Sunday, February 28, 2016

Executive Branch Bullying, And What A Federal Court Might Do About It #mepolitics

Source: Goodwill-Hinckley School "College Step-Up Program"
Some of you may remember that the belligerent governor of Maine came within a hair of being brought before the legislature for impeachment this year. There were a host of charges against him, the most egregious being his misuse of the power of office to derail the hiring of a political opponent to run residential charter school Goodwill-Hinckley

The impeachment articles were presented, but many Democrats "crossed the aisle" i.e., the imaginary line separating one corporate party (Democrats) from the other corporate party (Republicans), in voting yes to indefinitely postpone impeachment (roll call here).

The governor's first and second terms of office have been a textbook case of ALEC-sponsored meddling in state government. Think Michigan and Flint's poisoned water supply for other examples of how corporate interests have penetrated and controlled state and local governments in recent years. 

Both of the governor's two elections have been marked by splitting the "liberal" or "progressive" votes by means of a third party candidate, one whose entire resume consists of venture capitalism on behalf of China -- not China, Maine, the real China. The effect of the third party candidate was negligible in the second term re-election but the incumbent was still, inexplicably, returned to office. Allegedly because the Tea Party-type voters turned out in droves to vote on a referendum to keep bear baiting legal. This did not happen in my area according to my sources: many ballots were returned with only the referendum vote marked. But the opportunity to rig the election and tell that particular lie is certainly not below either the governor or his corporate handlers.

The governor has distinguished himself in displays of unapologetic racism from his first week in office, and most recently made international news by racist slurs connected with drug dealers alleged to be impregnating "white girls" in his state. 

(Here, I share my parody of that incident with a trigger warning that if ridiculing Hitler offends you, don't watch it.)

My fellow crusader for the common good, Lew Kingsbury, has been doing his homework and has agreed to let me publish his account of the battle over the governor's misuse of executive power. Short version: the governor threatened to withhold state funds already allocated to a school because he did not like a powerful Democrat being hired as the president of said school.

I should also mention that, since this account was written, the governor of Maine has endorsed the racist demagogue with the bad hair for president. The governor has also appointed himself Commissioner of Education. Yup, you heard that right. Here's a screenshot of the Bangor Daily News poll accompanying their report on this story: Do you approve of Gov. Paul LePage's decision to name himself the state education commissioner?

Stay tuned for more unbelievably bad corporate government in Maine.

Good Will-Hinckley Scandal To Be Settled In Federal Court
by Lew Kingsbury (previously published in )

On January 14th an historic Impeachment Order in the Maine House of Representatives was derailed, on a bi-partisan vote of 96-52, by a motion to indefinitely postpone an investigation of the Governor. Meanwhile there has been an ongoing civil lawsuit filed by Mark Eves in federal court. This lawsuit alleges that LePage abused the power of his office violating Eves constitutional rights. The lawsuit was amended alleging a violation of state law by using intimidation to prevent Eve's hiring by a private institution.

Paul LePage's legal defense team has responded by filing a motion to dismiss claiming that LePage's role as Governor provides him immunity from such legal actions. The immunity defense allows his team to ask for dismissal of the case without addressing whether the allegations presented in the lawsuit are factual. The motion to dismiss may have been necessitated by the Governor's alleged admission of his actions in an interview on camera.

On January 6, 2016 the Legislature's Government Oversight Committee (GOC) completed its investigation of the Governor. Committee reports and witness testimony tell a disturbing and sometimes conflicting story of the events leading up to Mark Eves' firing. The following is a chronological outline derived from the reports. (Report excerpts are identified using quotation marks).

On June 5, 2015 - Governor Paul LePage met with former acting DOE Commissioner Tom Desjardin and learned that Mark Eves had been hired as the next President of the Good Will-Hinckley (GWH) school. Following the meeting the Governor met with a House Republican caucus and announced the Eves hiring.

