Friday, October 02, 2009

Capitalism on Trial

October 2, 2009, 9:20 a.m.

Michael Moore, Ralph Nader, Supreme Court Day, and
"Master Harold . . . and the boys"

(brought to you by*)

At the University of Iowa College of Law it's Supreme Court Day. At 1000 movie theaters across America it's "Capitalism: A Love Story." In the bookstores is Ralph Nader's new book -- are you ready for this? -- a novel, or as he calls it a "practical utopia," and a big one in physical size, imagination and scope: Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us.

And if you haven't seen it yet, tonight and tomorrow night (October 3 and 4) are the last nights for the must-see local Dreamwell performance of "Master Harold . . . and the boys," 7:30 at 10 South Gilbert (although otherwise unaffiliated with the Unitarian-Universalist Church). Not only is this play brilliantly written, acted and directed, it has a message for America in general, and Iowa City in particular, as we continue to struggle with the remnants of racism in our midst, as much as a post-apartheid South Africa once did.

Moore's new film has been called "moving beyond words" (New York Times), a "magnum opus" (Time), "scathing, effective and hilarious" (Bloomberg), "warmly received" (AP), "quintessential Moore" (USA Today), "classic" (Los Angeles Times), "one of his best films" (Variety; Jay Leno said it's not just "one of" it is "his best"), a "fireball of a movie [that] could change your life" (Rolling Stone), "rousing and entertaining" (The Independent), playing to what The Guardian says has been "tumultuous applause."

There will again be those with a different view, who will complain that this is not a true documentary. Well, of course not. He never said it was. His is a new genre of film: docu-tainment. Go and enjoy it. Millions do. If you learn something along the way, so much the better.

It opens in Iowa City this evening. Here's Michael's Web site for the film, "Capitalism: A Love Story."

Ironically, Ralph Nader is not an anti-capitalist. He is, if anything, trying to save the capitalist system from itself in order than it may continue with a little more positive impact on the people than now. (For all we know Michael Moore, down deep, may be doing the same. After all, he's done all right financially in this economy. But if he's truly an ideological capitalist it's less obvious from his films so far.)

Here's Ivey Doyal's clean Web site for Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us., complete with a roll of very generous endorsements of the book.

And here is Ralph Nader's explanation of his "practical utopia" on WNYC in New York on September 23 of last week:

During the 1970s, Ralph Nader could fairly be credited with more progressive legislation than any individual U.S. Senator. He has been one of the most creative thinkers regarding the organization and funding of citizen movements, such as his "Public Interest Research Groups" ("PIRGs") and "Citizen Utility Boards ("CUBs"). He's been generous with his time, money, and willingness to give others the credit -- creating the innovative idea, implementing it, attracting others to run it, spinning it off to them, and funding its beginning.

During the 1980s and beyond he became increasingly discouraged with the democratic possibilities under our two party system, as both parties grew ever more dependent on the funding from corporations and other special interests. The differences between them existed in some areas, but they were not very noticeable when it came to corporate subsidies and tax breaks or the military-industrial-complex's Pentagon budget.

We are witnessing as I write this a real disconnect; the distance has become ever greater between Washington and the rest of the country. While a majority of Americans (along with some very candid generals) think a "military win in Afghanistan" is an oxymoron, those politicians funded by the military-industrial complex think sending more troops there is a really terrific idea. The NRA is able to trump the 80% of Americans who think our gun laws may have something to do with our nation's highest-in-the-world deaths from handguns. Big Pharma is invited to the White House for a closed-door deal that will prevent negotiating down their excessive prescription prices. A clear plurality-to-majority of Americans want universal-single-payer health care -- and it's now touch-and-go to unlikely they're even going to get a "public option." Instead of creating government jobs, like FDR did in the last "Great Depression," Congress and the President chose to fund corporate CEOs and bankers -- profits over people, corporations over constituents.

For Nader's entire 20th Century career he rebuffed the pleas of Americans that he run for office. He felt, correctly, that he could get more done during those years as a "Public Citizen," as he called his role, than with the perceptions of conflict of interest that accompanying public office.

But as "pay to play" increasingly became the accepted norm in Washington, the parties grew closer to each other in their support of the special interests that were their largest contributors, and Nader relented. The days of 1970s-style reform were over. Someone with his passion for making America the best that it could be realized that something new had to be tried.

He agreed to run for president, to see if the threat of a third party might -- as it had in America's earlier years -- move the parties' leadership closer to their constituents' best interests. His efforts contributed to the progressive movement in many ways. But those efforts also produced a venomous response from those Democrats who put re-election of Democrats, and unquestioning party loyalty, ahead of the public policy benefits for all the people for which Democratic presidents like Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and others had fought so hard.

After all, said the Democrats, candidates need money to win elections (although Senator Bill Proxmire managed to run statewide in Wisconsin for $30 -- the cost of postage to return the unsolicited campaign contributions), and if Democrats have to sell their souls to the company store to get that money, well, so be it. After all, think of the alternative: ugh, Republicans!

Whether he's totally abandoned running for president remains to be seen. But what does seem obvious is that this brilliant, dedicated and innovative reformer has now imagined and seen a new light once again: the literature of utopia. In the video clip, above, he speaks of Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward: 2000-1887 -- obviously at least a part of the motivation for Ralph's choosing his new utopian road "less traveled by."

Why fiction? he's asked. Because non-fiction, he has come to see, makes dreaming difficult. Like Robert Kennedy, Ralph Nader also dreams of things that never were and asks, "Why not?"

He offers us his latest dream in Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us.

May it inspire the dreams of all of us -- including those young law students from America, India and China who will be gathered for dinner with Iowa Supreme Court Justice Mark Cady at my home on this Supreme Court Day at the University of Iowa College of Law.
* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source, even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson
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