Archive for November, 2009

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How to nobly save the fight against climate change: USSC analysis suggests it’s tough but possible

November 30, 2009

In sum, public opinion is a big part of why Australia is moving on climate change and the United States isn’t. But institutional differences also play an important part. Health care is unlikely to move through the Congress until the new year, the US economy is still struggling to create jobs, and mid-term elections are moving. These factors, combined with institutional impediments, make it unlikely the United States will take action on climate change any time soon.

That’s the USSC’s Simon Jackman writing on the results of the USSC’s survey on the opinions on climate change of Australians and Americans [PDF]. He wrote that before the events of the past week, which saw the Senate delay and probably reject the Labor Party’s proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, but his point still stands. Australia will almost certainly introduce an ETS, even if it doesn’t get it done before Copenhagen as Kevin Rudd would like; as the USSC survey shows, a majority of Australians believe global warming exists and is caused by humans, and that majority is even more decisive — 80 per cent — where Labor voters are concerned. Rudd has an issue that the public supports him on and the Coalition is tearing itself apart over, and he’s not going to let that go, whether it requires further delay or even a double dissolution.

But Jackman’s pessimism on America is unfortunately convincing. It is true that the American separation between the executive and the legislative branch means its leader lacks the power of a government in the Westminster system to push through a policy agenda. The filibuster and the crawling pace of Congress allow a minority party to determinedly chip away at a majority’s mandate — according to Jackman 57 per cent of Americans believe climate change is real and man-made and only 52% are willing to put force households to pay a cost ($80) to do something about it – and look how much opposition a far more popular proposition like health care reform has faced.

However, his analysis misses one vital component of the American system of government: the Presidential bully pulpit.

As much as the Jackman’s research enunciates the steep challenges faced in getting America to take legislative action on climate change, it also reveals the path ahead for any American leader with climate change solutions on their agenda. Most important is that a thin majority of Americans believe anthropogenic climate change is real, and the biggest portion of deniers are Republicans. A majority of both Democratic and independent voters are convinced by the science. That means that Barack Obama has a naturally supportive base to work with on the issue, even if that base might not like the details of any plan he proposes, get cold feet due to the economic environment, or not be so enthusiastic as to cast votes in support of his environmental efforts. The American public, as guarded and divided as they are, want something to be done. As the USSC’s CEO Geoff Garrett puts it, it’s not yet the case that pushing hard on climate change is politics as well as good policy.

That means if America is to act, it will be because it was led by a President determined to make a change. That Obama is championing action against climate change is a solid step. As Ezra Klein argued, even when Obama’s policy detail is not particularly liberal, his agenda is firmly located in the left. But Obama can’t sit back and use the soft touch on this issue as he has with health care, stepping up only when Congress had allowed the public debate to get off track. American public opinion lies precariously with the Democrats on climate change, and the Republicans are significantly out of touch (28% of Republicans attribute global warming to human activities, as compared to 57% of Americans). But there is not enough support to sustain the issue on its own, particularly considering Democrats will not be anywhere near as unified as they have been on health care; few Democratic Senators representing states with a strong reliance on polluting industries will support a pollution reduction scheme. Obama must use his bully pulpit to convince the American public that this is something America needs, and something that will benefit it. Considering the state of the economy, it will help if he can strongly connect the fight against climate change with creating new, green jobs (California and Texas are good examples of this happening).

Yes, there are institutional obstacles to America doing something solid about climate change, but Presidents, from Roosevelt with the New Deal to Reagan and his economic reforms, have been able to overcome those by throwing the hefty weight of their office behind it. That Obama has decided he will go to the Copenhagen summit is a good start. It shows he cares about the issue. But he will have to do more; Obama must not meanly lose this fight by staying on the sidelines. If something will be done, it will be done through his efforts.

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In which, oh no, some Liberals know a dirty word

November 29, 2009

SMH:

”We have to move forward,” said Hockey. ”Clearly this issue has done us incredible damage and I hope the Australian people forgive us for having this very public display. But I say to the Australian people: we are a progressive party.

With all the turmoil and intrigue of the Coalition’s civil war, it’s been easy to miss some of the little details. Far more interesting than theorizing over a Liberal Party disintegration that isn’t going to happen is this important piece of rhetoric from the man who might be their leader as soon as next week.

