All posts by Al Sharpton

Hollywood Writers Sue Talent Agencies In Escalating Battle Over Packaging Fees

 

 

David Simon is among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Hollywood’s four biggest talent agencies. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

A Hollywood screenwriters’ union and eight of its members sued the four largest talent agencies, escalating a dispute over what are known as packaging fees.

The Writers Guild of America is demanding damages and repayment of illegal profit from the four agencies, according to a copy of the complaint filed Wednesday in state court in Los Angeles. The plaintiffs include Meredith Stiehm, creator of “Cold Case,’’ and David Simon, creator of “The Wire.’’

The writers want the agencies stop collecting fees for putting multiple clients in a project. Many have already fired their agents, alleging they and their firms enrich themselves at the expense of clients through such fees. The median pay for screenwriters has slipped in recent years, with the writers blaming the agencies’ expansion into new lines of business.

“Why in the world would my agents make $75,000 per episode on my show,’’ Stiehm said at a press conference. “Agencies don’t work on shows. They make deals at the beginning and that’s it.’’

The four companies are Creative Artists Agency, William Morris Endeavor, ICM Partners and United Talent Agency. They either declined to comment or couldn’t be reached. The guild said it plans to submit thousands of letters from writers dismissing their agents.

Stiehm recounted a story about “Cold Case,’’ which was produced by Warner Bros. and aired on CBS. Stiehm said she was unaware that her representatives, Creative Artists, were collecting packaging fees until she negotiated the budget for the show’s seventh season. CBS asked her to cut $500,000, requiring her to reduce the planned spending for music.

“It adversely affected the quality of the show, but we needed savings,’’ she said.

Stiehm later discovered that CAA was collecting $75,000 per episode. When she asked Warner Bros. if CAA would take a cut, she was told that number was fixed. She estimated that her agents collected 94 cents for every $1 in income she received from the program.

 

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New York City’s rich are getting hit with record tax bills

Rich New Yorkers are getting hit hard with record tax bills — unquestionably among the nation’s steepest, according to tax preparers and planners.

The tab is so high that analysts see the tax shock propelling the flight of wealthy New York residents to states with lower taxes, and a much cheaper cost of living.

“Many are selling securities in order to pay their tax bill,” John Graziano, an accountant and financial planner who handles returns for numerous New York City residents. “Some have discussed moving to a so-called lower-tax state.”

And while none of his tax-choked clients have yet loaded up the moving truck, many are mulling whether purchasing a second home in Florida now makes financial sense, as the reality of local and federal laws finally take a deeper bite. Last year was the first full year of the federal tax reform, which limited state and local tax deductions, or SALT, to a $10,000 maximum.

“A self-employed New York City businessperson client who earned about $1 million in 2018 now owes the Federal government $48,000 more this year than last,” Graziano told The Post. “Those who were getting $5,000 to $10,000 back are now getting less than $5,000.”

Other preparers report similar large surges in tax bills for rich Gotham clients filing their returns this year on 2018 income. And while some middle-class residents may be ahead when their previous 2018 tax payments on salary and the like are factored, many preparers are not holding their breath.

“A lot of otherwise well-off people who were used to getting $4,000 to $5,000 back, are now scrambling to pay their tax bill,” said financial adviser Gary Schwartz of Madison Planning Group. “They’re tapping savings and/or borrowing from wherever they can.”

By contrast, taxpayers in a nationwide survey — likely underlining the stark regional differences in taxation outcomes by state — are sounding almost chirpy.

Of the 74 percent of US adults who’ve filed taxes in 2019, 2 in 5 are “happy with the outcome,” and an additional 25 percent “are neither happy nor unhappy,” according to the survey by the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE). Thirty-three percent are “unhappy.”

“The results don’t seem to align with what we’ve been hearing anecdotally about people’s feelings of filing taxes under the new tax law,” said Billy Hensley, president and CEO of NEFE. “Despite a perceived unhappiness, the good news is the largest proportion of people say they’re satisfied with their tax filing outcome,” he added. “More good news is that people continue to report they are doing positive things with their refunds, like building savings and paying down debt.”