The Governor's senior education policy adviser Aaron Chadbourne met with GWH lobbyist Sarah Vanderwood. When she came away from that meeting "she definitely interpreted from what was said that the state funding for GWH was now in question."

The Governor called GWH interim president Rich Abramson. Abramson told OPEGA that the Governor "...was upset with GWH's selection of the speaker as President"...."and that they had lost his support."

Desjardin called GWH Board Chair Jack Moore and "indicated that the Governor would not be happy with the school selecting the Speaker and that with cuts needed to the 'miscellaneous costs' money in the DOE budget, it was going to be hard to justify GWH keeping that money."

"At 12:20 pm the Speaker emails his signed employment agreement to the GWH Board Chair."

According to the GWH Director of Finance GWH Board Chair Moore has separate telecons with the GWH Board (3:00 pm) and MeANS Board (3:30 pm). "The Director of Finance told OPEGA that Board members present on both calls were all in agreement that GWH should proceed with hiring the Speaker, even if it resulted in the loss of state funding."

Harold Alfond Foundation (HAF) Board Chair Gregory Powell received phone calls from GWH Board Chair Moore and from the Governor. Powell "...did not return the call to the GWH Board Chair until June 7th and did not return the Governor's call until June 8th."

On June 7, 2015 -"The HAF Board Chair returned the GWH Board Chair's June 5th call. He told OPEGA that the GWH Board Chair wanted to inform him that GWH had entered into a contract with the Speaker to be GWH's President, that the Governor was expressing concerns about that decision."

"The HAF Board Chair told OPEGA he had not heard about the speaker being hired until then and he did not know at that time what the Governor's concerns with the Speaker really were or what the implications were..."

On June 8, 2015 - "The HAF Board Chair returned the Governor's June 5th call." "...the Governor said that the contract had already been signed and there was nothing that he could do about it." "By the time he sent the June 18th letter to GWH, he was pretty clear that the 'support' was the $530,000 in state funding..." "He was also pretty clear that the threat to the funding was connected to the hiring of the speaker."

On June 9, 2015 - Susan Beaudoin DOE staffer told Desjardin that "...she had already submitted the payment manifest for GWH's 1st quarter payment of FY 2016 and she asked the Acting Commissioner if she should try to hold the payment. The Acting DOE Commissioner paused and thought it over before deciding to hold payment."

"The Acting DOE Commissioner also told OPEGA about a conversation he had with the Governor in which the Governor told him that he did not want to send any funds to GWH that were not required by law."

On June 10, 2015 - "The Interim President's Administrative assistant emails the Speaker to set up dates and times with the Interim President to begin his transition and attend GWH-related meetings with outside parties."

On June 11, 2015 - "Numerous emails are exchanged by GWH Board members with the GWH Board Chair praising the Speaker's diplomacy during this period and noting that 'the funding is a primary focus and while we would find it hard to believe anyone would change the lives of our residents in a personal spat, we are very focused on plans B,C and D.' "

"The GWH Board Chair also asks the Speaker to come to the Board's regularly scheduled June 19th Board meeting prepared to discuss his ideas for replacing the $530,000."

On June 15, 2015 - "The HAF Board Chair met with the GWH Board Chair, possibly over dinner, at the HAF Board Chair's invitation." "The GWH Board Chair told OPEGA that in his discussion(s) with the HAF Board Chair, the HAF Board Chair told him that he wanted to engage the consultant again to do another assessment of GWH's finances and business plan. He said about half of the HAF Board had been worried, given past GWH history, that state funding was not something that could be easily relied on and they would probably be sending GWH a letter..."

During testimony on October 15th, Jack Moore was asked what the impact was of the receipt of the HAF letter. Moore replied that he didn't need a letter to know that he was in trouble.

During testimony on November 12th, Gregory Powell was asked why he had decided to engage the consultant again to do another assessment of GWH's finances. Powell replied that he felt that the grant money was at risk.