Australian politics, though not to the extent of its American counterpart, has shied away from overt expressions of left wing ideology in recent decade. Even Keating, with his heartfelt embrace of reconciliation, the republic, an improved relationship with Asia, and other such small-l liberal causes, he was still an economic rationalist who had little time for old Labor socialism. John Howard proudly proclaimed his conservatism, as did his fellow party-members. Such was the benefit of being associated with the right wing that Kevin Rudd, as a new Opposition Leader, invented a reputation for himself as “an economic conservative.” The last thing any self respecting member of mainstream Australian politics wished to claim was an affiliation with the greenie, latte-sipping, chardonnay-swilling, inner-city left. In fact, the only time in recent years that being seen to be a conservative was a problem was for the NSW Liberals in 2007, and that’s because no one in the state could quite believe anyone could be to the right of NSW Labor. (Barry O’Farrell won’t make the mistake Peter Debnam did; that’s why he’s clamping down on the hardline conservatives in his party causing troubles with Hitler parodies.)

But all of a sudden, thanks to the 2007 election, the unpleasant aftertaste of 11 years of John Howard, and issues that resonate within the electorate like climate change, being a leftie ain’t that bad anymore. Look at Uncle Joe up there!

Excuse his blatant falsehood; whatever stance the Liberals should form on climate change, they are not a progressive party. Not even Petro Georgiou is anything more than a moderate conservative who knows how to act like a human being around refugees. The Liberals have long liked to call themselves a, well, liberal party, but after a half-century of conservative policies, it’s hard to believe them.

This, though, is different[1]. Hockey is adopting a tag usually associated with students, Greens voters and other assorted ratbags: progressive. Liberals are never progressive. They can be “wet,” or “moderate” or “centrist,” but never “progressive”; unlike the Labor party with its right wing, their centrists aren’t described as lefties. But here Hockey sees a political benefit for his party in the public perceiving them as more left-wing than they actually are. It’s the same mechanism Rudd used with his social-conservative schtick; the public didn’t trust his party to be economically responsible, so he claimed the opposing ideology for it.

And you can see why Hockey’s doing it, even though a big chunk of his party is determined to convince the country they’re anything but progressive. The Australian political center is definitely to the left of the Coalition on this issue. They don’t support an ETS as strongly as they used to, but they still greatly approve of doing something about climate change. The Coalition is simply not progressive enough on this issue, and in the words of Ian Macfarlane, “Malcolm Turnbull is modernising the parliamentary Liberal Party … He is bringing the party into the 21st century and there are some people who want to keep the party in the ’60s.”

On this issue, being progressive is, for once, not a dirty word. In fact doing what the Liberal Party is doing, as Turnbull says, is ”irresponsible from an environmental point of view and it is completely and utterly self-destructive from a political point of view.”

[1] I think adopting “progressive” and “liberal” are different things, because liberal is not only the name of their party, it has suggestions of classical liberalism about it. Progressive is just calling yourself a pot-smoking vegetarian friend-of-the-ABC.

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In which Joe Hockey loves it when you call him Big Poppa

November 28, 2009

At the HeraldPeter Hartcher looks at Joe Hockey’s probable rise to the Liberal leadership next week:

If Joe Hockey wants to be the next leader of the Liberal Party the job is his – for a price. It’s very expensive. He will spend this weekend agonising over whether he wants to pay it.

It has three instalments. First, he has to be prepared to sacrifice his family life. This is standard for any political leader, but Hockey’s circumstances are particularly delicate.

He has three children under the age of five, one of them a newborn. Xavier is 4, Adelaide 2, and the new arrival, Ignatius, is just five weeks old.

And Hockey’s wife, Melissa Babbage, is committed to a demanding job of her own. As the head of foreign exchange trading at Deutsche Bank in Sydney, she is responsible for an $800-million-a-year business.

It’s not an ideal moment to move to an all-consuming, travel-heavy, sleep-destroying job with towering expectations and minimal resources.

That this is a consideration at all for a male politician is a small but fairly significant step. In the old days, it would have been a no-brainer for Hockey to place his career over his family and take the top job. (Disregarding the other factors Hartcher mentions: that it would require sacrificing his support for an ETS, and place him in the leadership at a time he’s unlikely to succeed.) A man in Hockey’s position would once have assumed he could leave the child-raising to his wife, while he got on with the serious man-business of politics.

It’s to Hockey’s credit that he considers the business of raising his family to be, at least in part, his responsibility, and that he’s willing to share the burden of doing so with his partner, Melissa Babbage. The challenge women face of balancing a career and a family can’t be easy for Babbage, particularly considering the size of her career and the size and youth of her family. That challenge is eased if it’s a challenge that belongs to her husband as well. That Australia appears to accept this is a reasonable consideration for a prospective leader to make is an undoubted good thing.

