Eloquent, if scattershot, diatribe

Posted: October 02, 2009

The Michael Moore Showboat is pulling into your multiplex, and its name is Capitalism: A Love Story.

As the folksy muckraker reckons the toll of the 2008 economic crisis, he waves a scolding finger at aspects of free-market enterprise that almost everyone can agree are troubling.

With mixed results, Moore singles out those who profit from the misery of American workers. Take a walk down his Hall of Shame:

There is the real estate industry, represented by opportunists such as Florida broker Peter Zalewski, who buys foreclosed properties way below market rate and resells them (at a profit) through his company, Condo Vultures.

There is the airline industry, represented by regional carriers who don't pay full-time pilots a living wage. One admits on camera to depending on food stamps. Even veterans of national carriers have seen their pensions entirely eliminated, as Sully Sullenberger, hero-pilot of the Hudson River miracle landing, testified before Congress.

Then there are the corporate vultures like those companies who take out life insurance policies on their employees (unknown to said employees' beneficiaries) and profit from them in death - a practice called "dead peasant insurance."

And why, Moore asks, are all these Wall Street refugees from financial-services giant Goldman Sachs (such as Hank Paulson and Robert Rubin) making economic policy in Washington, bailing out bankers, but letting most working Americans sink or swim?

In other words, the average American can't win. After the bank repossesses his house, the Realtor profits from its resale. And after the company takes away his pension, he dies, and his employers profit on his death without sharing his life-insurance payout with his survivors. Or he's downsized - as downsized investment bankers get bigger and better jobs in Washington.

In passages, the movie is eloquent. In sum, it is scattershot. Organization is not Moore's strongest suit; indignation is. He's angry about corporate vulturism, angrier that hard-working Americans (such as his father, a longtime General Motors employee) are victims of union-busting management, and angriest that capitalism at the millennium enriches the rich and impoverishes the poor. (That GM failed to make fuel-efficient vehicles Americans wanted to buy is a factor that Moore does not consider.)

Still, his indignation is often righteous. He is furious, and you might be, too, at the two Wilkes-Barre judges who received kickbacks for sentencing juveniles to a for-profit detention center.

Amid his gloomy dispatches from the workplace, Moore sees some hopeful signs. Like a successful union demonstration at a Chicago factory.

Of the many sound bites in Capitalism: A Love Story, the most eloquent is from the man who quietly and firmly observes, "People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of what dictatorships are made."

Now, class, identify the quote: The speaker is not Karl Marx, but Franklin D. Roosevelt.


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey

at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com.

Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://www.philly.com/philly/

blogs/flickgrrl/

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