According to the NEFE survey, a mere 7 percent of filers paid more on their federal taxes this year than they typically paid in the past.

Put many New York City and State residents in the unhappy category. “Since the tax code was changed so quickly, many were caught off-guard and are complaining that their taxes are subsidizing corporations,” said Schwartz. “It’s a double whammy when you factor in the impact of the SALT cap.”

 

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NYC Can No Longer Test For Weed When Hiring Or Probation Folks

The NYC Council announced that they just passed bills prohibiting marijuana testing being required as part of the hiring process in New York City, and banning the City from requiring marijuana testing for people on probation.

‘This bill will close one trap door that trips people up,” said the council’s Public Safety Committee chair Donovan Richards. “Too many people come out, they are trying to do better, and they get busted for marijuana and go back into jail or prison. This sets them back.”

The city conducts hundreds of such tests each year.

Elton John Biopic ‘Rocketman’ Poised for Cannes Bow

The official announcement for the 2019 Cannes Film Festival is 10 days away, but Paramount’s Elton John hybrid biopic-musical — starring Taron Egerton as the iconic British singer-songwriter — is poised to descend on the south of France, The Hollywood Reporter has learned. Paramount declined comment.

The film’s addition to the lineup had been widely speculated given its official release on the very Cannes-friendly date of May 24 (the fest is set to run May 14-25). Its screening — and any potential parties — will likely be among the hottest tickets at Cannes, which is also set to feature Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

The news comes just days after a six-minute montage of Rocketman — directed by Dexter Fletcher, who stepped in to finish Bohemian Rhapsody after Bryan Singer’s departure — drew loud applause at CinemaCon in Las Vegas. The footage spanned John’s days as a child at the Royal Academy of Music to his early career, including his first U.S. concert at the Troubadour in Los Angeles and how after he grappled with fame and addiction before transforming into a global superstar.

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New York City is edging toward financial disaster, experts warn

New York City is careening closer to all-out financial bankruptcy for the first time since Mayor Abraham Beame ran the city more than 40 years ago, experts say.

As tax-fleeced businesses and individuals flee en masse, and city public spending surges into the stratosphere, financial analysts say Gotham is perilously near total fiscal disaster.

Long-term debt is now more than $81,100 per household, and Mayor de Blasio is ramping up to spend as much as $3 billion more in the new budget than the current $89.2 billion.

“The city is running a deficit and could be in a real difficult spot if we had a recession, or a further flight of individuals because of tax reform,” said Milton Ezrati, chief economist of Vested.

“New York is already in a difficult financial spot, but it would be in an impossible situation if we had any kind of setback.”

De Blasio has detailed $750 million in savings for the preliminary fiscal 2020 budget, but that won’t be enough to stave off a bloodbath if New York’s economy is hit by financial shocks — including a recession, which some see on the horizon — analysts warn. Gov. Cuomo’s preliminary budget has $600 million in city cuts in the coming year.

But city spending, up some 32 percent since de Blasio took office — triple the rate of inflation — may need to be cut deeper, these analysts add. The city’s long-term pension obligations have escalated, as well, as its workforce has soared by more than 33,000 in the last five years.

Other startling indicators:

  • New York state — and city — are ranked No. 1 nationwide in state and local tax burden.
  • Property taxes, almost half of the city’s revenue, is rising faster than any other revenue source — squeezing businesses and forcing homeowners, already hit by federal property tax deduction changes, to relocate to lower-tax states.
  • The top 1 percent of New York City earners pay some 50 percent of Big Apple income tax revenue.

“New York City could go bankrupt, absolutely,” said Peter C. Earle, an economist at the American Institute for Economic Research.

“In that case, the city would get temporary protection from its creditors, but it would be very difficult for the city to take on new debt.”

Original Article

Lichtenstein on Amazon pullout: “Worst day for NYC since 9-11”

Lightstone Group’s David Lichtenstein said Friday that Amazon’s about-face on its New York megacomplex was the “worst day for NYC since 9-11.”