Of course, I suspect Hockey would have an easier time deciding to go for the leadership than if the roles were reversed and Babbage was weighing whether to sacrifice her family life for her career, she would have a slightly tougher time convincing the public that this was OK. Though we should be, I’m not sure we would be as comfortable with a mother of young children tilting at the leadership as we are with a father in the same position.

Then again, perhaps not. In the 2008 U.S. Presidential election, Sarah Palin ran for Vice-President with five children, including a new-born. Despite all manner of other criticism directed at her, there was a little in the way of discussion as to whether it was appropriate for her to take on a position of such responsibility while acting as mother to a large family. And nor should there have been; as with Hockey, that was a decision for her and her partner.

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In which we understand why words mean so much to you; they’ll never be about you

November 28, 2009

There was an op-ed in the Sydney Morning Herald Thursday. It wasn’t by a Herald writer; it was sourced from the L.A. Times. Whatever — I sure would have preferred to have seen an Australian writer get the space, but I’m not a protectionist when it comes to other things, so I sure shouldn’t be when it comes to my own industry. Evidently the editor thought the Herald’s readers would enjoy this piece.

It wasn’t that great a piece; just some woman called Amy Alkon making the perfectly fine argument that kicking an excessively disruptive child off a plane is a good idea, then using it as a battering ram to say all kinds of preposterous things. You know, opinion journalism. But I’ll show you the quotes that interested me.

Unbelievably, Root demanded the apology she eventually got from the airline (shame, shame) and hit it up for the cost of nappies and the portable cot she says she had to buy for the overnight stay.

Except Alkon didn’t say “nappies.” She’s American! It says as much right at the bottom of the op-ed! And sure enough, the original article used the word “diapers.” It also described a “portable crib,” not a “cot,” an edit I find astonishing, because I had no idea “crib” was an Americanism us Australians must be prevented from seeing for the sake of our national dignity*.

Likewise, in the Herald, Alkon is printed referring to the “Mummy Mafia,” when, of course, she wrote “Mommy Mafia.” This is an even more egregious edit; a “mummy” is quite different to a “mommy.” The images conjured up are entirely different and the notion that a mafia of one kind is identical to a mafia of the other kind makes me want to give these copy-editors nap-time with the fishes. Let me make it clear: Australians have mums. Americans have moms. American moms should be “moms,” even if an Australian is referring to them, and vice-versa. Would we really call Carmela Soprano or Marge Simpson or Peggy Bundy a “mum”? Should an American really think of Maggie Beare or Kath Day-Knight or Sal Kerrigan as “moms”? It’s preposterous!

It is time we all learned to accept that those of us around the Anglosphere speak different kinds of English. Unless that kind of English causes problems with comprehension (and sometimes even then; American publishers should not change “jumper” to “sweater”) we should retain the writer’s original voice. If the Herald thinks a woman in Los Angeles is worth publishing, it shouldn’t patronise its readers by assuming their precious cultural sensitivities will be shocked if they read that woman communicating in her natural voice.

*Come to think of it, “cot” sounds like a Britishism we should have jettisoned along with the Monarchy when we became an independent nation.

Cross-posted at my Tumblr

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My American Thanksgiving

November 26, 2009

It’s the early hours of Thanksgiving morning in the States, and to celebrate the occasion, I thought I’d give the politics a break for a moment and talk about the odd little piece of Americana known as Thanksgiving. Americans say of Thanksgiving that, along with Independence Day, it is the one holiday the entire country celebrates, and on my one time experience, Turkey Day did seem a bigger deal than, say, Christmas. It makes sense that a religiously pluralistic country like the States, one with the separation of church and state sewn into its Constitution, would have its genuinely unifying celebrations be the ones inspired by history and patriotism. (Thanksgiving, of course, does have a religious element, but it is not as specific about it in the way Christmas or Hanukkah is.) It can be a little disorienting for Australians to experience Thanksgiving, since there is no real analogue to it in our culture, and although it has the familiar holiday touchstones — family and food — it was, for me, an entirely new experience.

My American Thanksgiving was in 2004. I was studying in Washington State at the time, and in an act of immense kindness, my American friend Jessica invited me to accompany her back home to Kent, in the southern suburbs of Seattle, for the holiday. I was curious to see what the day was like, since after all, there didn’t seem to be much more to the celebration than turkey-eating. Other Americans I spoke to, in the weeks leading up to it, had told me, with a surprising amount of feeling, that it was their favourite holiday. They said Thanksgiving lacked the commercialism of Christmas; that it was a simple and low-key celebration. I must admit I failed to see the point: there were 300-odd other days in the year to be simple and low-key.

