Sicko Is A Question

In the first act of Sicko, Michael Moore introduces the audience to several unfortunate souls who have had to suffer both poor health and poor access to care. But that is not what the film is about. As it proceeds we meet individuals who have been mistreated by giant corporations that promised to protect their well being, but betrayed them when need arose. But that is not what the film is about. Moore takes us on a world tour of nations that offer services not provided in the U.S. They see these services as birthrights for fellow citizens who are human and in distress. But that is not what the film is about.

Most people’s expectations for Sicko probably encompass scenes that are part lecture to school the audience on the dry statistics of health care policy, and part screwball satire to illustrate points that Moore has preselected. But that is not what the film is about either.

While there is an abundance of information imparted in the course of the film, and there is much of the trademark humor for which Moore is famous, the most surprising ingredient is a generous portion of heart. This film is, at its core, a moving drama about genuine people whose hopes and fears are alarmingly similar to yours and mine if we were struggling with critical health issues – and some of us are – and all of us will.

But if there were one theme that could be rendered a conclusion, it would be that “we can do better.” Many critics of the film allege that Moore is merely bashing our current system and recruiting foreigners to help him do it. But I don’t see it that way. I see Moore asking us all a question: Why has a nation as great, as rich, as compassionate as this one is, fallen short with regard to caring for every ailing neighbor. I think Moore is baffled as to why other nations are able to accomplish something so fundamentally necessary for survival while our nation cowers before greedy conglomerates as if they were the ones deserving of sympathy.

After seeing this film, I left the theater feeling that I had experienced something that was enlightening, depressing, and inspiring, all at the same time. And I hope I also came away with a sense that there is work to be done to improve our country and ourselves. In that regard I think it is vitally important to heed the words of Tony Benn, a former member of the British Parliament who was interviewed by Moore:

We must not succumb to our fears and frustrations. There is too much at stake to allow ourselves to be led off the path.

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Kurt Loder: MTV’s Hatchet Man On Sicko

Heavily Doctored” by MTV’s venerable newsreader, Kurt Loder, is an embarrassingly flawed and tendentious attack on Michael Moore’s new documentary Sicko. This tediously protracted diatribe is neither a review nor a balanced examination of the important public policy issues raised by the film.

The article begins with Loder reciting several of the health care horror stories exposed in the film. His tone is deceptively favorable as he describes the purpose of good muckraking. But it doesn’t take long for him to plant his ideological flag. After alleging that Moore is a brazen con man who cherry-picked facts and manipulated interviews, Loder lobs this rhetorical grenade:

“As a proud socialist, the director appears to feel that there are few problems in life that can’t be solved by government regulation…”

Moore regularly articulates his pride in being an American – and one who advocates the fruits of capitalism for himself and all Americans. But Loder doesn’t stop with this ad hominem insult. He continues with the utterly false and unsupported (and prejudicially phrased) assertion that “Americans have never been keen on socialized medicine.” Someone needs to introduce Loder to the most popular government-managed programs ever created – Social Security and Medicare. Additionally, polls show that Americans would overwhelmingly approve of a national health insurance program, even if it would require higher taxes (64% for, 35% opposed).

Still, Loder persists in mischaracterizing the reality of the health care crisis and the response to it in the United States and around the world. In a rebuttal to Sicko, he offers up a short and undistinguished 2005 documentary called Dead Meat.” This film is the flip side of Sicko, recounting alleged horror stories of government-managed health care. Although he devotes six paragraphs to the film, Loder neglects to provide some illuminating facts about Dead Meat and it’s producers.

The film made its debut at the Liberty Film Festival, which describes itself as “a forum in the heart of Hollywood for conservative and libertarian filmmakers.” In 2006 the festival operations merged with ultra-right wing provocateur David Horowitz‘ Freedom Center.

The film’s credits include special thanks to the rightist Manhattan Institute, the Pacific Research Institute, and the Heartland Institute. The latter is particularly notable for its refusal to acknowledge the dangers imposed by global warming or smoking – both of which they feel are frauds based on junk science. All three institutes are partially funded by pharmaceutical companies or lobbies.

The producers have also released films critical of immigration reform protests and what they perceive as a left-wing assault on free thought in U.S. universities.

Health care expert, Loder, doesn’t hesitate to dispense advice on policy matters. His prescription for reform is firmly planted in the free-market medicine camp. And despite the fact that there is nothing identifying this article as an editorial, it is overflowing with opinion and innuendo. Here is another example of his insertion of bias that is presented without context but with the expectation that we accept it on faith:

“When governments attempt to regulate the balance between a limited supply of health care and an unlimited demand for it they’re inevitably forced to ration treatment.”

Loder doesn’t seem to appreciate that there is no system that produces a greater degree of rationing than one that denies care to all but the fortunate. The kind of system that is presently in place in the U.S.

