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Web Letter

There is an attitude in this country that once we pick a team we have to stay with them for life. Once we assume a theory we are totally committed and can't think of any other way to behave. Milton Friedman was our savior for the sixties, seventies and even eighties. Nixon went to China, capitalizing on ping-pong diplomacy. Reagan, who thought he new something about economics, continued the legacy by tearing down any safety walls there were in economics. Strange that the old idiot would destroy unions with government employees. Must have been his Alzheimer's. He was one of the most stupid presidents we have ever elected, but he could hide his ignorance with nice little phrases like "Tear down this wall" and "Government is the problem." Clinton was intelligent but an opportunist. he signed all our sweat equity away with the Gramm, Leach, Bliley, voted on by ninety-five senators. And here we are with a Wall Street that looks exactly like Las Vegas, except that the prostitutes haven't been legalized yet. We have to freeze our buts off so Warren Buffit can fly his private jet to China to hire cheap labor, and we still have idiots yelling "More!"

james L. pinette

Caribou, ME

Sep 25 2009 - 6:49pm

Web Letter

A friend recently invited me to a private screening of Michael Moore's new film Capitalism: A Love Story. The September 16 invite not surprisingly leaned a certain direction: "[Michael] Moore takes us into the homes of ordinary people whose lives have been turned upside down; and he goes looking for explanations in Washington, DC, and elsewhere. What he finds are the all-too-familiar symptoms of a love affair gone astray: lies, abuse, betrayal and 14,000 jobs being lost every day. Capitalism: A Love Story...is Michael Moore's ultimate quest to answer the question he's posed throughout his illustrious filmmaking career: Who are we and why do we behave the way that we do?"

Considering Moore was going to be there for a Q&A after (moderated by Arianna Huffington), I quickly signed on. Now before painting a picture of Moore's new film let me be honest: my belief set is essentially libertarian ("Government out of my bedroom and my pocketbook"). Not only do government solutions not excite me, they scare the living blank out of me. Remember when George Bush declared, "I've abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system...to make sure the economy doesn't collapse"? He might as well of said, "Hide your money, kids--'cause I'm coming to take it!"

Oh, sure, in theory I would like to see everyone with their own homestead, money in their pocket for regular shopping frenzies and no health worries despite eating at Burger King 24/7, but arriving at those goals is not exactly doable unless government robs Peter to pay Paul and or starts up the printing press.

And that view, of course, puts me in opposition to Moore, since he has no problem with government as his and our father figure. That is his utopia. He truly believes warehouses of Washington, DC-based federal workers remotely running our lives is the optimal plan. He is an unapologetic socialist who really doesn't care why the poor are poor or the rich are rich, he just wants it fixed. So not surprisingly, and with some generalization as I proffer this, Democrats like Moore and Republicans don't.

However, I was excited to see a "mainstream" film that was backed by big Hollywood bucks conclude capitalism as "evil." Arguably the most successful documentarian ever, a man who has made untold millions of dollars, was going to legitimately make the case that there was an alternative to capitalism. I sat down in a packed Mann's Bruin Theater in Westwood, California, eager to see how his vision could possibly flesh out.

Moore is a rather simple guy. He is likable. He sees the world as good guys (people with no money) and bad guys (people with money). His Flint, Michigan, union worker upbringing is his worldview. If you did not have that upbringing or if your life started less severe than his, you are an evil capitalist. If, on the other hand, you were a laid-off factory worker with a sixth-grade education, you are the true hero. I don't care one way or the other that he has that view and I am not knocking union workers, but Moore sees the world through a class-warfare lens, resulting in a certain agenda: force wealth to be spread amongst everyone, regardless of effort. Within minutes it was clear where Capitalism: A Love Story was headed. The highlights included:

* We listen to heartbreaking stories of foreclosed families across America, but we don't learn why the foreclosures happened. Did these people treat their homes as piggy banks? Were there refis on top of refis just to keep buying mall trinkets and other goodies with no respect to risk or logic? We don't find out.

* We meet one family who was just foreclosed on so desperate for money that they were willing to accept $1,000 for cleaning out the house that they were just evicted from. Was it sad? Yes. But, should we end capitalism due to this one family in Peoria, Illinois?

* We are introduced to a guy whose company, called "Condo Vultures," buys and selling foreclosed properties. Since he acted like a used car salesman, the implication was that he was an evil capitalist. However, Moore doesn't tell us if his buyers were "working-class" people making smart buying decisions after prices had dropped.

* We listen to Catholic priests who denounce capitalism as an evil to be eradicated. What they would put in its place and how would the new system work? The priests don't tell us.

* We learn that Wal-Mart bought life insurance policies on many workers. We are then told to feel outrage when Wal-Mart receives a large payout from an employee death while the families still struggle with bills. I saw where Moore was heading here, but this was a reason to end capitalism?