The OPEGA report addressed the HAF grant agreement's handling of financial risk. The $2,750,000 payment was to be made "contingent upon satisfactory achievement of 'measurable performance goals' outlined in the proposal."

"The agreement specifies that HAF will make the final grant payment if, by September 1, 2019, the HAF trustees determine that the progress made by GWH and MeANS is 'materially consistent' with what was proposed and there is 'reasonable expectation' of ongoing financial responsibility and success. The grant agreement requires GWH to provide, as part of its Annual Report to HAF, an update on the status of state revenues for education and residential services. However, the grant agreement does not specifically reference any assumptions regarding the timing or amount of state funding."

"In January/February 2015 GWH applied for a line of credit of up to $3 million to finance the Moody School project..." "GWH considers the line of credit to be a bridge loan that it intends to fully pay off with the remaining HAF grant funds to be paid in 2019."

On June 18, 2015 - "The HAF Board Chair sent a letter to the GWH Board Chair expressing HAF's concern over the 'likely' loss of $1,060,000 in state funding over the next two years for the residential program, and its serious concern about what that meant to the future viability of GWH and MeANS and by extension GWH's ability to achieve the goals underpinning the HAF's September 10, 2014 grant to GWH for renovating and expanding the Moody School. The letter also informs GWH that given HAF's concerns they have re-engaged the consultant to revisit the GWH and MeANS budget and financial forecasts."

On June 19, 2015 - "The GWH Board held its regularly scheduled Board meeting." "...the GWH Board entered Executive Session and reportedly talked through the ramifications of the loss of state funding and the GWH Board Chair's receipt of the letter from HAF." "...the Board agreed that unless the Speaker had an adequate plan to address the potential loss of state funding, they would offer him the option of stepping down as President..."

"After the Executive Session, the speaker and GWH's Director of Finance joined the board meeting..." "The Speaker presented his memo" which "described four particular strategies the Speaker proposed implementing to address the immediate challenges. GWH's Director of Finance told OPEGA that the Board did not seem to welcome the Speaker's solutions and instead the GWH Board Chair said that it would not be enough, referencing the HAF letter."

"All those OPEGA spoke with said the message to the Speaker in this meeting was that his options were either to join a potentially sinking ship or resign."

On June 21, 2015 - "The GWH Board Chair told OPEGA he spoke with the Speaker on the phone in the afternoon and the Speaker informed him that he was not going to resign, that he had retained a lawyer and needed to think of his career and family."

Later that afternoon in an email to the GWH Board Chair Moore, the Speaker recommended "...developing a strategy that would take immediate steps toward persuading the Governor to withdraw his improper threat. The Speaker's email also states 'You have explained that the Governor communicated directly to you through a note that he will withhold this money unless I am replaced as the new President. I believe the Board has good grounds to move forward in asking the Governor to release the money that has been appropriated for Good Will-Hinckley'."

On June 24, 2015 - A copy of the June 18th Gregory Powell letter to Jack Moore is leaked to a Bangor Daily News statehouse reporter. The reporter has disclosed that he made a phone call early in the day to Moore to validate the authenticity of the letter. A message was left on Moore's voicemail to get back to him that afternoon or he would consider the letter authentic.

At 4:19 pm an email from "HAF Board Chair Gregory Powell informed the HAF Board of the situation regarding the threatened loss of State funding and his letter to GWH Board Chair Jack Moore." "Mr. Powell attached to this email the Governor's June 8th letter to the GWH and MeANS Board Chairs and his ownJune 18th letter to Mr. Moore."

Efforts to contact HAF Board members, both directly and through an intermediary, to confirm that this was the first time that they had been informed about the issue have proven unsuccessful.

At 4:30 pm "...the GWH Board Chair holds a meeting via conference call." "They agree the only course of action is to terminate the Speaker's employment contract and the Board voted unanimously to do so."