So, apart from that and a few wryly humorous jokes about it being a celebration of taking the country from the Native Americans – the sort some Australians might make on Australia Day – I had no real idea of what to expect.

Jessica and I, along with a friend of Jessica’s (whose parents lived in Japan, on an American military base), headed toward Seattle the night before, but we woke up Thanksgiving morning to a house on the brink of bustling with activity. The day was pleasantly languorous, and with the grim Pacific North West skies and late November chill offering little incentive to venture outside, we stayed indoors. The kitchen became a hive of activity; the turkey being cooked, the fixins being prepared. A football game hummed away in the background, and every now and then we’d turn our attention to that. (A spot of research reminds me that Indianapolis beat Detroit and Chicago lost to Dallas. Boo.)

The already gloomy day grew dark quickly; we were mere weeks away from the winter solstice and the sun sets early that far north. Jessica’s relatives turned up steadily as the afternoon went on, and we crowded in the kitchen and living room sharing drinks and hors d’oeuvres. None seemed to mind that I was intruding on their holiday; each of them was friendly and hospitable, and acted as though I were a member of the family. When we finally gathered round the table for turkey and yams and marshmallows (yes, that did seem odd to me), then pumpkin pie, in the late-afternoon, we had drawn the curtains, and the conversation had grown cosy and comfortable.

As a holiday it was oddly mundane. It wasn’t dominated by decorations or gifts or ceremony. It was kind of nice to experience a celebration with no greater demand than to enjoy company and eat food. I understood why so many Americans had told me it was their favourite holiday. For a society often derided as overly materialistic, Thanksgiving has a touching simplicity about it.

Of course, the day following is the famed Black Friday, that morning of shoppers wildly hunting out ridiculous bargains that marks the beginning of the Christmas period. But on Thanksgiving itself, none of that matters. It’s about family and food and little else. In an America that can seem impossibly big, Thanksgiving is something that’s managed to remain small.

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2012: We are being warned

November 26, 2009

Those political-polling tragics among us may have noticed that a couple of the guys at FiveThirtyEight.com have entered into a wager over a potential Sarah Palin 2012 campaign. The site’s Tom Schaller and Nate Silver are betting a steak dinner over whether Palin will run in ’12, and an undisclosed sum of cash at 3:1 odds over whether she’ll win the Republican nomination. I don’t have a big problem with this kind of speculation; it’s a fun gimmick that has prompted a few interesting posts gauging the make-up of the American electorate, examining features of electoral cycles and analysing Palin’s temperament and personality. If anyone should be involved in this kind of wild speculation, it’s the FiveThirtyEight guys. Most importantly, it’s not stopping them engaging in more meaningful speculation, like the outcomes of the various Gubernatorial and Senatorial races due at the end of next year.

But the rest of the media shouldn’t have the luxury of conducting long-term thought experiments that a blog specifically devoted to the business of political prediction does, and yet somehow newspapers and TV programs across America are wasting their time speculating on an election that won’t be held until after the next summer Olympics. Do you remember the last Olympics? They were pretty recent!

I’m going to look pretty foolish if the USSC announces tomorrow the launch of Election Watch 2012, but I don’t think we’re going to get quite so ahead of ourselves as folks like, say, former G.W. Bush-strategist Matthew Dowd, who argues at the Washington Post that Palin has a shot at making Obama a one-termer. He’s not alone; Kevin Drum is considering how seriously Democrats should take Palin as a threat, David Greenberg at Slate feels confident enough to declare her out of contention, while Gideon Rachman was prepared to declare, way back in July, that she was in with a shot. A trailblazing Newt Gingrich was saying the same back in February, not even two weeks after Obama was inaugurated!

As the Columbia Journalism Review says, the American media have a Palin-for-President Fixation. And even if the speculation were confined to the fate of Alaska’s favourite daughter, I might be OK with it. Palin makes for a good story after all; people have strong opinions about her, she’s just released a controversial book that’s re-ignited old arguments within her party, and the prospect of her running for Presidency is, depending on your point-of-view, a disaster or a dream-come-true. If you run a story speculating about Palin for President, some of your readers think it’s a fairytale, while the rest picture something along the lines of, well, 2012.

