Sunday, July 08, 2007

SiCKO (2007) review

Watching Michael Moore's "Sicko" is like watching a loved one die before your eyes. If you have ever lost anyone to a debilitating illness, Moore's documentary is going to be virtually impossible to counter. I first noticed Michael Moore--as many of us did--way back in 1989, the other "Bush years," a time of hopelessness and apathy. "Roger & Me" was literally the proverbial bolt-from-the-blue in a lackadaisical period when most Americans didn't want to talk about anything political. People tended not to vote in very great numbers--how times have changed. But what's changed? Quite a bit. Americans are talking about politics again because they no longer feel secure and insulated from domestic and world events. A ferment of ideas is occuring again.

In 1989, the effects of the "Reagan revolution" were beginning to be felt, but most of us felt we were untouchable economically. The Cold War was clearly ending, and it seemed that a peace dividend after such a wasteful, prolonged "conflict" between the Western economies and the Soviet Union was in order. As we all know, there would be nothing of the sort. What we have gotten is more war. One gets nothing without demands, and Americans are only now beginning to demand their stake and their rights again. Moore details the postwar methodology of demonizing universal health care, and it's no surprise that it's tied to the Cold War and the puppet show of Red-baiting advocates of just about any move towards a single-payer system. Both the DNC and RNC share plenty of blame, and so does the American public, both past-and-present.

With the Cold War ended, there began a period of escalation of American military interventions throughout the world (though Reagan's invasion of Grenada in 1983 could be included): Panama (1989), Iraq (1991, including the occupation of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait), the "no-fly zone" imposed on that nation (roughly 1992-2003), the use of troops in the L.A. riots (1992), the Balkans campaigns under Clinton (1995-99), Somalia (1993), Haiti (1994), the bombing of a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan (1998), the bombing of Kosovo by the Clinton administration (1999), Afghanistan (2001), and the invasion of Iraq (2003), as well as illegal raids on Iran since around that time, and up-to-now.

If anyone has been terrorizing the globe, it's the State Department and the Pentagon under the instructions of the Executive and legislative branches of the Government of the United States. With this new example in interventionism--the invasion and unsuccessful occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan--one has to wonder if the Bush administration has give the game away entirely: pointless-wars (to the general public) to stave-off any expansion of public services in American government.

The aforementioned list of American interventions is hardly complete, and it's a given fact that we spend more on "defense" than any other nation on the earth. As Moore astutely notes, we're also the only developed nation in the Western world without universal health care. It should be noted that most physicians agree that socialized health care could be a crucial first-line of defense in any bioterrorism attack. As of this writing, we're still waiting for that peace dividend.Audience reactions are everything. When I attended this film this weekend, the one stunning moment of applause came from the comments of retired English socialist MP Tony Benn. He states to Moore, "If you can find money to kill people, then you can find money to help people."

The charming Benn makes some interesting observations about democracy that's closer to what the average American wants than most in the corporate sector would like to believe: that in a genuine democracy, power flows from the voting-booth and "not the marketplace." Throughout the film, it's made clear that this can only spring from the public "not having it," as Benn eloquently puts it. In the UK--after WWII--people were not having it any longer, and the British have managed to have socialized medicine (however imperfect) since 1948. That was a fateful year for America. It was when that first postwar wave of Red-baiting conservatism splashed into Congress, bringing with it politicians like Strom Thurmond...and Richard Nixon, that late-president that George W. Bush is most like.

Moore credits President Nixon with the current health care crisis, dating it back to a February 17th, 1971 conversation found in the Nixon library's tape archive:

John D. Ehrlichman: “On the … on the health business …”

President Nixon: “Yeah.”

Ehrlichman: “… we have now narrowed down the vice president’s problems on this thing to one issue and that is whether we should include these health maintenance organizations like Edgar Kaiser’s Permanente thing. The vice president just cannot see it. We tried 15 ways from Friday to explain it to him and then help him to understand it. He finally says, ‘Well, I don’t think they’ll work, but if the President thinks it’s a good idea, I’ll support him a hundred percent.’”

President Nixon: “Well, what’s … what’s the judgment?”

Ehrlichman: “Well, everybody else’s judgment very strongly is that we go with it.”

President Nixon: “All right.”

Ehrlichman: “And, uh, uh, he’s the one holdout that we have in the whole office.”

President Nixon: “Say that I … I … I’d tell him I have doubts about it, but I think that it’s, uh, now let me ask you, now you give me your judgment. You know I’m not to keen on any of these damn medical programs.”

Ehrlichman: “This, uh, let me, let me tell you how I am …”

President Nixon:[Unclear.]

Ehrlichman: “This … this is a …”

President Nixon: “I don’t [unclear] …”

Ehrlichman:“… private enterprise one.”

President Nixon: “Well, that appeals to me.”

Ehrlichman: “Edgar Kaiser is running his Permanente deal for profit. And the reason that he can … the reason he can do it … I had Edgar Kaiser come in …talk to me about this and I went into it in some depth. All the incentives are toward less medical care, because…”

President Nixon: [Unclear.]

Ehrlichman: “…the less care they give them, the more money they make.”

President Nixon: “Fine.” [Unclear.]

Ehrlichman: [Unclear] “… and the incentives run the right way.”

President Nixon: “Not bad.”

Yes, Nixon and the GOP are the gift that keeps on giving, but Moore also aims at the Democrats and anyone else who has served the HMOs, pharmaceutical industry, and other sectors of privatized medicine (including the AMA). No one involved in the unspeakable greed surrounding our national health care crisis gets spared. The film even targets Hillary Clinton as a possible Trojan horse against socialized medicine--the presidential candidate is now a darling of privatized care, with numerous donations from the industry in her campaign's coffers. As Moore points-out, she's hardly alone.

Along with this, we get a lot of heart-breaking stories that have to be seen to be believed, as well as testimony from workers within the industry, particularly in health insurance. The institutional behavior documented in these sections are especially galling and outrageous, and Moore has hit all his marks. There are the 9/11 workers from Ground Zero, the people left-behind by the Bush administration, New York State, and Congress (along with the rest of us). It's very hard to watch the suffering of other Americans, and there is a lot of it in 'SiCKO.' But there is more, and there are at least some laughs in-between the misery of our broken health care system. We get a tour of French, Canadian, and UK universal health care systems, and it's enough to make any American jealous.

The stories of the neglected heroes of Ground Zero--and the story of the American health care crisis--are infuriating and despicable, but unsurprising. What's amazing is how little the powers-that-be miscalculated the potential damage to themselves in neglecting them--they literally handed Moore a symbolic-gun: the iconography of 9/11 itself. It's a civic duty to see 'SiCKO,' and rest assured that the majority of CEOs within the health care industry will be seeing it too. Socialized medicine is a matter of the national and political will. Voting can only be a first-step.

Achieving universal health care will not come simply from asking for it, but through organizing and demanding an end to any profit-based infrastructure. It's time to wash out anyone from office who says socialized medicine cannot or should not be implemented. Be prepared to laugh like an adult, and to cry like a baby. "This might hurt" doesn't quite cover the impact of watching 'SiCKO,' but you'll be a better human being after watching this film. You might even begin to notice that most Americans friendly and giving. It's really the politicians, big business, and the lobbyists who are the problem, a minority.