In This Episode
- With the debt ceiling deadline now projected for June 1st, House Democrats are taking action in case negotiations fail. The move would allow Democrats to collect signatures to force Congress to consider a “clean” bill to raise the debt limit and avoid a catastrophic default.
- Members of the Writers Guild of America are officially on strike after negotiations with Hollywood studios failed to reach a new contract. Alex O’Keefe, one of the writers behind the hit FX series “The Bear,” joins us from the picket lines to talk about the issues driving the strike.
- And in headlines: a Montana judge ruled that State Representative Zooey Zephyr cannot return to work on the statehouse floor, the Biden administration plans to send more troops to the southern border, and a proposed bill would require campaigns to disclose the use of AI-generated content in political ads.
- Pencils Down: WGA On Strike – https://www.wgacontract2023.org/
- What A Day – YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/@whatadaypodcast
Crooked Coffee is officially here. Our first blend, What A Morning, is available in medium and dark roasts. Wake up with your own bag at crooked.com/coffee
Follow us on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/crookedmedia/
Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Wednesday, May 3rd. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.
Juanita Tolliver: And I’m Juanita Tolliver and this is What A Day where we are fully prepared to cover Katy Perry and Lionel Richie’s American Idol duties when they leave to perform at King Charles the Third’s coronation.
Priyanka Aribindi: To be honest, it’s been a long time since we’ve watched American Idol, but we are guessing that Katy Perry is the Paula of the situation.
Juanita Tolliver: I mean, sure. But let’s be real. They gave us Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson, so this is the least we can do. We got y’all. We’ll show up. [music break]
Priyanka Aribindi: On today’s show, a judge rejected Montana Representative Zooey Zephyr’s bid to return to the state House floor. Plus, President Biden plans to send more troops to the Mexico border before Title 42 expires next week.
Juanita Tolliver: But first, Janet Yellen lit a fire under Washington, DC when she announced that the projected default deadline has moved up to June 1st. So–
Priyanka Aribindi: Uh oh.
Juanita Tolliver: Let the 28 day countdown begin, y’all. President Biden is responding in kind by calling a meeting with the four leaders of Congress. But that doesn’t mean he’s ready to negotiate. And House Democrats have concocted their own plan to push a vote on a clean bill to avoid default by using a trusty tool known as a discharge petition. When I tell you they’ve been planning this move since January, it just shows they ain’t messing around.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Okay. So for those of us who are not in the know what exactly is a discharge position and what do we know about the plan that House Democrats have put together here?
Juanita Tolliver: Look, a discharge petition is kind of like a break glass in case of emergency move. It’s a procedural process that allows Democrats to collect signatures on a petition to force the consideration of a bill. In this case, a bill to raise the debt limit and avoid default. According to The New York Times, this discharge petition has been planned since January and is associated with the Break the Gridlock Act, aptly named, which was introduced by Representative Mark DeSaulnier of California. Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said in a Dear Colleague letter on Tuesday that, quote, “House Democrats are working to make sure we have all options at our disposal to avoid a default” and, quote, “It’s now time for MAGA Republicans to act in a bipartisan manner to pay America’s bills without extreme conditions.” Now, a discharge petition isn’t a guarantee, but it is a clear indicator that Democrats are fighting to protect the critical programs that House Republicans want to cut. And with this discharge petition making the rounds in the House, on the Senate side, Majority Leader Schumer is making it clear that he has Representative Jeffries back and he’s already put the discharge petition on the Senate calendar. Additionally, Schumer has also scheduled a vote on the heinous Republican bill that passed the House last week. And I think it’s safe to say that this bill doesn’t have a chance in hell in the Senate. This is just a move to force Senate Republicans to show where they stand.
Priyanka Aribindi: Okay. Got it. So it really sounds like Democrats are in array here as um–
Juanita Tolliver: Bet.
