Archive for the ‘Michael Moore’ Category

Chris Kyle, Michael Moore, and the Irrelevance of Heroism

January 22, 2015

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Chris Kyle

The enormous popularity of Chris Kyle’s memoir and the movie based on it shows that many Americans are still unwilling to face the truth of what happened in the Iraq War. This war was not about “fighting terrorists”, but about invading a country in order to control its resources. Unless and until people are willing to acknowledge this, they will not be able to make sense of this country’s recent history. Unfortunately, many people prefer a Hollywood fantasy about soldiers fighting “savages” to the truth.

The Iraq War was based on bluster and self-delusion. It is only fitting then, that its most famous hero was a liar and a braggart. The many stories Kyle made up suggest that he may have had difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality, which would make him very typical of our times.

A few days ago Michael Moore tweeted:

    My uncle killed by sniper in WW2. We were taught snipers were cowards. Will shoot u in the back. Snipers aren’t heroes. And invaders r worse

Moore’s remark was clearly aimed at Kyle, but when he was pressed on the matter, he became coy, changing the subject by saying that he liked Clint Eastwood’s film about Kyle. (“Costumes, hair, makeup superb!” Well, now you know what Michael Moore looks for in a movie.)

Moore has always had a thing about cowardice. You may recall that he spent much of the 2000’s trying to prove that George W. Bush had gone AWOL from the Texas Air National Guard. This was a matter of grave concern to Moore as well as to many other liberals at the time. These people seemed to have suddenly forgotten that the Vietnam War was both immoral and unpopular. They thrilled to John Kerry’s Vietnam War stories of derring-do. If you ask me, Bush’s avoidance of serving in Vietnam actually speaks well of him. (It is the only thing that speaks well for him.)

Whether it’s John Kerry or Chris Kyle, heroism in the service of an immoral war is not something to be proud of.

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Why Michael Moore is Not a Hypocrite

June 8, 2014


Michale Moore and Kathleen Glynn

Michael Moore and his wife, Kathleen Glynn, are getting divorced. The Smoking Gun has the details. Just as you would expect, it turns out that Moore is a wealthy man. His assets are reportedly worth tens of millions of dollars. He owns property in Michigan and New York, including a Manhattan townhouse. He apparently owns a $2 million dollar mansion near Torch Lake in Michigan. (This may actually belong to Glynn. The news reports are unclear about this.) Since this news has broken, the Internet has predictably been filled with comments about Moore being a “hypocrite”.

One thing thing that really annoys the hell out of me is when people argue that anyone with vaguely leftish views is a hypocrite if he or she happens to own a nice house or drive a nice car. Their assumption seems to be that anyone who cares about social justice issues is obligated to live in a cardboard box and eat out of trash cans. What’s more, these people don’t seem to understand Moore’s actual politics. If Moore were, say, an advocate of anarcho-primitivism, then, yeah, owning a mansion would make him a hypocrite. But he is no such thing. In fact, Moore’s views are not as radical as most people think.

Despite his occasional syndicalist posturings, Moore’s views are basically those of a left-of-center Democrat. In Capitalism: A Love Story he argues for worker-owned cooperatives – not incompatible with capitalism. In Sicko he argues for single payer healthcare – again, compatible with capitalism. In Bowling for Columbine, he calls for stricter gun control laws – not an anti-capitalist position. In Roger and Me, he argues for keeping factory jobs in the US – a position that many right-wingers would agree with.

Moore’s undeserved reputation as a fire-breathing Bolshevik largely stems from his notoriously ultra-left anti-war speech at the 2003 Oscars (“Time’s up, Mr. Bush!”) Yet the very next year, he endorsed the presidential candidacy of the pro-war John Kerry. (This was not a “lesser evil” calculation. Moore absolutely adored Kerry, who is now our middle-of-the-road Secretary of State.)

So, sling whatever insults you wish at Moore, but don’t call him a hypocrite. He isn’t.