“Except this time, the terrorists were elected,” the developer added in an email to The Real Deal, in a dig to the politicians who fiercely criticized the tech giant’s deal with the city for the nearly $3 billion in tax breaks and government incentives it came with. On Thursday, Amazon cited pressure from the local politicians as its reason to abandon the deal for the Long Island City campus, which was to bring 25,000 new jobs to New York and would create, by some expectations, $27 billion in tax revenue over a decade.

Since November, Amazon had faced fierce backlash from elected officials, activists and union leaders, who criticized the secretive nature of the negotiations between the company and the city and state, and who argued that the world’s most valuable company did not need to be cajoled with tax breaks to come to New York.

Among the deal’s most vocal critics: State Sen. Michael Gianaris of Queens, who was named to a board that had veto power over the plan; Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose congressional district borders the one where the complex would rise; and leaders from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store union.

“A number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward,” Amazon said in a statement Thursday explaining its decision to drop the plans.

Lightstone is a major developer with a $3 billion portfolio across New York, Miami and Los Angeles. In Long Island City, Lightstone owns a 428-unit rental building less than two miles from where Amazon’s campus was set to rise. 

Lichtenstein is among several industry figures who’ve addressed losing out on the Amazon campus, which the real-estate industry felt would be a major boost to both the residential and commercial markets. “The future of the neighborhood is still going to happen,” said Robert Whalen, Halstead’s director of leasing in Long Island City, “but Amazon could’ve accelerated the process.” Dave Maundrell, of Citi Habitats, said that without Amazon, “we’re back to where we were six months ago. The market’s gonna go back down.”

Kathryn Wylde, who leads the pro-business group Partnership for New York City, said that “we competed successfully, made a deal and spent the last three months trashing our new partner.” Seth Pinsky of RXR Realty echoed her sentiments, telling the Wall Street Journal that “for some of the people opposing the project it was kind of a game.”

“They enjoyed being the center of attention and having their statements tweeted and retweeted,” Pinsky added. “But this isn’t a game.”

 

Original Article

Smug politicians scammed NYC out of Amazon’s HQ2 and ruined it for everyone

On Valentine’s Day, Amazon broke hearts all over New York City, dumping us like a boyfriend with cold feet. The loss is incalculable.

Gone, apparently for good, is the promise of not only more than 25,000 new highly skilled and well-paying jobs, at least a chunk of them for women and minorities, but all the goodies that go along with them.

With the withdrawal from its proposed campus in Long Island City, the company has snatched away potentially tens of billions in tax revenue, soaring interest in local real-estate, plus new stores, restaurants and guaranteed employment for everyone from babysitters to dog-walkers.

Nice going.

It’s official. New York is not only freakishly hostile to business, but suspicious to a suicidal degree of billionaires who own things, the very people who bring employment to our midst. With their “Take these jobs and shove it” attitude, New York’s sanctimonious, progressive politicians and assorted naysayers should be proud of themselves.

But what about the rest of us?

Democratic City Council member Jimmy Van Bramer took part in an unseemly “victory press conference” Thursday, one with little support from ordinary Joes and Janes who badly wanted to work for the company, only to see their hopes demolished.

Newbie US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, self-described democratic socialist, reacted to the exit news not with somber reflection or the announcement of new jobs-creating initiatives — but with an insulting Twitter celebration.

“Anything is possible: today was the day a group of dedicated, everyday New Yorkers & their neighbors defeated Amazon’s corporate greed, its worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world,” she tweeted.

She failed to explain how she intends to pay for her signature initiatives, a basket of gifts, including free health care, free college, and the total elimination of carbon emissions, as contained in her Green New Deal — a draft proposal of which bemoaned the likely inability to rid the nation quickly of airplanes and “farting cows.”

