Archive for October, 2009

21st October
written by Mad Cow

Rated R for some language (Apparently the “F” word twice. Oh please.)

Cow’s rating:

Pundits and academics have long concluded that in America we don’t rebel against the rich because we all expect to be there one day. If it weren’t possible to be rich, then to what could we aspire? If we start chipping away at the benefits of the rich, then there will be less to enjoy when I (not necessarily you, of course) get there. And so, U.S. citizens have allowed the economic debacle that has assaulted most of us in the past 30 or so years. In spite of the fact that there is little upward mobility in the U.S.

Writer/director Michael Moore (Sicko, Bowling for Columbine, Roger and Me), avoids complicated explanations of the difference between capitalism and the profit motive. He takes us through a scary narrative of the greedy take-over of the U.S. economy and perhaps the government. It’s a funny movie even though at times one wants to weep.

There’s a lot to be learned here. He reminds us that conservatives who look back on the good old days of the 50s and 60s likely would not want to return to the progressive income tax structure that we had then, when we taxed the highest brackets at as much as 90 percent. What is fascinating is that rich people were still rich in that system. But things changed. Today they are comparatively richer, worrying little about taxes. That’s for the little people, the declining middle class.

During the fuel crises of the 70s President Carter preached conservation and a change to the American way of life. The preacher lost to movie actor Reagan, who essentially said “We don’t have to do any of that. This is the United States of America.” (Watch for the hilarious graphic comment on Reagan’s take on feminism.) Deregulation and slashing of taxes became the way of our world. Wall Street increasingly began to dominate how things happened, with enormous political contributions (including to Obama), not to mention sharing “expertise” and government posts.  But this isn’t an intellectual, linear story. The movie mostly speaks to the heart.

The spirit of the movie is in the depictions of the people, their homes foreclosed, victims of corporate peasant insurance policies on their employees, and workers who were slapped upside the head by their employers. Moore evokes his childhood in Flint Michigan, and in a touching scene, interviews his father while overlooking the devastated town as it is today. He even interviews a Catholic priest and bishop who have something to say about how things have gone. What caught my heart in my throat, though, was the shot of FDR commenting on what he thought of capitalism. How far we have come.

There are surprises in the film that I don’t want to give away, but perhaps the most astounding one is Moore’s contention that when Congress gave away $700 billion to the finance industry, they included few rules of accountability. Moore travels to several banks in an armored truck to “collect” the money for the American people. It’s a funny bit but alas, a joke.

On the other side of the equation, the power of collective action shines through the saga of the union workers of the Goose Island plant of Republic Windows and Doors. When the plant closed with little notice, they were denied earned pay and benefits because the Bank of America refused to allow the company the funds. The workers occupied the premises until the bank, weary of bad publicity after its bailout, gave in. It was the savvy of the union organizers that saved the day. The camaraderie and determination of the group is inspiring.

Moore has been accused of not being a documentary filmmaker but someone who makes films in order to push a point of view. Ok, he’s the film version of an editorial writer. The best editorials give us facts with which we may not be familiar, persuade us with logic, and frequently move us personally. Good for him. Michael Moore is a one-of-a-kind today and we need him. Nobody tells the whole story, but he’s telling very important parts of our story. Yours and mine.

I am still wondering whether we can ever get back to a day when collective action is admired rather than scorned, when we can stop worshipping individual heroes and begin admiring groups of people working together. It’s hard, because so many people today are working more than one job, or trying relentlessly to find work. Who has the time? Thus capitalism has us captive – too busy putting food on the table to be politically active.

It was the big shots who got saved. The middle and working classes will take much longer before they see the end of this depression. Yeah, yeah, businesses needed help and they need to be able to borrow money, but the bottom line is that in capitalism, people equal machines that can be left idle or even thrown out. There’s something wrong with that.

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