Jen Johnson's blog

Street Cleaning Tickets Have A Real Purpose

from Greater Greater Washington
by David Alpert on Jul 9, 2009 2:16 pm

Photo by Wayan Vota

Sometimes, the most heroic of politicians get fooled by proposals that sound like they'll save the world but turn out to be terrible policy. The political organizers-in-training running mock superhero campaigns for DC Mayor fell into this trap, as many of them hastily jumped on a proposal from Adam Green Goblin to eliminate street cleaning tickets in DC.

The noble Adam Green was transformed by a chemical serum, adrenaline, when DPW "courtesy towed" his car around the corner to make room for snow removal. The new space had a different street cleaning day than the place he'd parked, leading Adam to get a street cleaning ticket. DPW also couldn't tell Adam where they'd put the car.

From that day forward, Adam Green Goblin began roaming the city trying to stamp out street sweeping tickets. He created a Facebook group arguing that the tickets are just a revenue generator for DC. He also added that Georgetown has no street cleaning (nor does Ward 3), making the tickets an unfair burden on residents of other neighborhoods.

It is indeed unfair for some neighborhoods to have sweeping and not others, but the solution isn't to stop cleaning the streets. Residents of the areas with street sweeping originally petitioned DC to start it, due to high volumes of trash and chemicals on their streets. Residents would certainly not like the way their neighborhoods looked if DC stopped cleaning. And when we don't take debris off the streets, it washes into storm drains and rivers, or blows into trees and parks. On my street, after DPW does not clean the streets for the winter, the gutters are full of tree material and some trash, and many streets nearer businesses accumulate a lot more trash.

The new street sweeper cameras, which have enraged some drivers, are also making a difference to DC's trash and pollution. According to testimony from DPW head William Howland at a January 2008 hearing, cars parked illegally during sweeping hours significantly impede DPW's ability to get trash off the streets. Each car forces the sweeper to go around, making it miss three parking spaces worth of gutter. Cleaning vehicles collect 10 pounds of oil and grease per mile swept, and 3 pounds each of nitrogen and phosphorus.

Photo by TCM Hitchhiker

Without these facts, Adam Green Goblin's campaign instead made sweeping sound like a nefarious attempt to squeeze revenue from suffering drivers. The campaign corrupted the Green Lantern, who created a petition for neighborhoods to request an end to street cleaning. This came despite his strong advocacy for green jobs and green roofs. Batwoman also endorsed the campaign, as did Batgirl, despite her major policy plank of "cleaning up our streets," which she must mean only in the crimefighting way. The Atom came out against street cleaning tickets, while advocating for cleaning up the Anacostia and Potomac rivers and city parks, "crack[ing] down on illegal dumping" and prosecuting polluters. Wonder Woman talked about the issue, too, but confined her comments to the unfairness between Georgetown and other neighborhoods, rather than attacking street sweeping itself.

Of course, the DC government could definitely make the street sweeping system more user-friendly. For example, right now each neighborhood generally uses the same two cleaning days for every street, like Monday on one side and Tuesday on the other side. Drivers often have to drive to an adjacent neighborhood to find a usable space. DPW could reorganize the routes to stretch across most of the District on each day, sweeping one street across neighborhoods Monday, a different street Tuesday, and so on.

DC could allow drivers to register their cell phone numbers or email addresses to receive a text message or email if they're ever ticketed or towed, to avoid someone getting multiple tickets within a few hours of each other or tickets after a courtesy tow. And they should absolutely make sure they don't lose track of cars entirely due to bureaucratic mistakes.

It's true that we ought not to see ticketing drivers as a nice way to raise revenue. The ticketing system's goal, first and foremost, must be to promote the right behavior, like not parking in rush hour restricted areas or blocking street sweepers. But ending street cleaning and coping with trash-strewn, chemical-coated streets isn't the answer.

