Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Capital Problem (Movie Review) by Alison Ross

A Capital Problem
by Alison Ross

I have often admired Michael Moore for being the wickedly funny, fiercely compassionate liberal agitator that he is, but almost as equally I have loathed him for detracting from his own laudable qualities by committing some near-sins to celluloid, as well as for at times recklessly betraying his own progressive ethos. Two cases in point: In his movie, Sicko, he hyper-romanticizes the European healthcare systems, and during the 2004 elections, he derided Nader in favor of Kerry.

Sin number one was egregious because as wonderful as universal healthcare can be in Europe, it is not by any means free nor perfect - and yet implicit in Moore's movie is both of these glorified ideas.

Now, mind you, I am FOR universal healthcare, but I am also for propagating the truth. Unenlightened viewers of Sicko deserved to know the a) the Euro healthcare systems do have their pitfalls, even as they are vastly superior to the American one, and b) you must pay higher taxes in order to reap the benefits of universal healthcare. There is nothing whatsoever WRONG with higher taxes that profit the common welfare, but Moore was ridiculously remiss in excluding this salient point from his movie. It tainted the legitimacy of his assertions. He also painted far too pretty of a picture of the healthcare systems and socialized lifestyles in Europe. They surpass those of America, to be sure, but that doesn't mean we should view them through rose-tinted spectacles. They should be presented for what they are, blemishes and all.

Sin number two was egregious because up until the 2004 elections, Moore had expressed a wary jadedness toward the spine-lacking, ass-licking Democrats. In 2001, he had been a fervent advocate for progressive independent Ralph Nader, and frequently decried the toxicity of the two-party duopoly. So why the switch to Democract Kerry in 2004? Well, it would be hypocritical of me to impugn him for that given that I too voted for Kerry over Nader - but I did so WITHOUT MOCKING Nader, and instead conceding my compromise as a necessary gesture given our archaic electoral system. I still advocated for Nader and expressed my ardent regard for his feisty and indefatigable adherence to humanitarian ideals. I never once considered mocking him as a way to deflect focus from my sell-out move, or to cushion the chagrin over my compromise.

So it's no surprise that given his proclivity for derailing his own credibility, Moore's latest movie is also crippled by careless oversights.

To be fair, a movie that covers such a broad topic as capitalism will inevitably lack SOMETHING. One cannot possibly hope to target every pitfall of such a system. Of course, Moore does his best to target some of the main defects of capitalism that symbolize the monumental failings of the overall system. Nonetheless, he overlooks one major weakness of the system, and this to me is an egregious oversight. But more about that later.

The axis on which the movie spins is what could be termed the Axis of Evil: The mortgage meltdown, rampant layoffs, and crass corporate profiteering. The scenes that are laid out in support of his thesis are compellingly appalling.

But Moore almost completely glosses over one major victim of the capitalist system: homelessness. He does touch on the subject, of course, via anecdotal scenes about two families who face foreclosure. And these scenes shake us to the core. But Moore could have been so much bolder in his portrayal of the causes of homelessness in a capitalist system. The film The Soloist, for example, for all its flaws, devastatingly depicted the homeless and mentally ill on Skid Row. Moore could have taken a cue from that movie and done the same: showing tent cities, clusters of homeless sleeping under bridges, endless soup lines, and so on. For homelessness is, in my view, the very crux of the perils of capitalism.

Another angle Moore might have taken is the fact that perhaps capitalism PER SE is not the problem, but rather the way it’s executed in the United States. Perhaps small-scale socialized capitalism ala some western European systems is the way to go. Granted, there are problems with those systems too, but it’s the American model of extreme laissez faire that seems to be the most poisonously problematic.

Moore’s movies have incrementally moved from medium-sized themes like layoffs in Detroit (Roger and Me) to much bigger themes like gun control (Bowling for Columbine), terrorism and government response to it (Farenheit 9/111), and now capitalism. I have enjoyed each of his films for what they are, while always harboring reservations. I do admire Moore’s tenacious cinematic rabble-rousing. He is a paragon of fiery compassion, and I suspect that his films are a mechanism for him to sublimate his righteous rage at humanity’s inhumanity into something more creative and constructive.