But Palin isn’t the only name being mentioned. Bobby Jindal was declared in, and then out, of contention way back in February when he gave his response to the State of the Union address. There were mutters about John Ensign back in June, until he was revealed to be messing around outside his marriage… uh… also in June. Jon Hunstman was talked about until, last May, Obama appointed him the U.S. Ambassador to China. The Huffington Post speculates about Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Mike Huckabee, as if it were 2008 all over again, and Newt Gingrich, as if they’d woken up in the ’90s.

As the Washington Post said back in June: “The list of prospective Republican candidates is lengthy and lacks an obvious front-runner.” Perhaps that’s because another three Christmases will pass before voting in the primary even begins. Yes, running a Presidential campaign is a lengthy process, and potential contenders will already be examining their chances. But no one has any idea how popular Obama will be in 2012, no one has any idea what major, paradigm-shifting events will occur between now and then, and no one has any idea what issues will be uppermost in voters’ minds. Remember, we’re talking about a time so far into the future that, unless European law changes, the Beatles’ first album will be deemed old enough to no longer be protected under copyright. It’s not quite flying cars and laser guns, but that sounds pretty futuristic to me. One year ago, the U.S. President was still George W. Bush, and while fingering rising talent is a worthy exercise, trying to predict an election not due to be held for another three years is pretty silly.

How silly? Well, outlets like Politico and the New York Times are reporting that Lou Dobbs is a possible Presidential contender. How silly? Lou Dobbs silly.

Lou Dobbs, should you not know, is the ex-CNN anchorman who quit because the station wanted him to tone down his inflammatory anti-immigration rhetoric and present objective news reports. He has a disturbing amount of sympathy for the nutty conspiracy theory that Obama was not born in the U.S. and he falsely accused illegal immigrants of an outbreak of leprosy that didn’t exist and reported grossly inflated figures for the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. prison system. He’s loathed by Hispanics and his angry rants are exactly the sort of rancorous discourse that turns off independent voters. And respectable news outlets are reporting him as a possible Presidential contender — though they’re unsure whether he’d run as a Republican or an independent.

They’re also reporting he may challenge New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, the only Hispanic in the U.S. Senate, in 2012. This is slightly more likely, true, but still far-fetched. New Jersey is a blue state with a large Hispanic population that is unlikely to have much time for an anti-immigration zealot like Dobbs. But suppose for a moment we play the game. Could Lou Dobbs be a Senator, or the next American President?

I’ll defer to the line Dowd uses for Palin:

I agree that her success is not probable — it is definitely a possibility that Palin could be elected president of the United States.

Yep, Dobbs, like Palin, is constitutionally qualified to be President. They are both natural born citizens over the age of 35. And if this is the benchmark for speculation, there are millions of Americans who probably won’t be but possibly could be elected President. Let’s throw some names out at random: Jerry Seinfeld! Brett Favre! Richard Heene, the father of Balloon Boy! I’d call Paris Hilton a good addition to the field, considering she has form, but she won’t be old enough in 2012, so we can safely scratch her off the list.

Or maybe the media should settle down and leave this kind of wild speculation until at least after the mid-terms. Keep an eye on the latest developments in health care, climate change, financial reform, and economic recovery. Or maybe, instead of being concerned about whether Sarah Palin will run in 2012, listen to what’s troubling the people who are buying her book and turning out to her events. They’re saying some interesting things, and, unlike the media, they’re saying those interesting things about the current President.

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American Movie Night — Capitalism: A Love Story

November 20, 2009

That a Michael Moore movie released in 2009 seems kind of irrelevant is a telling commentary on the arc of American liberalism over the past decade or so. In the late ‘90s, when Moore was well-known enough to have his own (short-lived) television program on cable network Bravo but anonymous enough that he could play out his candid camera stunts while remaining unrecognisable to his targets, he was a guerrilla figurehead for the Naderite left. After eight years of Clinton triangulation and post-Cold War prosperity, Michael Moore raged against the machine in exactly the way wanted by liberals who felt unheard in a political landscape they saw as being dominated by two indistinguishable parties. And after George W. Bush won the 2000 election, 9/11 hit, and the War on Terrorism began, Moore’s rage and indignation provided a focal point for these people who had suddenly realised there was a bigger difference between Democrats and Republicans than they had once thought.

And so the left got organised. They started blogs and created organisations like Move On. They found cogent spokespeople who had better arguments and smarter ideas than the blustering Moore. They found issues the wider American public agreed with them about, like the necessity of health care reform and the futility of the war in Iraq. And they found candidates they could support and be happy about sending to Washington. Howard Dean was a trial run, and a failure, but by the time Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton faced off for the Democratic Presidential nomination, the left was calling the shots and picking Presidents. Michael Moore released a movie, Sicko in 2007 but there didn’t seem to be much of a reason for it to exist: Why did America need a scrappy documentary filmmaker to tell it how terrible its health care system was when its Presidential candidates were about to start saying exactly the same thing in campaign stops and televised debates?