* We hear a story from a commercial pilot so low on money that he has to use food stamps. Moore points out that many pilots are making less than Taco Bell managers and then attributes a recent plane crash in Buffalo to underpaid pilots. This one crash is extrapolated out as yet another reason to end capitalism.

I was pleasantly surprised at Moore's attempt at balance. For example, he included:

* A carpenter, while ply-wooding up a foreclosed home, says, "If people pay their bills, they don't get thrown out."

* A dressing down of Senator Chris Dodd by name. Moore calling out a top Democrat? He sure did. He nailed him.

* A lengthy dissertation on the evils of Goldman Sachs. He rips Robert Rubin and Hank Paulson big-time and I agree with him. In fact, I said to myself, "Moore, you should have done your whole film on Goldman Sachs!"

Throughout the various stories and interviews he also weaves a conspiracy (all Moore films do this). The plot goes something like this: America won World War II and quickly dominated due to no competition (Germany and Japan were destroyed). We had great postwar success where everyone lived in union-like equality. Jobs were plentiful and families were happy. However, things start to go bad in the 1970s, and Moore uses a snippet of President Carter preaching about greed. This clip was predictably building to Moore's big reason for all problems today: the Reagan revolution.

Moore sees Reagan entering the scene as a shill for corporate banking interests. However, everyone is happy as the good times roll all the way through into Clinton times. Moore does take subtle shots at President Clinton, but nails his right-hand economic man Larry Summers directly as a primary reason for the banking collapse. So while Moore sees Japan and Germany today as socialistic winners where corporations benefit workers more than shareholders, he sees America sinking fast.

So is that it? That was the proof that capitalism is an evil to eliminate? Essentially, yes, that's Moore's proof. What is his solution? Tugging on your idealistic heartstrings of course! Moore ends his film with recently uncovered video of FDR talking to America on January 11, 1944. Looking into the camera a weary FDR proposed what he called a second Bill of Rights--an economic Bill of Rights for all regardless of station, race, or creed that included:

* The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation.
* The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation.
* The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living.
* The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad.
* The right of every family to a decent home.
* The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.
* The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment.
* The right to a good education.

As FDR concluded and the film ended, I was shocked at the reaction. The theater of 400+ stood and cheered wildly at FDR's 1944 proposal. The questions running through my head were immediate: How does one legislate words like "useful," "enough," "recreation," "adequate," "decent" and "good"? Who decides all of this and to what degree? At past points in history to voice an opposition opinion in the middle of such a single-minded herd would have certainly meant my physical demise! Interestingly, during the Q&A Huffington and Moore discussed bank failure fears during the fall of 2008. They asked for a show of hands of how many people moved money around or attempted to protect against a bank failure. I had the only hand that went up.

FDR's plan hauled out by Moore six decades after it was forgotten reminded me of another interchange--this one from the 1970s. Then talk show master, the Oprah of his day, Phil Donahue was interviewing free market economist Milton Friedman and wanted to know if Friedman had ever had a moment of doubt about "capitalism and whether greed's a good idea to run on." Friedman was quick in response:

"...is there some society you know that doesn't run on greed? You think Russia doesn't run on greed? You think China doesn't run on greed? The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests. The great achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus. Einstein didn't construct his theory under order from a bureaucrat. Henry Ford didn't revolutionize the automobile industry that way. In the only cases in which the masses have escaped from the kind of grinding poverty you're talking about, the only cases in recorded history are where they have had capitalism and largely free trade. If you want to know where the masses are worst off, it's exactly in the kinds of societies that depart from that. So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear: that there is no alternative way so far discovered of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by a free enterprise system."

Donahue (and the video of this on YouTube is classic) then countered saying that capitalism rewards the ability to manipulate the system and not virtue. Friedman was having none of it:

"And what does reward virtue? You think the communist commissar rewards virtue? ...Do you think American presidents reward virtue? Do they choose their appointees on the basis of the virtue of the people appointed or on the basis of their political clout? Is it really true that political self-interest is nobler somehow than economic self-interest?... Just tell me where in the world you find these angels who are going to organize society for us?"

Friedman's logic was what I was remembering as a theater full of people cheered wildly for a second Bill of Rights. How did this film crowd actually think FDR's 1944 vision could be executed? Frankly, it was clear to me at that moment capitalism was on shaky ground. Starting with Bush "abandoning" capitalism to bailouts for everyone to Obama gifting away the future--we seriously might be past the point of no return toward a socialization of America.