At 4:52 pm "...the Bangor Daily News posted a story on the Harold Alfond Foundation's letter to GWH raising concerns about the possible loss of $1,060,000 in state funding. The story said an anonymous source close to the GWH Board said the loss of funding was linked to the school's decision to hire the Speaker."

At 5:33 pm "...GWH's new interim president emailed the Speaker a letter from the GWH Board terminating his employment."

"In a letter to GWH dated July 6th, the Acting DOE Commissioner states that as soon as the agreement is signed, DOE will send the first quarterly check for FY 2016. GWH's Interim President returned the signed agreement on July 8th and DOE submitted the payment manifest for GWH's first quarterly payment on July 11th."

With the question of impeachment indefinitely postponed, divisive partisan politics have been removed from the equation. Perhaps federal court is where the Good Will-Hinckley firing of Mark Eves scandal has belonged all along. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Information Control Takes On Boycott, Divestment And Sanctions #BDS

History reminds us that lots of nasty practices were -- or still are -- legal. 

Apartheid was once legal in South Africa and is becoming increasingly so in Israel. Slavery was once legal in the U.S. and remains so in countries where consumer products are created for the U.S. market. Segregated access to public transportation was once legal in Montgomery, Alabama but it was successfully opposed by a boycott that spread like wildfire under the leadership of Rosa Park and her coalition partners. The second time Parks was arrested, it wasn't for refusing to get to the back of the bus; it was because boycotting was illegal.

Following the UK's lead, the U.S. Congress took a giant step toward protecting the state of Israel from boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) aimed at ending the violent occupation of Palestine. But you will not likely read about the special status of Israel in the corporate "news" about the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015.

Nor did the public hear much about the anti-BDS provisions included in the bill signed by President Obama last summer. As reported July 2 by Josh Ruebner for Electronic Intifiada:
This provision, tucked into the Trade Promotion Authority bill — more commonly known as “fast track” authority — makes it a “principal negotiating objective” of the United States “to discourage politically motivated actions to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel” in current negotiations with the European Union over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership
The law also specifically extends this US discouragement of BDS to include “Israeli-controlled territories,” a transparent ploy to put pressure on the EU to reverse nascent steps to label products from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Nor, for that matter, has the public heard much about the highly toxic TTIP in any of its aspects. But that's the topic for another post.

Why is the U.S. government specifically aiming to squelch the BDS movement? 1) Because it has such a special relationship with Israel; and 2) because BDS is working.

The fizzy drink maker with the factory in occupied Palestine shut down their plant after international pressure on the SodaStream brand. That was after the actress who is the face of the brand's ad campaign was asked to resign from her Global Ambassador position with international humanitarian aid organization Oxfam. (Full disclosure: I've been boycotting her films ever since).
Source: US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation facebook posted on February 24 with the comment, "Look what's in today's LA Times after we were censored by Variety! We need to continue pushing on this campaign to urge Oscar nominees to#SkipTheTrip so please find resources and actions to take here:"
And, as long as we're in Hollywood, let's note the lawsuit brought by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences against the purveyor of the "swag bag" given to Oscar nominees in certain big categories. Responding to a voucher in the bag for a free trip to Israel worth $55,000, Palestinian activists have called on Oscar nominees to "reject Israel propaganda trip" because of Israel's apartheid policies. The Academy is distancing itself from the company that distributed the bags and assembled their contents, using court filings to say loudly and clearly that the swag bags and their contents have no official relationship with the Oscars. 

Did the marijuana vaporizer or the trip to Israel inspire the lawsuit? We may never know. It's very doubtful that a journalist working for a major media corporation will delve into it.

Institutions of higher learning with active divestment campaigns include Tufts, the University of MississippiHarvard and MITColumbia/BarnardKansas StateEvergreen State College and Stanford among others. There are ongoing attempts to silence campus groups that criticize Israel or punish them for even debating the issues. Heard about any of that on the evening news?