Priyanka Aribindi: –they never want to say it, but it sounds like they are. But remind us here, what are some of the extreme cuts that Republicans are wanting to make?
Juanita Tolliver: I mean, plain and simple, if people need it, you better believe House Republicans put it on the chopping block. I’m talking about everything from Head Start to Medicaid to veterans health care. If Republicans get their way, children literally wouldn’t be able to eat because they want to cut snap benefits and free and reduced price lunch programs. If they get their way, tens of thousands of teachers would be fired due to cuts in education budgets. If they get their way, millions in climate investments will be rolled back. They’re truly trying to edit undo a lot of the provisions that congressional Democrats and the Biden administration put in to the American Rescue Plan and the Inflation Reduction Act. That’s why I’m so glad that Senate Democrats are dedicating time and energy into laying all of this out for the American public in a series of hearings in the coming weeks, because this is going to hurt a lot of people and families that benefit from these programs. And while Republicans are pushing these cuts, they’re not doing the one thing the Constitution requires them to do, pay the United States’ bills.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, seriously. And I mean, they’re pushing ideas that would hurt their constituents and–
Juanita Tolliver: Right.
Priyanka Aribindi: –people deserve to know that. So good on Democrats for making that as loud and clear as possible. But what comes next from all of this?
Juanita Tolliver: Well, next Tuesday, President Biden is meeting with Senator Schumer and McConnell and Representatives McCarthy and Jeffries. And based on reports this isn’t to acquiesce, but to emphasize the need to avoid default, which could potentially trigger a recession for us and economic chaos across the world, to put it mildly.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yep.
Juanita Tolliver: And back in the House of Representatives, House Democrats could start collecting signatures for their discharge petition by May 16th. So I’m sure they’re already working on the five Republicans they need to flip in order to get that across the finish line. But the default drama is only gearing up.
Priyanka Aribindi: Seriously and the clock keeps ticking. At 28 days. I’m terrified. I’m sure everyone else is, too. But switching gears a little bit. Yesterday, 11,500 members of the Writers Guild of America officially went on strike after negotiations with Hollywood studios failed to reach a new three year contract. We touched on this a bit in yesterday’s show, but now that the strike is official, we wanted to dive deeper into the reasons behind the strike and how this will play out. For many of the television and film writers who are now on the picket lines.
Juanita Tolliver: All right, break it down for us. Tell us more about what’s happening.
Priyanka Aribindi: As we know, the advent of streaming platforms has radically changed the film and TV industry over the past decade. You know, you don’t have to be an industry insider to know that. You can just think about the way that you consume TV and watch movies as opposed to how you did it maybe when you were a kid. And the writers argue that the models that are in place currently have them working for shorter periods of time at the bare minimum pay for the most part, and have severely impacted their ability to support themselves and earn a living doing their jobs. The strike has already had immediate effects. Live late night TV shows all ran reruns yesterday night. They will continue to do so for the duration of the strike because these shows, like many of your other favorites, need writers to continue to happen. And scripted TV shows that are in production will be very difficult to continue making without the help of any of these writers. The economic impacts of a strike are expected to be felt across Southern California, obviously, but also in places like New York, Georgia, New Mexico and other production hubs around the country. To learn more about the issues driving the strike and the experiences that have led writers here, I spoke with Alex O’Keefe. Alex is a TV writer who worked on the hit FX series The Bear. I watched that series last summer. I loved it. You probably did, too. And he is also a member of the Writers Guild of America West. We caught up with him as he was picketing outside of Netflix HQ in Los Angeles, which is why you will hear some noise, some car horns in the background. I really loved our conversation. It was illuminating. And he shared so much of his personal experience with us. Take a listen.
Alex O’Keefe: It was very surreal. I got this wild gig writing for the Bear. Uh. The showrunners got my spec script. They hired me after two episodes had already been written. It was like, can you start tomorrow? So I came in. I previously had more political experience, so it was a wild transition and the studio did not pay for me to come out to L.A. for the writers room. So so I wrote for the Bear from my Brooklyn apartment over Zoom.