What about Georgetown? Why don't they have street cleaning? So far, I've asked many people, and gotten numerous as-yet-unconfirmed answers. Some have said that the streets are too narrow for sweeping vehicles, or that Georgetowners just didn't want to have to give up parking on one side of the street some days. All neighborhoods with street sweeping did originally opt in. Maybe the BID spends its own money to keep the neighborhood clean, or neighbors do the work themselves. At one point, the Citizens' Association of Georgetown recommended instituting street sweeping.

One source said that DPW does some manual sweeping. If they do, and if it costs DPW more to keep Georgetown clean than other neighborhoods, that's unfair. Someone else told me that they heard that as part of DC's water quality settlement with the EPA, DC will be expanding street sweeping to all neighborhoods. Either way, I'll keep investigating to get real answers. Adam is right to ask questions about the apparent inequal treatment of Georgetown and nearby neighborhoods, but wrong to recommend that we eliminate cleaning entirely, or tickets for those who don't move their cars.

I call on Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein, and the environment-loving members of the Facebook group to rescind their support for the Green Lantern and Adam Green Goblin's plan. Instead, they should cast their votes for Wonder Woman (my recommendation), Cyborg, Superman or Spider-Man, the candidates who weren't corrupted by Adam Green Goblin's populist-sounding but dangerous proposal. If these Mayoral candidates were serious about fixing this inequity, they'd instead push for reasonable street sweeping reforms and investigate the real reasons Georgetown has no street cleaning. Since they're actually just fictional superheroes with campaigns run by national community organizers in town for a boot camp, Greater Greater Washington will investigate and push on this issue instead.

posted by David Alpert on Jul 9, 2009 2:16 pm

Senator Eric Schneiderman on the NY Senate power struggle

Liberals aren't too happy about the current New York State Senate debacle, but at Drinking Liberally chapters across the country progressives are finding a meeting place to discuss and debate what should be done.

As the contentious power struggle continues, the question arises: what will happen if the stalemate persists? So far, it is blocking abortion rights, marriage equality, and other progressive legislation.

Republicans are also rejecting Democrats' proposals to create a provisional bipartisan committee to enable the Senate to vote on urgent legislation while the debate continues.

While the advantage of blocking partisan issues is obvious, Living Liberally friend and supporter Senator Eric Schneiderman points out that there are serious consequences to inaction which should be considered nonpartisan. One example: legislation that will affect city operating budgets in the near future.

Hear more of Schneiderman's thoughts on the issue and how progressives should handle the clash in his interview on the Fred Dicker Show:

Part 1

Part 2

Wiping Our Arses with The Planet

Because environmental issues can be very... personal, we thought we'd share the latest from Laughing Liberally regular contributor Lee Camp.

The Quest for Individuality in "Tokyo Sonata"

In Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s new film, Tokyo Sonata, he presents timely and interesting ideas about identity in the modern world in a way that is at times compelling and complex, but at others overwrought and unclear.

The film focuses on the four members of the middle class Sasaki family: the father, Ryuhei (played by Teruyuki Kagawa), his wife Megumi (played by Kyoko Koizumi), and their two sons, Takashi and Kenji (played by Yû Koyanagi and Inowaki Kai). In the opening minutes of the film, Ryuhei finds himself suddenly unemployed after a meeting with the boss. Unsure of what to do, he keeps this from his wife, getting dressed for work the next day and joining the stream of businesspeople walking toward the city. He soon finds that he is not alone when he runs into an old colleague who is also keeping his family in the dark.

The other members of his family embark on difficult journeys of their own: The younger son, Kenji, uses his lunch money to take the piano lessons expressly forbidden by his father, while Takashi joins the U.S. army. Megumi’s internal grappling slowly builds, culminating in some surprising actions. Their troubles are similar, and achingly so because they rarely intersect.

Ryuhei and Megumi both struggle to understand themselves outside their societal positions: Ryuhei as businessman, and Megumi as housewife. Ryuhei has become so myopic, so dependent on defining himself by his previous title that he is unable tell a job interviewer what his skills are. When provoked, he further equates himself to his job by simply giving his title at his old company.

