against politicos—laundered money, etc.—began to surface shortly after he became the first state official in the nation to decertify the electronic voting machines made by the publicly Bush-backing Diebold Corporation.This is not the place to run down the list of emerging facts showing how hackable these machines are, how untraceable the vote counting, how Diebold has refused to release its “private” sourcecode (for counting public elections!), how mysteriously “flipped” recent election results were in Ohio for ballot propositions that would have called electronic voting into more accountability—i.e., the election results mysteriously reversed every single poll leading up to election day, though the results of the non-Diebold effecting propositions generally replicated the polls.But that brief background is to let you know that the “moderate” GOP replacement named by Schwarzenegger—Bruce McPherson—quietly recertified Diebold machines in California, releasing the news late on a Friday before Presidents’ Day weekend, clearly hoping no one would notice.And while not every county in California uses these machines—yet—voters up and down the state will certainly notice if the usual “surprise” last-minute reversals—seen, oddly enough, only in places with electronic vote “counting,” like Florida, Ohio, and Georgia—start evincing themselves here. In other words, if you keep a poll close—within 10 percent say—you might find that future versions of Prop. 74 pass in a seemingly plausible close election after a “last-minute surge” brings anti-union voters to the polls.A similar explanation was used in Georgia when GOP challenger Saxby Chambliss upset incumbent Democratic war vet Max Cleland. A “surge” of GOP voters was claimed to have gone to the polls.Later, it turned out the only group in Georgia to have voted in higher-than-expected numbers in that 2004 Federal election were African American women.So as each of the past year’s best-picture nominees touched on, the world is a very precarious place. And a rapidly changing one. Touting the ability of film crews to change local economies is fine, as are traditional election endorsements, coupled with what will probably be traditional electioneering techniques: phone banking, precinct walking, etc.But they may no longer be good enough, or visionary enough, if Hollywood—and Hollywood labor—wishes to still have some impact on the economies and elections that affect them.

Written by Mark London Williams

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