American Samizdat

Monday, July 09, 2007. *
The Strange Case of SiCKO's Critics
Update: The following post incorrectly conflates Thor Halvorssen, Jr., with Thor Halvorssen, Sr. See this for a clarification.

SiCKO exposes the naked contempt felt by the rich for the poor in this country. I'm not just talking about the obvious examples brought up by Moore in his film. I'm talking about the contempt on display by his most vocal critics.

I've set up a Google news filter to catch any news and blog entries regarding SiCKO since the film was released. I'd say about 95% of the articles have been positive. (Although there are some signs that that is starting to change as the hard right gets their talking points in order.) When I said in an earlier post "The earliest critics [of] the film seemed to be either drug industry flaks or Cuban exiles..." I wasn't exaggerating. But the guys associated with this website keep showing up too. Stuart Browning writes for several blogs and has made a series of short films dealing with what he calls "health care freedom"--advocating for the maintenance of American health care business as usual and bashing Canadian and other "socialized" systems.

Browning has a unique take on why Americans have a shorter life expectancy than the citizens of other industrialized nations.
Life expectancy averages are determined by a multitude of factors such as ethnicity, culture, and crime rates. Asians live longer than whites. Whites live longer than blacks. Canada has more Asians than blacks.
In other words, our national average is being brought down by black people. I'm sure uninsured and underinsured black Americans will be oh-so-understanding when the defenders of corporate health care explain to them treatment is useless because they're black and will die soon no matter what anybody does.

Browning's lack of depth on the subject of racial inequalities in life expectancy implies he believes they don't live as long because they are black, whereas it seems more likely that they don't live as long because they don't receive adequate health care because American blacks are largely poor.

Another tactic, this one which I've seen over and over again, is to value access to expensive elective procedures like cutting-edge MRI scans for wealthy individuals over cheap basic health care for the broad mass of the people. "It's not hard to find Canadians who have waited months to get an MRI..." But just because you have walk-in MRI clinics in seemingly every shopping mall in the United States doesn't mean you will be able to afford them. MRI scans cost at least a few thousand dollars. So those without the residual cash get to decide whether to get that MRI or get basic care for a year or more.

Browning's efforts are funded by the Moving Picture Institute. On its website, the Institute says of itself that it
...identifies and nurtures promising filmmakers who are committed to protecting and sustaining a free society, and supports their work through grants, travel scholarships, awards, internships, training workshops, and networking opportunities.
To date, the Institute has produced Mine Your Own Business (pro-mining, anti-environmentalist), Freedom's Fury and Hammer & Tickle (both taking a bold stand against Stalinism), Indoctrinate U (trying to revive the old saw of political correctness on American college campuses), and a few others.

The Institute was founded by the hard right "human rights advocate" Thor Halvorssen, Ambassador of Drug Affairs under former Venezuelan President and Bush family friend Carlos Andres Perez. In this position, according to Wikipedia, he acted as "a liaison between law enforcement agencies around the world, working on drug and money-laundering cases." However, the as Christian Science Monitor reported in 1993, "A Miami-based DEA official quoted in the Miami Herald called Halvorssen's drug information 'unreliable, manipulative, and planted.'" A Washington Post article from the same time period was more direct, indicating it was believed that Halvorssen was using his position has Venezuelan drug czar to move Colombian cocaine into the United States. The article also hints at connections with the CIA, all of which has been denied by Halvorssen.

Via the Christian Science Monitor, we learn that in the same year, after President Perez was imprisoned for embezzlement of national funds, Halvorssen was likewise imprisoned on more serious charges--terrorism. Charges were dropped, and Thor left the country.

Now he hangs out with folks from the Council for National Policy, the membership of which substantially overlaps with that of Project for a New American Century. He's also appeared on The Christian Broadcast Network in interviews with Pat Robertson. And, of course, he now funds Stuart Browning's efforts to discredit single-payer insurance.

According to people like Browning and Halvorssen, poor people are just supposed to roll over and accept that they won't get any kind of health care at all. These critics don't speak to me and never will so long as they put corporate profits before my well-being. The big question is, who do they think they're fooling?
posted by the thistle at 9:47 AM
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