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Laramie Movie Scope:
Considering Democracy:
8 Things to Ask Your Representative

Some political issues don't get discussed enough

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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July 3, 2008 -- “Considering Democracy: 8 Things to Ask Your Representative,” is a thought-provoking film comparing the United States to several other industrialized nations in terms of its policies towards other nations and its own citizens. While most of the information in this 58-minute film (not counting the extras on the DVD) is not unknown to news junkies, it will come as a surprise to those who get most of their news only from radio, TV, news magazines or local newspapers. This film examines how the U.S. government really works, as opposed to how it is supposed to work, or how it is described in most school textbooks.

As a news junkie, the thing that surprised me most in the film was that the immense power of corporations to influence the government by campaign contributions and lobbying is a recent development in the U.S. This has happened in my lifetime. I thought it had always been that way. According to this film, the development of first amendment rights for corporations, including the rights to donate to political campaigns and to lobby Congress came slowly over a long period of time in legal decisions culminating in the 1970s. These legal decisions now enable large corporations to use their vast financial resources to influence public policy in order to enhance corporate profits. The largest campaign contributors and the companies with the best lobbyists get the best government contracts. An extreme example of this is billions of dollars of no-bid contracts awarded to large numbers of private contractors in Iraq.

A related case raised in the film is the “revolving door” of influence peddlers in Washington, D.C. Former members of Congress work as lobbyists and lobbyists, in turn, are put to work in government, often regulating the same companies they used to work for. An example of this in the film is a former lobbyist for media companies who cast a deciding Federal Communications Commission vote in favor of relaxing restrictions against monopolistic-style media ownership patterns in cities around the country. The FCC allowed media representatives to talk all day at the deciding hearing about how less media diversity would make for more news diversity, while the public was relegated to a few two-minute sound bites at the end of the hearing. The film noted that a number of companies have more former senators and representatives on their payrolls than some states (like Wyoming) have in Congress.

The film also raises questions about why the United States doesn't have have a regular method for increasing the minimum wage with inflation and why it doesn't legislate vacation time or holidays for workers, like most other industrialized nations do. In Australia, for instance, workers get four weeks off every year (and an additional week after the first year) and get 17 percent more pay for those weeks off. The film suggests maybe that is why Americans don't travel more and find out more about people in other countries. The film also raises questions why the United States doesn't have universal health care for its people, while most industrialized nations have it. The film also questions why the U.S. has a lower life expectancy, a higher infant mortality rate and fewer doctors per capita than most other industrialized nations, while spending far more on health care.

The film raises questions about news coverage in the United States, criticizing it as mostly trivial or misleading. NBC, which is owned by General Electric, is singled out for biased news coverage because of GE's interests in weapons and health care. The film also notes that cable and satellite TV packages are much more expensive in the U.S. than in most other industrialized nations. The film makes the assumption that government-financed TV news is preferable to news financed by advertising. The problem with government-financed news coverage is that you only get the news the government wants you to hear. Government financing is no panacea. A recent study by Pew Research Center for the People and the Press indicates that listeners of Rush Limbaugh's conservative partisan radio show scored better on general news knowledge questions than did listeners of government-financed National Public Radio. Probably the best system, used by a few media companies, is to isolate news financing in a sort of blind trust arrangement. One thing's for sure. No matter how news is financed, somebody will always complain about the coverage being biased one way or another. Heck, I even know people who think Fox News is really “fair and balanced.” Millions believe in the myth of the “liberal media,” even after it was instrumental in getting the U.S. into the Iraq war.

The film also raises questions about U.S. foreign policy, like the taxpayer-subsidized sale of arms to the repressive government of Nepal. The film shows a world map with a large list of countries benefitting from taxpayer-financed arms grants from the U.S. A number of these countries in Africa are places where children fight in armed rebellions. The film asserts the U.S. has, in some cases, armed both sides in wars and rebellions. The question being raised is why are taxpayer funds being spent on military grants to nations oppressing their own people? Aren't there more important needs right here in this country?

This short film doesn't cover all issues from all sides, often not even two sides, but it does raise some important questions. It is meant to be a starting point for discussions which can eventually lead to political action. According to the film's writer-director Keya Lea Horiuchi, who appeared last night in Laramie at a special screening of this not-quite-finished-yet film, she actually “toned down” this film to keep it from being too polarizing. That is hard to believe. This is a really depressing film, especially for patriotic right-wing types who don't know this stuff and who don't want to hear it. Most surprising of all is that Horiuchi, a Colorado resident, is a Republican. I wouldn't have guessed that in a million years. This film tells liberals what they want to hear. Your average capitalism-worshiping Republican would never watch this film, or if they started, would stomp out of it quickly. This film rates a B.

For more information on this film, including purchase information, see the Considering Democracy web site. Click here for links to places to buy or rent other movies in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously.

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Copyright © 2008 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)