Behind the Capitalist Curtain

As a Flint native, I always check out Michael Moore’s films. I’m just a few years older than Mike and lived through and benefited from the same times when the UAW and General Motors brought prosperity, a Working Class Middle Class, health care, education and hope to our hometown and America. So, of course, I love the collective work of America’s prolific, most accurate and biggest-hearted filmmaker.

I used to think Canadian Bacon was Michael Moore’s best movie. Naw, not really, though it is pretty good. Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 are treasures and deserve every accolade they’ve received. Those two are in a class by themselves. But, Capitalism: A Love Story is pretty close.

(Spoiler alert: I’m going to talk about a lot of what’s actually in the movie. Jump down to the last few paragraphs if you’d like to not know details of what’s in it. Hopefully, once you read it, you’ll want to see the real deal. But, see it now, before it’s too late.)

“I refuse to live in a country like this, and I’m not leaving.”

— Michael Moore

What’s not to like about a movie that starts off with Iggy Pop doing Louie, Louie and ends with The Hag doing Woody Guthrie’s “But the bankers and the preachers, they nailed Him on the cross;” exposes the crooks on Wall Street and in the Treasury; exposes politicians of both Parties; stands up for Democracy; speaks well of Socialism; shows common folks fighting back, sometimes successfully; gives us the brilliance, heart and brass ovaries of Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) and even makes the Catholic Church look good?

I’m very pleased that the Flint Sit-Down Strikers of 1936-37 got a little love – and due credit for their heroic stand for Workers’ Rights. The Sit-Down Strike is worthy of a long-overdue movie in and of itself. Moore says Capitalism may be his last, but I sure hope he’s up for a Flint Sit-Down one – I envision a John Sayles-esque drama. Capitalism’s focus on the successful Sit-Down by the ousted workers at Chicago’s Republic Windows and Doors plant shows there is life in the old tactic. The movie also shows Miami citizens refusing to back down and, as Rep. Kaptur righteously recommends, reoccupying their foreclosed homes.

Villains and heroes abound. Starting with Ronnie Reagan and Alan Greenspan; on to Larry Summers, Paul Bernanke, Hank Paulson, Tim Geithner and the rest of the Goldman Sachs brigands now running, not only Wall Street, but also the friggin’ US Treasury; Moore sets out just what the scam is all about. He clearly delineates how in half a century we went from a country where the president once proposed a Second Bill of Rights guaranteeing economic security to all citizens to one where 1% of the population controls 95% of the country’s wealth and the People’s Congress is bought off with “donations” and sweetheart loans from the very banks and other corporations they are supposed to be regulating.

Just compare our current “leadership” and “greed is good” culture and where it’s led us with FDR’s Economic Bill of Rights which assured the general public of 1) a job with a living wage; 2) freedom from unfair competition and monopolies; 3) a home; 4) Universal Health Care (even Nixon proposed Universal Health Care!); 5) a good education; and 6) time off for recreation. Roosevelt stated flat out that these rights would provide “security” for our country. The footage of the Sit-Downers and of FDR laying out his Second Bill of Rights alone are worth the price of admission.

The movie shows the overwhelming support for “change” as embodied in the Obama campaign. It succinctly explains how “Yes, we can” so quickly devolved into “No, we can’t.” The fact is that the oligarchs saw Obama’s support continue to swell despite the constant bleating of “Socialism” from the corporate media. So, Goldman Sachs hastily became Obama’s top private donor; leading a rogue’s gallery of other corporations ponying-up millions – end of threat.

Two parish priests and two bishops take sides with the working class victims of Wall Street greed. Cleverly-altered footage of 1977’s Jesus of Nazareth has Jesus spouting Capitalist bromides and rejecting the pleas of a bed-ridden supplicant with “I cannot heal your preexisting condition.” Detroit Bishop Thomas Gumbleton states that Capitalism runs counter to the teachings of Christ. He notes that Jesus would not have anything to do with Capitalism were Jesus to walk the Earth today. (The irony here is that He would likely have nothing to do with the good bishop’s church, either.)

