This ‘Heist’ doesn’t have lovable con men

While the name of this movie conjures up images of con men making a slick trick to take what should rightfully be ours, “Heist: Who Stole the American Dream?” comes off as a war propaganda movie. It’s polemic, and passionate, with plenty of talking heads and historical footage of people and protests. Although this documentary plays in NoHo, it has a lot of meaning for Pasadenans.

Consider that I started work at a Pasadena-based company (GoTo.com) which became Overture.com that was bought by Yahoo and under Yahoo the jobs were sold to India. We were driven by false metrics to work overtime without pay and to suck it up when we suffered repetitive motion injuries. Sure Yahoo Search Marketing moved to Burbank for more space, but how much of that space was really necessary when all the jobs went to India, a move that started while we were in Pasadena. That’s lost jobs to Pasadena, a place where the company actually started.

As you’d expect, Occupy Wall Street demos make up part of this movie. But the movie goes back to remind us about the Great Depression, the Wall Street Crash and the solution, the New Deal pushed by FDR.

“The mess we’re in now did not begin on Wall Street. Long before the financial collapse, the dismantlement of government regulation was well under way. All the consequences are the result of a brilliantly executed coup. This is the story of the biggest heist in American history.”

The conclusion is that democracy was sold to the highest bidder. The real end game was business control of our government and the battle to save free enterprise. The seed was found in a 1971 memorandum by a Virginia lawyer who represented the tobacco industry and would become an associate justice in the United States Supreme Court. Lewis F. Powell Jr. wrote a confidential memo to the United States Chamber of Commerce titled, “Attack on the American Free Enterprise System.” If you’re a fan of President Ronald Reagan and both the Bush’s, you won’t want to see this movie. Reaganomics was based on this paper.

Reagan used his charm along with clever wording to break up the power of unions because labor unions supported the interests of all workers, the people who brought us many socialized care–the weekend, Medicare, etc. The average worker got the shaft under Reagan, carrying the burden of social security and Medicare while the rich got tax breaks and legal loopholes to avoid federal taxes and instead get rebates. This might make your blood boil considering how much of a payout taxpayers just gave to the fat cats of banks and the car companies.

But not only the Republicans come under attack. Clinton also supported the big business and the media doesn’t escape the attention of this documentary.The orchestration of the press by presidents also comes under attack and that includes Obama who is characterized as worse that George W. Bush.  Journalists don’t ask the hard questions; they don’t write in-depth articles. Their companies are owned by big business and they’ve become all about profits.

The movie is written by Hollis Rich and Frances Causey. Causey and Donald Goldmacher direct. Causey previously was a CNN Prime News TV series producer from 1980 to 1993. This is her first time out as a director and writer according to IMDB. For Goldmacher, this is also his directorial debut.

Their featured experts include progressive radio talk show host Thom Hartmann; author of “Unjust Desserts and “America Beyond Capitalism” Gar Alperovitz, Princeton economics professor Alan Stuart Blinder, “Blinded by the Right” author David Brock, former president and chairman of American Airlines Robert Lloyd Crandall, co-founder and president of Rebuild the Dream Van Jones, and Senator Bernie Sanders.

Consider this a survey course. Not all of it may be true. Some of this is simplified. FDR is the hero here. This movie, like the documentary “Death by China” reminds us that the American Dream has been sold abroad. Here while the productivity of workers has risen, their pay has not. Cheap labor abroad is the problem, but this production notes this isn’t just about China, but also India.

Hurricane Katrina is seen as the outcome of these public policies which put the poor on their own and even ask the workers to work harder for less pay. That in itself, is a growing trend during this recession.

What’s the solution? Of course, the first is knowledge. The second is political action.  Take private money out of elections. Professional lobbyists should be prohibited from giving money to public campaigns because they are effectively buying votes and legislation. Support teachers, police, and SCC. Restore fair taxation by reining back tax cuts that came under Bush and Reagan. Make Wall Street play fair which means take over the banks and fire the people at the top and not allow them to make loans to each other. Instead of banks, support credit unions.

Energy is also looked at in a cursory way. This movie supports wind power, but doesn’t take into account another documentary, “Windfall,” which looked at the problems of wind power development in the U.S.

Despite the mixing of metaphors, and a quick somewhat simplistic look at some issues, this documentary gives you something to think about and the production values are high and the argumentation is organized and convincing. Bring a bit of skepticism with you and if you want to learn how to make a good PowerPoint presentation (in your dreams), this documentary will give you a good start. Have no doubt: For this movie, FDR and Occupy Wall Street are the heroes.

“Heist: Who Stole the American Dream?” is currently playing at Laemmle’s NoHo 7 as part of Docuweeks 2012, when Laemmle screens 17 features films and shorts from August 10 to 30th.

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