Priyanka Aribindi: Oh my God.
Alex O’Keefe: It was uh Pandemic Winter, so I didn’t have heat. I had a little space heater underneath my desk as I typed away writing for The Bear. And sometimes I’d plug in that space heater and it would blast out all the power in my house. Episode eight I was in a public library trying to get wifi, speaking very quietly and a librarian shushing me when I would pitch, so the conditions were tough, but what was really–
Priyanka Aribindi: Wow.
Alex O’Keefe: –beautiful is that this was a show that was about the working class. Uh. My mom was a service industry worker my entire life. And to elevate that kind of work and show the everyday stress and elevate to the highest form of art, I mean, that’s one of the greatest privileges of my life. And I’ve written for senators and everything, But I think that culture makes such an impact on the psyche and the consciousness–
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah.
Alex O’Keefe: –of the nation. So I’m really grateful for that experience.
Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. I think your experience is so different than what one might think it’s like for a writer in Hollywood. Maybe like going to some fancy place and being in a writer’s room. Like, I think people might have that basic understanding, but like, you’re painting a really different picture of like what the reality was like, much less glamorous than it might seem.
Alex O’Keefe: Oh, all that glitters is not gold. And these studios that have been around Hollywood for over a century, right, they are now owned by tech companies who call themselves disruptors. And what these tech companies are really disrupting is workers rights, degrading working conditions, and basically forcing everything to become a gig economy.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah.
Alex O’Keefe: Now, that’s what they’re trying to do with writing right now. And if you see so many different news outlets are shuttering or going bankrupt or they’re trying to replace us with AI, the professional writer is going extinct. And that’s why we have seen more solidarity both within our union and across every union of Hollywood than literally ever before, because–
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah.
Alex O’Keefe: –we all realize this is an existential battle against capitalism run amuck. What these corporations that now own the studios of Hollywood don’t realize is that Hollywood is a union town.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah.
Alex O’Keefe: A lot of people, they see the celebrities, they see the big stars. But behind the camera are hundreds of craftspeople, um workers who are producing the shows that you see. You don’t know their names, you don’t know their faces. But without them, nothing gets made. And we’re about to put that to the test.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, 1,000%. I also want to ask you about some of the hidden aspects of being a writer that a lot of people who are just consuming TV don’t see. You know, there are a lot of people involved in the process of getting writing gigs. There are agents, representatives, managers, like all the things. Can you talk about some of the hidden expenses in having a writing career?
Alex O’Keefe: Well, that’s what I’ve learned. I mean, [laugh] a lot of solidarity on the street right now. Uh. [lauhging] Noisey. Uh. When I was first called by my manager and he said, hey, they want to hire you on this show for FX. They’re going to give you, I think it was like $43,000. You know, I’m a working class guy. I said $43,000? I’ll take it. That’s amazing.
Priyanka Aribindi: Totallly.
Alex O’Keefe: That’s amazing. My eyes started vibrating. It sounded like so much money. And he said, hold up, Alex. That’s not all your money. Let me break it down for you. You know what I’ve also realized is that this is an image focused industry. You got to show up looking like a million bucks if you want to make a million bucks, or at least you got to show up looking like $43,000 if you want to make $43,000. I won an award for The Bear from my union uh the Writers Guild of America gave me and my fellow writers the award for outstanding comedy last month. And when I went to the awards show, I had a negative bank account. The suit that I wore was bought by my family, my fiancee, my bowtie was bought on credit. I’m actually paying off the last payment of that affirm credit that I uh–
Priyanka Aribindi: My God.
Alex O’Keefe: –that I bought the bow tie on, so it looks good on the Getty Images. But to keep up, you have to look the part. You have to pay many dues. And you have to–
Priyanka Aribindi: Totally.