Capitalism poster
Capitalism means never having to say you’re sorry.

Capitalism: A Love Story, released last month in the U.S., and November 5th here, had the potential to be Moore’s rampaging return to relevance. A populist wave of anger at Wall Street, from both the left and the right, fuelled by the recession, is sweeping America, and Barack Obama has seemed to be far too hesitant to take on the big financial institutions and implement the necessary financial reforms to the economy. That Moore is on roughly the same page as Glenn Beck shows that this rage is not restricted to any particular side of the political spectrum.

Has Moore reignited his spark and captured the zeitgeist?

No. For a man supposed to be a political satirist, it’s bad news that the funniest line in the film belongs to a Wall Street suit, who, when accosted by Moore in the street and asked if he has any advice for the filmmaker, suggests, “Don’t make any more movies.” (Moore then goes in hunt of someone “not a film critic.” Ha.)

The main problem with Capitalism: A Love Story, apart from its not being particularly funny, is that Moore is ill-equipped to make any kind of argument about the state of the American economy. His basic premise is that Democracy and Capitalism are opposing ideologies, and since the days of Ronald Reagan, using a combination of amoral trickery and barefaced corruption, the rich have wrenched America from the former to the latter. That’s unconvincing on the face of it; true, the shift rightward America has taken since the Reagan era has increased income disparity and reconfigured the balance of government and private investment in America’s mixed economy, but America was a capitalist country under Truman, and a democracy under Reagan. And even if he does have a point worth making, Moore can’t, or won’t look at the economics to bolster his theory.

Moore’s best film is Bowling for Columbine, and you don’t even need to agree with him to see why. His greatest talent is his ability to find regular Americans and put a camera in front of them. Columbine didn’t have much in the way of arguments to make about guns in America — it spends little time advocating gun control for instance — but it does provide a fascinating glimpse of American gun culture. Whether you thought Moore’s presentation was insightful and incisive or biased, unfair and dishonest, by merely going amongst the Americans who shot guns and got shot by guns, Moore presented a fascinating document of one of his country’s most idiosyncratic qualities.

The few parts of Capitalism that do succeed are those in which Moore abandons economics and talks to actual Americans. An engaging narrative about the sacked workers of a bankrupt Chicago factory who stage a sit-down strike to get benefits owed to them is a worthy and engrossing story about the effect the Global Financial Crisis has had on working people. Less successful is a segment chronicling the eviction of a North Carolinian family who refinanced their home with a subprime mortgage, losing a property that has been in their family for decades. Their anger and pain is revelatory, and their situation is without doubt miserable, but Moore’s desire to martyr them means he doesn’t ask the obvious question: Why on earth did they think it was a good idea to borrow so excessively against the equity of a home they owned outright?

The most dismal part, though, is Moore’s take on the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the emergency legislation passed by Congress last year to bail out teetering financial institutions. He takes the populist line that this was an outrageous grab of public funds to serve the needs of the rich and reckless — which isn’t exactly wrong per se, but Moore doesn’t quite seem to grasp that “too big to fail” means failure is not an option, as terrible as it was to allow banks to reach that state. He actually applauds the reckless intransigence of the House members who rejected the first TARP bill, allowing the American economy to teeter on the precipice for a couple days more than it had to.

The failure of Capitalism is best illustrated by its treatment of two men: Barack Obama and Michael Moore. Moore is everywhere in this film, far more than he has been in his previous works. Where once he was a stand in for the audience, he’s now better known than most of the other people on screen, and the effect is dull and indulgent. We get an interview with Moore’s father, home videos of a young Moore, chats with Moore’s priest, and so what was once a personable narrative device becomes a crutch.

Obama hangs heavy over the film through his absence. Moore spends a lot of time critiquing George W. Bush, and it feels as if the filmmaker hasn’t realised it’s been almost an entire year since Bush left office. When Obama does finally make an appearance, Moore greets him as a saviour, and oddly refuses to criticise him. There is no mention of Obama’s support for T.A.R.P., no consideration of his far less sound bailout of the auto companies, and no criticism of his tardiness in introducing financial reforms. Capitalism is a muddled picture, but Moore’s embrace of Obama is strangely simple.