Long Island City’s Democratic state Sen. Mike Gianaris, the deputy majority leader — a former Amazon enthusiast — has taken to endlessly deriding the company with the Twitter hashtag “#Scamazon.” He joined anti-Amazon activists at a ridiculous rally in Queens Saturday, where he said, “We’ve learned over the last year that Amazon is not a responsible company. They want to take $3 billion from us. We’re trying to stop it.”

Well, he did. Thanks a lot.

Every politician who expended oxygen or computer keystrokes to run out what would have been a gigantic boon to the city is guilty of “political malpractice,” as Gov. Andrew Cuomo said about Gianaris.

Every one of these Bozos should pay for this incredible loss with their jobs, come Election Day. Or sooner.

As recent polls demonstrate, a majority of New Yorkers were all in for Amazon. We know better than these out-of-touch politicos what’s good for us. No professional activist will feed our families.

While Amazon’s kiss-off of the city may well serve us right, I am not alone in bemoaning this development. Not only have we been stripped of a great opportunity for real employment growth and related monetary benefits, the fleeing of Amazon will reverberate for years to come.

The officers of other corporations considering setting up shop in the city will realize they’d rather stick pins in their eyes than tangle with New York’s loathsome political class.

Most any municipality in the nation would eagerly grab the $27.5 billion tax windfall to be paid over 25 years, for the cost of just shy of $3 billion in taxes and subsidies over the same period. These are the numbers touted by Gov. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who fought for this deal, and they’ve not been debunked.

As the company fades away, shame should fall squarely on the shoulders of all the people responsible, most of whom have never even met their constituents. The entire city will live to regret their bone-headed moves.

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Amazon backs out of NYC headquarters deal because of Liberal/ Socialist politicians

Love definitely isn’t in the air today — at least not for supporters of Amazon’s New York City headquarters. The retailer has officially called it quits on its plans to launch an NYC-based HQ2 in Long Island City, citing less-than-supportive city leaders as the primary reason.

Though 56% of New Yorkers supported the move, Amazon says “a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us.“

The rumors of a pullout had been swirling since Friday when theWashington Post broke the news that Amazon might be reconsidering its decision. Local lawmakers like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Michael N. Gianaris have been outspoken about their distaste for the project in recent weeks, as have several city council members and community leaders.

Still, many experts brushed it off wheeling and dealing on the part of Bezos and Co. As Gill Chowdhury of New York’s Warburg Realty put it: “It is a negotiating strategy. Jeff Bezos and Amazon are more powerful than New York City — at least they are more powerful than New York City’s leaders. Coming to terms and then asking for more is a negotiating strategy.”

Though Mayor Bill de Blasio reportedly brokered a meeting between union leaders and Amazon executives as late as Wednesday, it appears the talks were ineffective. De Blasio has been a firm supporter of the project since the beginning.

According to Eric Benaim, who recently started a petition in favor of the New York City-based headquarters, de Blasio and other leaders might have some unhappy constituents now that the deal has fallen through.

Before Amazon’s announcement, Benaim said, “I would think the local leaders who oppose Amazon coming to LIC are worried, because if the deal does get rejected, they will go down in history as the people who lost 25,000 jobs for New York City.”

Amazon announced its plans to build the Long Island City campus late last year. It would have created up to 40,000 jobs and $27.5 billion in local tax revenues, according to estimates. According to Amazon’s announcement, the company is not reopening its search for a second HQ2 location and will move forward with its plans for Crystal City, Virginia, and Nashville.

Netflix refuses to release viewership figures…

Netflix has become a major player in the Hollywood award season, including garnering multiple nominations for this year’s Oscars. But how many people are actually watching the shows?

We don’t know, because Netflix won’t say.

In an industry in which TV ratings and box office stats are the lifeblood of business, the streaming entertainment titan plays by its own rules, keeping its viewer statistics out of sight and making it difficult for outsiders to measure the success of its shows.

Recently, Netflix has revealed some fuzzy performance figures for a handful of projects, among them the former Lifetime series “You,” the Spanish-language teen drama “Elite” and, most prominently, the science fiction thriller “Bird Box,” which the company said had been seen by more than 45 million accounts in its first week.