Alex O’Keefe: –live in either New York City or Los Angeles, which are just obscenely expensive. So what does that mean? That means that young Black writers like me, [?] Black writers, Indigenous writers, writers of color, writers who come from poverty, writers who come from very different backgrounds than what Hollywood has usually embraced, they are creating a new wave of creativity and you’re seeing it in shows like The Bear, which feels different than anything you’ve ever watched. You’re seeing it in shows like Abbott Elementary. Uh.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah.
Alex O’Keefe: But we cannot keep making these shows if the studios and the corporations don’t invest in our basic survival. We cannot pay our rent in clout.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, definitely. I mean, what are you hoping comes out of the strike?
Alex O’Keefe: We’re hoping a new deal. We’re not trying to just increase minimum. You know, this is not a regular contract battle. The industry has changed so much then 15 years ago, when the Writers Guild last went on strike. And our contract doesn’t reflect the modern reality of the business and certainly does not reflect the modern reality of our economy. So what we’re hoping for is to create a contract that can create a middle class, create a real avenue of survival and advancement for especially the new wave of young writers of color who are being pushed out of the industry because they simply can’t afford their rent. And there are so many writers who have told me, I work at Barnes and Noble now, and I see posters of the show I worked on. I was a waitress while working on this big show. When these shows are watched by everyone, when it’s one of the dominant exports of our country at this point. We deserve a fair piece of it. We’re not all asking to be rich. We’re not asking for racquetball courts in the Hollywood Hills. We’re asking for basic survival. A middle class existence like workers are asking across this entire country. And if they will not give it to us by asking nicely in negotiations, we have to fight for it.
Priyanka Aribindi: That was our conversation with TV writer Alex O’Keefe. We stand with him and all of our friends on the picket lines. That is the latest for now. [music break] Let’s get to some headlines.
Priyanka Aribindi: A Minnesota court yesterday convicted former Minneapolis police officer Tou Thao of aiding and abetting the 2020 murder of George Floyd. This comes a year after Thao was convicted in federal court for violating George Floyd’s civil rights, along with two other officers. Thao is the last of four Minneapolis police officers involved in Floyd’s killing to face judgment in state court. And it’s worth noting that Thao rejected a plea deal, claiming that he did nothing wrong and that pleading guilty would be, quote unquote, “lying.” But Minnesota prosecutors argued that Thao knew that his colleagues were restraining Floyd in a quote unquote, “extremely dangerous way,” but did nothing to stop them, which ultimately led to Floyd’s death.
Juanita Tolliver: A Montana judge ruled yesterday that state Representative Zooey Zephyr can not return to work on the state House floor. We told you earlier that Zephyr, who was formally censured by Montana’s GOP led legislature last week, filed a lawsuit to allow her to return to the House floor for the last remaining days of the legislative session. Zephyr, who was the state’s first transgender lawmaker, has been blocked from any in-person proceedings since April 24th after denouncing a bill that later passed banning gender affirming care for trans youth. That hasn’t stopped her from actually doing her job, though. She’s been working from a hallway just outside the chamber itself and even from the state House snack bar. Let’s be real, Zooey Zephyr’s doing what she needs to do. But I you know, those those I can’t call them what I want to call them. People [laugh] who sat on that public bench. Yeah. Fuck all the way off. Her attorneys say they’re considering an appeal. Meanwhile, Zephyr’s girlfriend, trans activist and journalist Erin Reed, tweeted yesterday morning that someone unsuccessfully tried to SWAT her. Reed told The Advocate magazine that she checked in with the police in her area months ago because her home address and her personal information had already been posted to far right forums. It’s sickening that this is what this wonderful trans couple is having to do to protect themselves, proactively talk to the police to be like, hey, someone’s going to SWAT us, don’t pay attention to it like, it’s sickening.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, that’s absolutely terrifying. And for what? For doing her job, the job she was–
Juanita Tolliver: Period. Literally.
