Sunday, June 17, 2007

Michael Moore for President

Tonight I was lucky enough to be invited to a sneak preview screening of Michael Moore's new film, "Sicko," which is opening in New York City on June 22, 2007 and for general release on June 29th. The screening was held as a benefit for Center for Justice & Democracy (CJ&D), a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving access to the courts for those unable to advocate on their own behalf. Joanne Doroshow, Executive Director/Founder of CJ&D and former colleague, invited me and a guest (Jeffrey drew the lucky straw) to the screening and reception this evening at the Tribeca Cinemas. Joanne is one of the most commited public interest advocates I've ever met and has worked as a co-producer with Michael on all of his films. She also co-produced "The Panama Deception," winner of the Academy Award® for Best Documentary in 1992. She's about as cool as cool gets.

Immediately before the screening, Joanne and Michael spoke to the crowd, which included two of the everyday "stars" of the film. He sincerity is unquestionable and he has become this generation's "Everyman," living and breathing the very ideals that most of our elected officials are merely able to mimic. He is smart as hell, self-effacing and courageous; our brave David in a world of too many Goliaths.

Michael spoke about the standing ovation "Sicko" received at Cannes Film Festival a few weeks ago, the same festival that in 2004 awarded its highest honor, the prestigious "Palme D'Or," to his last film, "Fahrenheit 9/11." He bemoaned the current state of healthcare in America and joked about the Bush Administration's latest attempts to discredit his work. We were then invited to sit back and watch "Sicko" unfold.

The film begins with a clip of George Bush's now infamous flub regarding OB/GYNs being unable to "practice their love" on their women patients because of the high cost of medical malpractice insurance premiums. Absolutely genius, and pathetic, all at once. Initially, it's funny, but mid-chortle one remembers that Bush is really still the President, and that he constantly says stupid shit, and that his Cracker Jack antics and cowboy shoot-from-the-hip bravado have made America, this country that we love, the international punch line for such a long time. Then it seems less funny.

The next two hours are meticulously edited "snapshots" of our healthcare system, delivered in the witty, no-nonsense style of Michael Moore. The truth is so shocking, that its mere presentation is enough to be compelling. Many moments of the film are gut wrenching and horrific, as the insurance industry is painstakingly revealed to be the soulless monster that it is. There were times when I had to look down, unable to watch the faces of the people talking. I felt such deep sadness and something akin to shame, that somehow my silence in the face of this great injustice, of which I was fully aware, somehow made me complicit.

In addition to the lead stories of loss suffered by individuals who were delayed and/or denied medical treatment, Michael also gives voice to those health insurer employees whose paychecks require them to implement the money-first directives of the insurance carriers. Their stories reveal another hidden cost borne by our nation -- the pain endured by those who job demands they participate in a system they find morally and ethically objectionable. They suffer as deeply as many of the more obvious victims.

Interspersed throughout the film are numerous clips of people from other countries where universal healthcare is the norm and people thrive and enjoy life in a different way than many Americans. They all express the fact that they feel sorry for us. We are the only Western country that still denies its citizens this basic, necessary social benefit. Reference is made to Ghandi's quote "A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members," suggesting that we are failing ourselves. And we are.

One often leaves these kind of films with a mixture of feelings -- shock, sadness, frustration. These residual sentiments are typically based on feelings of hopelessness emanating from a false belief that we are powerless in the face of such seemingly overwhelming circumstances. "Sicko" speaks to this, noting that the fearful and poor are often locked in a world of silence and non-confrontation; they don't want to stir the pot for fear that things may worsen. A tired, hopeless, fearful population is a compliant one. But the truth is that we are powerful beyond our wildest dreams, but unaware of that reality.

I believe the release of "Sicko" will prove a pivotal event in the awakening of the American consciousness. The timing couldn't be more perfect. There has been a growing impatience with the number of people "falling through the cracks" on healthcare insurance issues and a parallel disgust with the skyrocketing salaries of the CEO's of these same insurance carriers. We deserve to feel better about ourselves as a nation. Illness is frightening enough; the sick need our voices, our strength.

This nation is more than capable of building a better, stronger healthcare net that doesn't allow anyone to fall through. I'm reminded of Bill Clinton's quote from his first innaugural address in 1992, when he said "There is nothing wrong with America that can't be fixed by what is right with America." Can I get an "Amen?" I'm so "sicko" of feeling sad or embarrassed or ashamed to be an American. It's time to step up to the plate people.

Please go to Michael Moore's website, and find out what you can do today.

It's essential that this film open HUGE on it's first day. Please plan to go see the movie on June 22nd if you live in New York and on June 29th if you live elsewhere. Pre-purchase your tickets online to ensure that your voice is heard.

Michael Moore - you're a complete bad ass. Please run for President in 2008. It's not too late! Joanne could be your Vice President and I'd make some shirts. What do you think???


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