The Home Foreclosure epidemic gets a lot of play. One family gets paid $1000 to clean up their own house as they go out the door; a home on a farm that was in the family for generations – indignity upon humiliation. People are shown ousted from their homes of decades by the very banks who were rescued themselves by taxpayer billions. Another hero, Wayne County Michigan Sheriff Warren Evans boldly refuses to carry out any more Foreclosure evictions in his county.

Moore’s Image; just another pack of Right-wing Lies

Moore is unjustly criticized by his opponents of never telling the other side – whatever that means, besides naked doubt-seeding. Certainly when billions of taxpayer dollars were being shoveled to these unaccountable crooks, no one at Fox News, ABC, NBC, CNN, etc. tracked down Moore, Nader, Kucinich, Cockburn, Kaptur et al. for the “other side.” And, who criticized Ken Burns when he when he didn’t give any defenders of Abner Doubleday air-time in his doc Baseball?

But here, Moore allows Peter Zalewski, founder of Condo Vultures, a company that buys up defaulted homes, plenty of air-time. Zalewski might have the film’s best line: “What’s the difference between me and a real vulture? I say that’s simple: I don’t vomit on myself.”

Moore even lets Stephen Moore (quickly noting, “No relation”) of the Wall Street Journal editorial board the time to explain how Capitalism is wonderful and Democracy is not. He lets all kinds of Wall Street champions spout their acquisitive, insensitive views. He goes out of his way trying to get the fat cats to explain their beliefs. He gets rebuffed at every office tower he approaches. He stands outside Wall Street and asks the traders for advice on how to salvage the economy as they leave for the day. One wag says, “Don’t make any more movies.” Moore laughs. Not sure what advice they could provide given that none of them that bothers to try can coherently explain such things as “derivatives,” “collateralized debt obligations,” etc., but a rather funny, astute professor sure can and does.

I read the horrible review in The New Yorker just before I went out the door to the movie. The movie of that and other critical reviews is unrecognizable on the big screen. It’s an outrageous canard that Michael Moore produces slipshod, inaccurate stuff that doesn’t even qualify as documentary. He has produced not only the most successful documentaries of all time, but also the most precise documentaries of all time.

The soundtrack is also excellent, as it is in all Moore’s other movies. Moore’s long-time collaborator, Flint native Jeff Gibbs’ original score is superb, setting the right tone over and over.

I agree with this movie 99+%. The sole problem I have with the movie is the pontificating of Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) who lambastes former Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson’s original bailout plan for “suspending all the laws.” The phony DeFazio has had no problem at all suspending the laws himself time and again when it benefits his Big Timber supporters looting our public-owned forests.

I find myself defending Moore all the time. How many other well-off Americans (yeah, yeah, in a way, capitalism has been very, very good to Moore) would risk the threats to life and limb that have rained down on Moore for taking these stands? I know he cannot walk down the street without getting accosted – thanks to the lying swine at Fox et al. In my mind, he’d be totally justified moving to the south of France and never uttering another word.

Dating back 20 years to the seminal Roger & Me, Michael Moore has also been irrationally disparaged for pointing out short-comings, but not offering solutions. Many of my Flint family and friends hold that against him. Well, it’s probably not irrational, as it is done with a purpose by his detractors; those who gravely fear his anti-corporate, anti-war, anti-violence and anti-greed messages.

The fact that nobody threw light, with or without any suggested solutions, on the same, sad dynamic in Pontiac, Gary, Cleveland or Bethlehem or any other of the collapsing cities that make up our former industrial base helped spare them from following in Flint’s fate. Ultimately Moore’s job is not to provide solutions, but to diagnose the disease. And, with Capitalism, Dr. Moore is dead on.

MICHAEL DONNELLY grew up when GM was the top corporation in the world and Flint was as close to a workers’ paradise as we’ve ever seen. He can be reached at pahtoo@aol.com

 

MICHAEL DONNELLY has been an environmental activist since before that first Earth Day. He was in the thick of the Pacific Northwest Ancient Forest Campaign; garnering some collective victories and lamenting numerous defeats. He can be reached at pahtoo@aol.com

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