Priyanka Aribindi: –elected to do and trying to protect people. It’s infuriating. The Biden administration will temporarily send another 1500 active duty troops to the southern border in the coming days ahead of an expected surge of migrants. This comes a week before Title 42 is set to expire. That is the Trump era policy that has blocked some migrants from seeking asylum in the US due to the COVID 19 pandemic. The Department of Homeland Security said that the extra military personnel will not be performing any law enforcement duties, such as making arrests, nor will they be interacting with any individuals who were held in custody. Their purpose is to free up resources for Border Patrol agents so more of them can stay in the field. The troops will remain at the US-Mexico border for 90 days, bringing the total number of troops there to about 5000. By comparison, then-President Trump had deployed over 7000 troops by the end of 2018, which Democrats and even former military officials denounced as an abuse of power.
Juanita Tolliver: A bill was introduced in the House of Representatives yesterday that, if passed, would require the disclosure of any AI generated content in political ads. This comes amid a rise in fake photos and videos used in political messaging. You’ll remember the doctored image of former President Trump being arrested in New York that went around earlier this year, which was unfortunately fake. But it’s already getting used to persuade voters. The RNC recently put out an ad using AI generated visuals to create a dystopian image of what a second term under Biden would look like. The ad did disclose the use of AI technology however, the bill’s sponsor, Democratic Representative Yvette Clarke of New York, said the rapid growth of artificial intelligence is outpacing current U.S. laws, and if the technology continues to go unregulated, it could have serious consequences for the 2024 campaign cycle. Clarke’s bill would make the A.I. disclosure requirement part of existing federal campaign finance law, though it’s unclear how well the bill will fare amid the House’s Republican majority because, you know, they like to lie blatantly, so they don’t need A.I.. [laughter]
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, seriously. I mean, anyone anyone who isn’t supporting this is basically straight up telling you that politicians should be able to lie to you without consequence, which is crazy. We have heard of a healthy media diet, but one South Korean art student took it to a whole new level when they ate part of Maurizio Cattelan’s Comedian, an installation that is currently on exhibition at Seoul’s Leeum Museum of Art. The piece, which sold for $120,000 in 2019, consists of a single banana duct taped to a gallery wall. In a video posted online this week, the young man takes the banana from the wall, eats it over the course of a minute and tapes the peel back up. When asked why he ate the art, the student told local reporters that he was hungry and hadn’t eaten much that morning. Oh that explains that. [laugh]
Juanita Tolliver: All I can visually see is him setting up his tripod to prepare to say I was hungry. Okay fuck off.
Priyanka Aribindi: Seriously? [laughter] Yeah while recording the whole thing. This isn’t the first time that someone has eaten the banana. In 2019, a self-proclaimed performance artist, David Datuna ate the piece’s banana while it was on display in Miami before it was swiftly replaced. While eating the art isn’t normally encouraged, the attention hungry admirers probably won’t face any consequences. Guerrilla art stunts notwithstanding, the banana is typically switched out with a fresh one every two or three days, which is, you know how this installation continues. If you were wondering that and when Cattelan was informed about the incident in South Korea, the artist simply remarked, no problem. It’s only natural that the artist behind a piece titled Comedian has a decent sense of humor about the whole thing.
Juanita Tolliver: I mean, of course, Cattelan doesn’t mind. Look at all this press they’re getting like period. Uh. But also I’m just like, can we talk about the perfect banana ripeness? Because for me, there are no brown spots. It’s delicately sweet with a little bit of a crisp. But that’s just me.
Priyanka Aribindi: I like that. I honestly like a little not quite ripe yet.
Juanita Tolliver: Oh, you like a little bitter dry?
Priyanka Aribindi: Sometimes. Not all the time, but sometimes I’m like that can be a nice, refreshing banana, dare I say. But anyways I, my question about this really kind of is about the $120,000 that they paid, but like–
Juanita Tolliver: Right.
