Have you seen “Where to Invade Next,” the title of the latest film by gadfly documentarian, Michael Moore? I guess his films are supposed to be funny. But if you like the humor of Ron White or Chris Rock, you might want to pass on Michael Moore. I don’t find his films funny. But wait a minute before you walk away. Moore, I discovered in this film, has a message to which we probably should pay a little attention. And this movie got my attention because it was alternately funny and serious… but entertaining while delivering a message that every American should see.
His opening is not very funny nor is it entertaining. In fact, it is pretty uncomfortable. There is a scene in which a bunch of high school kids in Southern California all dressed in bathing suits or shorts are leaving a party. They had gone to a pool party to which they weren’t invited and they had been told to leave and they were all leaving. For some reason, out of the crowd a cop grabs a young black girl who was walking and talking with her both white and black friends and tosses her roughly to the ground and yells at her when she asks him why he has done it. There is another scene of the young man, Eric Garner, who was choked to death by the police while lying on the ground and repeating over and over and over again, “I can’t breathe.” We watch as the police slowly choke him to death, despite his pleas.
There was a scene of people waiting in line to vote…all African-Americans…at least 300 of them, waiting to vote. I don’t wait to vote. Why do African-Americans anywhere in this great country…why is it necessary for African-Americans to stand in line for hours to be honored with their birthright…the vote? (And why are they profiled and removed from voting rolls? This is where election fraud exists. And it may have been why a woman with 3 million more votes than her competitor lost an election in states with Republican Governors, and Republican legislatures.)
More than any other Americans except perhaps Native Americans, African-Americans should not have to wait to vote. The overwhelming preponderance of so-called Black Americans come from slave ancestors. They have paid their dues. They should go to the head of the line to vote. And they should never be made to wait. The same for Native Americans.
So none of this beginning is particularly funny, the way we think of Michael Moore. It is not funny watching another African-American woman marching with a group of white and black peaceful protesters being suddenly stopped and tossed on the ground violently and then kneed with great force in her back as she lay face down on the ground and then handcuffed, for no apparent reason other than that she was Black and walking along on a street with others. Moore is just pointing out features of our current society and making fun of the way we do things. And these things are part of our everyday lives. He’s giving us a mirror into just some aspects, but the less attractive aspects of American Democracy. He’s making the point that we are not always living in a way that exhibits “American Exceptionalism.”
He shows bridges falling down in Minnesota, with cars on them. That is dangerous, not funny. He shows parents being asked to provide school supplies, even…and this may be funny…toilet paper because in those school districts some things must be sacrificed because of lack of funds. He shows a Marine Captain whose house was foreclosed on while he was in Iraq. Not funny to the Marine, that’s for sure. Over 5,000 military personnel were foreclosed on…some by the man who is now Trump’s Secretary of the Treasury. And this is not funny to those Marines, trust me. There was no reason for that cop to toss a young black teenage girl on the ground. No reason for cops not to check and see if something was wrong with Eric Garner that might have caused him to be unable to breathe. Not funny. Just a message about who we are as Americans…in some places at some times.
It shows the gentle face of a surgeon who was killed as the result of hatred and religious fanaticism. He was only one of several who were shot to death for providing perfectly legal pregnancy terminations for women. It doesn’t show the ruin of the country by people who vote against their own best interests by voting for predominantly Republican House and Senate legislators who go to Washington to sell out Obamacare, Social Security and Medicare for the thirty pieces of silver given them by lobbyists for big oil or health insurance companies or one of the hundreds of lobbying organizations organized, funded and directed by the billionaire Koch Brothers. It doesn’t show the damage caused by the hatred promoted by Right Wing Conservative radio talk show hosts. It doesn’t show the division in our people created by billionaires and aspiring billionaire corporate CEOs who, rather than honest, decent, compassionate physicians, should all be killed by the people, perhaps in public hangings to cleanse ourselves of those who would take away our democratic institutions and deliver us all..Black, white, Hispanic, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant…to slavery or destitution.