Ryuhei is not simply attempting to find work, but to redefine himself. Without titles and the requirements and social protocols that accompany them, Ryuhei and Megumi are uncertain how to live. Through their stories, Kurosawa leads us to wonder whether the roles created by a rigidly structured capitalist culture supplant our own needs and desires.

The generational differences in the characters’ searches for identity provide a thought-provoking evaluation of individuality in modern society: While their parents toil to understand themselves in absence of social position, Takashi and Kenji attempt to find fulfillment by following their instincts. Their most obvious obstacle is their father, who forbids them both from pursuing their goals. In order to explore their identities, then, they must question his authority. Though they fight against the expected and seemingly secure path, both boys succeed in their personal struggles in ways that their parents do not, suggesting that personal freedom is valuable and worth fighting for: If we don’t want our job to define us, we must define our job, our life.

The philosophy of justified rebellion is further associated with Kenji’s generation when his classmates call him “awesome” after he challenges their teacher for unfairly punishing him. Ryuhei’s desire to maintain the status quo is equally reflected in his generation, through recurring images of suited men in places they do not usually belong.

Kurosawa falls short of identifying the origin of or solution for the problems of Ryuhei and Megumi, and even offers contradictory ideas. For example, while it is clear that the surge in unemployment is due to cost-cutting and outsourcing on the part of corporations, it is unclear whether Ryuhei’s attempts to find a new job comparable to his old one are exhaustive. The disastrous interview in which he refuses to identify his skills takes place after he refuses work in the service sector from the unemployment office. Yet the interview takes place in a sleek corporate boardroom. Therefore, while his poor performance at the interview shows us that he is confused about his identity, it also makes him appear apathetic about finding a new job. Such a representation validates arguments that joblessness is intimately linked to personal responsibility - a view that is at odds with the film’s message in many other instances.

Many of Kurosawa’s images are devastatingly poignant or delightfully subtle, supporting his central themes with a visual maturity often lacking in modern cinema. This is a critical achievement for a film about internal struggles and taciturn relationships. Kurosawa trusts the audience a great deal by asking them to understand complex ideas using silent clues: a missed greeting; the quiet dinner table; a pause near the pedestrian traffic.

Yet at times he betrays this trust, by editing Ryuhei and Megumi’s stories in tandem to blatantly present similarities, by presenting painfully lengthy scenes showcasing their despair, by inserting overdramatic dialogue. These exaggerations not only mistrust the audience; they conflict with the beautifully restrained tone of most of the film.

With compelling content and often impeccable cinematic choices, Tokyo Sonata aims to be a masterpiece - so when it does fall short, it is jarring and disappointing.

Who Watches The Watchmen's Political Message?

When I went to see Watchmen on opening night, I was on the lookout: not just for political allegory, but for any conservative bias on Snyder’s part. Why the apprehension? Prior to Watchmen, Zack Snyder directed 300, another graphic novel adaptation bursting with both action and political themes. And while 300 is a well-constructed and entertaining story, I was (and still am) disgusted by its insidious Bush-like, overly simplistic praise of violence in the name of democracy.

My initial overall reaction to Watchmen as the first credits rolled was pretty positive. I found the film’s structure less tight than 300, but was willing to forgive: from what I understood, the film had a lot of complicated story to condense. In particular, I welcomed the temporal jumps so roundly criticized in Patrick Lee’s review on SciFi Wire.

I was mostly pleased that the film critically explores the theme of the hero. While imperfect in crucial ways, Watchmen presents thought-provoking questions: What is a hero? What if there were more than one? What if they disagreed? How do we know who is right? Are humans worth protecting?

