News Updates

Win for Writers Guild, Loss for AI

Win for Writers Guild, Loss for AI

Plus: IRS insanity, robocop photo ops, and more…

LIZ WOLFE

Fran Drescher holds Hollywood hostage: On Sunday night, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) reached a tentative deal with studios and streaming platforms, likely ending the 146-day strike that has brought new TV and movies to a halt. The WGA has won many concessions, like an increased rate for residuals—payments provided when a show is re-aired or, nowadays, placed on a streaming platform—and regulations on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the writing process. But unless the actors union, SAG-AFTRA, also reaches a deal (negotiations are being helmed by Fran Drescher, star of The Nanny and apparently a formidable negotiator), Hollywood will continue to be roiled by strikes.

Over the next few days, nearly 12,000 WGA members will vote on the deal, which includes minimum staffing requirements for writers rooms, higher compensation for residuals, and limits on the use of AI-written scripts. If the 2007 strike previewed issues that arose from the shift to streaming, the 2023 strike can be considered a preview of threats presented by AI.

“Whether the union can secure its A.I. moratorium or not, ChatGPT and its kin are likely to change the industry in some way—if not wholly replacing writers then becoming subsidiary to them, to be used as a tool for generating ideas or sketching out a first draft,” I wrote back in May. “You think Hollywood feels samey now? Wait until it’s just the same 100 people rewriting ChatGPT,” the screenwriter C. Robert Cargill told me then.

Per The New York Times, “more than 100,000 behind-the-scenes workers—including directors, camera operators, publicists, makeup artists, prop makers, set dressers, lighting technicians, hairstylists and cinematographers—in Los Angeles and New York will continue to stand idle,” so pressure remains high on SAG-AFTRA to also secure a deal.

Unfortunately, the worst news is not the AI regulation or the minimum staffing requirements, which prevent entertainment companies from nimbly adapting to new technology that might prove useful; it’s the fact that John Oliver and Seth Meyers may soon return to the airwaves.

The debate stage is but a sideshow: On Tuesday, President Joe Biden will “join the picket line and stand in solidarity with the men and women of” United Auto Workers (UAW)—who demand a 40 percent wage increase over four years, pension plan expansions, and a 32-hour, four-day workweek from the Big Three automakers. Former President Donald Trump, who is the current Republican presidential front-runner, announced a Detroit trip right before Biden did. Trump will be speaking to union members on Wednesday, in lieu of showing up on the Republican debate stage. “Every fiber of our union is being poured into fighting the billionaire class and an economy that enriches people like Donald Trump at the expense of workers,” said UAW President Shawn Fain. “The autoworkers are being sold down the river by their leadership, and their leadership should endorse Trump,” countered the man himself on Meet the Press.

IRS goes back on promises: Remember when the nation’s tax collectors promised they wouldn’t increase the audit rate for people making less than $400,000 annually? (How did that work out in 2022?) This was a critical part of the fight over the $80 billion infusion of cash the IRS received as part of the Inflation Reduction Act. But now, quoting from a Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) report, Reason‘s J.D. Tuccille explains that “the IRS’s current default definition of high-income taxpayers is $200,000 and above” and that it doesn’t intend to tweak it.

“The IRS does not have a unified or updated definition for individual high-income taxpayers,” said TIGTA on August 31. “The current examination coding scheme uses $200,000 as a main threshold even though it is no longer a reasonable standard for high earners given inflation since 2005.”

“The report recommends the definition of ‘high-income’ be revised,” writes Tuccille, “so that the term means the same thing to IRS agents as it does in press releases from the Department of the Treasury and the White House.” Amazingly, the IRS said no to TIGTA’s request for revision; doing so would somehow “deprive the IRS of the agility to address emerging issues and trends.” (Note that this is the same agency that was required by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen back in February to submit a report detailing how it would spend its new $80 billion, which it failed to do until 48 days after the deadline.)

Scenes from New York:

Nothing but respect for my socially awkward mayor:
More here.

QUICK HITS

  • ICYMI: Last week, Zach Weissmueller and I interviewed Johan Norberg, who smacked down some common myths about Scandinavian “socialism.”
  • South Korea made the subway free (rather: taxpayer-funded) for the elderly. The New York Times documented its riders who wander the city.
  • Amazon will invest $4 billion in AI firm Anthropic.
  • Canadian-Indian relations sour, leaving travelers in the lurch.
  • On Friday, Sen. Bob Menendez (D–N.J.) was indicted on bribery charges; this is his second time being accused of corruption. Six years ago, he was brought up on those charges, which resulted in a hung jury. He will step down from his chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee.
  • New term just dropped: “A number of experts with whom we spoke said that younger employees are more comfortable with gentler terms like feedforward,” reports The Wall Street Journal. (I have some feedforward: Stop embarrassing yourselves.)
  • Is drug decriminalization in Oregon doomed?
  • AI x Dallas Cowboys.
  • Sports writer Ethan Strauss astutely breaks down the Dave Portnoy/Washington Post saga: “Journalism is a ‘there are no rules, but you break them at your peril’ sort of industry. This factors into why so many have come to hate it. We aren’t ordained. There actually isn’t a journalistic Hippocratic Oath; we just act like there is. The only real rule is, ‘Don’t make shit up,’ but more specifically, ‘Don’t make shit up in a way that can get you credibly sued.'”
  • Didn’t we used to have another word for those of the gestation persuasion? It started with an m
Liz Wolfe is an associate editor at Reason covering tech, free speech, and China and co-host of the Reason Livestream. She has interviewed sex workerstattoo artistsventure capitaliststech CEOscrypto hype men, and the occasional restaurateur. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and son.

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