But then Moore turns from the United States and on his premise of invading other countries to see what he can take home to the U.S. as booty from his conquests, he starts with Italy. In Italy he meets a couple, a cop and his wife who also works. The spoils from Italy turns out to be their vacations. They get 8 weeks of vacation. Do their employers mind, he asks. No, they say that their employers feel that it reduces stress. They may be right. Italians live on average 4 years longer than U.S. citizens.
But Moore is not satisfied. So he goes to Dukati, the famous motorcycle manufacturer. He arrives at lunch time. Dukati employees have a 2-hour lunch. Many go home for lunch. So Moore talks to the head of the union. The union leader says that they still work for some things, and it was not always easy getting these benefits but for now it seems to work. The owner of Dukati says he is very happy with his situation. He has very motivated, dedicated employees most of which have been with him a long time. What difference, he says to Moore, is it—as long as I have no labor problems, whether I make a million or five million?
And Moore sees a woman with a baby and asks her about maternity leave, which she says is 5 months paid leave to have the baby and spend time with it in its first months of life. No one seems to even question this and most seem to wonder why he is even asking about it.
So Moore tells them that he likes their vacation and 2-hour lunches and maternity leave and he is going to steal them and take them back to America. Then he goes to France.
He seeks out and goes to one of the poorest villages in France. He goes to an elementary school. Even in this small, poor rural village, the children eat lunch on real plates, with knives and forks and glasses—for water. All they drink is water with their meals. And the meals come from a menu prescribed by a chef who designs meals for the schools. This day the children ate tomato salad with mozzarella cheese, ham with mustard, pasta and either vanilla pudding or fruit and cheese for dessert. During the one-hour lunch hour, the children learn the proper diet, learn proper ways to dine and serve others and learn to use their lunch time to relax and exercise.
The children’s meals always include certain things, like fish, or a pasta dish or a stew and fresh produce. But the truly impressive thing about this is that the French actually spend less per child than Americans do, with our bad diets and rushed eating. And it goes without saying these days, that the French children test far, far better than ours. (But remember this…our rich are much richer than their rich.)
How do they pay for it all, even though it costs a little less than our imperfect meals and shorter time spans and less effective education? Taxes. They pay more taxes than we do…but the surprise is that while they pay more, they pay not much more. So what is an accurate comparison?
Well, for our taxes we get fire and police protection, water (although not always drinkable any longer) roads (usually), bank bailouts and wars in other countries. The French get fire and police, clean water, good roads (they can drive at 150 mph on highways), no bank bailouts and fewer wars but free health care for everyone, free college, almost free daycare, paid sick leave, paid maternity leave, 4 weeks paid vacation, free prescription drugs, free nursing care, better schools and a huge amount spent on supporting the arts. And they know where their money goes. The French require that their paychecks itemize what percentage and what amount goes to what department.
The French are much more realistic about sex. They teach sex education earlier and more frankly and matter of factly than do we. Yet their rates of sexually transmitted diseases are far lower than ours and our rates of teen pregnancy are double that of France….6 times greater than Germany and 7 times greater than the Swiss.
Next Moore traveled to Finland which has the highest rated students in the world to see just how long and hard the Fins must push their students to achieve these goals. In the 1960s Finland and the U.S. were relatively comparable in educational achievement among kids up through high school. But no longer. How do the Fins do it? Well, first of all, they have no homework. If it should happen, it would be rare, and one girl says it is….about ten minutes, no more. Furthermore, the children only attend class about 20 hours a week, with the shortest school week and shortest school year in the Western world. In addition to Finnish, they all speak English and usually at least one other language. How do they do it? Well, first of all, the tests are all essay tests, with no such thing as multiple choice questions. Either you know the answer or you don’t. If you do, you write it down. If you can’t, you get it wrong. They don’t use standardized tests and don’t like them but every school in Finland has the same look and roughly the same size and same equipment and teaching quality. Public schools are meant to give every child the same opportunity in any part of the country. Private schools are illegal in Finland.