Ok, then, have you heard about this? Sarah Lazare reporting in AlterNet on February 22:
The Israeli government is planning to pour $26 million this year alone into a covert cyber operation to attack and sabotage the global human rights movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), earmarking large sums for technology companies to spy on Muslim activists in the United States and Europe.
Didn't think so.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Kathy Kelly Arrested Entering Volk Field Drone Base With Loaf Of Bread

 "On January 12, the National Day of Action to Stop Killer Drones, grandmother and drone resister Mary Anne Grady Flores learned that she is to go back to jail for six months starting Tuesday, January 19." Source: Baltimore Nonviolence Center 
Camp Douglas, Wisconsin --- On February 23, two peace activists with Voices for Creative Nonviolence, Brian Terrell and Kathy Kelly, were arrested when they attempted to deliver a loaf of bread and a letter to drone operators at Volk Field, an Air National Guard Base in Wisconsin, which trains pilots to operate Shadow Drones over other countries. Voices activists have lived alongside ordinary people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Gaza. 

People who can’t flee from drone surveillance and attacks have good reason to fear people from the U.S., but instead they have broken bread with Kelly and Terrell and have welcomed opportunities for deepened mutual understanding. Kelly and Terrell carried the loaf of bread to signify the worth of relying on words rather than weapons.

Before entering the base property, Kathy Kelly said: “Living alongside ordinary people who can't escape drone surveillance in places like Iraq, Gaza and Afghanistan and knowing that a drone operator could be ordered to assassinate civilians who have nowhere to turn and nowhere to hide affected my conscience. I wanted to ask drone operators in Volk Field whether they had been asked to target any people for possible assassination that day.  I want to ask how the base training manual teaches people to distinguish between civilians and armed combatants. If an operator wants to quit, what does the commander of Volk Field do?”

Brian Terrell also noted: “Wisconsin is where I was born and raised and so I feel that coming to Volk Field is a responsibility that I owe in gratitude to my home state. The premise that drones will limit the parameters of war and make for fewer civilian casualties has proven false. 

General Stanley McChrystal, who led troops in Afghanistan from June 2009 to June 2010, warned that the drone ‘lowers the threshold for taking operations because it feels easy, there's a danger in that.’ And yet the evolution of drones in the militaries of many countries around the globe has been anything but cautious. Instead there is a reckless proliferation of this deadly technology.”

Terrell and Kelly will be arraigned on February 24, after 2:30 p.m., at the Juneau County Justice Center, 200 Oak St., in Mauston, Wisconsin. Also on February 25, at 9:00 a.m.Mary Beth Schlagheck will be tried for having crossed the line at Volk Field in August of 2015.  
Source: "9 Arrested At Volk Field" by Joy First in Counterpunch 

Schlagheck's is the last of seven trials stemming from nonviolent civil resistance actions at Volk Field that were undertaken as the culmination of the “Let It Shine” walk from Madison to Volk Field. The witness of the activists who have protested at Volk Field, and who have testified so eloquently in court, inspired Brian’s and Kathy’s action.

For more information:
Buddy Bell     Voices for Creative Nonviolence        773-540-7657
Joy First          WI Coalition to Ground the Drones   608-239-4327

REVISED Feb. 27, 2016 to include this video of the arrest at Volk Field. Note: While I agree with Brian that we are not going to vote an end to drone warfare, I disagree with his statement that there is no candidate who will stop drone attacks. True of all the corporate party candidates (D or R alike) but I believe Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein would, if elected, stop drone bombing of civilians.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Information Control Is Job #1 For Corporate Government

Source: "Hillary's Top Donor Just Bought The Onion -- Started Publishing Propaganda Immediately" by Claire Burnish in 

News that the satirical news source The Onion has been bought by media giant Univision, whose owners are among Hillary Clinton's top campaign donors (more than $2 million) and Clinton Foundation donors (more than $10 million) was met with groans of despair by the few people who noticed. 