Some Thoughts on the Occupy Movement

July 8, 2012

At CounterPunch, Alexander Cockburn has an article about the Occupy movement. Although Cockburn makes some valid criticisms, I think he is too dismissive of the movement as a whole. He writes, “People have written complicated pieces trying to prove it’s not over, but if ever I saw a dead movement, it is surely Occupy.” In fact there are still Occupy groups all over the country, and many of them still hold regular meetings. It is true, however, that the movement doesn’t have as strong a presence as it did last winter. It’s possible, I think, that the movement might be in better shape if some things had been done differently.

In hindsight, I think it was a mistake not to put forward clear demands. The argument that I often heard for not doing so was that demands would lead to disagreements, which would lead to divisions. Yet disagreements and divisions happened anyway. Political clarity was sacrificed in order to attain an impossible ideal of group harmony. The greatest division, it seems to me, was, and is, between those who favor Black Bloc tactics and those who advocate Gandhian non-violent resistance. These two approaches are, in fact, mutually exclusive. This can not be covered up by platitudes about “diversity of tactics”. Some tactics are incompatible with others.

I suspect that this exaggerated fear of division is what drives the insistence upon a consensus approach to decision-making. The argument was that consensus, although time-consuming, will bring everyone into harmonious agreement. Yet some people became dissatisfied and left anyway, as would have happened under simple majority rule. So, what has been gained by having consensus? Nothing that I can see.

Then there is the pretense of “leaderlessness”. The truth is that some people become unofficial leaders, either because they are very good at making arguments, or because they possess specialized skills that are useful to the movement, or because they are simply both willing and able to devote an enormous amount of time and energy to the cause. Wouldn’t it make sense to acknowledge this and make these people directly accountable to the entire group?

Cockburn makes one point that strikes me as particularly salient. He writes:

    Where was the knowledge of, let along [sic] the respect for the past? We had the non-violent resistors [sic] of the Forties organising against the war with enormous courage. The Fifties saw leftists took [sic] McCarthyism full on the chin. With the Sixties we were making efforts at revolutionary organisation and resistance.
 
Yet when one [sic] raised this history with someone from Occupy, I encountered total indifference.

Typographical errors aside, what Cockburn says here is true of much of the U.S. left. How many American leftists have even heard of A.J. Muste? Or the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement? Or C.L.R. James? (Although you can always find an anarchist who is willing to talk your arm off about Kronstadt.) On left-wing British websites you can find informed discussions about such topics as the Battle of Cable Street, the 1926 General Strike, or Trotsky’s conception of the united front. We have nothing quite like this here in this country. There is little effort among the U.S. left to learn from the successes and failures of the past. It’s as though we must continually re-invent the wheel. What’s more, this historical amnesia makes us vulnerable to all kinds of dishonesty, as when, in Capitalism: A Love Story, Michale Moore reminds us of the 1936 Flint sit-down strike – only to make the false claim that F.D.R. sent in National Guard troops to defend the strikers from the police. In fact, they were sent there to intimidate the strikers.

These are just some thoughts I have had about the Occupy movement and about the U.S. left in general. I would be interested to hear what other people have to say about these topics.

Inside Job

November 19, 2010

It is generally accepted that the 2008 financial meltdown was due to criminal behavior by the banks and by Wall Street investment firms, yet no effort is being made to bring these people to justice. Indeed, it is well known that the people responsible for the crisis have gotten richer, while millions of people who lost their jobs are still without work.

The documentary filmmaker, Charles Ferguson, is one person who refuses to accept this state of affairs. His film, Inside Job, is a thorough examination of the events leading up to the meltdown. One of the things I liked about this film is that it is unsparing towards the Obama Administration, pointing out, among other things, that it has done virtually nothing to address the problems that led to the crisis. (This is a refreshing change from the fatuous celebration of Obama’s election victory in Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story. Years from now, people will watch that film and wonder what the hell Moore was talking about.) Another thing that I liked is that the film goes after academia, exposing the cozy relationship between university economics departments and private corporations.