So, the Western part of Western Europe is doing pretty well, Moore decides, but how about the old Eastern bloc countries? They can’t be doing as well as we are, he muses. So he goes to Slovenia. He goes to the University of Ljubljana and talks with a student. The student says that she pays nothing for tuition or books to and including medical school. Then Moore meets an American. She’s a student and she pays nothing. As it turns out, not only does she get free tuition, but there are about 20 classes at Ljubljana taught in English! Actually, Moore says, there are about 22 countries in Western Europe and South America where college is free. So even in Slovenia, no one carries the burden of huge student loan debt into their working years.
Next he visits Germany and goes to a factory. The workers are on their afternoon break. German workers we discover have a 36-hour work week, paid vacations, maternity leave, government health care and other benefits and a very good income. None of the workers had a second job and they laughed at it? Why would we, they said, when they had struggled to eventually get such good working hours? Years ago, we find out, unions had negotiated, with great difficulty, to get workers on the boards of directors. Today, 50%, half of the boards of directors of large corporations are made up of workers. For that reason, CEOs of German corporations do not make the 300 to 400 times annual salaries of average workers that American CEOs earn. But, in Europe, as we begin to see in this film, people are different. Money is not everything or the only thing.
But what about drugs? Well, Europeans have a different view, but none more different than the citizens of Portugal. For over a decade, Portugal has allowed the legal possession and use of drugs. All drugs. Moore asks several policemen to answer some questions on drugs. How many people were arrested in the last year for drug possession…any drug…Moore asks. Zero. None, they reply. No one is arrested for possession of drugs. There are no drug dealers. The government controls the sale of drugs. Even drug usage has gone way down. There are fewer addicts by half and addiction is not a crime but is actually treated as an illness and treated by state institutions. The secret is that rather than addiction and crime going up with legalization, it actually goes down. There are fewer users, fewer addicts, less crime and more emphasis on prevention and cure. Costs have dropped precipitously.
In the U.S. there may be more to it than just fear of criminality. After all, some of the people locked up for drugs are more dangerous to themselves than others. But there may be an actual incentive for government to keep people locked up. Part of Boeing’s workforce is prison labor. Pretty good incentive,, considering they make only 22 cents an hour in prison. And they can’t even vote. In Florida and Virginia, one in three black men have lost the right to vote because of their conviction for drug possession.
But is prison labor a big deal? Let’s see, we mentioned Boeing but there is also Eddie Bauer, JC Penny and, oh yes, MacDonald’s. And a few more, like Microsoft, Dell, IBM, Lockheed, ToysRUs, Janisport, Victoria’s Secret, Brooks Brothers, Whole Foods, Haystack Mountain, Walmart, Signature Packaging, Sprint, Verizon, Fidelity, American Airlines, Avis and many others. Portugal uses outpatient systems, treatment centers. We use prisons. We have 80% recidivism, one of the highest rates. Norway, for example, with a much more lenient penal system has only 20%.
What about other things? Women’s rights for example. Well, Moore visits Tunisia to find out. Tunisia is actually more liberal than the U.S.. in some areas. Women, for example, constitute 31% of lawyers, 27% of judges, 24% of the medical profession and 72% of pharmacists. They represent 34% of all journalists. They are pilots, soldiers, cops and 50% of parliament.
The strange thing is that many of these ideas, in education and health and women’s rights started here, in the United States. Things like the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment began right here in the United States. As he walks along the old Berlin Wall that divided Germans into East Germans and West Germans, he reflects on the walls that we have put up in this country between one citizen and another.
These walls are artificial and often foolish enmities, created by powerful forces to keep the average American from voting for change, for everyone, not merely a few billionaires and their followers. This film is much more entertaining than I have described it and every U.S. citizen with a household income under $500,000 a year should watch it and take the children.