I have seen Michael Moore’s movie, Sicko, this week, and I have to disagree strongly with most reviewers of the film. It is not a comedy. It is a tragedy. I cried through large parts of it and sat in the theater until the credits were over and the ushers came in to clean up the seats, just trying to get my composure back enough so that I wouldn’t leave the movie house and go break out the windows at HCA. Bob Dylan’s dream of St. Augustine ran through my head–”I awoke in anger/so alone and terrified/I put my fingers against the glass/and bowed my head and cried.”
Moore’s film isn’t just about the power of the health care industry. He puts that power squarely in context, as one of the chief devices for keeping Americans in line. Caught in the pincers between the high cost of medical care and coverage and the high cost of education, most Americans need to run as gsdy as they can just to stay in place, and have no time to raise hell over the way the government treats them. Moore’s interview with Tony Benn, a former Labor MP (and one of the more radical figures in English politics, truth be told), cuts to the chase: Benn says that, in Europe, governments are afraid of their people, because people feel free enough to challenge the government if they are unhappy with things, while in the US, people are afraid of the government, because here in the land of the free, people stand to lose privileges if they protest the status quo. “How do you control people?” Benn asks, “Through fear and debt.”
This is illustrated, in a way, by a short take of Dubya interviewing a woman and finding out she works three jobs. He seems tickled and delighted, even innocent of what this means for the woman. “Uniquely american, isn’t it? ” he asks, rhetorically. “That’s fantastic!” All the running you can do to stay in place….
Moore’s solution is simple: provide guaranteed health care to all Americans, abolish private insurance companies, and regulate the pharmaceutical companies like public utilities. My own opinion is that he is being overly generous to the pharmaceutical companies—and I am surprised that he neglected the eldercare branch of the health industry, which specializes in sucking retirees dry so that they have nothing to leave their children, even if they’ve been healthy all their lives.
The part of the movie that had me crying hardest was the segment on individuals who have become ill after cleaning up the World Trade Center collapse. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people volunteered to go down into that mess, and were highly praised for it at the time—but Moore treats us to the spectacle of Governor Pataki of New York freely admitting that they are going to make it difficult for people to prove claims that their illness stems from their service to America and their fellow human beings.
But this is America, and the state religion is Economics. Whatever earns the most money is the highest good. Former insurance claim evaluator Linda Peeno states succinctly in her Congressional testimony that she got a big promotion and a six-figure salary for denying someone a life-saving operation that would have cost the company she worked for half a million dollars. The sad part is, she gave that testimony in 1996, and nothing has changed since—nope, wrong about that, things have gotten worse since then. More people are uninsured, and insurance costs more and covers less. Maximize those profits, guys.
Hillary Clinton, who gamely came out swinging for universal health coverage in the early 90’s, has been bought by the big money boys. Nowadays, when she says, “universal health care,” she seems to mean that the government will pick up the tab for anybody the insurance companies don’t want to touch. It’s weird to read her health care proposals—she gets all the facts about the insurance and pharmaceutical companies right, she just doesn’t admit the conclusion they point to—that a for-profit health care system is a for-profit system before it is a health care system, and that makes it part of the problem, not part of the solution. And that’s about how it is for all the “major” Democratic candidates. Sorry, Dennis Kucinich, the media will not take you seriously. Ever.
As I said, I cried through a lot of the section of the movie in which Moore takes 9-11 rescue workers to Cuba for medical treatment,. I cried as a sick, out-of-work woman who needs an inhaler that costs her $120 in the States finds that it is available to her in Cuba for—a nickel. Consider something Moore doesn’t mention in his movie: Cuba is famous all over the world for sending doctors to countries where they are needed, while the US is infamous all over the world for harassing third-world countries that violate US pharmaceutical patents and make their own drugs because they cannot afford to buy them from the US. As I reported a few months ago, big pharma commonly makes pills for pennies that it then sells for dollars. Who are the bloodsucking drug dealers?
Speaking of bloodsucking drug dealers, Bill Frist is now attempting to greenwash himself by shilling for “Onevote,” a worldwide antipoverty movement, while our “Democratic” governor, Phil Bredesen, is playing dumb about releasing poor innocent Philip Workman from death row. That’s the thing about the health care vampires—their private lives give them away. Phil, do you get your jollies from Workman’s suffering? That’s perverted! And Bill, you’re gonna have to do a lot more than give idealistic speeches an the occasional, well-publicized free heart operation to redeem yourself. I know, you can diagnose those Africans just by watching videos of them, but if you really want to turn over a new leaf, start advocating universal public health care here in the US.
One of Tony Benn’s points was that “if we can pay to blow people up in a war, we can pay for universal health care,” but here is a caveat for the US: we’re not actually paying for this war, not just yet. We’re borrowing money to fight it, and no matter how soon we come to our senses and quit trying to subdue Iraq, we’re going to be paying for Bush’s war for a long time. In fact, that may have been one of the secret reasons for the invasion: paying for the war will tie the hands of Bush’s successors, no matter how well-intentioned or even radical they may be. Even if we confiscate all the wealth of all the neocons and defense contractors who have gotten rich off this fiasco, there’ll still be money owed to the Chinese and the Saudis and all the other countries who are still willing to buy our paper. Just for the record, the Saudis have a better health care system than we do; the Chinese do not.
So, if part of the neocon secret agenda is to tie up the US economy so that social welfare spending is not possible, what’s the point? The point is that we, the people, are expendable as far as they are concerned. We can just die…less competition for the resources, y’know?
What job growth there has been in the US economy has been in the “service sector.” The proper name for those who work in the service sector is, “servants,” although that is conveniently ignored in this country. We don’t like thinking of ourselves as servants, but that’s how the elite sees us. Cannon fodder, best steered towards having strong backs and weak minds.
I’m not just badmouthing the Republicans here. The Democrats have repeatedly demonstrated that they are not going to alter the status quo on this issue, or any other. They are going to act as if forcing everybody to pay protection money to the insurance companies, even if you have to create a tax subsidy to do it, is universal health care. It’s time to hold their feet to the fire. If there’s any life left in our democracy, it’s time to challenge the ruling elite electorally. If they won’t challenge the health care monopoly let alone the defense department, maybe, just maybe we can replace them and turn this country around. Moore’s movie has the potential to bring together Americans of every political stripe under a common banner. I wish him success.