The rest of the article provides incontrovertible evidence that, in addition to being an inferior analyst and a prejudiced observer, he also lacks any sign of a sense of humor. He totally misses the satirical points made in episodes involving French excesses in care and the now famous Guantanamo landing. As such, Loder proves that he is ill-suited for this type of assignment. His readers would be better served if he would just put his sunglasses back on and take his mark on the red carpet in time to welcome back the Spice Girls.

Update: I was just alerted to this column wherein Loder predicted that “An Inconvenient Truth” would win the Oscar for best documentary:

“Actually, the best film in this category is Amy Berg’s devastating “Deliver Us from Evil,” a true investigative report on a shameful cover-up by the Roman Catholic Church of 20 years of child-molesting by one of its priests, Oliver O’Grady. But Al Gore’s environmental alarmism – much of it since heavily questioned – no doubt plays better in Beverly Hills.”

Loder is apparently fully subscribed to the anti-science, free market philosophy of the three institutes cited above (whom I will now refer to as the “Dead Meat Coalition” because that perfectly describes the contents of their craniums).

Murdoch On Murdoch

Time Magazine joins the rush to profile the 21st century’s Minister of Propaganda, Rupert Murdoch. In case you missed it, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Slate, Keith Olbermann, and others have taken turns trying to analyze the man and/or the deal to consume Dow Jones and it’s pearl, the Wall Street Journal.

Time’s piece covers a lot of the same territory as the others, but delivers some choice quotations from the dark horse’s mouth:

“Why would I spend $5 billion for something in order to wreck it?”
Gee, I don’t know. Why did you do it to the New York Post and your London papers?

“When you’re a catalyst for change, you make enemies – and I’m proud of the ones I’ve got.”
Like the employees of Dow Jones who staged a “sick out” to protest your attempt to buy the company? Being proud of your enemies is not exactly a display of journalistic neutrality.

“…if you look at our general news, do we put on things which favor the right rather than the left? I don’t know. We don’t think we do. We’ve always insisted we don’t. I don’t think we do. Aw, it’s subjective. Neither side admits it.”
That’s some pretty fancy footwork. Plus, it sounds like you’re admitting what you say neither side admits.

“My worry about the New York Times is that it’s got the only position as a national elitist general-interest paper. So the network news picks up its cues from the Times. And local papers do too. It has a huge influence. And we’d love to challenge it.”
Asserting that you want to challenge the influence of the “national elitist” New York Times is further proof that you intend to shape the content of the Journal despite your denials.

It couldn’t be more clear, to anyone with a discernible pulse, that Murdoch is determined to burn his brand onto the Dow Jones properties regardless of what promises he mumbles to seal the deal. If the Bancrofts consent to Murdoch’s overtures they cannot later claim that they had no idea what damage he would do. They cannot pretend that they thought the paper’s integrity had been protected. They will be forever culpable for their naivete and their greed. No excuses – just a legacy of shame.

Moyers On Murdoch

Bill Moyers, perhaps our country’s finest journalist, expounds on the evils of Rupert Murdoch, the Media Mephistopheles.

“…Murdoch is no saint; he is to propriety what the Marquis de Sade was to chastity. When it comes to money and power he’s carnivorous: all appetite and no taste. He’ll eat anything in his path. Politicians become little clay pigeons to be picked off with flattering headlines, generous air time, a book contract or the old-fashioned black jack that never misses: campaign cash. He hires lobbyists the way Imelda Marcos bought shoes, and stacks them in his cavernous closet, along with his conscience…”

Damn, I wish I’d said that. Murdoch is actually well represented as Mephistopheles, the demon to whom Faust sold his soul for knowledge. Knowledge, in this respect, is the information that comprises the news. The role of Faust is currently being played by the Bancroft family as they contemplate selling Dow Jones, and their souls, to Murdoch.

Watch the whole essay from Bill Moyer’s Journal.

To Catch An Sleaze Monger

“I’m Chris Hanson of NBC News…”

With those words the cameramen and production crew slither out of the crevices of the simulated suburban home like cockroaches freed by the dark. The would-be pervert is stunned into either silence or stuttering excuses for having shown up for a sexual encounter with a minor. It’s another gripping episode of infotainment that includes all the requisite ingredients for ratings: sex, crime, suspense, confrontation, and instant resolution. It’s great television but it is not news.

NBC’s To Catch A Predator has been manufacturing crimes for three years. During that time they have generated much controversy for “entrapping” suspects without producing convictions. But now they have a bigger problem:

“One of the 25 men caught in the sting – a prosecutor from a neighboring county – committed suicide when police came to arrest him. The Murphy city manager who approved the operation lost his job in the ensuing furor. And the district attorney is refusing to prosecute any of the men, saying many of the cases were tainted by the involvement of amateurs.”

