In college, I had a girlfriend who was too vain to wear her glasses. I asked if she didn’t feel like she was missing something by not being able to see beyond her limited sight of about 15 feet in front of her. She asked me if I felt cheated because I couldn’t see around corners. No, of course not. Her point was well taken, and she went on to become a very successful lawyer in Washington, DC.
On Saturday, I went to see Michael Moore’s new movie, “Capitalism: A Love Story.” This morning I read the St. Louis Post Dispatch, including the weekly list of critical votes in the U.S. Congress. One of the notes read “Senators refused, 34-64, to strip the 2010 defense budget of $2.5 billion for buying 10 C-17 cargo planes unwanted by the Pentagon. This killed a bid to shift the money to accounts that more directly support troops and their families.” All four senators from Missouri and Illnois voted with the majority. Why? Because capitalism is about profit, not people.
That is not news to anyone who has paid the least bit of attention to the dismantling of the American middle class over the last three decades. But, as with a new eyeglass prescription, the flaws in our economic system are more blatantly obvious when seen through the lens of a documentarian like Moore.
I knew that the military-industrial complex had a stranglehold on Congress. I knew that the prison-industrial complex created a captive workforce for corporations looking for ways to escape paying minimum wage to their workers. I knew that there has always been a hidden force hypnotizing Americans into believing that capitalism and “free enterprise” are as close to God as any economic system could ever get.
But I wasn’t prepared to learn that corporations take out life insurance policies on their workers with the corporation as the beneficiary. In the trade, these are called “dead peasant” policies, and the tax code is structured to benefit the employer whether the workers die or not. One very difficult-to-believe story in Moore’s movie involved a young husband who buried his wife and was left with over $100,000 in hospital bills. Her employer collected more than that from the life insurance policy on her (which she and her husband never knew about) and KEPT THE MONEY.
We all know that scavenge/hauling companies make pretty good money clearing out foreclosed houses and apartments. Even scavengers have to make a living. But, in Moore’s movie, we meet an older couple who lost the farm that had been in the wife’s family for three generations. The bank/mortgage company paid the couple $1,000 to clean out their own house. With no place to go with their furniture, they burned it all in the front yard.
The movie received mixed reviews. Roger Ebert wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times that the title of the movie is never explained. He wonders, “Maybe it’s that capitalism means never having to say you’re sorry.”
Ebert and several other reviewers zero in on the film footage of Franklin Roosevelt reading what he called his “Second Bill of Rights” into a camera. The occasion was Roosevelt’s last State of the Union Address, and, being too ill to give the speech before Congress, he read it for his radio audience. When the speech ended, he invited newsreel cameramen to film him reading the list of rights that he believed all Americans deserved. These included a decent-paying job, a good education, health care and other basic necessities such as housing.
The strange and depressing part of the story is that the victorious Allies after the war wrote benefits and rights into the constitutions of the vanquished countries of Japan, German and Italy that Americans never got. And still don’t have.
Roger Ebert and I are both amazed at how the current economic meltdown is not being blamed on the capitalists who gambled with their investors’ wealth and lost, but on President Obama’s “government takeover of health care.” Ebert says, “That corporations and financial institutions continue to exploit the majority of Americans, including the tea baggers and Town Hall demonstrators, is a story that hasn’t been told.”
I came out of Michael Moore’s movie ready to join a revolt of the people with as much anger and desperation as voiced by the baggers. They have been raped, pillaged and plundered by greedy corporations left to their own devices because of deregulation. They’ve lost their jobs and pensions along with the destruction of the labor unions. And now they are being led as if in a trance to rallies such as the one led by Carl Bearden of Americans for Prosperity in Washington, DC, over the weekend.
The capitalist propaganda machine can convince us that up is down, yes is no and that the wolf at the door is the 70% of American physicians who support a public health insurance option. Is this crazy or what?
Moore, of course, will once again be vilified as the great Satan even though he’s absolutely right that Jesus didn’t ask the sick people he cured whether they had health insurance or a pre-existing condition.
Unregulated capitalism is fundamentally immoral. Allowing 1% of the population to suck up 90% of the wealth in our society and then preach their anti-tax mantra to us is obscene. We don’t stand a chance of recovering anything approaching the safe, secure lives the American middle class used to enjoy until enough of us realize we’ve been drugged into believing we really are “dead peasants” to the corporations that run our country.