Watchmen asks these questions by presenting an alternate reality in which human heroes exist. In such a world, we find that the nature of heroes is contradictory: they seek justice, but they are dogmatic and uncooperative. As with the general population, each hero has different ideas of how to solve the world’s problems. And as I would expect from a hero, they are not willing to compromise. Even with each other. When the ultimate threat - extinction of the human race - comes along, their differences become even more divisive. And the high stakes help them all feel entitled to pursue their own goals. So the real battle in Watchmen is among the heroes: a battle of ideals.

Luckily, Watchmen approaches this with a dose of realism. The heroes are real humans: morally ambiguous, lonely, psychologically wounded. We are shown the violent past that creates one of our most violent heroes, Rorschach. We hear The Comedian’s thoughts on human nature. We learn the source of Dr. Manhattan’s powers and his emotional detachment. We likewise depart from the tame kisses and bloodless battles of many hero films, delving into real lovemaking and naked violence.

The political parallels are compelling and relevant. Likening the network of heroes in Watchmen to our political system, we find that we similar predicaments. Like the film’s heroes, each of our elected officials has their own political and moral opinions. They are often deeply divided on fundamental issues, and when they refuse to work together they can be consumed with internal conflict and get little done. And at their worst, they do something else the film’s heroes do: purport to act on behalf of the public while completely ignoring them.

But while I wanted to like the film, something about the story nagged me, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. Something felt off with Silver Spectre and Nite Owl, with the ending sequence, with the film’s narrative. I haven’t read the graphic novel, so I asked a fellow Living Liberally member, Josh Bolotsky, to compare it to the book. I was surprised to find that many of Josh’s criticisms of Snyder’s adaptation addressed my nagging feeling, and revealed a hidden bias.

Turns out that the film was a poor adaptation of the book, choosing the wrong moments to expand and condense and eventually changing the original meaning of Watchmen into something less mature and interesting; more commercial.

*Some spoilers below*

For example, a major theme of the book is the moral ambiguity of all the heroes. Snyder has instead created a narrative in which we have typical protagonists (Silver Spectre and Nite Owl) and antagonist (Ozymandias). He does this by omitting the back stories of these characters, allowing the story structure to create their identity: Silver Spectre and Nite Owl are lovers on a mission to save the world; Ozymandias an evil genius working against the other heroes in secrecy.

Making this adjustment injects a simple right/wrong morality into the story that wasn’t in the book, abandoning a mature and balanced contemplation of the nature of heroism. As a result we are essentially asked to identify with some heroes more than others, which is troubling to me because they each represent specific political and philosophical ideologies.

Rewriting the ending was also a poor decision. It allowed us to demonize Ozymandias and glorify Dr. Manhattan, and it ignored the fact explored in the book: that humans need a constant common enemy in order to work together. A single explosion and an invisible, insurmountable enemy would not do the trick. The book’s ending, by contrast, encourages us to move from thinking about the moral ambiguity of heroes to the true nature of humans.

Superheroes in the modern age

Superhero stories are a reliable place to find political themes: any battle between good and evil makes pretty clear distinctions in the morality department. Alternate universes in particular allow creators and audiences to crystallize themes and messages precisely because they are so divorced from our everyday lives.

While we continue to enjoy these stories, a sub-genre has emerged and gained popularity: the examination of the superhero figure. While many hero stories delve into this issue, many have begun exploring this as the central theme. Last year's obvious popular example was The Dark Knight, which dealt largely with the superhero's need for evil and the role of the hero as a publicly maligned figure.

The superhero, it turns out, is only loved when the public is aware of the evil forces at work.

This week's premiere of "Watchmen" brings us the newest in both superhero epic and moral ambiguity. The film, directed by Zack Snyder, is based on Alan Moore's graphic novel which gained historical critical and popular acclaim. The best-seller won industry awards like the Kirby, Eisner, and Hugo and was the only comic featured in TIME's "100 Greatest English Language Novels from 1923 to the Present."

So, why is "Watchmen" part of this sub-genre? It begins with the typical opening premise: that before the story's start, heroes were unneeded. But in the universe of "Watchmen" it seems post-Dark Knight: the heroes already exist, and are simply unwanted. The story isn't about the rise of a superhero, but the regrouping of pre-existing heroes. And, to further complicate matters, they all have their own moral ideas.

