Like the track and field records broken during the steroids era, grim economic statistics are piling up. Yet, we seem paralyzed.
Consider health care. The Census Bureau announced last month that more than 17 percent of the people in the western United States are without health care. And if we have health insurance, most of us have a plan that is as harder to navigate than Emeryville rush hour traffic. So while many of our loved ones are in dire straits, all that most of us do is voyeuristically watch the debates in Washington as the health care behemoths lobby any progressive change into oblivion. It is like we were watching As the World Turns. Who, we wonder, will Olympia Snowe end up snuggling with?
Speaking to our ennui, Michael Moore recently enunciated a fifteen-point program that Americans can follow to fight back. I am a big fan of Moore. His movies take on major societal inequities and expose rotten realities. And he does it in a fun and engaging way, an important attribute in our stimulus-saturated lives. He is a troubadour for the average American, especially in the fly-over country between the coasts. Critics carp about his impressionistic activist journalism and claim that he plays fast and loose with the facts. But given his empathy for Middle Americans, his action plan deserves a hearing.
His suggestions, posted on his web site, are a mixture of whimsy, self-protection, democratic activity, and radical ideas directed at seemingly unsolvable problems. He breaks his program into three parts. The first group targets ideas on which Congress must immediately act. This includes an immediate stop to home evictions, action on universal health care, and work on bank regulations. He hones in on the unseemly relationship between politicians and lobbyists. Lobbyists in Washington are a locust swarm eating everything in sight. Half of those who leave Congress transform themselves into locusts to stay to lobby and rake in the big bucks. In the health-care debates there are reports of two lobbyists per member of Congress just from some parts of the industry alone.
Moore's most unique proposal in this area involves energy. He argues that as long as ownership of natural resources is held privately, climate change cannot be tackled. Of course the opposite is the case now. Even on our public lands private drilling is the rule, not surprisingly resulting in scandals over corporations fiddling with extraction numbers that determine the royalty amounts owed to the government. How energy could be made a common resource is a difficult concept to contemplate, but it is something worth thinking about.
His second area of activity focuses on ways to ramp up political engagement. Here, his suggestions would not offend the League of Women Voters. He advocates that each of us spend five minutes a day contacting one or more elected officials. He wants us to take over the Democratic Party from the bottom up. He also wants us to get out of our houses and onto the streets, or at least into common meeting rooms. In this way he is taking on "solitarity," the concept coined by Stephen Colbert that mocks those of us who never leave our homes but sit in front of our computers churning out progressive blog posts and organizing social media events. Moore's coolest idea here is to begin putting "Capitalism Did This" signs on each local eyesore and abandoned building. I am a little surprised that the East Bay's underemployed creative class has not followed this suggestion.
The filmmaker's last group of ideas is directed at how we protect ourselves "until we get through this mess." He advocates a relief plan for each person and family. I was recently on a panel with a social worker from Canada who pointed out that social workers were being increasingly called on to do "relief work" in this Great Recession. Relief work recalls the raison d'être of that profession in the aftermath of the Depression and the World Wars.
Moore believes that to take care of ourselves until things get better, we should take our money out of Tarp'ed banks and the stock market. The idea of boycotting the financial institutions that took money from the federal government yet pay huge bonuses is gaining steam, even among some mainstream commentators like Dylan Ratigan, who recently left CNBC's stable of business sycophants for a gig with MSNBC. George Soros pointed out last week that the recently announced profits of Goldman Sachs and others were simple "gifts from the state." Why should we reward those who get these government gifts? Moore is a big fan of local banks, credit unions, and U.S. Treasury bills. He advocates a mass credit card reduction, with each family only keeping one. A mass credit card burning would be a fun event to have.
Finally, Moore advocates a return to simplicity, asking us to emulate our grandmothers. Sounds tired and boring, right? But the platitudes about moderation and wholesomeness that they gave us, which may once have seemed irritating, now look like sage advice. And, since there is not enough work to go around, Moore points out that there is no excuse for not getting enough sleep.
I applaud Moore for making this list, even if many of his suggestions for change do not seem to have the power of his analysis of the problems. Much of the reason that the American people seem paralyzed in the face of these mounting human and economic problems at home, as well as with the continuing wars around the globe, is the lack of a proper alternative, or even of a course of action for change that would seem to make a difference. We all know that something is amiss, but what do we do about it?
To his credit, Moore places an action plan on the agenda, and, for the "deer in the headlights" populace that we have become, that is a fine place to start.
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