The problem with each of his films is, they are often more rhetorical in flavor, rather than serving as explicit calls to action. I think it’s the latter which practically dooms his purpose; his films need to offer substantial impetus for people to act, rather than merely urging us to think more critically about the issue. To his credit, he does offer solutions at times, but he does so timidly and almost circumventionally. Rarely does he spell out assertive, concrete ways in which we can rectify the issue at hand.

This is true of Capitalism. By the end, we are disgusted and outraged by the avariciousness and immorality on display, but we are not given a set of tools with which to work to repair the problem. We need to channel our anger into action, yet our anger is not granted any sort of outlet. If Moore offers solutions, they are too murky and vague for this viewer to grasp.

Still, all in all, Capitalism a solid film that offers incisive insights into the feckless economic system that has mystifyingly become the most vaunted in the entire world.

Editor's note: Below are some of Moore's CONCRETE ways in which we can combat the abuses of the system. I wish he had included these in his film.

"Michael Moore's Action Plan: 15 Things Every American Can Do Right Now"

You've Seen the Movie -- Now It's Time to ACT!

Thursday, October 22, 2009


It's the #1 question I'm constantly asked after people see my movie: "OK -- so NOW what can I DO?!"

You want something to do? Well, you've come to the right place! 'Cause I got 15 things you and I can do right now to fight back and try to fix this very broken system.

Here they are:


1. Declare a moratorium on all home evictions. Not one more family should be thrown out of their home. The banks must adjust their monthly mortgage payments to be in line with what people's homes are now truly worth -- and what they can afford. Also, it must be stated by law: If you lose your job, you cannot be tossed out of your home.

2. Congress must join the civilized world and expand Medicare For All Americans. A single, nonprofit source must run a universal health care system that covers everyone. Medical bills are now the #1 cause of bankruptcies and evictions in this country. Medicare For All will end this misery. The bill to make this happen is called H.R. 3200. You must call AND write your members of Congress and demand its passage, no compromises allowed.

3. Demand publicly-funded elections and a prohibition on elected officials leaving office and becoming lobbyists. Yes, those very members of Congress who solicit and receive millions of dollars from wealthy interests must vote to remove ALL money from our electoral and legislative process. Tell your members of Congress they must support campaign finance bill H.R.1826.

4. Each of the 50 states must create a state-owned public bank like they have in North Dakota. Then congress MUST reinstate all the strict pre-Reagan regulations on all commercial banks, investment firms, insurance companies -- and all the other industries that have been savaged by deregulation: Airlines, the food industry, pharmaceutical companies -- you name it. If a company's primary motive to exist is to make a profit, then it needs a set of stringent rules to live by -- and the first rule is "Do no harm." The second rule: The question must always be asked -- "Is this for the common good?" (Click here for some info about the state-owned Bank of North Dakota.)

5. Save this fragile planet and declare that all the energy resources above and beneath the ground are owned collectively by all of us. Just like they do it in Sarah Palin's socialist Alaska. We only have a few decades of oil left. The public must be the owners and landlords of the natural resources and energy that exists within our borders or we will descend further into corporate anarchy. And when it comes to burning fossil fuels to transport ourselves, we must cease using the internal combustion engine and instruct our auto/transportation companies to rehire our skilled workforce and build mass transit (clean buses, light rail, subways, bullet trains, etc.) and new cars that don't contribute to climate change. (For more on this, here's a proposal I wrote in December.) Demand that General Motors' de facto chairman, Barack Obama, issue a JFK man-on-the-moon-style challenge to turn our country into a nation of trains and buses and subways. For Pete's sake, people, we were the ones who invented (or perfected) these damn things in the first place!!


1. Each of us must get into the daily habit of taking 5 minutes to make four brief calls: One to the President (202-456-1414), one to your Congressperson (202-224-3121) and one to each of your two Senators (202-224-3121). To find out who represents you, click here. Take just one minute on each of these calls to let them know how you expect them to vote on a particular issue. Let them know you will have no hesitation voting for a primary opponent -- or even a candidate from another party -- if they don't do our bidding. Trust me, they will listen. If you have another five minutes, click here to send them each an email. And if you really want to drop an anvil on them, send them a snail mail letter!