Studies have shown that satirical coverage of current events is significantly more accurate than that of corporate news outlets. So, it was a threat. Also one that had become a household word:  "not the Onion" is a common phrase appended to posts of news too crazy to be true here in the declining days of U.S. empire.

Now, The Onion has devolved to this:
Not funny.

Information control in our day is big business and it's manifesting in a variety of sneaky ways.

For example, my husband mysteriously began receiving subscription copies of The New Republic in the mail following a holiday gift from a friend of a subscription to AdBusters. The Occupy Wall St. slant and the edgy graphics of AdBusters appeal to him. 

But the first issue of the mystery mag had this on its cover:

Just this morning I was on a site with hip-hop style educational videos when up popped news that Bill and Melinda Gates were supporters of Flocabulary. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been one of the engines turning public education in the direction of a business model over the last decade, driving up profits for corporations who make standardized tests while judging and sometimes punishing students, teachers and schools for their scores. 

This went hand in hand with underfunding K-12 education, and siphoning off already limited resources to charter schools like this one where first graders are treated like corporate underlings on the t.v. show The Apprentice.

I was in dialogue with Flocabulary about their current events coverage earlier this year.
This week I received this email from you with your Week in Rap. I was dismayed to find that it features some of the most evil corporations on the planet in a favorable light, showing schoolchildren the logos of Goldman Sachs, Wal-Mart and Starbucks in an item about what they have said they are "gonna" do for the environment. 
Following your trail of links, I found this news item appears to be sourced from the New York Times, a notorious purveyor of corporate public relations communiques presented as "news." 
I expected far better from Flocabulary. I hope that you will re-think what you are presenting as news to schoolchildren. 
Also, I have a question. Does Flocabulary receive monetary support from any corporations? Please advise.
Co-founder Blake Harrison reassured me thus: "We're a private company that does not take any corporate money or any advertisements or paid promotions/content of any kind." Which is technically true. Because the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is not Microsoft. Got it? 

I'm ok with a world where satire is truer than news. It's good to laugh through our tears of despair at widespread indifference to the Obama administration dropping more than 20,000 bombs on Muslim-majority countries in 2015. Or a federal budget with yet another giant slice of the pie -- 54% -- for the Pentagon and its contractors.

But a lot of people don't get satire. If you don't believe me, try publishing some and check out the reactions.

Still, I'm thinking maybe I will start featuring Best Satire Of The Week here in my blog, clearly labeled as such. In the lead at the moment, this brilliant, sadly hilarious and well-annotated post by Vassar prof Kiese Laymon in the Guardian"I'll be so proud when my daughter is president and runs a corrupt oligarchy." 


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

In The Slide Toward War On The Planet, Neither Corporate Party Will Put On The Brakes

As we grind on toward an election that is unlikely to halt the precipitous slide of the U.S. into all out war on the planet comes the news that the Pentagon is the 3rd biggest polluter of waterways. It's right up there with the for-profit corporations that use the commons upon which life depends as if they were their personal sewers.

Source:  Environment America Analysis of EPA Toxic Inventory Release Program
Emerson Urry reporting for EnviroNews had this to say about the Pentagon's role as polluter:
Amongst the many potentially deadly substances released by DOD are chemicals, rocket fuel and toxic sewage - but it's the carcinogenic and mutagenic radioactive isotopes let loose by its nuclear munition plants that make DOD's emissions exceptionally dangerous. The Department's myriad facilities, dedicated steadfastly to perpetuating ongoing participation in the nuclear bomb game, have been leaking and leeching lethal radiation from the dawn of the nuclear age, to the present day.
Heard much about that in the presidential primary debates so far? I didn't think so.

Urry goes on to point out the irony of the department called "defense" which is charged with guarding our collective security actually posing a real and immediate threat to our well-being. And that of our grandchildren, and their grandchildren -- if humans make it that far. 

The Pentagon, as has been previously noted in this blog, also consumes the most fossil fuels and consequently has the largest carbon footprint of any single organization on Earth.