Each hero represents a different modern sensibility, which makes working together a little problematic. And refreshingly realistic. And while it is unfortunate that the film was stymied for years in Hollywood, I am pleased that a film discussing heroic cooperation is coming out now, into a difficult social and political time when teamwork - among heroes or otherwise - is essential.

Check out the midnight premiere with Screening Liberally this Thursday and share your ideas and opinions, about the film and our prospects for political cooperation.

Liberal Highlights of the Oscars

(Yes, the answers to the Trivia Quiz are up! Plus, check out some more Oscars facts here)

At last night’s Oscars, we witnessed the usual song and dance, light-hearted joking, and occasional tear-jerking speech. Happily, some performers and filmmakers used their time at the podium to remind us of issues greater than their personal struggles and achievements. Some speeches were more direct than others, but as I like to say: there’s politics in every word we speak. Below are my 5 favorites from the night - comment with your own!

The Clearly Political

1) Milk writer Dustin Lance Black won the award for Best Original Screenplay. In his beautiful, personal speech (below the fold in its entirety) he spoke directly to gay and lesbian kids, telling them:
“you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights federally, across this great nation of ours”

Post-event, he kept it political, telling reporters "For inspiration, we need to look not at Proposition 8 but look back to 1964. No group has ever won full civil rights in this country going state by state, county by county."

(More here)

2) Sean Penn, our Best Actor in a Leading Role, began his speech with quite the attention-grabber: “Thank you. Thank you. You commie, homo-loving sons-of-guns.” He was, of course, referring to Hollywood’s legendary liberal leanings. Luckily he also got down to business, giving a shout-out to Obama, talking about the anti-gay protests that lined the streets near the Oscars, and declaring our need for universal human rights. (The full speech below the fold) Hollywood’s elite broke into applause.

With reporters, Penn discussed the protests and his views on Obama, striking a positive, confident tone. When asked what he would say to the protestors outside the Oscars:
“I'd tell them to turn in their hate card and find their better self, you know. I think that these are largely taught limitations and ignorances, this kind of thing, and it's a really it's very sad in a way, because it's a demonstration of such emotional cowardice to be so afraid to be extending the same rights to a fellow man as you would want for yourself. I would ask them not to tempt those of us who see something more deeply than they are looking at it, as angry as they tend to be in a void.”

What about the signs declaring that Heath Ledger is in hell?
"I think if we get used to dismissing these kind of comments rather than commenting on them, we'll be better off. It's meaningless jibberish."

And, commenting on Obama’s views on gay marriage:
"I would like to believe that's a political stand right now and not necessarily a future one or a felt one. I don't think any of us, particularly our president, would long be able to take that position because it's not a human luxury. These are human needs, and they will be gotten."

(More of Penn's Q&A here and here)

3) Slumdog Millionaire for Best Picture. There certainly is plenty of debate over the content of this film: Is it “poverty porn”? Is the word “slumdog” insulting? Does the film ignore real solutions for the world’s poor? (See this NYTimes blog entry for some views on the debate)

But I think there is something to be said about Slumdog’s presence at the Oscars (or the other top awards shows, for that matter). The film, which was an independent production shot on location with mainly unknown actors, barely got made because of financial problems. Best of all, its success was largely based on grassroots support: word-of-mouth, instead of the usual mammoth marketing campaign. (Just look at the budgets and stories of the other top contenders)

Not long ago, it would have been hard to find a film like this at the Oscars. But thanks to our increased interest in independent film, these films are not only accepted in mainstream cinema, but impacting it.