This is what happens when journalists stray from their ethical boundaries and engage in the sensationalistic construction of pseudo-news. However, NBC is unlikely to absorb the lesson. They have made far too much money on this exploitation fare to offer anything other than stuttering excuses for their contribution to perverted journalism.

Neil Cavuto Smacked Down By Tommy Chong

The soon-to-be managing editor of the Fox Business Channel, Neil Cavuto, just got his ass whipped by this generation’s premiere stoner.

Tommy Chong appeared on Cavuto’s “Your World” to discuss today’s failure of the Immigration bill. Cavuto kept trying to steer Chong into concessions on the economy, but Chong would have none of it.

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The interview began with Cavuto asserting that the nation is being harmed by illegal immigration. Chong refused to buy into that stating that the issue was a deliberate distraction orchestrated by the Bush administration.

Then Cavuto tried to claim that the bill that failed today was sponsored by Chong’s comrade, Ted Kennedy. The only problem is that Chong doesn’t embrace Kennedy, or any politician, as his comrade.

So Cavuto switches back to the problem of 12 million “illegals” and the damage they do to our economy. He asks Chong if it was wrong to let all of these people into the country. Chong had a handy reply: He came to this country illegally from Canada and spent the first five years here without papers.

Cavuto made the obligatory references to narcotics (that I’m sure Chong is used to by now) and asked Chong if had been smoking “anything.” Despite Chong’s reputation, Cavuto seemed surprised when Chong said, “Absolutely!”

At this point Chong begin a sustained assault on the President repeatedly referring to him as a moron. Cavuto shot back that Bush should get some credit for the nation’s strong economy. Chong just rolled his eyes and asked Cavuto if all the people losing their homes think the economy is strong. I would like to have seen Chong also point out Cavuto’s contradiction that the country is being economically savaged by immigrants and is simultaneously an economic powerhouse.

Chong proceeded to expand on his “Bush is a moron” theme by pointing our that we have a moron President who started a moron war and rattled off a few other Bush failures. He also alerted Cavuto to the fact that we didn’t have an illegal problem when Clinton was president. Cavuto misunderstood and asked if people just started pouring across the borders after Bush took office. Chong corrected him by saying that that was just when they started talking about it.

The interviewed ended with a bit of a cliffhanger. Chong asked if he could give Cavuto the solution to the problem. Cavuto declined saying that his time was up. Chong persisted in asking Cavuto for just another moment, but Cavuto would not comply. The segment ended with Chong poignantly saying, as the music and graphics swirled up, that they “just want to talk about problems and not solutions.” It couldn’t have been timed better.

I’m not sure what the most significant part of this interview is. Is it that Fox News books stoned comedians as analysts for immigration and economic policy discussions? Is that that a stoned comedian took apart the Fox anchorman? Is it the multiple inaccuracies that Cavuto offered up as fact? Or is it the fact that this rightist front man is about to head up a major cable business channel?

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NewsBusters: Who Ya Gonna Call?

The rightist watchdogs at NewsBusters want to be viewed as the conservative answer to Media Matters. But while the proudly progressive Media Matters still adheres to a strict code of honest analysis, the NewsBlusters trade in ignorance and innuendo. Here’s a sampling from yesterday’s home page posts.

In an attempt to “infuriate those still buying into the junk science,” NB demonstrates that they don’t know the difference between temperature and climate:

“…it snowed in parts of South Africa Tuesday that haven’t seen the frosty white stuff in many decades. Thanks, global warming!”

When a decorated Vietnam vet makes a gift of one of his Purple Hearts to Draft-Dodger-in-Chief Bush, NB’s indignation with the Daily Show’s humorous take suggests that they don’t know what the “Comedy” part of Comedy Central means:

“On Monday’s program, “Daily Show” correspondent Jason Jones sarcastically mocked Thomas’ gesture…”

After Ann Coulter expressed her wish that John Edwards be assassinated by a terrorist, she was viciously attacked, in NB’s view, by Mrs. Edwards. Here’s the headline that begs for sympathy for the demure and put upon Coulter:

“Chris Matthews Continues Coulter Pile-On”

The Media Research Council, from which NB was spun off, issued a press release agreeing with NB’s characterization of Mrs. Edwards. Here’s the headline:

MRC Press Release Concerning Elizabeth Edwards’ Attack on Ann Coulter.

And the entire Edwards/Coulter exchange was a set-up in NB’s dementia. Never mind that the producer told Coulter before the broadcast that Edwards would be calling in and Coulter agreed in advance. Here’s how NB reported it:

“On tonight’s Hardball, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews blind-sided his guest, conservative columnist Ann Coulter, with a live call from Elizabeth Edwards.”

