Thursday, July 5, 2007

SICKO: Thoughts on a brilliant film

Phil E. Benjamin

The massive street demonstration highlighting the left wing union, CGT and banners of the FCP [the French Communist Party], were intended, I think, By Michael Moore, to illustrate the importance of mass struggle to get and maintain important people's needs; and, to also show the broad support that France's social welfare system enjoys. That he chose to highlight the CGT was no accident.

To be sure, the CGT and FCP are numerically smaller than their former strength, especially dating back to the conclusion of WWII when these forces were credited with being the backbone of the resistance to the Nazi occupation; and, then the architects of a New France. But, nonetheless, they are still key to social and economic conditions in France. They still seem to enjoy the inner support of French morality and sanity. Moore certainly was impressed.

Unfortunately, this spirit doesn't translate for left victories at the ballot box. That is the subject of another Blog.

The working classes of France will need to gird themselves as the new Sarkozy government as well as all of the Neo-Liberal European Union will try to dismantle the French and other social welfare systems. These forces will hate SICKO, in keeping with their financiers, i.e., the insurance carriers, drug companies and other parts of the Medical Industrial Complex, who are all set to help privatize and gain enormous profit these great publicly controlled health systems.

Michael Moore alluded to these factors, i.e., post WWII crises, in discussing the establishment of the British National Health Service. His interviews with everyday UK physicians and their living standards, was priceless. USA physicians have been sold a bill-of-goods that they cannot have their cake and eat it to, i.e., fancy cars and nice living. Well, they can. They just have the greed that too many physicians and hospital administrators have grown accustomed to.

He could have added, that at practically the same moment in his infamous 1947 Fulton, Missouri, "Iron Curtain Speech" right wing British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill was proclaiming the great virtue the new National Health Service, "socialized medicine" he attacked the countries that also had the same system, i.e., the victorious and former war partner Soviet Union and their allies in Eastern Europe. That speech ignited the Cold War following the great and united defeat of Fascism and Nazism. The health care aspects of that speech were silenced in the USA since the right wing was gathering itself to impose the ultra-right, red baiting McCarthy period on the USA. And, notably, in the USA to do its part, the American Medical Association was leading the charge against national health care by red baiting any national health program as the same "socialized medicine" red communist plot. Moore did use of artistic methods to illustrate to viewers these issues.

Overall, Moore's treatment of these ideological issues was brilliant. Few if any USA documentarians have drawn the parallels that he has done. Moore involved the left I a way that brings bring to the left, not scare and repel them.

To this day, it is the policy of "Social Solidarity" that continues to govern the social welfare policies of the three countries Moore beamed on: Canada, UK and France.

His inclusion of the Republic of Cuba, well, Moore showed his truly revolutionary, liberal perspective by doing that.

Moore's skillful and simple statements coming from his interviewees, that in those countries what happens to your fellow neighbor is your business. Collective, not individual thinking is needed for health care and other social policies.

The power of labor in France, diminished in official numbers given their method of actual dues collection, in the streets and also in maintaining their own foothold in the French national system, i.e., their Mutuelles Societies. The Mutuelles are governed largely by labor. There probably wasn't time to get into these details, but they deserve discussing.

And through the Mutuelles, labor exerts significant influence on the federal health system.

France is a public/private system. Sounds like something the Bushites would love. Even Karen Ignani, the former labor policy maker and now the often-televised mouthpiece for the private insurance carriers, might love even it. [Recently, Ignani was asked on TV to comment on SICKO, and ready for the opportunity, she attempted to cut it down, but failed on all counts. She made a fool of herself.]

But, in the French system, the private side is labor and employers. No insurance, drug or other profiteering companies. The Bushites and Ignani won't like that.

The basic federal system pays for 75% of the system and the other part by the Mutuelles. All are financed by employer and people taxes. But, in the French system, the Mutuelles, which are tied to particular industries, are able to fashion a benefit system and health care service structure that fits the demographic and needs of their members.

Well over half of the French hospitals are public; and, form the bases of hospitals care. The principles of health care that are enforced in the public hospitals are used in all hospitals in France. Fifty percent of the other hospitals are run by the Mutuelles. The others are usually specialty hospitals run by individual physicians. The actual treatment and employment policies in these hospitals are largely the same.

The governing principles are that nobody pays for care at the time to care giving. And it is totally universal. They recently enacted a law, the CME, to cover everyone including those unemployed. Unemployment is a problem in France, for a couple of decades, so this was a major step. As the film said, all part time workers are recipients of universal, free health care.

The humanity of the Canadian, UK and French health systems comes through. The economics, i.e., that these countries pay for their systems without a burden to everyday people, is also very clear. Nobody could be found who complained about the tax system that gives these kinds of benefits.

Sicko is an amazing film. It is on the same level as the Moore's first film where he put General Motors CEO Roger Smith in his place; his second where he memorialized the lives of dead youth through a stunning anti-weapon film; and his Fahrenheit 451 film where he skewered Bush and the Republicans.

That these films also made significant money at the box office is a testament to Moore's genius. We wait for other films to keep out spirits up toward the upcoming struggles.

The obvious unanswered question, the one question that health activists are leaving SICKO on their minds: Will SICKO make a difference in the health policy debates, with elected politicians in Congress and in the news and information media?

You could ask the same question of Fahrenheit 451. Did this stop the War; End the War? Did Columbine get guns off the streets? Did General Motors start treating its employees and the community better?

Clearly, none of these movies accomplished the ends being raised, but, each gathered more activists to the struggle.

It would be easy to surmise that the art and creative world leads the struggles for peace and social justice. There is no question that they play an important role. But, in the main, the creative and performing world is a reflection of struggle. That is the key to Moore's success.

But, Moore just doesn't describe what is happening; he also illustrates his ideas on what should happen next. His prescription isn't complete, not by a long shot. He makes no pretense at being a prognosticator of the future. But, by being an honest, creative filmmaker he is head shoulder over his peers. His honest regard to Cuba; the "Social Solidarity" of some European countries, including Canada; his continuing anti-war theme; his focus on activists labor groups such as the CGT of France; but, most importantly, his connection of USA people in dire need and getting each of them help. That is what makes Moore special.

There is a Poet Laureate designation for poets who truly reflect our country's best; Michael Moore deserves such a filmmaker designation. He is truly a step above.


What I found so amazing about this film is that Moore smashes the myth of the US as number one - for health care, mortality rates, working conditions etc.. This is going to have quite an impact on many Americans who have been lied to all their lives. And he takes on the biggest lie of all - Cuba and socialism.

Linda Lubin

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