Priyanka Aribindi: –does that include replenishing the banana. Like, what’s the banana fund? How much has been spent? I don’t know. I got some questions. I feel like these people who eat the banana should be required to pay the $0.20 to $0.45 to replace the banana.
Juanita Tolliver: Bless.
Priyanka Aribindi: That’s my thought. And those are the headlines. We’ll be back after some ads.
Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Wednesday, WAD squad. And for today’s temp check we are talking about birds of a feather learning how to virtually flock together. A recent study from Northeastern University involving 18 pet parrots observed how video calls with other parrots might fulfill the social needs of the otherwise isolated birds. Parrots are highly intelligent animals with complex social needs. While they naturally flock together in the wild, a high percentage of pet parrots have diseases that are easily transferred to other nearby birds. In the study, owners taught their parrots how to ring a special bell, after which a tablet would be presented to them with images of one or two fellow birds. Using their beaks or their tongues. They could then indicate who they would like to talk to, and then a call would be requested. The scientists were fully prepared for negative reactions, but instead the study subjects really came alive during these video chats. The birds acted typical to how those in a true flock might, dancing and singing with each other over the course of the interactions. And while the research period has since concluded, the study’s coauthor says that some of the parrots are still requesting to talk to each other. [laughter] So, Juanita, what do you make of this and how soon will you be training your dog to use face time with her friends?
Juanita Tolliver: One, these poor birds let them out of captivity y’all. Stop the pet parrot [?]–
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah.
Juanita Tolliver: Like let it go.
Priyanka Aribindi: No.
Juanita Tolliver: They clearly need each other. And two, I am never showing Josephine how to ring a bell to summon me because that would drive me–
Priyanka Aribindi: No!
Juanita Tolliver: –crazy. Here’s your iPad Jo–
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah.
Juanita Tolliver: Absolutely not. [laughing]
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. I’m sorry. iPad kids are enough of a problem. Like, I don’t think we need iPad–
Juanita Tolliver: Right.
Priyanka Aribindi: –dogs or iPad parrots. That’s so crazy. But I’m with you. I think birds as pets uh no disrespect to anyone who has them. I think it’s fucking weird. And we shouldn’t [?]. [laughter] So there’s that.
Juanita Tolliver: She said no disrespect, but I will promptly judge the hell out of you.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, I think it’s weird as hell. I think pets should be um furry. I guess. [laughter] I don’t know, Like I, yeah, the hairless cats. No. The fish, I think, is a disappointing pet.
Juanita Tolliver: So you just got a roster of people you’re shading with this segment. Okay, go off.
Priyanka Aribindi: I guess. I mean, I guess fish are acceptable. I don’t know. How do they feel? Do they want to Facetime a friend? Because then I don’t know. [laughing] Anyways, just like that we have checked our temps. They are–
Juanita Tolliver: –lukewarm on this?
Priyanka Aribindi: I don’t know, burning up steadily, like getting a little heated in here. [music break] That is all for today. If you like this show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Teach a parrot about Zoom happy hours. Oh, God.
Juanita Tolliver: God.
Priyanka Aribindi: And tell your friends to listen.
Juanita Tolliver: And if you’re into reading and not just how to make $120,000 with only a banana and some duct tape like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Juanita Tolliver.
Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi.
[spoken together] And solidarity with the WGA.
Priyanka Aribindi: We love ya.
Juanita Tolliver: Come on. Like nobody better cross that fucking picket line. Like–
Priyanka Aribindi: Absolutely no.
Juanita Tolliver: –stand up with WGA. Or they’re going to ruin Succession, y’all. [laughing]
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, that was a poster! They were like, we’re going to leak it. And I was like, shit, I believe it.
Juanita Tolliver: The gloves are off. [laughing] [music break]
Priyanka Aribindi: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our show’s producer is Itxy Quintanilla and Raven Yamamoto is our associate producer. Jocey Coffman is our head writer and our senior producer is Lita Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.