You would think that people who purport to monitor the media would understand what a paid advertisement is. But NB thinks this is evidence of bias:

“‘MSNBC Live’ is brought to you by ‘SiCKO’, a Michael Moore film in theatres everywhere Friday,” read the announcer…”

When the former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Richard G. Lugar (R-IN), broke with his Party’s President on the Iraq war, NB was surprised that the media reported on it:

“The network morning shows all hyped up the recent remarks from Republican Senator Richard Lugar that the war in Iraq is not going well.”

I can’t remember when I’ve had this much fun on a wingnut web site. Their distortions and misrepresentations are so over the top that it makes satire impossible. Keep up the good work, guys.

A New Pentagon Papers

A few days ago, I wrote an article warning of the danger of allowing the government and/or media to avert our attention to important matters through the Art of Misdirection. In it I alluded to the compelling notion of some patriotic Americans exposing the crimes of the Bush Administration in the same way that Daniel Ellsberg did when he brought us the Pentagon Papers. Apparently Ellsberg agrees with me:

“The equivalent of the Pentagon Papers exist in safes all over Washington, not only in the Pentagon, but in the CIA, the State Department and elsewhere. My message is to them: Take the risk, reveal the truth under the lies of your own bosses and your superiors, obey your oath to the Constitution, which every one of those officials took, not to the commander in chief, but to the Constitution of the United States.”

This comment was made at a panel at the annual convention of Unitarian Universalists last weekend. The panel, “The Pentagon Papers Then and Now,” was moderated by Amy Goodman and included Ellsberg, Sen. Mike Gravel, and Rev. Robert West. There is a video of the session at the link above. Watch it. These are three of the principles involved in the Pentagon Papers affair and they relate some fascinating details about an honest-to-goodness spy caper.

After 35 years, most people should be aware of the basic story of how Ellsberg copied secret Defense Department documents and got the New York Times and others to publish them (if not, click here). Less well known is the story of how the Papers moved from the DoD to the public. It wasn’t easy.

Ellsberg was turned down dozens of times before the Papers were published. President Nixon obtained a restraining order halting the presses at the New York Times (the first time in U.S. history that presses were stopped by federal court order). Sen. Mike Gravel wore a colostomy bag as he attempted to read the Papers into the Congressional Record via filibuster. When a quorum could not be held, Gravel convened the Subcommittee on Buildings and Grounds, which he chaired, and read the papers into the record from there.

This is a tale of true American heroism. These people risked their freedom, perhaps their lives, to save the lives of so many more; to insure that Americans, and the world, were informed; to defend the ideals of Democracy. We need more like them.

Let me repeat: We need more like them. I do not say this as a plaintive yearning for a bygone era of dedicated public servants. I say it as an appeal to recruit soldiers of conscience to save more lives; to inform more people; to further defend what is today an ailing Democracy. Daniel Ellsberg heeded the call. Sen. Gravel heeded the call. For all the ridicule Gravel endures in his quixotic bid for the Democratic nomination, he deserves some credit for his courageous participation in these historic matters. I guarantee that you will not look upon him the same after you learn what did 35 years ago to advance peace and liberty.

And now it’s our turn. As Ellsberg said, “The equivalent of the Pentagon Papers exist in safes all over Washington…” Let’s find them. Let’s publish them. Let’s free them and ourselves – again.

Ann Coulter’s Wish For John Edwards

In an appearance on Good Morning America, Ann Coulter described how she had learned from her past mistakes when she spewed messages of hate and discrimination.

She is the featured guest tonight on Chris Matthews Hardball. I guess there is just no low too repulsive for these media bottom-feeders.

Here’s the video of Ann on Hardball.

Elizabeth Edwards called in and challenged Coulter on her hateful comments. Ann could only respond by attacking John and falsely inferring that Elizabeth was asking her to stop writing books.

I really can’t believe she keeps getting invited back on these shows. But as long as she does, we should be hanging her around the neck of the Republican Party until the two are inseparable. When people think of a Republican, they should think of Ann Coulter.

Paris Set Free – Media Still Held Hostage

Early Tuesday morning, the Los Angeles Sheriff released Paris Hilton into the wilds of La La Land. She smiled as she strutted from the jail to her limo. It was like a magical stroll down the red carpet to the premiere of her freedom.

The only network with sustained coverage of the event was – you guessed it – Fox News. They dutifully documented the momentous trip from the Big House to her big house. They reported feverishly of her yearning for Taco Bell and gourmet cupcakes. They followed as her coach drove through the grounds of the Beverly Hilton (a masterpiece of product placement). And they hovered as paparazzi snapped photos and blocked traffic.

We can only hope that our own freedom is approaching; the freedom from ditsy heiresses that believe they are entitled to constant fawning; the freedom from a press corps that thinks this nonsense is news. We may still have a few days of Paris regaling us with the travails of her hard-scrabble life before we are at peace. Then we can settle back down to the comfortable familiarity of her nip slips and reality TV inanities.