For even more irony note that the current Republican front runner, the demagogue with the bad hair, is the only candidate from the two corporate parties with the temerity to criticize the ongoing, still escalating war in Iraq. Media commentary described this as the candidate "going all Codepink" because of the women's peace and justice group by that name that was formed to call on the U.S. government not to launch shock and awe on Iraq in the first place. Codepink has also continued to criticize U.S. aggression on Iraq -- and Syria, and Afghanistan, and Yemen, etc. -- whether or not the person in the White House has an R or a D after his name. And to point out via the Bring Our War $$ campaign that the domestic costs of giving such an enormous slice of the pie to the Pentagon and its contractors each year are crumbling infrastructure, a populace slipping into poverty, and a planet slipping into climate chaos.

The problem is that for the past decade and a half the Pentagon budget has been gobbling up not only our treasure but our common sense. Ever since the U.S. was allegedly attacked from without on 9/11, the U.S. has created ever more insurgencies by bombing civilians and occupying country after country. There appears to be no end in sight, and even civil society is increasingly engulfed in rah-rah militarism that is enough to make this history major's skin crawl. 

For example, Facebook thinks I want to see this ad (probably because I work in education?):

One can only imagine what age children are being subjected to their teachers' not very subtle hints that they are expected to become cannon fodder for the U.S. war machine.

I'll mention here that I support the Green Party presumptive candidate for president, Dr. Jill Stein, because her platform is one of life support rather than death-dealing. Online liberal commenters scourge me regularly for this, and their common theme is: she can't win. 

Pretty sure that's what they said about abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, and the 40 hour work week, too.

Sunday, February 14, 2016


Moore was hospitalized with pneumonia and missed many appearances to publicize his new film. He's asking others to help get news about the film out now, especially since it was passed over for an Oscar nomination after being shortlisted in the  Best Documentary Feature category. Photo credit:
In Where To Invade Next Michael Moore has made an entire film about U.S. exceptionalism -- without ever using that word. The deadly results of patriarchy are examined in excruciating detail, and feminist values are applauded and extolled -- without ever using those words either. 

Moore looks at what allowing patriarchy to occupy the narrative has wrought and explicitly says nothing about that particular problem; he simply reoccupies the narrative, brilliantly, to let us in on the news that everything we think is an intractable problem could, in fact, vanish rapidly. If only we believe, and then pick up a hammer and chisel and start breaking it down.
Bree Newsome, a filmmaker in her own right, makes a cameo appearance taking down the Confederate flag at South Carolina's Capitol. Her image is offered as an example of how committed action can change facts on the ground rather quickly. (Photo credit:
This film may well be Moore's magnum opus. It combines elements of his trademark faux naif style of investigative reporting, his fascination with industry (Roger & Me), his analysis of the roots of U.S. aggression (Bowling for Columbine), his thesis that government on behalf of greed is killing us (Capitalism: A Love Story) and that if other wealthy nations can afford necessities like universal health care (Sicko), then we can, too.

Moore nods at the Pentagon budget in passing at the start of the film but he never returns to this starting point to explain some of the mysterious budget shortfalls that prevent U.S. citizens from enjoying the same quality of life as Europeans. Didactic is not his style. He'd rather make us laugh at the foolishness of a photograph of the joint chiefs of staff holding their hands over their crotches or what Moore calls (for a big laugh from the audience I saw the film with) their "no fly zones." 

This is after he has thrown down the biggest gauntlet of all in the culture of vicious patriarchs, taunting the Pentagon brass as failures for losing every war since "the big one." This is the platform from which to launch the organizing idea of the film: an overweight, undergroomed American will go forth bearing our flag and invade other nations to see what we can take that the U.S. needs.

