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In Michael Moore’s ‘Where to Invade Next,’ the joke is on us

Schoolchildren in France are served meals that wouldn’t look out of place at Rue Franklin.

Employees in Italy get eight weeks of paid vacation – and extra pay to enjoy them.

College debt? Not in Slovenia, where even students from other countries enjoy free higher education.

Oh, and in Finland, the best educational results in the world are achieved despite limiting elementary school to 20 hours a week, and the elimination of standardized tests, multiple-choice questions and homework.

“They should have more time to be kids, to be youngsters, to enjoy their life,” an educator says. “The whole term ‘homework’ is kind of obsolete,” another says, suggesting it’s equally important for kids to see friends, learn music and play sports.

Radical ideas? In Michael Moore’s “Where to Invade Next,” the schlumpy filmmaker searches for best practices in other countries and claims them for the United States, sticking an American flag in the ground to his hosts’ amusement. But the joke’s sadly on us. Moore finds again and again, as he travels through European, Scandinavian and Northern African countries, that these ideas originated in the U.S. before, he concludes, we lost our way.

There are visits to prisons decorated with modern art in Sweden, and maximum-security prisons in Norway where guards don’t carry guns, both of which have recidivism rates far below the United States. Moore speaks with empowered women in Tunisia and Iceland, countries that have surpassed the United States in legal equality and reproductive rights protections. In Portugal, law enforcement officials explain how drug use dropped significantly despite ending jail sentences for possession 15 years ago.

Moore uses a graphic to illustrate the social benefits in France. On one side’s ledger are bullet trains, “great” schools, nursing care, prescriptions, four weeks paid vacation, paid maternity leave, paid sick leave, day care, free college, free health care, “huge” funds for arts and basic services on one side. On the other, representing the U.S., is a list of private costs that, together with taxes, far exceeds heavily taxed France for the same needs.

The progressive welfare state policies Moore chooses to highlight – the “democratic socialism” Bernie Sanders speaks of – have undeniably produced transformational changes in these countries. What Moore shows is selective, and his cherry-picking denies issues of social inequality and other serious problems that exist in all of these countries. But it’s illuminating to see how intractable issues in the U.S. are addressed more successfully elsewhere.

It’s also entertaining. Moore in typically clever fashion uses voice-overs, graphics, music and old film clips to bring humor and needed context to his subject.

What Moore comes back to, and is reminded of by people in other countries, is that most of these social welfare ideas began here, in the United States.

“Will you help me, can you help me?” Dorothy asks the Good Witch in a film clip from the “Wizard of Oz.”

“You don’t need my help any longer. You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas,” she answers.

“Yes you have, and so have we,” Moore interjects. “We’ve always had it. Kansas anyone?”


Where to invade next

3 stars

Starring: Michael Moore

Running Time: 119 minutes

Rating: R for violent images, drug use and nudity.

The Lowdown: Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore wants to reclaim progressive social welfare ideas overseas that originated in the U.S.

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