But these are the exceptions. Viewership numbers for Netflix’s hundreds of other original series and movies remain corporate secrets.

As the company continues to grow, this game of peekaboo has become increasingly irksome to other studios as well as talent agencies, some of which feel that Netflix’s lack of transparency gives it an unfair competitive advantage.

Despite pressure on Netflix to disclose more data, experts say, it has little motivation to be more open, in part because it doesn’t answer to advertisers that normally would demand such information.

“Netflix frankly doesn’t have to tell anybody anything about the viewing of any of their stuff because they don’t have to,” said Tim Hanlon, chief executive of the Chicago-based media advisory and investment firm the Vertere Group.

Netflix also faces rising costs associated with content licensed from other studios, and disclosing ratings on popular shows would likely lead to even higher licensing fees. Older favorites such as “Friends,” “The Office” and “Breaking Bad” are major draws for Netflix subscribers and continue to bring in big business. Netflix recently paid more than $100 million to Warner Bros. to retain the exclusive streaming rights to “Friends” for an additional year, more than three times what it had previously paid.

Netflix declined to comment for this story.

Companies that license shows to Netflix receive basic viewership data, but executives say the information isn’t useful.

“We get a compilation of views by season, so it’s not divided out by episode, and there’s no indication of what a view even means — like how long the duration,” said one network executive who wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly. “From an analysis standpoint, it’s meaningless.”

Netflix also doesn’t publicly reveal box office figures for the handful of prestige movies it releases in cinemas, among them “Roma,” which got 10 Oscar nominations, including the streamer’s first best picture nod, and “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” which received three. The choice not to release ticket sales was made by Netflix, not the theater owners, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

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Bronx lawmaker: City Council is ‘controlled by the homosexual community’

A Bronx city council member said he was treated as an outsider by the chamber because it’s “controlled by the homosexual community,” according to a new report.

“When I get to the City Council, I find that the City Council is controlled — most council members out of 51 council members — over there, everybody is controlled by the homosexual community,” Rubén Díaz Sr. said in an interview with a spanish-language TV program geared toward cab drivers, NY1 reported.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who is gay, called on Diaz to apologize after the NY1 report.

“Council Member Díaz Sr.’s homophobic comments are offensive to both the Speaker and the body, and have no place in New York City,” his communications director told the station in a statement.

“He should apologize to all of his colleagues, and the entire LGBTQ community.”

Díaz Sr., a Pentecostal minister, has vocally opposed same-sex marriage and has been criticized for past homophobic statements.

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Family Tree DNA Testing Company Sharing Genetic Data With the FBI

The decision by a prominent consumer DNA-testing company to share data with federal law enforcement means investigators have access to genetic information linked to hundreds of millions of people.

FamilyTreeDNA, an early pioneer of the rapidly growing market for consumer genetic testing, confirmed late Thursday that it has granted the Federal Bureau of Investigation access to its vast trove of nearly 2 million genetic profiles. The arrangement was first reported by BuzzFeed News.

Concerns about unfettered access to genetic information gathered by testing companies have swelled since April, when police used a genealogy website to ensnare a suspect in the decades-old case of the Golden State Killer. But that site, GEDmatch, was open-source, meaning police were able to upload crime-scene DNA data to the site without permission. The latest arrangement marks the first time a commercial testing company has voluntarily given law enforcement access to user data.

 

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The Nature of Sex

It might be a sign of the end-times, or simply a function of our currently scrambled politics, but earlier this week, four feminist activists — three from a self-described radical feminist organization Women’s Liberation Front — appeared on a panel at the Heritage Foundation. Together they argued that sex was fundamentally biological, and not socially constructed, and that there is a difference between women and trans women that needs to be respected. For this, they were given a rousing round of applause by the Trump supporters, religious-right members, natural law theorists, and conservative intellectuals who comprised much of the crowd. If you think I’ve just discovered an extremely potent strain of weed and am hallucinating, check out the video of the event.

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Random Events, Free Will, Pre-destiny or Something Darker ?