The Less Obvious

4) The first award went to Best Supporting Actress Penelope Cruz, whose speech touched on three issues: Hollywood’s horrific and long-standing lack of strong female characters; art’s ability to cross cultural boundaries; and the recent financial hardships hitting the arts, particularly the film industry. Here are excerpts from her speech:

“Thank you for having written over all these years some of the greatest characters for women…"

“I grew up in a place… where this was not a very realistic dream"

“I always felt that this ceremony was a moment of unity for the world, because art in any form is and has been and will always be our universal language and we should do everything we can to protect its survival”

5) Kate Winslet’s speech didn’t seem too political, but she dedicated her Oscar to recently deceased producers Sydney Pollack and Sir Anthony Minghella, both of whom made high visibility films that dealt with a range of social issues.

I was also intrigued by her emphasis on the equality between the cast and crew on the production:

“There was no division between the cast and the crew on this film”

I don’t exactly know what she meant by this but from my own experience on film sets, that is pretty rare. Higher budget union films are comprised of different craft groups that stick together and rarely mingle. And within them, a rigid hierarchy resembling traditional corporate America. Lunch time always reminded me of the high school tables in Mean Girls. So, if the production really did strike a more egalitarian collaboration, I’m game to call that liberal.

See Dustin Lance Black and Sean Penn's speeches below the fold

Get Political For The Oscars!

Do you know which Best Director nominee donated $25,000 to the DCCC? Which nominated actress once worked at the Pentagon? What celeb once said: "If there weren't blacks, Jews, and gays, there would be no Oscars"?

Sunday is Oscar Night, but that's no reason to put politics aside. After all, it's one of Hollywood's most political evenings -- why shouldn't we wear our partisan stripes as well?

Whether you're rooting for a favorite flick, just channel-surfing through, or watching to make fun of the outfits, make your Oscar-viewing a little more entertaining with Screening Liberally Oscar Trivia. Host your own Oscars party (or join ours in New York), and enjoy! The rest of the quiz below the fold.

Oscars Political Trivia Quiz!

You know a lot about Hollywood: Who's dating who, whose breasts have been unleashed in front of the press...

So, let's up the difficulty: how about political Oscars trivia?

No cheating! Answers at this Sunday's Screening Liberally Oscars Party (host your own or come to ours) and posted online on Monday.

And add your own trivia questions or knowledge in the comments - we're all about learning!

1) Who said "If there weren't blacks, Jews, and gays, there would be no Oscars"?
A - Chris Rock
B - Woody Allen
C - Ellen DeGeneres
D - Neil Patrick Harris

2) This performer’s mother was a teacher and social worker
A - Brad Pitt
B - Melissa Leo
C - Mickey Rourke
D - Viola Davis

3) Which Oscar-nominated director was forced by Fox Studios to change a line in their film because it was about abortion?
A - David Fincher
B - Ron Howard
C - Gus Van Sant
D - Danny Boyle

4) Which nominee gave $25,000 to the DCCC in 2008?
A - Ron Howard
B - Marisa Tomei
C - Philip Seymour Hoffman
D - Angelina Jolie

5) Which nominee received the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon's Freedom of Expression Award, recognizing courage or creative vision in upholding free expression, particularly in the arts, for their films that have "let us see inside the lives of individuals we don't often get a glimpse at."
A - Angelina Jolie
B - Sean Penn
C - David Fincher
D - Gus Van Sant

6) Who said: “I wonder, when the war trials begin -- and no doubt, the Iraq war trials will begin, at certain points -- I don't know what will happen to the guards at Guantanamo Bay”?
A - Frank Langella
B - Kate Winslet
C - Stephen Daldry
D - Penelope Cruz

7) Which nominee at one point seriously contemplated the priesthood?
A - Danny Boyle
B - Philip Seymour Hoffman
C - Ron Howard
D - Josh Brolin

8) In May 2006, this nominee joined other Brooklyn celebrities to protest plans to build a Nets stadium in Prospect Heights. The star-studded group joined an advisory board for “Develop, Don't Destroy Brooklyn”
A - Anne Hathaway
B - Gus Van Sant
C - Kate Winslet
D - Heath Ledger

