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Movie Review: Bread and Roses

So, I’m watching the nightly news a while ago, my choice being ABC’s World News Tonight because even though Peter Jennings is an arrogant prick I think NBC’s Tom Brokaw is a dope and CBS’s Dan Rather has lost his mind. I don’t even know what the lead story is, but probably it’s probably got something to do with Sen. Jim Jeffords party switching. But, regardless, it doesn’t really matter what the actual story is as long as it’s about the U.S. government.

On this particular evening, in all the interviews and video clips of politicians in action I hear the following phrase repeated ad nauseum: “the American people”. This group noun is used, for example, in sentences such as, “We’re going to make sure that we do what THE AMERICAN PEOPLE want,” and uttered by people such as George W. Bush and White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.

To make an oblique point here, even though it’s probably not fair to compare the actions of one person to another but I’ll do it anyway because I’m not necessarily a fair person, the lead story on Salon.com on June 8, 2001 is about how Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill had as of then failed to sell the stock he owns in Alcoa, the aluminum producing company he ran until Bush picked him for the cabinet post.

In March, O’Neill promised to sell his stock, but the Securities and Exchange Commission claimed that the transaction hasn’t occurred yet even though O’Neill’s office claimed it has, or at least that part of O’Neill’s stock holdings had been sold off.

So, what’s the big deal? So the guy hasn’t sold his stock yet. He’s a busy guy. However, because of an aluminum production slowdown requested by the Department of Energy, Alcoa’s stock shot up over ten bucks a share, making Mr. O’Neill several million dollars in the process, over 60 by Salon’s estimate.

This is why whenever I hear a politician on the news start talking about doing what’s right for “the American people,” I just want to barf violently.

And, by the way, a month before Bush signed his “generous” tax cut program, O’Neill gave an interview to the Financial Times in which he suggested INCREASING individual taxes while completely eliminating all corporate taxes. Who’s that going to help out? “The American people” or some already nauseatingly rich white guy who’s going to sashay into another cushy corporate job when he’s booted from his Treasury job for being an oaf?

To continue on my socialist bent for the day I have to recommend what is the best book I’ve read in a good long while: Barbara Ehrenreich’s NICKEL AND DIMED. Barbara is a liberal author who undertook a challenge from one of her editors to see what it was like to live in America earning only a minimum wage salary, as so many working people do in this country.

Barbara is a married, middle-aged, middle-class woman who left her home on three separate occasions, two times moving to different states, to live on her own and try to eke out an existence working minimum wage jobs: once as a waitress in a greasy spoon, second as a cleaner for The Maids and thirdly as a retail clerk at Wal-Mart.

It’s a brilliantly written book and part of me can’t imagine that anyone who reads it wouldn’t automatically become convinced that this country needs universal health care RIGHT NOW. The teenage girl who seriously snaps her ankle but has no health insurance, even though she works a full-time job, and can’t afford to skip a day without pay so she keeps working cleaning rich people’s bathrooms while hopping around on one foot while her bad foot balloons up and turns purple is particularly horrifying. But then the realistic part of me chimes in and realizes there are a lot of people, way too many people, who would just dismiss Barbara as a “liberal bitch” and completely miss the point of the book.

Finally, if you’re in a liberal/socialist mood, please check out Ken Loach’s stirring BREAD & ROSES. It’s the story of a fictional 1999 Los Angeles Justice for Janitors union organizing drive seen mostly through the eyes of a plucky female illegal immigrant Tho’ the film’s particular organizing drive is fictional, Justice for Janitors is a very real organization. I found it to be a very powerful film that didn’t take any easy roads. It also included one of the most harrowing emotional scenes I’ve seen in a good long time.

BREAD & ROSES and NICKEL AND DIMED make a great double-feature.

Finally, as I was about to finally post this review to the Underground Film Journal, that great organization FAIR decided to also chime in on the story about Treasury Secretary O’Neill, if you’re interested in learning still more.