Figuring someone else must see the problems with this film, I started poking around the net for other views. One critic declared that the value of Capitalism: A Love Story was not in the moviemaking but in its message that hits you in the gut and makes you angry. This film did not make me angry, but it did punch me in the gut. The people in that theater with me were not bad people, including Moore. They just seem to all have consumed a lethal dose of Kool-Aid! And at the end of his Q&A Moore pushed the audience to understand that while they don't have the money, they do have the vote. He implored them to use their vote to take money from one group to give it another group. Did he really say that openly with no ambiguity? Yes, sadly.

Michael Covel

Henderson, NV

Sep 25 2009 - 12:39pm

Web Letter

The only thing "America's Teacher" shows us is that Moore is incapable of learning anything. His propaganda style has never changed; Roger & Me was funny, but hardly a fair assessment of the automotive industry, and it can't truly be called a documentary, although it is closer than anything else he has ever produced. Blame capitalism for corruption, does he? As if there were no corruption in totalitarian states, which would be news to the Venezuelas of the world. Power corrupts, not capital. Free capitalist societies tend to have less corruption than statist ones, because in a capitalist society, power is dispersed, not concentrated. Transparency International tells us that the US, Canada and Western Europe, the home of capitalism, are the least corrupt areas of the world today. And the US remains one of the few places that immigrants can come with nothing and retire rich, if they work hard enough.

Moore is the ultimate hypocrite. Capitalism is bad, he tells us, but I don't see him producing free movies, and I don't see him giving all of his money away to those who "deserve" it. Ironically, it is through the benefits of this "evil" capitalist society, that this son of a Flint, Michigan auto worker is now a multi-millionaire whose kids (odd for someone who denounces capitalism to pay for private education, no?) want for nothing. He needs to sit down, shut up and actually learn something about the world instead of spewing his bile and ignorance every couple of years.

Roger Simpson Jr.

Charlotte, NC

Sep 25 2009 - 7:55am

Web Letter

Capitalism in American means many things to many people. Monopolies, oligopolies are the result of the laissez-faire economic model that has existed since America was discovered. This economic model works extremely well, as long as there is another frontier that you can move to where the knowledge and the trade you learned is in demand. I mean, physically move to. In America the government had to impose the Sherman Anti-Trust act in 1890. It wasn't just oil where the "captains of industry" cornered the market. They cornered the market in every commodity they could. Ruthless control of the markets in basic food, clothing, and building materials forced the hand of the American government.

My point is, capitalism, as we know it in America, is a very quick and efficient way to accumulate wealth for yourself to own and or build your own castle and save enough wealth to sustain your family and your descendents. I think public corporatism is the problem that Michael Moore is addressing. I don't know, but I think Michael Moore is not upset with someone like Warren Buffet.

Private corporations seem to be much more responsible than the large public corporations that are so big that nobody remembers how that company started. The phase "for profit" in a public corporation means something much different than it does for a private company or corporation. Public companies can be acquired or bought on the stock market. Private corporations are not susceptible to this. Both want to survive.

I don't think you could ever move America to socialism. I think the tax rates will inch up towards what they were in the '60s if we don't get our manufacturing base back in America. We use to play the 3M game "Stocks and Bonds" when I was in high school. Play that game for one month with three other people, and then you will understand what might have happened in Wall Street.

Mark Schlueter

Parker, CO

Sep 25 2009 - 6:11am

Web Letter

I enjoyed reading this and look forward to seeing Michael Moore's new movie about capitalism. I don't think you can argue against education in the building of a mass movement against corporate power, but I think if that is the major aim of Mr. Moore's movie, it is missing the mark. The subject is broad and abstract, although inclusion of the Chicago Electric takeover is a point to the contrary. I believe that a docudrama about the Flint Sit Down Strike is what is called for now. Mr. Moore is from Flint and has a relative that was involved in that history-making event.

The leader of the Flint Sit Down Strike was a man named Bob Travis, who devised and carried out that success. Rescuing his story would be reason enough to make this movie, but his and its story is about the exercise of power by people who seized it in their own defense. Their story is our story, and now is the time for it to be retold. Michael Moore is uniquely qualified to do it--by place amd connection and by the considerable resources that he possesses.

Bob Travis's daughter Carole is long-time working-class fighter herself and was recently a lawyer for SEIU. I am sure she would be of great assistance in this.

A great strength of the right-wing movement has been their ability to inspire, which Mr Moore spoke of in the interview. Tearing down the walls of the welfare state became a romantic thing, unleashing "people's creative energies..." Smashing the corporate machine, building working-class power and unleashing people's creative energies is what a movie about the strike would point to.

I have e-mailed Michael Moore recently arguing for that. I encourage others to do the same.

Steve Townsend

Davenport, , IA

Sep 24 2009 - 9:56pm

Web Letter

When I am confused by the choices that don't seem to square with Obama's intelligence, I remember the Oxford professor who said, "The whole point of a liberal education is to recognize nonsense when you hear it."

Michael Warner

Lompoc, CA

Sep 24 2009 - 8:06pm

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