9) Which actress used to work at the Pentagon?
A - Viola Davis
B - Taraji P. Henson
C - Angelina Jolie
D - Marisa Tomei

10) Who said: “Politics itself is so unsexy, isn't it? But when the politics in creative works are really explored - not used as a vehicle - the results can be really interesting.”
A - Stephen Daldry
B - Marisa Tomei
C - Michael Shannon
D - Meryl Streep

11) Who said, referring to President Bush: "Well, in 1932 Huey Long said something very interesting. It was, 'Fascism will come to America, but likely under another name, perhaps anti-fascism’"?
A - Ron Howard
B - Kate Winslet
C - Sean Penn
D - Robert Downey Jr.

12) "Slumdog" is perhaps the first mainstream movie to present an unflinching portrait of India's abject poverty, its crime, corruption and communal tensions since what year?
A - 1997
B - 1989
C - 1982
D - 1969
* Bonus if you can name the film

13) Who said: "I never heard the word 'fag' until I was in high school. I might have heard about homosexuals from Life magazine, but I never heard anything derogatory.”
A - Sean Penn
B - Stephen Daldry
C - Gus Van Sant
D - Josh Brolin

14) Who said: “America doesn't reward people of my age, either in day-to-day life or for their performances”?
A - Kate Winslet
B - Sean Penn
C - Heath Ledger
D - Meryl Streep

"Sick Around The World": Lessons to learn from other health care systems

Last night I joined activists, health care professionals, and interested New Yorkers at a screening of “Sick Around The World,” hosted by NYC for Change. In the upstairs party lounge, all the attendees sat down and introduced themselves to the group before the film began. It was nice to get a feel for my audience mates: among them were doctors, lawyers, Obama campaign vets, and social workers.

I first heard about the film in relation to the screening. The quick synopsis read: “*FRONTLINE* teams up with veteran *Washington Post* foreign correspondent T.R.Reid to find out how 5 capitalist democracies *the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, Taiwan and Switzerland* -- deliver health care, and what the United States might learn from their successes and their failures.”

I couldn’t help but think, despairingly, “Is this going to be like Sicko?”

Not that I didn’t like Sicko; I cried at least once when I watched Michael Moore’s similarly structured take on U.S. health care. But, liberal me, I was a convert before I rented the DVD. And I found all my conversations about health care with non-converts to be just as frustrating as before. After all, Moore is notoriously biased, tending to engender knee-jerk dismissal of all his ideas from conservatives. Their biggest complaint - that he didn’t show any downsides to the health care systems in Canada, the U.K., France, and Cuba - was perfectly viable.

So I was delighted that “Sick Around The World” addressed these concerns. T.R. Reid, a veteran foreign correspondent for The Washington Post, frequent commentator on NPR, and author of nine books, is the film’s guide. In each country he visits, he examines the health care system more objectively. He speaks with more than one health care expert. He asks for budgetary figures. He specifically solicits criticisms of each system by patients, doctors, and company executives. He gives the audience a realistic idea of each system, refusing to idealize them.

My favorite case was Taiwan: the story of starting a health care system from scratch, going from over half uninsured to universally insured. While we may not be able to do the same thing in the U.S., the idea is certainly appealing: it shows us that re-imagining things actually is possible.

My biggest problem with the film was that it assumed the audience knew how broken the U.S. health care system is. Sure, a few facts were thrown in (we’re ranked 37th for health care internationally). But it would have been nice to get at least the same level of inspection of the U.S. system as the other countries. Otherwise, my conservative friends get to continue saying “I don’t see anything wrong with the system we have.” One Swiss woman at the gathering, for example, told us that her husband’s health care (provided by his U.S. job) is better than the Swiss coverage they previously had.

So if people have jobs, they have little reason to worry about health care? That’s not what NYC for Change thinks. That’s not what I think. What about you?

Watch the film online, rent/watch it on Netflix, and tell us what you think!

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