One thing there could have been more of in the film is a discussion of the impact the crisis had lives of ordinary people. There is a brief segment on a couple who were conned into getting a mortgage they couldn’t afford, but no more than that. Then again, since audiences have lived through the economy of the last few years, perhaps they don’t need to be told this.

The film talked about my former employer, Countrywide Home Loans. I worked for them briefly at the time when the company was raking in money. (I didn’t last long there, I’m proud to say.) I worked in an office they had at the foot of the beautiful Santa Suzannah mountains in northwest Los Angeles. I was with a group of about thirty new hires who were being trained. A top executive from the company came to speak to us. She told us that the company’s entire income came from charging late fees on mortgage payments. (I will never forget the expression of glee on this woman’s face as she told us this.) Perhaps I was in a state of denial, but it wasn’t until I left the company that I began to put two and two together. If all their income came from late fees, they had to be luring people into getting mortgages that they couldn’t afford. At that time, Countrywide was being celebrated as one of the great success stories of American capitalism. I remember they had offices all over the Los Angeles area. A few years later they were bankrupt.

The way things are going, it looks as though there will be more Countrywides, another boom and another bust, unless people fight back against this insane system.

I strongly urge you to see Inside Job.

When Moore is Less

September 28, 2009

Michael Moore’s new film, Capitalism: A Love Story has just been released. The comments I’ve heard about it have been mostly good. (You can find Louis Proyect’s review here.) I will no doubt go to see it. I must, however, admit to having some feelings of trepidation. Every Michael Moore film, no matter how good, has at least one awful moment in it.

Sicko is a great film. One has to admire the courage that Moore showed in taking on the insurance industry. Yet there’s that horrible moment when Moore starts gushing over Hillary Clinton, as if he has a school boy crush on her. (For all I know, he does.) What makes this insulting is that Clinton helped to kill the single payer movement in the 1990’s.

I know I’m not the only lefty who cringed when Moore started berating Charlton Heston (who was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease) in Bowling for Columbine. Heston was a crank, but he was a relatively harmless one in the larger scheme of things. I remember that when this film first came out, I heard an interview with Moore on the KPFK radio station in Los Angeles. The interviewer started things off by asking him to explain what the movie was about. Moore responded with a quote from D. H. Lawrence. I can’t remember the exact words, but it was something to the effect that “every American is essentially a killer.” The only conclusion I could draw from this was that Moore was saying that violence is ingrained in US culture. Interestingly, this was the argument that Heston tried to make in the film, but Moore kept interrupting him.

By the way, does anyone actually know what the main argument of Bowling for Columbine is?

On the thread following Proyect’s review, Renegagde Eye reports: “I saw a screening of this film, with MM in person there. He was asked about a labor party, why he doesn’t split with Dems. He replied he was too old to start a new party. He recommended taking the Dems over.” Moore might as well have argued that we should take over the Roman Catholic Church. In both cases, we have an entrenched institution with a great deal of money and vested interests behind it. The very idea that leftists (even ones who wear baseball caps) can take it over is moonshine. It would actually be easier to start a new party.

Moore is a talented and important filmmaker, but when it comes to trying to find some way for us to move forward, he is clueless.

Update: I went to see Capitalism: A Love Story and I must say that I liked it a lot. I think it is the best of the Moore films that I’ve seen. There wasn’t anything like the horrible moments that I talked about. True, the movie was soft on Obama, and there was a teary-eyed tribute to Franklin Roosevelt that I could have done without. However, the film was powerful because it showed concrete examples of the suffering that capitalism causes, and it also showed examples of people fighting back (though I would have liked to have seen more of the latter.) At the screening that I went to, people applauded at some moments. I strongly urge everyone to see this important film.