2. Take over your local Democratic Party. Remember how much fun you had with all those friends and neighbors working together to get Barack Obama elected? YOU DID THE IMPOSSIBLE. It's time to re-up! Get everyone back together and go to the monthly meeting of your town or county Democratic Party -- and become the majority that runs it! There will not be many in attendance and they will either be happy or in shock that you and the Obama Revolution have entered the room looking like you mean business. President Obama's agenda will never happen without mass grass roots action -- and he won't feel encouraged to do the right thing if no one has his back, whether it's to stand with him, or push him in the right direction. When you all become the local Democratic Party, send me a photo of the group and I'll post it on my website.

3. Recruit someone to run for office who can win in your local elections next year -- or, better yet, consider running for office yourself! You don't have to settle for the incumbent who always expects to win. You can be our next representative! Don't believe it can happen? Check out these examples of regular citizens who got elected: State Senator Deb Simpson, California State Assemblyman Isadore Hall, Tempe, Arizona City Councilman Corey Woods, Wisconsin State Assemblyman Chris Danou, and Washington State Representative Larry Seaquist. The list goes on and on -- and you should be on it!

4. Show up. Picket the local branch of a big bank that took the bailout money. Hold vigils and marches. Consider civil disobedience. Those town hall meetings are open to you, too (and there's more of us than there are of them!). Make some noise, have some fun, get on the local news. Place "Capitalism Did This" signs on empty foreclosed homes, closed down businesses, crumbling schools and infrastructure. (You can download them from my website.)

5. Start your own media. You. Just you (or you and a couple friends). The mainstream media is owned by corporate America and, with few exceptions, it will never tell the whole truth -- so you have to do it! Start a blog! Start a website of real local news (here's an example: The Michigan Messenger). Tweet your friends and use Facebook to let them know what they need to do politically. The daily papers are dying. If you don't fill that void, who will?


1. Take your money out of your bank if it took bailout money and place it in a locally-owned bank or, preferably, a credit union.

2. Get rid of all your credit cards but one -- the kind where you have to pay up at the end of the month or you lose your card.

3. Do not invest in the stock market. If you have any extra cash, put it away in a savings account or, if you can, pay down on your mortgage so you can own your home as soon as possible. You can also buy very safe government savings bonds or T-bills. Or just buy your mother some flowers.

4. Unionize your workplace so that you and your coworkers have a say in how your business is run. Here's how to do it (more info here). Nothing is more American than democracy, and democracy shouldn't be checked at the door when you enter your workplace. Another way to Americanize your workplace is to turn your business into a worker-owned cooperative. You are not a wage slave. You are a free person, and you giving up eight hours of your life every day to someone else is to be properly compensated and respected.

5. Take care of yourself and your family. Sorry to go all Oprah on you, but she's right: Find a place of peace in your life and make the choice to be around people who are not full of negativity and cynicism. Look for those who nurture and love. Turn off the TV and the Blackberry and go for a 30-minute walk every day. Eat fruits and vegetables and cut down on anything that has sugar, high fructose corn syrup, white flour or too much sodium (salt) in it (and, as Michael Pollan says, "Eat (real) food, not too much, mostly plants"). Get seven hours of sleep each night and take the time to read a book a month. I know this sounds like I've turned into your grandma, but, dammit, take a good hard look at Granny -- she's fit, she's rested and she knows the names of both of her U.S. Senators without having to Google them. We might do well to listen to her. If we don't put our own "oxygen mask" on first (as they say on the airplane), we will be of no use to the rest of the nation in enacting any of this action plan!

I'm sure there are many other ideas you can come up with on how we can build this movement. Get creative. Think outside the politics-as-usual box. BE SUBVERSIVE! Think of that local action no one else has tried. Behave as if your life depended on it. Be bold! Try doing something with reckless abandon. It may just liberate you and your community and your nation.

And when you act, send me your stories, your photos and your video -- and be sure to post your ideas in the comments beneath this letter on my site so they can be shared with millions.

C'mon people -- we can do this! I expect nothing less of all of you, my true and trusted fellow travelers!

Michael Moore

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