I'm making the movie sound a lot more funny than it actually was. Not much of what Moore shared about the state we're in or how those on the other side of the pond live was news to me, but it felt tragic. The archival footage of police violence against Black people was not new but was still just as horrifying, as intended. Coupled with multiple images of incarcerated Black men it was enough to make me weep. Slavery isn't over, and Moore points out the obscene profits produced by prisoner labor. He even names a few brand names you might be wearing as products of this labor arrangement. There's an implied comparison with the Italian clothing manufacturer whose employees enjoy benefits and vacations beyond the wildest dreams of hourly workers in the U.S.

Moore also points out that it's not likely a coincidence that mass incarceration of Black men in the "war on drugs" coincided with the assassination of Black leaders and the rise of Black empowerment at the end of the civil rights ferment of the 1960's.

But the wisest nugget in a very wise film turns out to be about Holocaust denial: how the Germans don't do it, and so they heal.  The dearth of teaching about the truth of genocide against the Native people of the Americas is a reason why the U.S. can't heal itself from the violence that continues to plague it. Also, though Moore doesn't point this out, it's the foundation for this genocide to be ongoing in the pollution of the last few scraps of Native territory by uranium mining, fracking, pipeline construction and dioxin, and in disproportionate violence against Native women and girls.

In light of the really heavy stuff you may be surprised to hear that a tragedy that left the audience in Waterville, Maine yesterday in stunned silence was: school lunches. 

French children horrified at the images of U.S. school lunch. What even is that? indeed.

Seldom has there been a more vivid depiction of patriarchy's lack of care for the young than the U.S. school lunch. Spoiler alert: the opening scenes of chefs at work preparing fresh local food turn out to be set in a school kitchen in the French Alps. Because one of the film crew told her daughter they were filming there, the stateside student began sending her mother a photo of the lunch at her school each day. Placing these photos side by side is the picture worth a thousand words about the dismal state of nutrition, childcare, and public education in the U.S. today.

Moore thinks he can explain all this: women are fully involved in making the decisions that result in bankers being jailed for crashing their economy (Iceland), children eating exquisitely prepared vegetables (France), employees going home for a two hour home-cooked midday meal with their families every day (Italy), and women being able to participate in a government that represents its people (Tunisia). 

Oh, and did I mention free university education for all comers including U.S. students who emigrated because they couldn't afford even community college (Slovenia)? This is far from a complete list of the ideas Moore came to steal. Treatment of criminals (Norway) and the re-design of early public education to a model that actually works (Finland) plus women's reproductive health care for free (Tunisia) are also covered.

Critics will find much missing from Where To Invade Next: treatment of immigrants in the featured countries is glossed over, plus the Eurocentric bias of the entire project will likely come up. As my husband observed, the film is a sea of white faces. Moore doesn't explain why Japan or Nigeria didn't make it onto his radar as countries where English is widely spoken and ideas that are working are worth stealing. I suspect he went to countries where the heads of companies or governmental officials would agree to be in his film. 
Moore at the Toronto Int'l Film Festival where the movie debuted last fall. He poses with Amel Smaoui (second from right) and Pasi Sahlberg (right), also Jenny Tumas (left) all of whom were interviewed  in the film. (Photo: Evan Agostini, Invision via AP)
It was fun to hear more from Pasi Sahlberg, a former official of the Ministry of Education and Culture in Finland, as I had found much to think about after seeing his presentation last March at an education conference in Washington DC. No homework, fewer hours in school, fewer standardized tests, and rigorous teacher preparation is the Finnish prescription for what ails U.S. public education. Currently they're #1 and we're #29. 

Moore offers a little salve to our wounded pride by pointing out late in the film that most of the ideas being realized so brilliantly elsewhere have roots in the U.S. He includes testimony from several Europeans to this effect. But it's Amel Smaoui, a journalist in Tunisia, who diagnoses the underlying disease. Looking directly into the camera for a moment, she urges us to be curious about the rest of the world. She tells Moore's audience that they invented one of the best things in the world: the Internet. She prescribes using it to find out about other cultures, to inquire about and learn from them. 

No need to invade after all.